Lately, there’s been stories in the news about heart disease (DCM), low taurine level and grain-free foods. Some concerned Mud Bay customers have also asked us some very good questions about what they’ve seen. When we get questions like these, Muddies often ask our in-house veterinarian, Dr. Katy Patterson-Miller for more information. So, we asked Dr. Katy if she’d answer the top seven questions she’s heard regarding grain-free diets, heart disease (DCM) and taurine for the benefit of all our blog readers.
#1: Why are people saying that grain-free foods might cause heart disease?
KP: Veterinary cardiologists have noticed an increase in DCM, which is a form of heart disease. When veterinarians asked what these dogs were eating, a large number of the dogs were eating grain-free foods.
#2: Then why are we also talking about taurine?
KP: Some dogs diagnosed with DCM that were eating grain-free diets also had low taurine levels. Taurine is an amino acid found in meat. Most dogs can create this amino acid in their bodies using the amino acids methionine and cysteine. So, the FDA is also investigating if there is a link between low taurine levels causing DCM and grain-free diets. Right now, out of the eight dogs in the FDA report, only four had low taurine levels. (Editor’s note: As of August 30, 2018, the FDA has increased the overall number of dogs affected to 120 dogs with 24 fatalities, but there has been no update to the possible cause of this increase in DCM.)
#3: Should I stop feeding my dog a grain-free food?
KP: At this time, we see no scientifically verified reason for people to transition away from their current foods of choice if it’s meeting their dogs’ needs. We haven’t seen any conclusive scientific evidence that grain-free food is the cause of low taurine levels or if it’s only low taurine levels causing a surge in DCM.
#4: If it’s not grain-free diets causing more DCM in dogs, what’s the cause?
KP: Unfortunately, we just don’t know. It could be that vets are getting better at spotting DCM, so it seems like there are more cases of DCM. It could be that some dog foods rely on too much vegetable protein and not enough meat protein to meet AAFCO diet standards, so there aren’t enough amino acids in some foods. It could be that certain types of processing significantly diminish taurine levels in dog food. There’s also a risk that synthetic taurine isn’t as bioavailable to dogs as we think it is. And there may be a cause that we haven’t even considered yet.
#5: Are some dogs at higher risk for developing DCM?
KP: Some dog breeds, such as Dobermans, Boxers, Great Danes, Dalmatians, Irish Wolfhounds, Newfoundlands, St. Bernard’s, English Bulldogs, and Cocker Spaniels are at genetic risk for developing DCM. But all dogs can develop DCM.
#6: What should I do if I’m worried, or I think my dog has a high risk of DCM?
KP: Talk to your veterinarian! Your vet can screen for DCM. She can also check your dog’s taurine levels with a simple blood test. Even if your dog does have DCM, if it’s caused by low taurine, it’s often reversible with taurine supplements.
#7: Can’t I just give my dog a taurine supplement?
KP: You can if you’re concerned. Mud Bay sells Ark Naturals Grey Muzzle Heart Health, which is a supplement that contains taurine and L-carnitine. Any dog can benefit from these nutrients. You can also supplement your dog’s current diet with taurine-rich foods, such as chicken liver and hearts, beef hearts and livers, and whole sardines, herring and mackerel. You may also choose to feed your dog a high-quality raw food that contains lots of organ meat, which would contain high levels of bioavailable taurine.***
Still have questions? Here’s a copy of the handout we created for our customers. You can also get a copy of this sheet at any Mud Bay, just ask! And, as always, we’re happy to answer questions at our stores or via social media.