Recent evidence suggests that pets fed grain-free diets, particularly those diets high in legumes, may be suffering from taurine deficiency, which can lead to Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). Dr. Joshua Stern, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (Cardiology) at UC Davis has started seeing this pattern in golden retrievers fed these diets. Though he has noted this pattern of DCM in golden retrievers, it is important to note that other dogs and cats may also be at risk. It appears that large and giant breed dogs may be at greater risk than other pets, but taurine deficiency has been linked to DCM in cats and dogs for many years.
What is taurine?
Taurine is an amino acid (building block of protein) that is found in high concentrations in the heart and muscle. Among its many functions, it aids in normal contractile function, meaning the heart and muscle cannot move and function properly without it.
What can you do?
If you are feeding your pet a grain-free food, and your pet has not been diagnosed with a grain allergy, consider switching your pet to a food that is not grain-free. If your pet does have a grain allergy, review the ingredient list to see if the diet contains a large amount of legumes (peas, beans, chickpeas, lentils, soybeans, etc.); if the diet is high in legumes, we recommend changing diets. In either situation, please consult your veterinarian if you have any questions about which food is right for your pet.
If your pet is currently eating or has regularly eaten grain-free diets, your veterinarian can submit a blood test to check taurine blood levels. If your pet’s taurine level is low, the veterinarian may recommend diagnostic imaging in the form of x-rays or an ultrasound of the heart. Taurine supplementation is possible if indicated by these tests. Please talk to your veterinarian about taurine supplements before adding to your pet’s diet.
Why are we just finding this out?
The grain-free trend has been adapted from human diets and is flourishing in pet diets. This trend is led by marketing not science. These diets were not tested with feeding trials, nor were they reviewed clinically. The long term effects of feeding grain free diets high in legumes are just now being seen and correlated with DCM.