Heart Help for Fido

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New info sheds light on the dangers (think cardiac disease) of feeding pets a grain-free diet

By Lexi Becker, DVM

In July 2018, the FDA started investigating a possible link between grain‐free diet consumption and the incidence of cardiac disease in dogs and cats. The study is still ongoing; however, valuable information was just released in June. Of the diets reported to the FDA most frequently associated with pets developing cardiac disease, more than 90% were grain‐free, 93% contained peas or lentils as the main ingredient, 42% contained potatoes as a main ingredient, and 88% of the investigated foods were of the dry variety.

As the study illuminated, grain‐free diets have a high proportion of peas, lentils, other legume seeds and/or potatoes, and many of them had these items listed within the top ten ingredients. The metabolism of the legumes and potatoes is thought to interfere with the synthesis of an amino acid named taurine. Investigation is still underway as to how taurine may play a role in these cases of heart disease.

The specific heart disease that is being investigated is Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM), a heart condition where there is a primary issue with the heart muscle that diminishes its pumping ability. The ventricles, which are the lower chambers of the heart, become thin and dilated.

Certain breeds (Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane, and Irish Wolfhound) are genetically predisposed to developing DCM. This investigation, however, began because of reports of DCM in breeds not typically predisposed. Cardiologists began testing these patients for taurine and found that there was a correlation between DCM and the individuals that came back low for this crucial amino acid. Of these patients, some responded to proper taurine supplementation under the guidance of a cardiologist. It is important to note, however, that not all individuals with diet‐associated DCM were taurine deficient. Additional studies are underway to investigate this complex process further.

A study released in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association stated that it is not just grain‐free diets associated with diet‐related DCM. The broader group of diets have been termed “BEG diets.” BEG stands for “boutique companies,” “exotic ingredients,” and “grain‐free.” “The apparent link between BEG diets and DCM may be due to ingredients used to replace grains in grain‐free diets, such as lentils or chickpeas, but also may be due to other common ingredients commonly found in BEG diets, such as exotic meats, vegetables, and fruits,” reported Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN in the journal article.

At this time, veterinary nutrition experts are recommending that you do not feed your pet a grain‐free diet unless otherwise directed by a veterinarian. If your pet remains on one, your veterinarian can help you navigate the best course of action

It is important to note that any diet should be changed gradually, over the course of a few weeks, to avoid gastrointestinal upset. For more information and a list of the diets named in the investigation, please refer to www.fda.gov/animal‐veterinary and speak to your veterinarian.

Is pet insurance right for you?

For many of us, our pets are important members of our family. We want to keep them healthy and happy for as long as we can.

Unfortunately, injuries and illness can occur, forcing us to face decisions regarding our furry friends’ care. A serious injury or illness ‐ such as cancer or an acute, chronic condition ‐ can take a financial toll. In some cases, you may find yourself in the horrible position of considering your economic situation and the price tag of treatment when determining how or if you’ll proceed with medical care. In extreme cases, pet owners may be forced to consider “economic” euthanasia.

Most people do not have a “pet fund” that they contribute to regularly in preparation for veterinary care. That’s why many are now considering pet insurance. Purchasing the policies brings peace of mind and allows you to better prepare for little (or big) illnesses in your pet’s life. Pet insurance is also one of the fastest‐growing optional employee benefits.

There are several major pet insurance companies from which to choose. Like all insurance, each comes with a variety of options for deductibles, co‐payments, and premiums, so it’s important to do research, compare, and discuss your options with your vet. Most plans require payment to your provider upfront with reimbursement after the fact. Depending on your carrier, you can receive these payments as quickly as 24 hours after your submittal. Factors that may influence your insurance rates are the breed of your pet along with their age.

If you are apprehensive about contributing to a pet insurance policy, consider starting an emergency savings fund for pet care instead. Of course, emergencies sometimes happen. If you find you need help with a big pet medical bill, the Humane Society has a list of organizations that may be able to assist you.

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