Diet Related Heart Disease in Dogs and Cats : Dilated cardiomyopathy

Heart disease can be defined as a condition where the blood vessels associated with the heart or heart itself can no longer function properly1. The resulting effects lead to disruptions in the circulation of oxygenated blood throughout the body occurs.

There are two categories of heart disease; congenital and acquired heart disease. Congenital heart disease occurs from birth while acquired heart disease develops later in life due to lifestyle or genetics.There are many factors affecting the development of heart disease in animals, however the leading underlining causes have been noted to genetics (Hereditary) and diet related.

Diet and exercise play an important role even in animals known to be predisposed to heart disease. In fact, until 1987 the most common heart disease (DCM) diagnosed in cats was linked to the absence of an important nutrient in the nutritional diet provided by cat food brands2. Dilated Cardiomyopathy also known as DCM is the gradual dilation and weakening of the heart muscles. This enlargement of the heart makes it harder for the heart to pump blood and causes the heart to leak fluid into the chest and abdomen3.

Although, heart disease isn’t uncommon in dogs and cats as 10-15% of all cats and dogs do suffer from heart disease, a rise in the number of pets not genetically predisposed to DCM has once again be noted2. This rate is even in higher in breeds that are prone to heart diseases.

The FDA is warning about a correlation between DCM and new dietary choices canine owners are making4. There has been an unusually higher number of reported cases of DCM in dogs whose breeds are not usually predisposed to heart disease.

It was also found that those dogs were fed kosher/exotic dog food brands whose main ingredients were legumes like peas, lentils, legume seeds, potatoes and plant based proteins. The problem with plant based proteins is that they do not contain taurine (an amino acid), an important nutrient that is found in their meat and milk counterparts. Moreover, it was discovered around the mid-1980s that a deficiency in taurine leads to DCM2. This is what propelled cat food companies to adjust their recipes to ensure that adequate levels of taurine were included in the cat meals they provided. After that, the number of DCM related heart failure in cats drastically decreased. At Midoricide, we pride ourselves in our ability to curate relevant and accurate information regarding matters concerning the health and wellbeing of your pets. As such, we will continue to deliver current information that enables you to make well informed decisions. Below are signs, potential causes and ways you can mitigate your pets odds of developing DCM.

Signs your dog / cat may be developing heart disease

There are a number of factors that could cause your dog to develop heart disease. However, the best way to protect your pet is by early detection. Regardless of the underlining cause (hereditary or diet related), the disease can be treated or properly managed without severe consequences if caught early. Moreover, most pets do not show signs or symptoms until the disease is advanced. This is why it is recommended that you take your pets in for regular checkups as your veterinary doctor is more likely to spot the little inconsistency you may miss. Do not forget to mention any slight or minor changes in your dog’s habits or behavioral patterns. Here is a list of symptoms to watch out for.

  • Trouble breathing
  • Shortness of breathe
  • Distended abdomen and chest resulting from a buildup of leaking fluid
  • Difficulties/inability to handle activities and exercise
  • Fainting
  • Restlessness during sleep
  • Cyanosis (blueness or skin discoloration due to lack of oxygen)

If your pet is experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, take your pet in and have your Vet check him/her out as soon as possible.

Potential causes of diet related heart disease (DCM)

Although there are numerous causes and reasons your pets may develop heart disease, there are still steps you can take to mitigate your pet’s risks to DCM. Below are a number things you should watch out for when purchasing/ preparing your pet’s meal.

Grain free is not always better :There is a myth that grain free food is always best for your pet. It is stated that there isn't a benefit from using exotic ingredients whose nutritional profile are unique in such a way that the dietary profile is not understood. While grains may have be implied to be responsible for several poor health issues associated with dogs or cats, they do need glucose to survive. For example in dogs and cats, when glucose is not provided, the body will utilize amino acid and glycerol to synthesize glucose. Nevertheless, cats do not utilize carbohydrates as fast as dogs but it's still necessary for their survival6

Boutique pet food companies: The pet food industry has become exceeding competitive. Small boutique companies are popping up everywhere with unsubstantiated promises that their recipes are better for your pets. However, it has been found that a lot of times they are more proficient at advertising than actually providing your pets with a nutritionally balanced diet. Maybe this is a result of poor mixing due to improper equipment or inexperience with the nutritional requirements, but of the 15% cat food found to be deficient in nutrients during a test sponsored by Cummings Veterinary Medical Center all were produced by small pet food companies2. Be careful when you are trying out a new brand, make sure you are not just buying into their marketing strategy, but their standards and techniques in preparing your pet meals.

Exotic or difficult to manage ingredients: Although some exotic ingredients have been portrayed as better, you should be careful with what you prepare your pet’s food with as different ingredients have different digestibility2.

You should also watch out for brands that make use of exotic ingredients as their main components because these ingredients can have a nutritional profile that is difficult to balance properly  and also affect the way your pet’s system metabolizes other nutrients. This may be the reason why some pets are developing DCM even though their taurine levels fall within acceptable standards.

Plant based proteins (lacking in taurine): Pets that have been put on strictly vegan or vegetarian diets have been found to suffer from a deficiency of taurine in their meals.

This is because taurine can be found only in animal based proteins such as meat and milk5. Be careful if you are feeding your pets a plant based diet and include supplementary taurine pills in their diet to account for this lack.

The steps you can take to protect your pets

There are steps you can take to protect your pet’s vascular system regardless of the diet you feed them. Remember the best nutritionally balanced meal plan would be one prepared by you and your veterinary doctor as different breeds have different needs. Below are a few suggestions you can apply to your pet’s everyday life.

  • Include taurine supplements to your pet’s daily meals
  • Buy only reputable brands and err on the side of caution. Do your research before you switch.
  • Check the ingredients in your pet’s food. If an animal protein isn’t the first ingredient, then it is likely not the main ingredient. You might want to consider changing brands.
  • Watch your pets closely for any signs of early onset heart disease, especially if you feed him/her kosher/exotic brands. Note, it takes months to years of this deficiency to cause DCM. 


  1. “What is Heart Disease?”. Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Colorado State University. Accessed 22nd October, 2018.
  2. Freeman Lisa M. “A broken heart: The risk of heart disease in boutique or grain-free diets and exotic diets”. Clinical Nutritional Services. Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University. 4th June, 2018. Accessed 23rd October, 2018
  3. “FDA investigating Potential Connection Between Diet and Cases of Canine Heart Disease”. S Food and Drug Administration. 8th October, 2018. Accessed 23rd October, 2018.
  4. “Questions & Answers: FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine’s Investigation into a Possible Connection Between Diet and Canine Heart Disease”. S. Food and Drug Administration. 8th October, 2018. Accessed 23rd October, 2018.
  5. Cima Greg. “Unusual pet diet may be linked to heart disease”. JAVMA News. American Veterinary Medical Association. 1st August, 2018. Accessed 23rd October, 2018.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published