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Emerging Issue: Dog Food and Heart Health

September 29, 2018

You may have seen news reports lately regarding an increase in heart disease in dogs eating certain types of foods. This heart disease, called dilated cardiomyopathy (or DCM) has historically been considered a genetic or inherited disease seen in specific dog breeds such as Doberman Pinschers, Boxers, Great Danes, and Irish Wolfhounds. DCM is a condition that can eventually lead to abnormal heart rhythms, heart failure, and death.

The veterinary community has become aware of an emerging pattern of dilated cardiomyopathy being seen in dogs that don’t fit into the “typical” breeds that develop DCM. Many of these dogs have been found to be deficient in taurine, one of the building blocks of protein in the body. It strongly suspected that these unusual cases of DCM are related to diet, specifically diets that are grain-free, made by very small pet food companies (“boutique companies”), or contain exotic ingredients such as kangaroo, duck, bison, venison, lentils, peas, tapioca, chickpeas, etc.

Cardiologists, nutritionists, and other experts in the field of veterinary medicine are working very hard to get to the bottom of this issue, but right now there is still much that we do not know. It is not clear why these diets are leading to taurine deficiency and heart disease in some dogs, but not others. Golden retrievers are at a higher risk of nutrition-related DCM, but it has been seen in almost all breeds and in mixed-breed dogs as well.

The good news is that for dogs that are diagnosed with DCM, there are treatment options available, and many of these dogs have had their heart issues improve or even resolve with diet changes, taurine supplementation, and heart medications (under the direction of a veterinary cardiologist). If you are feeding your dog a diet that is grain free or contains exotic ingredients, you should watch closely for lethargy, weakness, collapse, coughing, or trouble breathing, and call your veterinarian if these are seen.

If you are feeding your dog a grain-free diet, consider watching your dog for the signs above, testing taurine levels, or just changing the diet. We would be happy to discuss these options in greater detail for those of you with questions! We are watching this issue closely as research is ongoing, and our recommendations may evolve as new information becomes available. We will be sure to keep you informed of any important developments.

For more information on this issue and on pet nutrition in general, the Petfoodology blog written by the nutrition experts at Tufts Veterinary School is an excellent resource, and can be found online.

Contributed by:

Dr. Brittany Borck

Grand Avenue Veterinary Center


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