Canine Heart Disease and Grain Free Diets: Is there a link?

“Grain free diets cause canine heart disease”


Really?  No.  But at least the title caught your attention.  Same with the recent FDA statement that oh so many are reading, and repeating incorrectly, as such.

What did the statement say? “Early reports from the veterinary cardiology community indicate that the impacted dogs consistently ate foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds or potatoes as main ingredients in their primary source of nutrition for time periods ranging from months to years. That’s why the FDA is conducting an investigation into this potential link”

What is being repeated?  The misleading statement you see in the title above.

Veterinarian Dr. Dodd’s response statement is here, if you want a detailed explanation, read this:

I thought I might make it a little simpler for myself to understand what the confusion is…

Let’s look at what is being said:

  • Do grain free diets cause heart disease?
    • Simply NO.
    • If the answer was yes, then you’d have to ask “do grains prevent heart disease and if so, what in the grains give that magical ingredient had prevents or decreases the chance of heart disease”? Read on…
  • Do grains have anything to do with the heart disease they are talking about?
    • Again NO.
    • The heart disease they are talking about occurs from a deficiency of Taurine.
      • Taurine is an amino acid.
      • Taurine comes mostly from animal products!! Has nothing to do with grains.
      • Natural sources of taurine include beef, lamb, dark chicken meat, eggs, most dairy products, seaweed, krill and brewer’s yeast. Raw meat is fairly rich in taurine, comparable to fish, and cooking decreases the levels.
    • So, why would they say that?
      • They didn’t.
      • They said unexpected cases of heart disease (in breeds not expected to see it) are showing up, and these dogs are eating “…foods containing peas, lentils…”
      • If you only ate those foods, and no meat, yes- dogs could potentially get this heart disease
      • The statement did not say if the dogs are ALSO eating a meat diet or not.
    • Why are we only talking about dogs, not cats?
      • Actually, everyone needs taurine. Humans, cats, dogs, even seemingly birds and snakes.
      • Up until now it was believed dogs (like humans) can synthesize (convert) taurine from cysteine (another amino acid). This is done in the pancreas.  Cysteine can be found in plant as well as animal sources.
      • Cats do not have the necessary enzyme to make this critical conversion. Therefore, taurine must be part of their diet in order to avoid serious illness.  Cats are therefore obligate
      • It is known that prematurely born human infants lack this enzyme to synthesize taurine. They also have to have taurine in their diet which comes from mother’s milk.
      • So, you can see, if there is a problem with the pancreas, or there is a genetic deficiency, taurine may not be able to be synthesized, making that individual at risk of taurine-deficient problems.
    • Why has this become a big deal?
      • Because new, unexpected cases of heart disease have shown up in dog breeds that are not expected to have this disease unless they are taurine deficient
      • If a dog is taurine deficient, they are either not eating meat or they are not able to synthesize taurine
      • Grain free diets often lead with ingredients like “…potatoes, peas, legumes…”. That is what the FDA stated…and we are repeating it incorrectly as “grain free diets are causing” the harm.
      • If you are feeding a grain free diet without any meat, that is a problem.
    • What’s the solution?
      • Don’t make your dog a vegan. Dogs need meat, not only because of this new angle of concern with taurine, but dogs are also carnivores.

When you feed a grain free diet (and you really should stick with grain free diets…grains in the form of simple carbohydrates are harmful to dogs and cats in so many other ways) do make sure the food is AAFCO balanced and has meat sources.

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