Diet-Related Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

01/15/2020
Author: Sharon M. Albright, DVM, CCRT


Trisha Brenner was shocked when her active, five-year-old Weimaraner named Charlie collapsed on a walk in November of 2018. “Charlie had been healthy, except for some allergic dermatitis symptoms he experienced as a young dog,” she states. Those symptoms resolved after a diet change recommended by a board-certified veterinary dermatologist. Unfortunately, the same diet that helped his skin disease was now believed to be the cause of Charlie’s collapse. Trisha shares that “Charlie was diagnosed with suspected diet-related dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that led to congestive heart failure.”

Charlie
Charlie Brenner

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) occurs when the heart muscle becomes weak and loses the ability to contract normally and pump blood throughout the body. A genetic predisposition is suspected since some breeds, such as Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, and Boxers, are more commonly affected. Deficiencies in some amino acids (such as taurine and carnitine) are believed to influence the disease in some breeds such as Boxers and American Cocker Spaniels. However, in the past few years, veterinarians began to diagnose DCM more frequently and in breeds such as Golden Retrievers and mixed breeds not typically predisposed to this disease. A common thread among affected dogs was the consumption of foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients. This led the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to initiate an investigation into the potential link between DCM and these foods in July 2018.

The veterinary community, along with the FDA, has been compiling and analyzing data on diet-related dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs to get a handle on the frequency, severity, and cause of this disease. While dog-owners are anxious for answers, the problem is complex, and the cause is likely multifactorial. Several research studies are underway to explore these factors, including a multi-institutional, prospective study supported by the AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF).

CHF Grant 02661: Investigation into Diet-Associated Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs provides funding to determine the extent of diet-related heart problems in dogs. Investigators at the University of Florida, Tufts University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of California, Davis are screening for DCM in a large population of apparently healthy dogs. They are comparing ultrasound findings plus blood biomarker and taurine concentrations. They are also recording each dog’s dietary history. Results will improve our understanding of the effect of diet type on heart size and function.

Weimaraner-lover Trisha learned about the AKC Canine Health Foundation while doing her own research into how she could help Charlie and how she could educate and empower other dog owners affected by diet-related DCM. “I was pleasantly surprised by the very diverse portfolio of research being funded by CHF,” she states. “Their work on so many different diseases will benefit all dogs.” Trisha has taken to social media to spread the word about diet-related DCM and the important research underway to unravel this complex problem. She remains optimistic and grateful for the support she has received from the Weimaraner Club of America and other dog enthusiasts.

With intensive treatment, Weimaraner Charlie has surpassed the expectations of his original prognosis. His owner, Trisha, encourages everyone to participate in the search for answers to diet-related DCM and other canine health concerns. She notes “Whether you choose to donate, participate in research, or help spread the word about canine health research, anyone can effect a positive change in the world.” If you would like to support CHF-funded research to help prevent, treat and cure canine disease, please visit www.akcchf.org/how-to-help.

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