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Raw, Taurine, & DCM

By: Mia Lund

You may have seen or heard about DCM and an FDA Investigation, and Updates published in 2018, regarding supposed problems with grain free foods and a possible link to DCM (dilated cardiomyopathy). Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs is a rare heart disease characterized by enlargement and decreased function of one or both ventricles of the heart. Many cases of nutritionally induced DCM can be reversed if the nutritional deficiency is identified and treated.

The incidence of DCM in the overall dog population is estimated to be between 0.5% and 1.3% in the United States, yet the FDA case numbers (less than 600 dogs) are well below the estimated prevalence. Therefore, it is impossible to draw any definitive conclusions, in these cases, linking specific diets or specific ingredients to DCM.
BEG diets (Boutique companies/Exotic ingredients /Grain free) were said to have possible links with DCM but this claim has not been proven.

The FDA’s investigation was prompted by a group of American vets from the University of California at Davis and Tufts University amongst others. Later on, these vets published an update in a widely-read veterinary medical journal JAVMA. The investigation and the Article (which was never peer reviewed) presented no conclusive evidence and it’s to be noted that these vets are connected to the big kibble companies by sponsorships, so can’t be seen as exactly unbiased...

​DCM has a huge genetic component and several breeds are predisposed to it. The impact of dietary considerations on dogs who would likely develop DCM with age and genetic predisposition is unknown. Many cases of nutritionally induced DCM can be reversed if the nutritional deficiency is identified and treated. So when it comes to diet, the long shot hypothesis of this Investigation is that legumes like peas and lentils or other veges like beet pulp and potatoes that are used in kibble as fillers instead of grains, may inhibit the uptake of taurine and therefore in some cases cause DCM. So, making sure there is plenty of dietary taurine in the feeding plan and avoiding legumes and other plant proteins may be helpful. So here is another reason not to include veggies in the diet plan.

Let’s be clear though, grains do not contain taurine. It is absent or exceedingly low in plants. Taurine is an amino acid which is found in animal protein. It can be synthesized in dogs from the precursor amino acids cysteine and methionine. It is not present in plant protein sources such as grains and/or legumes. Dogs require sulfur based amino acids, which come from animal protein, in order to make taurine.

In a varied PMR diet, which includes organs and plenty of red and dark muscle meat, dogs will get plenty of taurine. The amount of taurine in meat depends on how much work the muscle does. Darker meat indicates hard working muscles thus higher levels of taurine. Organs like tongue, lungs, heart, liver, spleen and kidney have high levels.

Fish and seafood also have lots of taurine. Mussels are a great food as they have a high amount of taurine plus manganese, zinc, iron, iodine and Omega 3..

Larger animals, such as cattle, have a lower concentration of taurine. Smaller animals have a much higher concentration of taurine. Taurine is abundant in most fish, seafood, birds, and rodents.

The type of dietary protein fed, the amount and type of dietary fiber, and the degree of heat treatment that is used during food processing may affect taurine levels in dogs.

​Some taurine loss occurs in freezing, so if you feed lots of meat from freezer clean outs etc, make sure you add fresher meats in the diet.

​Also, grinding meat decreases the taurine content as it increases the surface area of the meat and exposes the amino acid to the air. This results in oxidation of taurine which decreases the overall available amount of taurine.

​No clear conclusions have been drawn yet regarding the underlying dietary causes for taurine deficiency and associated DCM in dogs and how much genetic issues play a part. Therefore at this stage, it seems advisable to feed foods that contains good levels of high quality animal-source protein, to avoid plant-sourced proteins, and to stay away from anything cooked or processed. All of which we already adhere to when feeding PMR...

**Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. If you are worried about your dog’s taurine status or heart health, don’t hesitate to see your vet for a thorough check up, and if needed they can measure plasma levels of taurine and also do an echocardiogram **

Additional Information:

Questions & Answers: FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine’s Investigation into a Possible Connection Between Diet and Canine Heart Disease

FDA Investigation into Potential Link between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Vet-LIRN Update on Investigation into Dilated Cardiomyopathy

FDA Update to DCM Investigation clarifies a few things

Taurine Concentrations in Animal Feed Ingredients; Cooking Influences Taurine Content pdf

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