Grain-Free Diets and Taurine

Grain-Free Diets and Taurine 


Hello again friends of YVH!  There’s been a lot of talk recently about a potential link between grain free diets and heart disease from a taurine deficiency.  These findings are still very new (and thus still in the “potential” and “may cause” stage), and a lot of studies have been launched since this concern arose last month.  We have received a lot of questions about this in the past week, so even though studies are ongoing on this particular topic, I wanted to post some resources about what we know.  


The concern right now is that diets that contain certain exotic ingredients and have ingredients like potatoes or legumes (such as peas and lentils) high in their ingredient list may have a role in a type of heart disease called “dilated cardiomyopathy” (or DCM) that can result from a deficiency of taurine in the diet.  This is not because the diet necessarily lacks taurine, but could theoretically be because these ingredients bind up the taurine in the food so it is not “biologically available” to be used in the body.  DCM results in an enlarged heart - as the muscle of the heart chamber walls becomes dilated, it becomes harder and harder for it to pump blood to the rest of the body.  This can lead to congestive heart failure.  DCM can be from genetic causes, but if it happens because of a taurine deficiency, it may be reversible if caught early enough.


Here is a link about the recent discovery of the possible link between DCM and grain-free food from the clinical nutrition service at the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University:

http://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2018/06/a-broken-heart-risk-of-heart-disease-in-boutique-or-grain-free-diets-and-exotic-ingredients/


So if you currently feed grain free food, should you switch?  Remember, not all dogs need to be on grain free food!  Unless a dog has a verified grain allergy, they will probably do fine on a food with grain in it.  Honestly, we tend to see more chicken (protein) allergies than anything else when it comes to pet foods.  If you do plan to switch to a diet with grain in it, as with any major food change, do it slowly over the course of a few weeks, gradually phasing the new food in and the old food out.  Abrupt food changes can cause GI upset (vomiting, or more likely soft stool/diarrhea) whether there is an allergy/sensitivity to an ingredient or not.  The gut and it’s bacteria need to slowly adjust to the changes in the diet.  One of the recommendations from Tufts when concerned about DCM (via their recommended DCM protocol as of 6/27/18) is to look for diets that have pretty typical ingredients (chicken, beef, rice, corn, wheat) made by a well-known, reputable company with a long track record of producing good quality food.


One organization that you should know about is the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). AAFCO is a voluntary organization that sets standards for labeling and contents of pet food.  When you compare different pet foods, look for a statement saying that it - this means that the pet food has been evaluated and meets their minimum requirement guidelines.


Here is a link to their website:

https://www.aafco.org/Consumers



AAFCO statement on a bag of Hill’s Ideal Balance Puppy food

AAFCO statement on a prescription Royal Canin diet




Another thing to look for when picking a pet food is what life stage it is recommended for.  Puppies need to be on puppy food, adults should be on adult food, and then there are other subtypes, such as calorie restricted (ie. for indoor cats), performance lines (ie. for canine athletes), or geriatric foods.  There are other cases when your pet may need a prescription diet for one reason or another, but that should be decided with your veterinarian.


A quick note on food allergies - the only real way to determine if an animal truly has a food allergy and what exact food he or she is allergic to is to do an elimination trial.  Trials like this take a little time and a little trial and error, but they are the most accurate way to figure it out.


Here is a link that explains how to do a food elimination trial in detail:

http://veterinarymedicine.dvm360.com/diagnosing-food-allergies-dogs-and-cats-bring-your-case-trial


If you really don’t want to switch your dog off of grain free food but you still have concerns about his or her heart, it is possible to run a blood test that measures the level of taurine in the blood.  If the level is low, supplementation with taurine and/or a cardiac workup may be recommended by your veterinarian.  It is not currently recommended to supplement all dogs on grain free diet with taurine without knowing their taurine levels (or whether over-supplementation can cause problems, as there is no specific information on toxic levels in our Plumb’s 8th Veterinary Drug Handbook), although we will post and update if that changes.  


Here are is a link from the FDA on the potential connection:

https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/CVMUpdates/ucm613305.htm


Currently there are no specific brands that are officially being publicly identified as high risk for taurine deficiency, but we will post updates on that (likely on our facebook page) as the ongoing studies progress.


--Dr. Dana Muir-Preston




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