You may have heard that grain free diets are currently being investigated as a possible cause of heart disease in some dogs. Dilated Cardiomyopathy, or DCM, can be caused by genetic factors as well as dietary factors. In particular, a deficiency in the amino acid taurine has been shown in the past to cause DCM in dogs and cats.
Dogs synthesize their own taurine; it is not necessary for this amino acid to be supplemented in food. However, some dogs may be better at synthesizing it than others, so diet may play a role in how much taurine certain dogs are able to synthesize.
A cluster of golden retrievers on grain free diets with signs of DCM and low taurine levels was first identified here at Adobe. Since Adobe doctors consulted with experts in the field, veterinary researchers at UC Davis are now investigating whether there could be a genetic predisposition among some golden retrievers to taurine deficiency and DCM.
At this point, there are more questions than answers regarding the link between grain free diets, taurine, and DCM. We do know, however, that grain allergies are extremely rare in dogs. There is no evidence that grains are harmful in non-allergic dogs or that grain-free diets have any health benefits. Researchers at several institutions are giving this challenging problem their full attention. In the meantime, we recommend:
- If your dog is on a grain free diet, consider switching to a diet that includes grains as a source of carbohydrates. We generally recommend the following dog food makers: Royal Canin, Hills, and Purina. These companies use rigorous quality control and testing protocols and employ veterinary nutritionists to formulate their diets. We always recommend transitioning to a new diet gradually, starting with a small amount of the new food and slowly increasing it each day, for about one week.
- Any dogs with difficulty breathing should be seen on emergency. Our Los Altos location is open 24 hours per day for such cases.
- If your dog is lethargic or you are worried, please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a physical exam and to discuss whether any testing is warranted.
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Written by Dr Nicolette Zarday, Adobe Animal Hospital, 8 August, 2018