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Grain Free Diets, Taurine & Dilated Cardiomyopathy

UPDATE: On February 19, 2019 and June 27,2019 the FDA released follow up reports stating that they have not found any causal link between diet and Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. Although they are continuing to investigate the cause of DCM, the agency now believes the connection between diet and DCM is a complex scientific issue involving multiple factors. Currently, DCM impacts less than 1% of U.S. dogs, with .000007% being possibly related to diet and and others possibly caused by genetic predispositions. Read the full FDA statement.

Last July, the FDA released a statement about a possible link between the development of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs and grain free diets, specifically those diets containing high levels of legumes and potatoes. Shortly after, the media began reporting the story without much detail, leading pet owners to believe that feeding any grain free diet could lead to their dog developing DCM. The story, however, is much more complicated than as presented in these news reports; no conclusive, causal evidence has been uncovered, and the facts about grain free diets, DCM and taurine in dog foods have led many to conclude that these concerns are unproven.

Please read our FAQ below for more information about taurine, grain free diets and DCM. We have also included links to information from veterinarians and pet food manufacturers on the subject, including this piece by Dr. Doug Knueven of Beaver Animal Clinic that provides an excellent overview of the issue.

What are grain free diets?
Grain Free diets refer to any pet food diet that does not contain cereal grains (wheat, corn, soy, rice, barley, oats). As dry pet food (“kibble”) requires a form of starch as a binding agent, many grain free diets contain potatoes or legumes (peas, lentils or chickpeas) in lieu of grain. Although the news media has lumped diets not containing cereal grains all together, it is important to note that not all grain free diets are created equal – high quality grain free diets will contain mostly animal protein, with some potatoes or legumes used as binders and located further down the ingredient list.

What is taurine?
Taurine is an amino acid, which are the building blocks of protein and our muscles. Taurine aids in cardiac function, eye health, immune system function and in multiple other systems. Taurine is especially concentrated in the heart muscle and contributes to its proper functioning. When taurine levels are low, the heart becomes weaker and pumps less efficiently.

Where does taurine come from?
Taurine is an amino acid that is found naturally in muscle meat and organs, as well as significant quantities in seafood. It is not present in vegetarian protein sources such as grains and/or legumes.

In dogs, taurine is not an essential amino acid, as they have the ability to make their own. Taurine is synthesized in the dog’s body from two essential amino acids, cysteine and methionine. Cats do not have the ability to synthesize taurine, so taurine is an essential amino acid for cats as they need this amino acid to come from their diet. Thus, all commercial cat food is fortified with taurine. Dogs that have been diagnosed with a taurine deficiency may need a taurine supplement or, potentially a methionine supplement.

What is DCM?
Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disease of the heart muscle characterized by an enlarged heart that does not function properly. DCM is a slow, progressive disease that may require ongoing treatment once developed.

How do dogs get DCM?
While the cause of DCM in dogs is largely unknown, we do know that genetic anomalies will determine how prone an animal is to DCM. Nutritional deficiencies of taurine or carnitine may contribute to the incidence of DCM. While it may occur in any breed, it is seen more frequently in large breed dogs, specifically Dobermans, Newfoundlands, and Golden Retrievers.

How many dogs are affected by DCM?
The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that there are 77 million pet dogs in the U.S. Currently, DCM impacts less than 1% of U.S. dogs, with .000007% being possibly related to diet and and others possibly caused by genetic predispositions. Between January 1, 2014 and April 30, 2019, the FDA received 524 reports of DCM (515 canine reports, 9 feline reports). Among all the cases reported to the FDA over the last five years, the majority of impacted dogs belonged to breeds genetically predisposed to DCM, a disease that was first discovered in the 1980s before grain free diets were available for pets. Additionally, the DCM cases reported to the FDA included dogs who ate both grain and grain free diets.

How can I boost taurine levels in my dog’s diet?
Taurine levels can be boosted simply by adding (or increasing) meat-based protein in your pet’s diet. Any type of raw meat will do as long as it’s fresh and good quality. Adding freeze-dried, dry-roasted and air-dried meats can also boost taurine levels. Meats can also be lightly cooked; however, high-heat cooking can damage taurine.

Is pet food regulated?
Both the FDA and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) regulate the sale, distribution and nutrient requirement levels for pet food. All pet foods sold at Petagogy are AAFCO certified.

At Petagogy, we pride ourselves on learning about the best products out there, and we hope to pass on that information to our customers. Our animals aren’t just pets, they’re our family. We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to ensure they live long, happy and healthy lives. We opened Petagogy to give Pittsburgh-area pet owners access to an independent store in their community that has a knowledgeable staff and a wide selection of healthy and natural foods for dogs and cats. We encourage you to visit any Petagogy location and speak with us if you have any concerns, or would like suggestions on how to increase the amount of animal protein in your dog’s diet.


For further reading:
The above information has been compiled from the following sources:
FDA Update to DCM Investigation Clarifies a Few Things, Truth About Pet Food
Zignature Statement on DCM
Champion Pet Foods (makers of Orijen & Acana), DCM Information
Dr. Doug Knueven, “The Grain-Free Debate,” Pittsburgh Pet Connections, p. 20
Herbsmith, 5 Things you Need to Know about Taurine
Dr. Karen Shaw Becker, “Dogs Fed Grain-Free Kibble May Be at Risk for Heart Disease”

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