Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Recently there has been a lot of speculation surrounding the relationship between dilated cardiomyopathy and feeding grain-free kibble. The FDA is "working on it", which means we may or may not have answers in the next seven to ten years. (We are still waiting for answers on the toxicity of chicken jerky treats from China, after eight years of "research"...)

No one knows for sure why some breeds are having difficulty or whether the problem is low taurine, low taurine absorption, interference with taurine production, or an ingredient in the food that is toxic to the heart. The usual breeds such as Dobermans, Boxers, and Great Danes will continue to top the list for dilated cardiomyopathy problems, but why are we seeing it in small breeds and breeds that have not been genetically prone to DCM? And why are they not seeing this problem in Europe?

Board certified nutritionists are recommending that pet owners continue to trust the large pet food manufacturers with years of experience producing high-quality food. (Including those that have been found to have pentobarbital in their food.) Those big companies are making just as much grain-free food as the smaller "boutique" companies. Since grains do not contain taurine, feeding grain is not the solution to the problem. Many of those large manufacturers were incriminated in one report.

Many of the dogs tested for taurine were found to have adequate blood taurine levels, even though they had full-blown DCM. So supplementing taurine may not be the solution to the problem.

While the cardiologists are seeing this disease more often in dogs, they are not claiming the same issues for cats. However, this week I saw a four-year-old cat with dilated cardiomyopathy. The cat was eating a grain-free food. Cat food has been supplemented with taurine for years, as it is an essential amino acid for cats. Is there a connection here?

At this point in time there are more questions than answers. I have never recommended feeding high-starch diets to dogs or cats. Peas, chickpeas, lentils, potatoes, and other high starch ingredients may or may not be the problem associated with the increase in DCM. I just don't think they are a good addition to the diets of our pets for many reasons: obesity, insulin-resistance, diabetes, and other inflammatory conditions are seen more often in pets eating large amounts of these ingredients.

While the cardiologists at Tufts recommend against feeding raw or home-prepared diets, I can only attest to the benefits I have seen in my own dogs by feeding these diets. All my cavaliers have developed mitral valve disease (a different disease from dilated cardiomyopathy, but heart disease nonetheless). They have eaten raw and home prepared diets for years. The average life expectancy for a cavalier once placed on heart medications is under three years. We have far surpassed that in all our dogs. Coincidence? I think not.