FDA Study with UC Davis on Foods and Cardiac Issues

On August 29th, The Washington Post published an article about veterinarians and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began investigating a potential link between grain-free diets and a heart disease called canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which had been known primarily as a genetic disorder.

We had been fielding a few questions about the FDA report issued on July 12th at The Big Bad Woof prior to the publication of this article.  We now have so many of our customers asking questions that I thought it would be good to share some of the information we have received from both University-trained animal nutritionists and veterinarians that we both learn from and trust.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disease of the heart muscle that decreases the heart’s ability to generate enough pressure to pump oxygenated blood through the body. When left untreated, DCM can lead to congestive heart failure and eventually death.

Veterinary research focusing on DCM in dogs and cats has found that this disease may be genetically inherited (often associated with certain breeds) or can result from a nutritional deficiency of taurine. Taurine is an amino acid found naturally in animal tissues (primarily fish, organs, and muscle meat) and plays an important role in the health of heart muscle. Unlike for cats, taurine is not considered an essential amino acid for dogs, since dogs normally have the ability to make plenty of taurine on their own if their diets contain enough of the right precursors (the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine).
 

Many of the foods we carry have a significant portion of their protein from taurine-rich animal sources, such as fish, organs, and muscle meat. If you consider the fact that many commercial pet foods tend to be extremely low in meat and high in plant-based protein and starches, it makes sense that plant-based foods for dogs—whether grain-based or grain-free—will be lower in taurine and its precursors (without supplementation) compared to a meat-rich diet.

Further, some of the diets we carry, whether whole-grain or grain-free, have added taurine in their profiles to ensure that there is a sufficient amount of taurine to prevent DCM in otherwise healthy and non-genetically pre-disposed breeds. 

According to two of the cardiologists quoted in a New York Times article, "With dogs genetically predisposed to DCM, the condition is irreversible. However, in these new cases, adding taurine to the dogs’ diet (and taking them off legumes) can reverse the disorder if caught early enough, Stern and Adin said."

We understand that some of you may want to change your pet's diet while this UC Davis study is ongoing, and we are here to help. We can recommend diets both with high-meat inclusions, good whole-grain alternatives that do not have legumes, and fresh whole foods.

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In 2003, the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine published “Taurine status in normal dogs fed a commercial diet associated with taurine deficiency and dilated cardiomyopathy”. This study found that processing and “poor digestibility” of ingredients played a role in canine heart disease. Why hasn’t any veterinary nutritionist investigating the DCM cases today discussed the risk of processing and inferior ingredient link to canine heart disease? - Susan Thixton
Pet Food Safety Advocate
 


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