Taurine, Dog Food, and Heart Disease in Dogs

In July 2018, the FDA released a warning about grain-free dog foods and their possible connection to the development of a heart disease in dogs called DCM. Here are a few things you should know:

  • The FDA’s warning is based on a number of reported cases of dogs that developed DCM whose diet consisted of a grain-free dog food with a large amount of potatoes, legumes, and “exotic” proteins in the ingredients. Vegan and homemade diets were also reportedly involved. This caught FDA’s attention because some of the dogs were not the breeds that commonly develop DCM.
  • Subsequently, the FDA has emphasized that people should “not take intuitive leaps beyond what is explicitly stated in our public notice.” In other words, don’t think that all grain-free diets with legumes or potatoes are problematic. It is primarily a situation confined to relatively few diets and the evidence linking the diets to DCM is far from conclusive and requires additional study.
  • The hypothesis is that the diets in question may potentially provide insufficient levels of the essential amino acid taurine, which would in turn contribute to the development of DCM.
  • Here are the characteristics of the type of diet that would meet the criteria of foods most correlated with DCM in dogs (based on the FDA statement and prior research):
  1. Low in animal protein content.
  2. Containing significant amounts of barley, potatoes, tapioca, peas, lentils, chickpeas, rice/rice bran
  3. Containing a significant amount of “exotic” animal proteins, such as bison, duck, lamb, kangaroo, salmon, and venison.
  • It is important to note that based on the information provided by the FDA it most likely takes a combination of multiple factors to create a situation where taurine may not be sufficient.
  • Many common proteins used in dog food (not “exotic”), such as chicken, turkey, and fish, are generally good sources of taurine.
  • Raw meat and poultry have higher levels of taurine, as the bioavailability of taurine is reduced by heat processing.

In conclusion, it is important to remember that millions of dogs have been fed grain-free diets for many years with no adverse health consequences, and the FDA warning is based on observations from a comparatively small sample of cases. If you have additional questions about the issue, please consult with your veterinarian.

Additional Resources:

Taurine, Dog Food, and Heart Disease in Dogs by Dr. Jean Hofve, Holistic Veterinarian

The Importance of Taurine for Dogs & Cats by Dr. Jean Hofve, Holistic Veterinarian


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