My responses to “A broken heart: Risk of heart disease in boutique or grain-free diets and exotic ingredients”

Update: 6/29/2019 F.D.A. Names 16 Brands of Dog Food That May Be Linked to Canine Heart Disease

The Food and Drug Administration identified 16 brands of dog food that had been linked to heart disease in dogs, according to a report the agency published on Thursday.

In the report, the F.D.A. named for the first time the pet food brands most frequently associated with adverse events. In descending order of most incidents of heart disease, the brands are Acana, Zignature, Taste of the Wild, 4Health, Earthborn Holistic, Blue Buffalo, Nature’s Domain, Fromm, Merrick, California Natural, Natural Balance, Orijen, Nature’s Variety, NutriSource, Nutro and Rachael Ray Nutrish.

Update: 6/24/2019 FDA will soon release DCM investigation update (this is a great read!)

If you are concerned about this issue for your dog or cat, I suggest the following:

  1. Immediately stop feeding these foods and, start to feed a species appropriate meat-based minimally processed (cut, chopped, frozen, ground, for example) diet that uses only real, whole foods – this may be cooked or raw – your choice.
    • Here’s how to switch cats.
    • Here’s how to switch puppies and how to switch dogs.
    • There is one nationally distributed commercially prepared food brand I feel comfortable to recommend: Answers Pet Food. for those in/near Colorado, I feel comfortable recommending Raw Dog Food and Company products. Unfortunately, I cannot, in good conscious, recommend other widely-distributed or commercially available brands for a variety of reasons; concerns may be related to their use of HPP, denaturing “kill-steps” or other IMO risky/dangerous processing techniques, their inclusion of a vitamin-mineral pre-mix or fortification/supplementing “for balance” with vitamins-minerals (instead of relying entirely on whole foods for nutritional balance), problematic sourcing or issues with the quality and safety of the ingredients used, their manufacturing practices or with problematic manufacturing co-packers/facilities, flaws in their basic formulation that could be problematic for animals over the long-term, or problems with the integrity and reputation of the company.
    • Locally, if you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, you are welcome to visit SFRAW, of course. We are here to help you to provide a safe, balanced menu/meals for your animals with products/ingredients which may be cooked or fed raw. We have put over 30 years raw feeding experience, our unwavering commitment to a visionary-level discriminating procurement standards, years of obsessive research and knowledge, into making, simply stated: the best raw prepared foods that you can possibly buy. We also sell a carefully curated variety of high-quality, nutrient-dense DIY ingredients and prey model options to make/prepare meals at home – and yes, we can help to advise you on how to do so. In the East Bay (for felines only) we recommend RAWR (we also sell RAWR in our location in SF). For Sonoma County residents, we can also recommend Feed This.
  2. As recommended by Dr. Jean Dodds (well-respected, leading authority on veterinary hematological and endocrine disease, clinical veterinary nutrition, vaccines and immunology), I suggest that you work with your veterinarian to collect a blood sample and request that they submit the sample to the Amino Acid Laboratory at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine using this form:
    • “have your veterinarian take a blood sample to measure the taurine levels in whole blood and send it to a diagnostic laboratory experienced with the appropriate reference ranges for circulating taurine. If the levels are lower than normal for dogs, please discuss the appropriate next steps with your veterinarian. As well, please send the information on your dog, including the food you are feeding, breed, health regarding canine heart disease and retinal degradation, age and weight to the FDA – no matter what the results are. You and your dog would potentially be helping millions of other dogs. ”
    • While you are collecting samples for analysis at your veterinarian’s office, I’d recommend that you request/order a basic CBC and Chemistry Profile test and urinalysis for reference. It’s a good idea to have your veterinarian do a general physical examination, and run proactive periodic lab/urine tests to maintain baseline results for your animal when healthy. Rather than visiting your veterinarian for annual vaccines, instead use your annual visit to maintaining historical wellness records for your individual animal, and utilize the exam and basic laboratory tests used for diagnosing/confirming general health. This can be preventative and very useful if your animal ever becomes symptomatic for illness.
    • An additional nutrition related test that might be of consideration to you is a mineral and heavy metal hair analysis test. This is a non-invasive test you can do at home. Please understand that these tests are considered controversial by some, and they are not at all related to taurine or other amino-acid deficiencies, but many have found them helpful in learning about (and using them to correct) nutrition-related mineral imbalances. Tests can be ordered online here: HairQ test provided by Dr. Dobias , Uckele Canine Hair Mineral Analysis test, ParsleyPet Nutritional Blueprint Testing Kit .
  3. If you have concerns about your dog or cat’s cardiac function, you may also decide to schedule a non-invasive basic cardiac exam and/or echocardiogram with a board certified veterinary cardiologist.

