The type of heart disease we are talking about is called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). It leads to heart failure because the heart muscles become stretched and the heart can’t pump blood the way it should. For decades there has been a recognized genetic risk for this disease (including Doberman Pinchers, Boxers, Irish Wolfhounds, and Great Danes.) But nutrition can play a significant role in any breed of cat or dog. We have recognized as a vet community since the 1980s that cats need this taurine supplemented in their cat food. There are ongoing studies in Cocker Spaniels and Golden Retrievers that show that they need a certain protein building block supplemented in their diet called taurine.
Research is now focusing on why mixed breed pets that classically were not a risk for DCM are developing the disease. The studies are early and ongoing, but there appears to be risk factors associated with grain free diets and diets that are filled with certain protein sources that are much more popular now (lamb, buffalo, venison and others.) In light of the evidence that came out at the end of 2018, we want to make our clients aware that there may be a risk to their pet’s health, even though they may be feeding them an expensive, high quality diet.
Where do we go from here?
There are great resources put out by Tufts University. We encourage all pet owners to read the article found at http://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2018/06/a-broken-heart-risk-of-heart-disease-in-boutique-or-grain-free-diets-and-exotic-ingredients/ .
As always, we continue to discuss diet, life-style and give your pet a thorough exam every time they come in (whether they are sick , or here for vaccinations.) This includes listening to the heart and checking for murmurs and abnormal rhythms that can be the first signs of this disease.
If your pet has any symptoms such as fainting, coughing (especially at night), fluid in the abdomen, exercise intolerance or blue tongue, we will always get them in and check them over.
If we hear a heart murmur, we always recommend starting with an x-ray in the clinic to measure the heart size and discuss any additional examinations that may be needed (including taurine testing here and an ultrasound of the heart at a university referral.)
The good news is that there appears to be promise with treatment early in the course of disease including changing the diet and supplementing taurine if the tests show it is needed.
We have more information on our website.
For cats – https://dellsvet.com/client-resources/pet-health/articles/?rid=3092
For dogs – https://dellsvet.com/client-resources/pet-health/articles/?rid=3329