Veterinarians are researching a potential link between grain free pet foods to taurine-deficient dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs. The early suspicion is towards legume ingredients. But does pet food processing (along with transportation and storage) also play a role in nutrient deficient illness?
What is dilated cardiomyopathy?
From Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine: “DCM is a disease of the heart muscle that results in weakened contractions and poor pumping ability. As the disease progresses the heart chambers become enlarged, one or more valves may leak, and signs of congestive heart failure develop.”
Dr. Joshua Stern of U.C. Davis has been studying/documenting cases of taurine-deficient dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in Golden Retriever dogs a little over a year. His research has connected “diets of concern” in diagnosed Golden Retrievers as grain free kibble diets; pet foods that contain high levels of legume ingredients (pea ingredients most commonly used). Some of the dogs diagnosed have experienced a reversal of DCM through a change of diet and taurine supplementation (supervised by veterinarians).
Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is becoming more prevalent in golden retrievers. Dr. Joshua Stern, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (Cardiology) at UC Davis, starting seeing a pattern and recognized that many cases were due to dietary taurine deficiency in golden retrievers fed grain free diets. Here is what we know so far:
Taurine is an amino acid that is found in high concentrations in heart and muscle. Among its many functions, it aids in normal contractile function. Evidence shows that taurine helps mediate calcium channel transports and modulates calcium sensitivity of the myofibrils.
Taurine deficiency as a cause of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is not a new issue. Taurine deficiency in cats was characterized by Pion et al in the late 1980s. Taurine deficiency has since been characterized as a cause of acquired DCM in dogs as well.
Currently identified diets of concern in these golden retrievers
According to Dr. Stern, the majority of cases they are seeing at UC Davis are from grain free diets that are high in legumes, like acana pork and squash singles.
Dr. Stern of U.C. Davis stated in an open letter from 2017: “Unfortunately, many owners have identified concerns and proceeded with supplementation or diet change without first obtaining appropriate diagnostic criteria. This approach has led to more confusion and an inability to definitively say whether some dogs have an inherited cardiomyopathy or a nutritionally derived heart disease.”
It is significant for pet owners to work with their veterinarian if they suspect any heart issue AND it is significant for practicing veterinarians to report all suspect “nutritionally derived heart disease” to Dr. Stern. The science behind the suspicions must be documented.
Note in the above information from Veterinary Cardiology Specialists – under “Currently identified diets of concern” – the document specified diets “like Acana pork and squash singles”. Provided to TruthaboutPetFood.com by an anonymous source – Champion Pet Food (manufacturer of Acana and Orijen pet foods) stated to a consumer:
All our ACANA and ORIJEN diets are formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles for all life stages. Cysteine and methionine content are available for taurine production in the dog’s body, and taurine itself is naturally present from the meat ingredients we include in the food.
From the National Research Council: “Dogs do not require taurine in their diet as they can manufacture it from sulfur containing amino acids. Thus, as long as there is sufficient dietary cysteine and/or methionine the dog will be able to synthesize ample taurine. Sufficient methionine is defined as 1.2g per day/1000kcal food equivalent; total sulfur containing amino acids should constitute more than 1.4g/1000kcal food.”
Is it the processing that should be closely examined as a potential cause of taurine deficiency?
Meat contains taurine. Meat contains cysteine and methionine. As example, from “The potential protective effects of taurine on coronary heart disease” – 100 grams of raw beef contains 43.1 mg of taurine. Broiled beef per 100 grams contains 38.4 mg of taurine. Chicken (light meat) raw per 100 grams contains 17.5 mg of taurine – broiled chicken (light meat) per 100 grams contains 14.5 mg of taurine.
In other words, with normal processing (example broiling) taurine levels in meat should be sufficient for dogs and cats; we should not be seeing nutritionally derived taurine deficient Dilated Cardiomyopathy in pets. But (most) pet food ingredients are not subject to normal processing.
Borrowed from a 2016 TruthaboutPetFood.com post…
Quoted text below is from MadeHow.com.
Emphasis added in the following for heat or cooking of ingredients…
Kibble is a cooked dough-type pet food (comparable to dough used to make a cookie or a cracker – with meat). Because it is made from dough, all ingredients in a kibble pet food need to be ground fine before mixing. Raw ingredients are “brought together in a mixer” with added supplements (mixer can hold 10,000 pounds or more of ingredients). Next the dough “is heated in the preconditioner prior to introduction to the extruder.” “The extruder, essentially a giant meat grinder, is where the primary cooking phase for dry extruded pet food products occurs. The dough is cooked under intense heat and pressure as it moves toward the open end of the extruder.” At the end of the extruder the dough is forced through a “shaping die” and cut into desired shape. “Kibble is dried in an oven until its moisture content is low enough to make it shelf stable like a cookie or cracker.”
And then there is the consideration of meat meal ingredients (common to kibble and some canned pet foods)…
Meat meals are made by finely grinding meat and bone. Actually many meat meals are sourced from animal “frames” (skeletal remains after mechanical separation of meat) that contain very little meat. The ground material is cooked and separated from the remaining moisture. The solids are dried into a powder like substance (above – meat meal). This processing occurs before ingredients arrive at the pet food plant (where it is cooked again in the pet food).
All of this processing destroys the natural nutrient content of the meat (if there is any actual meat in the pet food to begin with) including destruction of amino acids such as cysteine and/or methionine used to produce taurine.
And then…if by chance the proper level of required amino acids (such as cysteine and/or methionine for dogs to produce taurine) is in the pet food immediately after all of this processing, we then have the concern of heat exposure in warehousing and during transportation – which can further destroy nutrients. All kibble and canned pet foods are warehoused in non-climate controlled buildings at the manufacturer, at the distributor and in delivery trailers. (The only pet foods that are warehoused and transported under refrigeration are raw or lightly cooked sold frozen.)
What we really need is veterinarians to take a close examination of the processing of some pet foods. The role that processing and warehousing might play in nutritionally derived taurine deficient Dilated Cardiomyopathy in pets (as well as other nutritionally derived illnesses). All that is known about the destruction of nutrients in human food due to processing is slow to progress to the pet food industry. This needs to change.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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