If you believe your dog is at risk for taurine deficient Dilated Cardiomyopathy, please review the following information. These guidelines are based on current information provided by cardiologists at Tufts and University of California College of Veterinary Medicine.
1. If you wish to have taurine levels tested, please request both a whole blood and plasma taurine level be submitted (lithium heparin tube) for analysis. Plasma is preferred by most if one must be chosen.
Testing for taurine requires special handling. Taurine is present in high concentrations in "buffy coat" cells and platelets and can be released into plasma with improper sample handling. Vacutainer collection systems should not be used. The needle should be removed from the syringe before blood is placed gently into the heparinized tube. Samples should be properly centrifuged and separated (for plasma) and immediately refrigerated.
Lab submission details are available HERE:
2. If you believe that your dog is showing signs of DCM already, please seek an appointment with your veterinarian immediately. Symptoms include coughing, decreased activity or decreased stamina, abnormal heart rate or rhythm, collapse, fainting, increased breathing rate, and weight loss. Symptoms that can be picked up during a physical exam include a heart murmur, arryhthmia, or abnormal lung sounds. DO NOT SUPPLEMENT OR CHANGE DOG FOODS BEFORE YOUR APPOINTMENT.
3. If taurine test levels return as low OR if your pet is showing symptoms of DCM, your veterinarian should perform chest x-rays, ecg, blood pressure and comprehensive labwork. A comprehensive echocardiogram should then be performed. It is very important that the echocardiogram findings be evaluated by a cardiologist. DO NOT SUPPLEMENT OR CHANGE FOODS UNTIL THE CARDIOLOGY EVALUATION IS COMPLETED.
4. If your dog receives a diagnosis of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM), please take an image of the food bag, ingredient list, and lot number.
5. Report it to the FDA. This can be done either online or by telephone. The FDA may be able to help with testing costs for your dog.
6. Change your dog’s diet to one made by a well-known reputable company and containing standard ingredients such as chicken, beef, rice, corn or wheat. Please know that changing to a raw or homecooked diet will not protect your dog from this issue (and may increase the risk for other nutritional deficiencies). If your dog requires a homecooked diet or has other medical conditions that require special considerations, be sure to talk to a veterinary nutritionist (acvn.org) before making a dietary change. You can also consider BalanceIt to formulate a diet that is complete and balanced.
7. Start taurine supplementation. The dose and brand are important! Be sure to use a brand of taurine with good quality control. See your veterinarian for dosage recommendations.
8. Make sure your dog is getting the best combination of medications to treat his heart disease. This can make a difference in outcome.
If you have questions on how to proceed, please email us at email@example.com.
The FDA has announced that they are now investigating the potential link between grain-free diets and canine heart disease. The potentially fatal heart condition, Taurine-Deficient Dilated Cardiomyopathy, is known to develop in dogs who have defective taurine synthesis pathways. It has also been documented in certain breeds, such as Golden Retrievers, who are fed a lamb and rice diet.
Recently, cardiologists have noticed an uptick in Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in breeds not typically associated with the disease. Because DCM can occur secondary to other diseases, such as hypothyroidism or infectious Chagas disease, a primary cause for DCM must always be excluded. Cardiologists began to see a correlation between certain diets and the development of DCM in a number of different dog breeds over the last few years. Affected dogs were more likely to be eating a boutique or grain-free dietand diets with exotic ingredients. Lentils, kangaroo, duck, pea, tapioca, salmon, lamb, barley, bison, chickpeas, and fava beans, were common ingredients. Vegan and home-cooked diets have also been associated. While the mechanism is yet unknown, it is believed it may be caused by factors that include decreased amino acid absorption and decreased taurine synthesis. To complicate matters, whole blood taurine and plasma levels may test low in some dogs and normal in others.
While DCM generally carries a poor-to-grave long-term outcome, changing diet and supplementation with taurine can often improve cardiac function, with some dogs being able to taper off heart medication after 6 months.
Symptoms of DCM can include decreased energy, increased breathing rate, labored breathing, irregular heart rate, coughing, and weight loss. Dogs are often asymptomatic until later stages of the disease. A heart murmur or arrhythmia and changes in lung sounds may be detected during an examination.
If your dog has been eating grain-free food and shows any of these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian immediately. You can also see our blog post about steps you can take.
Dogs with suspected DCM should receieve chest x-rays, ECG, blood pressure and a comprehensive echocardiogram. It is essential that the echocardiogram be performed by an experience ultrasonographer who is profecient in 2D, m-mode, color Doppler and spectral Dopper imaging. Ideally, a cardiologist would evaluate the x-rays, ecg and echo findings. Congenital defects need to be ruled out by x-ray/echo imaging in young and middle-aged dogs. Affected dogs should also have complete labwork (CBC, chem, lytes, T4 and urinalysis) performed and a travel history should be obtained.
Please contact us if you would like to schedule your dog's echocardiogram or if you have questions about the link between taurine and DCM in dogs.
Tufts Article: Risk of heart disease in boutique and grain-free diets and exotic ingredients
Taurine-Deficient Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Golden Retrievers
FDA Reporting Portal