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Taurine, Heart Disease, and My Dog’s Diet

Cardiac auscultation is key in detection of heart disease. Here Dr. English listens to one of our pediatric patients.

In the past few years there has been an increase in a severe form of heart disease in dogs that appears to be linked to diet; the disease is referred to as Diet related Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). Back in the 1980’s we learned that cats developed a similar heart disease if their diet lacked an amino acid called taurine. Now most cat foods are supplemented with taurine which has all but eliminated the diet-related form of this disease in our feline friends. In the mid-nineties studies began to look at the risk of taurine deficiency causing heart disease in dogs. Studies confirmed the importance of taurine in cardiac function and implicated dietary and genetic factors that could lead to taurine deficiency. This opened our eyes that taurine deficiency might be more than just a problem in cats. 

Our sudden concern for taurine deficiency in dogs arises from the recent increase in cases of DCM in dogs. In an informal survey veterinary cardiologists found over 240 cases of DCM in the last two years with diet being implicated in about 16%. This has led the FDA to recently announce that they are investigating the potential connection between diet and cases of canine heart disease.

How we feed our dogs has changed over the last decade. Grain free diets, exotic ingredients, boutique dog food brands, and home-prepared diets are all the rage. It seems that marketing has out paced science. Cardiologists have subjectively found these new diet types to be linked to the increase in DCM. There appears to be two types of dogs with diet associated cardiomyopathy: those linked to taurine deficiency and those with other complex diet factors that are not currently known. Grain free diets have replaced grains with peas, lentils, other legumes and potatoes; this changes the nutrient profile and can lower taurine concentration in the diet. Exotic ingredients like kangaroo, alligator and fava beans have different nutrient profiles and different digestibility. Both grain replacers and exotic ingredients can change taurine levels and taurine absorption. Non-taurine based dietary induced cardiomyopathy is even more of a conundrum but again exotic ingredients and grain free diets have been implicated. There is concern that these diets may have inherent deficiencies of nutrients other than taurine, such as choline, copper, l-carnitine, magnesium, thiamine, or vitamin E and selenium. There is also a current investigation looking for the chance that these new diets contain cardio-toxic compounds known to cause DCM. We do know that all dogs with diet-associated DCM appear to improve with a change in diet and supplementation of taurine.

We all want the best for our pets and diet is an important component to providing a long and healthy life. Unfortunately we can’t always believe what we hear. Science is beginning to catch up with pet food marketing. Though we still don’t know all the pieces of the puzzle diet is certainly related to an increase in a serous cardiac condition in our pet dogs. Genetic factors probably play a role as well but the link between this disease and grain free, exotic ingredients, boutique brands, and home prepared diets can’t be ignored. If you have questions regarding your pet’s diet please call us at River Cove Animal Hospital.