This issue is over a year old now and still dogs continue to be Dx with DCM as a result of consuming these foods. In addition, scores of animals continue to succumb to premature deaths from consuming other commercially available highly processed food/treats, including:

Deadly Chinese Jerky Treats…Again March 24, 2018

Deadly Vitamin D supplementation/fortification issue found in a large number of Pet Foods from 2018-2019 – ongoing recalls resulting in the deaths of MANY animals caused by the composition of an industry standard Vitamin-Mineral Premix

Note: IMO, vitamin-mineral “premixes” are, simply put, deadly – or at a minimum – they are incredibly harmful to our animals health and risk to their safety. Yet they are used in the formulation/preparation of 100% commercially prepared/processed foods – yes, this even includes nearly every brand of raw, dehydrated, freeze-dried foods! Added “pre-mixes” are an ingredient that we avoid entirely and we strongly urge everyone to do the same. I think premixes and added vitamins-minerals have proven to be far too dangerous, and are not actually healthy or nutritious. Indeed, in many cases, adding vitamins-minerals in a pre-mix may not even be necessary, and have proven – time and time again – to be unsafe to consume long-term.

My advice: please stop feeding pet “food” and please, consider simply feeding real, actual food. Feeding raw heart supports heart health, just feeding fresh cuts of whole raw meat does, too. Feeding fresh, whole foods can be SO EASY…eliminating all processed “foods” is not usually more expensive, either. Meals made using just a few easy cuts or pieces of fresh food can be incredibly simple; and with just simple common sense, we all know that eating/feeding real food is healthier & safer for any body. Turns out, eating/feeding whole real food is also many times better for the environment, all living things and everyone involved.

There’s so much suffering and damage caused by commercially processed foods…it’s just not safe to feed. Not to mention a terrible waste of your money! 50% of every kibble formulation requires the use/inclusion of some type/form of filler starch that is non-nutritious. The crude truth is, it only goes in and comes right back out the other end – in great volume. Such a waste. Literally!

Last Updated 7/13/2018: FDA Investigating Potential Connection Between Diet and Cases of Canine Heart Disease

Early this am, at first glance, I was concerned that I would need to address more of the same (below) warnings about the dangers of novel protein/raw diets, etc. from this new FDA warning…

BUT, I am pleased to see that the FDA is focusing here on the problem with “grain-free” diets which simply replace grains/starches with different, yet **just as problematic** starches/carbohydrates: peas, potatoes, and legumes/seeds.

“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. <snip> Diets in cases reported to the FDA frequently list potatoes or multiple legumes such as peas, lentils, other “pulses” (seeds of legumes), and their protein, starch and fiber derivatives early in the ingredient list, indicating that they are main ingredients. Early reports from the veterinary cardiology community indicate that the dogs consistently ate these foods as their primary source of nutrition for time periods ranging from months to years. High levels of legumes or potatoes appear to be more common in diets labeled as “grain-free,” but it is not yet known how these ingredients are linked to cases of DCM.”

“Grain-free” diets are being linked with cases of potentially deadly DCM in dogs caused by a nutritional taurine deficiency after/while eating these foods.

We don’t fully understand the mechanisms behind how DCM is occurring from eating these grain-free foods, but I have a two percolating theories/ideas about the possible reasons why:

  1. These “grain-free” filler starches, such as legumes and potatoes, are also a source of vegan/plant-based protein. They are, however, an inexpensive and extremely poor source of protein that are highly refined and not species appropriate for our carnivores. I am pretty sure the protein amounts provided by these ingredients/fillers were accounted for when calculating/analyzing the total protein levels in these foods to meet AAFCO standards. The problem is these plant-based, highly refined poor quality ingredients are not a species appropriate source of protein; they lack key essential amino acids required by our dogs and cats to maintain healthy and normal basic biological functioning including methionine, leucine, valine, and isoleucine. When we displace animal-based/derived sources of protein for plant based sources of poor quality, incomplete protein for our carnivore species, they will surely suffer the consequences from a lack of essential nutrients! (Similarly, the deadly melamine that was found in 2007 to be the cause of the hundreds of deaths for animals that ate foods tainted by its use, was added to pet food ingredients to increase the protein values in a false and dishonest manner). For a review of this issue, this is an excellent review of the problems associated with vegan ingredients as a basis for a dog/cat diet and the problems associated with plant based protein sources.

