The Heart of the Matter Regarding Grain-Free Diets

The Heart of the Matter Regarding Grain-Free Diets The Heart of the Matter Regarding Grain-Free Diets
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UPDATE: A lot has happened since our original August 2018 blog post on DCM, but we wanted to keep our original blog for context. For our most current information on DCM, please read our updated blog.

FDA Update to DCM Investigation: What We Know

The pet nutrition and veterinary world have been buzzing about a warning issued by the FDA linking grain-free diets to heart disease for a month now. Since the buzz continues to intensify, I thought it might be nice to hear from someone who has experience in both worlds.

My life in veterinary medicine exposed me to many disease processes involving and related to diet. And my former colleagues in the vet world have had similar experiences, giving good reason to be worried. Unfortunately, that worry has sent many of them into a tail-spin causing diet recommendations to be made that are sometimes not in the best interest of the pet at all.

My pet food life has me feeling frustrated and sad about the misinformation being spread like wildfire – with some misinformation having the potential to do more harm than good.

The first and most important thing to note is what the FDA actually said:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting pet owners and veterinary professionals about reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients.


It’s important to note that Primal Formulas are not implicated in this warning. This warning applies only to diets containing large amounts of specific grain-free starches as a replacement for more traditional grain-based starches. We can go into how I feel about dogs eating any starches at all another day. For now, let’s just agree that Primal Formulas do not contain any starch-heavy ingredients at all.

Ok, so now that that's out of the way, let's talk about why taurine levels are being discussed in relation to this investigation. Again, I refer to the FDA warning:

Medical records for four atypical DCM cases, three Golden Retrievers and one Labrador Retriever, show that these dogs had low whole blood levels of the amino acid taurine. Taurine deficiency is well-documented as potentially leading to DCM. The Labrador Retriever with low whole blood taurine levels is recovering with veterinary treatment, including taurine supplementation, and a diet change. Four other cases of DCM in atypical dog breeds, a Miniature Schnauzer, Shih Tzu and two Labrador Retrievers, had normal blood taurine levels. 


In my current life as a Primal employee, I’ve been asked about taurine requirements for dogs and cats more in the past 3 weeks than in my entire 20+ career in animal health. Let’s talk about what taurine is and how it relates to dogs and to cats.

Taurine is often referred to as an amino acid. It is an organic compound that is responsible for many of our bodily functions including digestion, heart function, eyesight, as well as many others. We all need taurine to survive. Human beings make our own taurine inside of our bodies.

Dogs do not have any daily dietary requirement for taurine. Their requirement is zero. Dogs, like people, can synthesize (make) taurine in their pancreas using other amino acids.  

On the other hand, cats cannot synthesize their own taurine and they must eat it. Cats need to eat approximately 50mg of taurine per day. This topic has been well studied. Taurine levels are very high in freshly killed prey (a cat’s natural diet). The levels in other meats (fresh, frozen, cooked, rendered, etc.), whether muscle or organ meat, varies significantly.

The taurine requirement of adult cats was investigated using a purified amino‐acid diet containing various levels of added taurine. From the results of two earlier investigations, it appeared that the minimum daily taurine requirement was between 35 and 56 mg for an adult cat. The results of the present study show that a taurine intake of about 10 mg/kg bodyweight/day is sufficient to maintain adult cats in adequate taurine status. This value is in agreement with the previous estimate and approximates to a taurine concentration of 500 mg/kg of dry matter in a commercial cat food.


Because of this, Primal adds a stable form of taurine, to our feline diets only, in the form of freeze-dried ox bile.

We have no idea why some of the dogs mentioned in the FDA investigation were taurine deficient. It’s likely that it’s a combination of factors. My educated guess is that they were not able to make enough taurine because they were missing one or more of the important building blocks. That could be because the foods they were eating didn’t contain enough digestible amino acids, it could be because something in the food was blocking the synthesis of taurine, it could be because of something genetic or it could be a disease/autoimmune condition that interrupted its creation in the body. We really do not know yet.

As a dog owner, pet store employee or veterinary professional, I think the best thing to take away from all of this is that we should be including a variety of fresh, minimally processed, food in our pets’ diets! They are carnivores and they require a significant amount of amino acids (proteins broken into their smallest parts) to maintain excellent health. The best way to get those amino acids is with a varied diet rich in animal protein. And it isn’t a go big or go home situation at all. Many of these restrictive or extremely limited diets contain very little meat. If these limited ingredients & nutrients are fed over long periods of time it’s easy to imagine that they could cause a deficiency. Feeding or adding safe & balanced raw food as a topper or in addition to that base diet can be the little bit that goes a long way! Buy a different color bag of Primal Freeze Dried or Pronto to add to every meal.

As a side note that also came up in the past few weeks, it is well documented that goat milk contains a large amount of stable and bioavailable taurine. If there is any concern of taurine deficiency due to a known health issue (or just to ease your mind until the FDA investigation is completed) go ahead and add some Primal Goat Milk to each meal, whether raw or kibble. I’m not sure it addresses the real “problem” if there even is one, but it’s a simple solution for a concerned pet parent for sure.

Taurine content in Goat Milk: It is the most abundant free amino acid in goat milkTaurine contents in goat milk is 55.93 umol/100 ml


 As always, my answer is “The solution is real food!” And Primal is real food.