Researchers say dogs are missing certain amino acids—and it's causing a rise in heart disease.

By Zee Krstic
Updated: February 13, 2019

If your dog enjoys a special diet, there's a good chance that your veterinarian helped you curate their meal plan for a reason. But if you've taken it upon yourself to place your pet on a grain-free or legume-rich (or both!) diet, researchers are warning dog owners that good intentions may actually be leading to poorer cardiovascular health in particular.

A team of veterinarians at the University of California-Davis found a link between grain-free, legume-heavy diets and nutritional deficiencies that can lead to a heart disease known as taurine-deficient dilated cardiomyopathy (or DCM). Their research was published in the scholarly journal Plos One last month.

The study found that dogs on these kinds of diets are not getting enough taurine, an amino acid that's crucial for heart health, according to a press release from UC-Davis. A long-term taurine deficiency has been linked to DCM, which is a heart muscle disorder that can cause heart failure in canines, and possibly lead to premature death.

“Given the recent surge in cases, we need to pay close attention to what we are feeding dogs,” lead author Joshua Stern, a veterinary cardiologist and geneticist at the UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, wrote in the release. “Choosing a well-researched dog food that has a healthy nutrient profile backed by expert formulation and research is of paramount importance.”

While some dogs are predisposed to be more likely to develop cardiovascular issues and DCM specifically, researchers say that there has been an uptick in cases recently—and diet is the factor linking all the different canine breeds to DCM. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration issued a public alert to veterinarians and pet owners alike about the link between diets and cardiovascular health.

Adobe: John Miller.

More research on your dogs health:

This study involved 24 golden retrievers with DCM and a taurine deficiency—23 of the 24 dogs involved had been placed on a grain-free or legume-rich diet, or a blend of both. These dogs were then given a new diet and a supplement of taurine, and the study found that all but one dog saw an improvement in cardiovascular health. Nine of the subjects were in dire condition with congestive heart failure, but even they showed dramatic improvements or no longer had congestion, according to the study.

“This study helped us confirm that this condition is treatable and avoidable, something that traditional DCM of genetic origins is not,” Stern said.

The researchers advise dog owners to consult their veterinarian before switching diets, and especially before introducing taurine supplements into a daily routine, as canines can develop DCM and other heart issues outside of diet-issues.

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The bottom line: While you may wish to avoid unhealthy dog foods, you need to plan on including a solid source of taurine—while many varieties of canned dog food might seem overprocessed, they often include ingredients like heart and kidney, which are good sources of taurine. Researchers have previously recommended that dogs should not follow human diets, including gluten-free meal plans.

“Pet owners should ask themselves if they’re buying the food because it sounds good to them or whether it’s right based on veterinary research and evidence,” Stern said. “Staying away from some of the most common marketing gimmicks may help to protect your pet.”

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