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MissionVet Specialty & Emergency

Heart Disease and Diet

Boxer in Grass

By Jeannie L Clark, DVM – Head of Emergency & Critical Care

We all love our pets and want them to eat the best diet. The pet food industry is large and can be overwhelming when trying to decide what food is best. Add-in the trends of the pet food industry following human food trends and it can be downright daunting.

Approximately one year ago, I diagnosed a 1-year-old golden retriever with dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM. During this disease process, the heart weakens and enlarges resulting in heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms and can cause acute collapse. After digging through this pet’s history, it was discovered that he had been fed a grain-free diet since he was purchased. There was some recent chatter about young golden retrievers that were fed a grain-free diet and developed DCM; we decided to dig deeper and perform a few tests. We tested an amino acid called taurine that in cats, has been shown to cause DCM as a result of the deficiency of that specific amino acid in cat food. His test results showed very low taurine levels. His heart disease was treated with heart medication and he was placed on taurine supplements. His food was changed to a non-grain-free diet and slowly the changes to his heart that had occurred resolved over the next 3-4 months. There have been enough cases of DCM in dogs that have been fed a grain-free diet that the FDA announced it was investigating the link between the grain-free diets and the development of DCM.


At this time, it is not known what exactly in the diet is causing this. There is discussion that it may be due to an issue with bioavailability of the amino acids or that there is an interaction with another ingredient in the diet that is not allowing the taurine to be absorbed. It may not even be directly related to taurine and may be a direct toxicity to the heart muscle. For these reasons, active research is being done.


If your pet is currently on a grain-free diet, I would consider changing the diet and speaking with your family veterinarian. Pets currently fed a grain-free diet should be monitored for signs of weakness, decreased ability to exercise, coughing, labored breathing and breathing faster when sleeping. If you see any of these signs, have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian.

Choosing the right food for your pet is important and if you have questions you should speak with your family veterinarian. We are here to help you take the best care of your pets. The most important aspect of a diet is that it is well-balanced and provides adequate nutrition for your pet.

BIO Dr. Jeannie Clark is the Head of Emergency and Critical Care at MissionVet Specialty & Emergency. She joins MissionVet after recently completing her three-year ECC residency at Lakeshore Veterinary Specialists. Dr. Clark is passionate about teaching and mentoring colleagues, providing excellent patient care and helping to build cohesive team environments. Her special interests include mechanical ventilation, envenomation, anesthesia, shock, wound management, immune-mediated disease, and pain management.