For the past few months we have been reading and hearing reports that dogs are suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, related to being fed grain-free kibble diets. The relationship between diet and disease is still unknown. Could the disease be caused because the protein quality is poor or are the legumes and potatoes somehow interfering with the uptake and manufacturing of taurine within the body? Taurine is an amino acid found in meat that is important for normal function of heart muscle. Recently, one manufacturer stated to me that the addition of extra methionine in the food, another amino acid that is a building block for the body to make taurine, will solve the problem and prevent bodily taurine deficiency. This may be true, but since the exact mechanism for the heart failure and the true relationship to “grain-free” food is unknown, it’s all speculation at this point.

The FDA says they are investigating and they are working closely with PFI – the Pet Food Institute. This might make us all feel better, knowing someone is researching the cause and relationship. However, what are these agencies doing to “research” the problem? Do they have chemists in laboratories or dogs being fed and monitored in long term studies? Are they doing anything scientifically¬† to study the problem? Pet Food Institute is actually a lobbying group. It’s members are the folks in the pet “feed” industry, including Mars, Nestle-Purina, Smuckers, Hill’s, Royal Canin….. Their offices are in Washington, D.C. They spend their time influencing FDA. They do not have scientific labs to research pet food.

What is needed are independent labs and scientists studying the problem. In the end, it comes down to funding for research. We need universities to step up and lead the charge. Kansas State University leads the way in pet food education. However, we always need to follow the money behind the research. Will the money be coming from large pet feed manufacturers? Will the results be swayed by money?

I’m hoping we get answers to this problem sooner rather than later. My best advice is to avoid dry grain-free kibble as the main source of nutrition for your dog. If you feel this is the only thing you can feed your pet, please add a taurine supplement (250 to 500 mg per day) or add real meat to the diet. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

The warning signs of DCM include weakness, shortness of breath, rapid respiratory rate, coughing, fatigue, bloated abdomen. Unfortunately, all these signs will occur late in the progression of the disease. If your dog has been eating a grain-free kibble diet for years, you might want to ask your veterinarian to test the blood for taurine levels. Don’t ignore this problem.