According to the FDA in their July 12, 2018 release: “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting pet owners and veterinary professionals about reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients. These reports are unusual because DCM is occurring in breeds not typically genetically prone to the disease. The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine and the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network, a collaboration of government and veterinary diagnostic laboratories, are investigating this potential association.”
Sometimes referred to as an enlarged heart, DCM is characterized by an enlargement of the ventricles, the result of which is deterioration in the heart’s ability to pump blood, ultimately leading to congestive heart failure. Historically, DCM is more commonly found in certain large breeds (e.g., Dobermans, boxers, Scottish deerhounds, Irish wolfhounds, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Afghan hounds) and some small breeds, specifically cocker spaniels.
Although the cause is generally unknown, in addition to a genetic component, there is some evidence that nutritional deficiencies of taurine and carnitine are contributors. The FDA contends that taurine deficiency is well-documented as potentially leading to canine DCM. Taurine is a sulfur-containing organic compound important in the metabolism of fats. Taurine is not nutritionally essential nor a required dog food element; however, dietary factors (protein source, fiber type/concentration, and processing methods) can impact how effective a dog’s body naturally produces and uses taurine, according to the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine report, “Update from Nutrition Services on Concern between Diets and DCM in Dogs.”
A few recent cases reported to the FDA have included Goldens and Labs, with those representing atypical DCM cases. These cases indicated low whole blood levels of taurine. Additionally, diets in the reported cases frequently list potatoes or legumes (peas, lentils, and seeds of legumes) as main ingredients. High levels of these ingredients are typically included in those foods listed as “grain-free.” However, there could certainly be other factors leading to the low taurine levels in these cases, including food that did not contain adequate digestible amino acids or another factor blocking the synthesis of taurine.
In an earlier article published by UC Davis Veterinary Medicine (“UC Davis Investigates Link between Dog Diets and Deadly Heart Disease”), Dr. Josh Stern, veterinary cardiologist at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, noted an increasing and alarming trend of DCM cases, with Goldens – not a breed typically associated with the disease – being diagnosed more frequently. The diagnosis was coupled with many of the dogs eating the same grain-free diet and blood tests confirming low taurine levels. Stern also observed that the majority of these patients responded favorably to diet change and taurine supplementation, “a prognosis that is not usually noted with traditional, genetic DCM.” Stern has done extensive research on Goldens with one of his own dogs enrolled in the Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. Along with other UC Davis veterinarians with expertise in nutrition and cardiology, research continues to understand the dietary link in Goldens with taurine deficient DCM.
The Other Side
Others contend that the FDA announcement was based on very little hard evidence about the connection between ingredients and DCM. Some experienced animal nutritionists suggest that if (noting it’s a very big “if”) DCM is linked to diet, it’s due to the formulation matrix of the food as opposed to individual ingredients. As quoted in PetfoodIndustry.com’s “FDA dog food warning hasty, too focused on ingredients,” Greg Aldrich, Ph.D., president of Pet Food and Ingredient Technology, said, “These legume seeds bring great variety to the pet aisle, have more protein than the cereal grains and possess other phytonutrients considered valuable to overall health.” This article also shares that while four recent atypical cases of DCM included dogs with low taurine levels, four other cases of atypical DCM involved dogs with normal taurine levels.
Currently, there is still much research to be done and many questions to be addressed and answered. NutriSource®, DVGRR’s food of choice, added taurine to its large-breed diets several months ago and is in the process of adding it to their other diets as well. At DVGRR, with what has been uncovered so far, we will continue to feed NutriSource Seafood Select to the dogs at Golden Gateway because we’ve had much success with this diet for the dogs that arrive with us, many of which are subject to food allergies. We will also continue to monitor the situation and keep up with the ongoing research.
As always, if you have specific questions or concerns about your own dog’s diet, consult your veterinarian for advice and guidance.
(Reprinted from Golden Opportunities, Fall/Winter 2018)