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The Big Grain Free Pet Food Controversy

There have been nationwide reports of dogs that developed a type of heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) caused by a nutritional deficiency. Sadly, most of these were pampered dogs eating a boutique type of expensive grain free foods. Many pet owners are heartbroken to realize that in trying to feed the best food quality for their pet, they might’ve ended up harming them. This is not the first time that Taurine deficiency in pet foods have caused widespread alarm. In the mid-1980s the link between Taurine deficient food and DCM in cats was widely publicized and new food recommendations for manufacturers were implemented. What is the truth about the new grain free diet controversy?

In reality, we are in the early stages of active research trying to find the cause. At first blush, a deficiency of Taurine in the diets was blamed. Although several of the affected dogs had a normal Taurine level, they responded to extra Taurine supplementation. Why is Taurine so important? Taurine is an amino acid that dogs, cats, and us humans need to have a healthy heart muscle function. It’s found in the brain, eyes, heart, and muscle, therefore consuming animal products in the diet should provide enough of it. However, Taurine can also be synthesized from two other amino acids – cysteine and methionine. Foods that supply methionine include meats, soy, nuts, and eggs, whereas cysteine can be acquired by eating meat and plant sources ( red peppers, garlic, broccoli, brussels sprout, oats, wheat germ, lentils). According to research published in the Journal of American Veterinary Association, there are other factors affecting the development of DCM including breed predisposition, genetic constituency, and low metabolic rates. Multiple research studies have identified a strong predisposition for DCM on Golden Retrievers and American Cocker Spaniels breeds but all breeds are at risk. There is also a correlation of foods containing chickpeas, lentils and other legumes implicated in these DCM dogs that have normal taurine level yet respond to taurine supplementation. In several studies, homemade diets, raw diets, and vegan diets were also found to be connected to some DCM cases. There is a blood test available for heart function and also for Taurine levels but ultimately a heart ultrasound is the best way to diagnose DCM.

What is a pet owner to do? If you are feeding a home cooked diet, vegan or vegetarian diet, please make sure that the diet is nutritionally balanced. There are man resources we recommend but an easy one is to check your diet at and supplement to correct any deficiencies. In addition, if your food is grain free and your dog is doing well on it, is ok to add carbohydrates like brown rice and corn to them. Alternatively, try supplementing with Taurine. There are multiple sources for dosages and you should ask your veterinarian for a proper dosage but roughly speaking Small dogs would need close to 250mg, midsize dogs 500mg and large breeds 750mg twice daily. Keep informed of new developments in the research of DCM and have your pet checked for heart murmurs and disease at least twice a year.

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