“Your dog is dying of congestive heart failure”. I have had to say this to too many clients. There are several causes of congestive heart failure (CHF) but one now appears to be preventable. The one we will discuss is due to a deficiency of taurine. Proteins are comprised of amino acids, some essential, that is the body cannot manufacture them, others are non essential and the body can manufacture them from precursors. Taurine is a non essential amino acid therefore dog food manufactures do not add it to their product. There are factors that can interfere with the absorption or metabolism of taurine thus causing a deficiency.
The heart is a pump and 60% of the amino acid that allows it to develop and function normally is taurine. Too low a level of taurine prevents the muscles of the heart to contract normally. When the heart cannot pump blood effectively, the kidneys retain sodium and water to increase the blood flow to the heart. This leads to an enlargement of the heart leading to a disease called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). This enlargement is helpful in the short term but ultimately becomes detrimental when the blood pressure in the heart causes fluid to back up in the lungs (pulmonary edema). This is called CHF.
How can DCM be diagnosed? A history of the patient is essential. What is your dog’s diet? How is his appetite? What is his energy level? A veterinarian will proceed with a physical exam that will include looking for pale gums, an increased heart rate, coughing, difficult breathing, and weakness. An x-ray (radiograph) of the chest and abdomen to look for fluid. An EKG of the heart should be performed. There is a specific test for the level of taurine in the blood that can also be done. University of California, Davis can perform this test.
The best way to prevent DCM is by diet. Look for a food that has taurine added. Look at the source of protein. Recently dog food manufactures began using legumes and peas as a protein source because of its low cost and cache with health food advocates. The price of legumes is very low compared to other grains. Legumes and peas are very low in taurine. Whole grain rice and rice bran as well as barley are low in taurine. The type of animal protein is also important. Lamb is a poor source of taurine. In one study a lamb and rice diet caused one of the lowest taurine levels measured. Beef and chicken are excellent sources of taurine. Now comes the challenging part of reading dog food labels. They can be very misleading. Look for specifics, does the label read chicken fat or does it say animal fat. The term beef is very different than meat meal.
In humans we seek a high fiber diet, in a dog the same diet can decrease the absorption of taurine.
The price of dog food is not necessarily related to its benefit.
This article does not attempt to cover all the aspects of nutrition, DCM and CHF but just to alert you that I personally know of 7 non related Golden Retrievers that have been diagnosed with these diseases and are currently being treated.
John Schulte DVM
There is a lot of information available on the internet about Taurine and what kinds of foods it is available in. There is a website www.dogfoodadvisor.com which rates most dogs foods and lists ingredients. You might want to take a look at what you feed and make sure it contains some of the recommended products, or has Taurine as an additive.