Diets: Not for the Faint-Hearted!

Most of us have been a bit impressed, if not overwhelmed, by the huge selection of pet diets in our local pet stores. There is so much variety, all claiming to use the best ingredients and provide ideal nourishment for our precious furry friends. In 2018, a number of stories started circulating about dogs and diets and heart issues. Here is an update on what has been happening and what we know now.

Heart disease can happen to any pet. However, cardiologists (heart specialists) started noticing an increase in dogs with heart disease. Cardiologists began compiling their data and looking for common links between cases. Common denominators began to emerge, such as taurine level changes and diets. Many of these pets were on BEG diets (boutique, exotic meats, grain-free). The heart specialists also found multiple cases with extremely low taurine levels. The cardiologists had a number of pets placed on taurine supplements and transitioned pets to regular diets. A great number of patients’ heart conditions began to improve. A significant number of heart conditions resolved completely. Some pets with normal taurine levels improved with only a transition to regular food. Still, there were a few pets that, although their diet was changed, showed no improvement at all.

Lately, the FDA has come out with a list of diets and the number of cases of heart disease that have been linked to each diet. Does this mean all of these diets will eventually cause heart disease in every single pet that eats these diets? Likely not. However, with the new evidence, it would be best to re-evaluate what your pet is eating. Some simple precautions:

  • If you are feeding a raw, boutique, exotic meat or grain-free diet, do a slow transition to a regular diet. Food allergies are NOT very common. Food allergies are mostly due to the protein in the diet, not the grain component. Grains, including corn, do contain essential and important nutrients.
  • You can choose to monitor your pet. Lethargy, exercise intolerance, coughing, and panting can all be signs that your pet’s heart is in trouble. However, these signs can also be attributed to multiple other causes as well. Book an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss your concerns and options.
  • Check taurine levels. If they are low, your pet may need to switch to a different diet and/or start a taurine supplement. However, this test can be a bit expensive. There are more than just taurine levels to consider in regards to heart disease. Taurine supplements “just in case” is not recommended at this time.

Do some Googling about your pet’s food. Does the food company employ a nutritionist? Do they follow AAFCO standards and testing? Do they have studies available? What are they doing to correct the issue?

Unfortunately, our pets don’t last forever. We feed them as best we can with what we know. Sometimes we make unfortunate connections between people health and animal health, thus all the assumptions that grains are bad for pets and the introduction of new diets on the market. We need to look at the issue with an open mind and talk to those who are a source of good, balanced knowledge, i.e. veterinarians, animal nutritionists, specialists. We may not have all the answers right away. We know who to turn to and where to look and only want to give our patients and clients the best information possible. When it comes to the heart, people take it to heart to do the best for their pets. Let’s work together to keep those furry hearts pumping loudly and clearly for as long as possible.

If you have any questions, give us a call at 519-759-3031.

Written by: Dr. Rhonda Boulter, DVM