Lets take a quick look at these amino acids and some of their important functions.

Methionine – Without methionine, the body cannot make IGF-1. IGF-1 is an important growth hormone that has growth-promoting effects on almost every cell in the body

Leucine, Valine & Isoleucine – These branched-chain amino acids are critical to protein synthesis. This is primarily because of their effects on mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin). In addition to being a core regulator of cell growth, proliferation, and survival, mTOR also regulates several key components of protein synthesis.

Now, guess which four amino acids are abundant in animal proteins, while present in significantly lower amounts in plant-based proteins? That’s right: methionine, leucine, valine, and isoleucine. This is why we don’t recommend a plant-based diet as the optimal feeding strategy for your dog.
  1. (see above) amino-acid deficiencies from the reliance on plant-based protein sources, displacing critically important animal-based protein, in the diet.
  2. It is also possible that the issues are partly stemming from the influence of anti-nutrient compounds, or other possible contaminants associated with legumes/potatoes, which are impacting digestion or our animal’s ability to metabolize and absorb nutrients from these foods. Anti-nutrients or contaminants found in these ingredients may be causing metabolic dysfunction, or involved with a disease process within the body that leads to or contributes to DCM. Certain fungus contamination (such as deadly, cancer causing mycotoxins) and/or naturally occurring anti-nutrient/inhibitors such as phytates (found in whole grains, nuts and legumes), lectins (in whole grains and legumes), tannins (in tea, wine, grapes, chocolate, nuts…), protease inhibitors (in legumes and grains) or saponin (in legumes, oats, quinoa, amaranth, soy…) may all be a contributing factor for the problems associated with these foods when it comes to taurine levels or cardiac health.

It has been well established that these “grain-free” foods, which can be very costly, are NO BETTER if not WORSE for your dogs because they are usually higher in sugar (big topic)! Please stop feeding them if you want your dog/cat to be as healthy as possible.

Where the Taurine?

Hey,  you know which food most elegantly and ideally meets all of our dog’s nutritional needs so you don’t need to worry about all of this? A species appropriate diet which is meat/animal protein based. Drop the grains, drop the grain-free carbs/fillers/starches and vegetable based ingredients that dogs/cats have a very hard time getting any nutrition from, they have zero nutritional requirement for, and simply don’t work for their bodies!

Feed The Correct Foods According to Biology

We ran into this same problem when we were feeding animal proteins to ruminant animals such as cattle, designed to graze and consume plants/grasses (remember BSE/Mad Cow?). Just try feeding a snake or bird of prey a diet of vegetable matter (oats, carrots or cabbage, for example) — anyone knows that this is simply not the kind of foods they are designed to eat/digest!

Our Suggestion:

Preferably you can feed fresh meat/bones/organs/eggs/seafood/raw dairy (for our dogs & cats, the organs = “vitamins/minerals”), preferably raw — and there are a lot of ways to accomplish this! Take a wild guess which foods are biologically appropriate and nutritionally most bioavailable for dogs and cats? These are also the same foods that are naturally the best, richest source of taurine? Food such as meat & seafood!

Please, stop feeding them kibble = which is cereal = which is really just sugar, and incredibly harmful to their health!

Updated 7/7/2018: this live video posted by Rodney Habib which addresses this topic:

My own responses over the past few months to those that inquired about the article can be found below:

—–Original Message—–
From: kasie
Sent: Saturday, June 23, 2018 4:41 PM
Subject: FW: A broken heart: Risk of heart disease in boutique or grain-free diets and exotic ingredients – Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings School

Hi Julie,

Sorry this took a while to reply to…

Please scroll down to see my original/past responses to this article, which people have been asking about over the past few months.  You can see my replies and reactions, plus additional information for raw feeders below.


