Grain Free Diets and Taurine - Update

Grain free diets and taurine - updated 8/28/19


There have been some recent developments in the investigation between the potential link between heart disease and grain free/boutique dog food that we’d like you to be aware of.  The studies to investigate this problem are ongoing, but per the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and the FDA, the issue seems to be with boutique pet foods, foods that contain exotic ingredients, and grain free diets 

that contain potatoes and legumes (such as lentils or peas) high up on their ingredient list.  The thought is that these foods may bind up the taurine in the food making it “biologically unavailable” for the body to use.  Taurine is necessary for the heart to pump properly, so if it is lacking or not available in a diet, the heart can become dilated and have a difficult time pumping, leading to heart failure.


The main findings released by the FDA can be found at this link:

https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/news-events/fda-investigation-potential-link-between-certain-diets-and-canine-dilated-cardiomyopathy#diet

It is a good read all the way through, but here is a nice summary table of the brands that have been implicated in the DCM cases reported to the FDA so far:

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The FDA also provided a handy list of common questions and answers about this issue:

https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/questions-answers-fda-center-veterinary-medicines-investigation-possible-connection-between-diet-and


The Clinical Nutrition Service within Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, who has been following this issue closely, has issued an updated article as well: https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2019/07/dcmupdate/

Past articles and the latest updates from Tufts can be found here:

https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/tag/grain-free/


So as the investigation into this potential problem continues, what should you as a pet owner do?  Here is an excerpt from an article put out by Tufts’ Clinical Nutrition Service:


Reconsider your dog’s diet. If you’re feeding a boutique, grain-free, or exotic ingredient diets, reassess whether you could change to a diet with more typical ingredients made by a company with a long track record of producing good quality diets...to ensure the manufacturer has excellent nutritional expertise and rigorous quality control standards.

If you’re feeding your dog a boutique, grain-free, or exotic ingredient diet, watch for early signs of heart disease – weakness, slowing down, less able to exercise, short of breath, coughing, or fainting. 

If you want to keep your dog on their current grain-free diet, consider having some blood work done to check taurine levels.  If the taurine level is low, supplementation can be started.

When deciding which food to feed your pet, remember to follow the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) guidelines.  Look for the American Animal Feed Control Officials AAFCO seal of approval and make sure that the company actually 1) uses a veterinary nutritionist when formulating diets, and 2) actually does real life feeding trials to make sure that the food is not just wholesome “in theory.”

https://www.wsava.org/wsava/media/arpita-and-emma-editorial/selecting-the-best-food-for-your-pet.pdf.  


Also, anytime you switch a dog’s food, do so gradually over the course of several weeks (mixing the new and the old food) so as not to cause GI upset.  True grain allergies are rare (protein allergies like chicken are more common), but a quick switch can cause vomiting and/or diarrhea simply because the gut is not used to processing grain.  


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