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The news of grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs is scary and has some raw feeders racing back to grain-based kibble. Learn why this isn't the right move.

If you've been on social media, then you may be aware of the connection between grain-free dog food and heart disease, specifically cardiomyopathy. I've kept quiet because this related to kibble brands and I don't feed kibble nor do I write about kibble.

But two things have prompted me to write a blog post about this issue:

1) Seeing people who feed the poorest quality dog food warning others against feeding grain-free, including people who feed gently cooked and raw pet food.

2) Seeing people stop feeding raw and return to grocery store kibble that contains grain in an effort to avoid dilated cardiomyopathy.

The FDA report is just a report, it's not a study.

I'll be honest and say that I've only read parts of the report, but from what I read, I gather that this isn't a complete story and the FDA isn't claiming that it's a complete story. We have no way of knowing how many pets were impacted by the grain-free diet because I doubt that many pet parents or their veterinarians connected any heart conditions to the dog's diet until the news of a possible connection became public.

What is Dilated Cardiomyopathy?

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disease of the heart muscle that is characterized by an enlarged heart that does not function properly. With DCM, both the upper and lower chambers of the heart become enlarged, with one side being more severely affected than the other. When the ventricle, or lower chamber, becomes enlarged, its ability to pump blood out into the lungs and body deteriorates. When the heart’s ventricle does not pump enough blood into the lungs, fluid begins to accumulate in the lungs. An enlarged heart soon becomes overloaded, and this often leads to congestive heart failure (CHF).

Pet MD

In my reading, I learned that the dogs that are being diagnosed with DCM due to the grain-free diets are primarily Golden Retrievers and other medium and large breed dogs. I read an article by Dr. Justin Shmalberg (a definitely MUST read if you'd like to learn more) that made an interesting point that maybe Golden Retrievers are named because there is an active community that compared notes, rallied, and brought the connection between DCM and grain-free diets to light.

Signs of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Heart failure is something I never considered when thinking of my dogs' health. I've been 100% focused on canine cancer. But heart disease is another serious issue with our dogs along with obesity, diabetes, and allergies:

  • Always tired/sleep, lethargy, lack of energy
  • Coughing all the time
  • Increased heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fainting and weakness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Bloated (not bloat) stomach, fluid in the abdomen

If caught early enough, a dog can survive a DCM diagnosis. If you suspect that your dog may have heart disease, please contact your veterinarian immediately.

This video is in response to people in a group that I belong to choosing to switch from a raw food diet back to a grain-based kibble diet in an effort to avoid dilated cardiomyopathy. Please note that Dr. Coger did not suggest that people who feed kibble need to add a taurine supplement to avoid dilated cardiomyopathy. This video IS NOT about how to feed or improve kibble.

Does Raw Feeding Lead to Dilated Cardiomyopathy?

The fact that raw dog food (or gently cooked dog food) doesn't contain grains (or few grains in the case of cooked dog food) doesn't mean that dogs on these diets are at risk for dilated cardiomyopathy.

The amount of misinformation being shared is astounding because the issue isn't with the grains in food (or lack of grains), the issue of heart disease started because pet food manufacturers are replacing the grains in dry dog food with plant-based proteins (like legumes) in an effort to boost the protein in the dog food. The problem with using legumes as a protein source is the lack of two key amino acids that help to synthesize taurine in dogs: Cystine, and Methionine.

Although legumes are high in protein, they do not have the two amino acids that help with processing taurine. As a result, the dogs being fed grain-free kibble diets are getting less taurine, which is leading to dilated cardiomyopathy.

If you'd like to learn more, read the detailed FDA report that lists brands/food that do not have enough taurine. Despite all of the information coming out about DCM and grain-free diets, it's important to remember that although the taurine issue has been well documented, this isn't the only cause of DCM in dogs. So if someone tells you about a raw fed dog they know that died of dilated cardiomyopathy, it's not because the dog was fed a grain-free raw food diet, it may be due to breed, breeding, or other health complications.

Based on all that I've read, dilated cardiomyopathy can develop because of genetics (some dogs have trouble naturally synthesizing taurine in their body and may require a supplement or diet adjustment) or diet (as in the case of grain-free diets). And, most recently, I learned that people are questioning the amino acids in food and if they are adequate enough to support organ health.

However, we're still receiving information so I'm not willing to condemn any food. And as a raw feeder, I'm confused as to why someone would switch from food with natural and adequate stores of taurine (a balanced raw diet) to a food that has synthetic taurine added in because natural stores were baked out (kibble).

If you're concerned about the health and safety of your diet, I highly recommend seeking a consultation with Dr. Laurie Coger. Dr. Coger has more than 20 years of experience in veterinary medicine and raw feeding and offers consultations and diet formulations to pet parents.

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