A recent news report on an FDA release about grain-free dog food, legumes, taurine, and cardiomyopathy (CDM) quickly found its way through local and national radio and TV. While I had my thoughts about it, I decided to contact the three companies whose foods we recommend and sell at the clinic, and get their professional input.

Mr. Daron Matsuura from Lotus explained: “This can happen if a food’s recipe is too high in legume seeds and it is not balanced with a plenty of fresh meat. Legumes are high in ogliosaccharides which will feed bacteria in the gut. If there is too much ogliosaccharides there tends to be too much bacteria which will limit the absorption of taurine. We formulate Lotus so the total legumes are about 20% and use a lot of fresh proteins 30% to 40%. The fresh proteins are high in methionine which is a precursor to taurine. Dogs should not have this issue with Lotus.

Stella & Chewy replied: “We work closely with veterinarians and nutritionists to ensure that our diets are complete and balanced and meet AAFCO requirements. Please know that our freeze-dried raw and frozen raw diets are free of peas, lentils and potatoes, and contain less than 1% of the legume seed fenugreek. Also, we do add taurine to our raw and kibble diets.”

Grandma Lucy works with Dr. Jean Dodds. She had a very detailed response to the FDA statement and you can read it in its entirety at www.drjeandoddspethealthresource.tumblr.com. I have taken a few excerpts from it to help clarify the vagueness in the recent news publications.

“No research has been conducted yet to determine if grain-free diets could cause heart disease in dogs. First, we must consider the many factors that need to be accounted for in this situation:

  • Genetics
  • Diet
  • Scientific research thus far
  • Taurine requirements for dogs
  • The interaction between foods when passing through the body
  • The interaction between foods and the body itself

Researchers are only beginning to scratch the surface on the last two factors for human and animal nutrition. Yes; nutritional knowledge has been increasing dramatically over the past century, but this latest contention that grain-free foods may be associated with some adverse effects on the heart just highlights how little we actually know and understand.

  • At this time, taurine is not considered an essential, food-sourced amino acid for dogs. Taurine is synthesized in the liver from the amino acids cysteine and methionine, which should provide sufficient quantities to meet dogs’ metabolic needs.
  • Taurine can still be and is present in dog food. However, a pet food label does not need to reflect this presence or meet any minimum requirement per the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).”

Dr. Dodds further summarized some previous studies conducted on potential dietary causes of CHD.

“Delaney et al., June 2003. Plasma and whole blood taurine in normal dogs of varying size fed commercially prepared food. Blood and plasma was analyzed for amino acids and taurine on 131 “normal” dogs consuming commercial food. Mean whole blood taurine concentrations were lower in dogs fed diets containing whole grain rice, rice bran or barley. The lowest whole blood concentrations were seen in dogs fed lamb or lamb meal and rice diets.

“Backus, et al., October 2003. Taurine deficiency in Newfoundlands fed commercially available complete and balanced diets. 19 Newfoundlands eating apparently complete and balanced commercial dry diets meeting established nutrient recommendations. Their results were that twelve of the dogs were considered taurine deficient. Taurine-deficient dogs had been fed lamb meal and rice diets.

“Backus et al., 2006. Low Plasma Taurine Concentration in Newfoundland Dogs is Associated with Low Plasma Methionine and Cyst(e)ine Concentrations and Low Taurine Synthesis. Backus and his team compared 216 Newfoundlands to Beagles. Dogs with low plasma taurine were older, less active, had more medical problems. The findings in this study support the theory that taurine deficiency in dogs may be related to the consumption of certain dietary ingredients. Scientific and clinical evidence supports the hypothesis that dilated cardiomyopathy is associated with low blood taurine concentration in dogs. The authors noted, “Taurine deficiency in dogs is suggested to result from reduced sulfur amino acid bioavailability in dietary ingredients that are heat processed, such as rendered meat meals.”

Regarding the FDA statement; it is not yet known how peas, lentils, potatoes, starch and fiber derivatives early in the ingredient list are linked to cases of CDM. “The FDA is simply stating a trend. These types of trends lead to much needed research.

The FDA is not dismissing the prior research as invalid. As the FDA puts it, “The underlying cause of DCM is not truly known, but is thought to have a genetic component.” The FDA is also not saying you should stop feeding grain-free foods. If you are concerned, is to have your veterinarian take a blood sample to measure the methionine, cysteine and taurine levels in both whole blood and plasma, and send it to a diagnostic laboratory experienced with the appropriate reference ranges for circulating taurine.

As more research is completed, AAFCO may need to adjust their minimum nutrient requirements and add more optimal requirements so that foods can be more appropriately formulated for breed type, size and age.”

My closing comments are this: There is no one brand or type of diet that is appropriate for every dog. Each individuals needs should be considered. Controversy about proper feeding of dogs has been in the works since the first processed diet was formulated. Feeding what a breed evolved on in their homeland for centuries (an Archetype diet) will be recognized by their internal computer. The less processed the better.