In addition to my replies below, we should consider the source of this information/article: Lisa Freeman, DVM.

Dr. Freeman has a reputation for being an anti-raw veterinarian. Her work appears to be influenced not only by her anti-raw position/bias, but by Nestlé Purina. One of our members pointed this out today – which I think needs to be considered. You can Google her for more about her past writings/articles and research collaborations with Nestlé Purina, including her facility, which was funded entirely by Nestlé Purina:

Nestlé Purina Funds Nutrition Center at Tufts University A new nutrition center funded by Nestlé Purina PetCare at Tufts University’s Foster Hospital for Small Animals in North Grafton, Mass., is helping to enhance the veterinary nutrition program. The Tufts Nutrition Center, which opened in January, is conveniently located within the teaching hospital where Tufts clinicians treat more than 22,000 animals a year. <snip> Lisa Freeman, D.V.M., Ph.D., DACVN, associate professor of clinical sciences says, “The Nutrition Center is a boost to our nutrition program. While the former nutrition area was located in a small part of one of our hospital wards, the new Nutrition Center is both convenient and beautifully organized.” Besides having a sleek appearance and efficient organization, the Nutrition Center features Plexiglas canisters for holding and dispensing dry formulas and glide-out vertical drawers with adjustable shelves for various can sizes and boxes of softmoist product. <snip> The Tufts Nutrition Center is one of four veterinary nutrition centers nationwide that Nestlé Purina has funded through the Nestlé Purina Veterinary College Program. Others are located at Michigan State University, Colorado State University, and the University of California-Davis.”

Unfortunately, one of the biggest problems with veterinary nutritionists and veterinary nutrition research/science is that it IS just so heavily influenced and associated/funded by large food corporations with an intense interest in supporting their brands/maintaining market share by any means (including Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Nestle Purina PetCare, P&G Pet Care, and Royal Canin).

At this point, because of industry associations, what has become the veterinary nutrition “machine”, it is very difficult (nearly impossible?) to get truly accurate, unbiased information.

Read more about Dr. Freeman and her associations with Nestlé Purina in the following links…

Click to access Freeman_notes.pdf

Click to access Deciphering_Fact_From_Fiction_-_RawMeat.pdf

Cailin R. Heinze, VMD, MS, Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, Camilia R. Martin, MD, MS, Michael L. … The publisher’s final edited version of this article is available at J Am Vet Med Assoc …… Supported by a grant from Nestlé Purina PetCare.



ENTER THE DOG RISK PROJECT! Yay! This is why we are so encouraged by the truly independent university level nutrition and disease management research being done by the diligent veterinary scientists involved with the Dog Risk project!


BTW: If you can help support the Dog Risk project or get involved, please do!  They are doing incredible work that, we hope, will have big implications and perhaps even spur a sea change within the veterinary nutritionist community worldwide.

From: kasie

Sent: Friday, June 8, 2018 1:18 PM

Subject: RE: A broken heart: Risk of heart disease in boutique or grain-free diets and exotic ingredients – Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings School

Interesting – I wrote about this a while ago to someone else that saw it, but today I got a few different people inquiring about it again, so I guess it’s making the rounds – as things on the internet do!   Here’s what I wrote in messenger with another member this am:

Hi! Just read an article written by a nutritionist that said heart issues have been caused by taurine deficiencies. Of course raw diets were included as one of the culprits. Do you add taurine to the formula you make? Is there any truth that you know of heart issues being linked to taurine deficiencies?


Is this the one?


Yes, cardiac issues can be caused by a lack of taurine in the diet …generally, this is a risk for felines, not canines. For cats, we recommend adding taurine a few times a week and/or feeding fresh whole heart 3-4 times/week. Taurine is most abundant in all meat, but especially so in heart. It is water soluble, and diminishes with each step in processing and handling…for example, when ground, frozen and most significantly when defrosted. The myoglobin (liquid that comes off meat, especially when defrosted) is where the taurine ends up, so we always tell kitty people to be sure to add this back into their cat’s meals and not discard. Taurine deficiency related disease (cardiac and ocular) is very old information, indeed, it was one of the first issues ever recorded/understood in cats nutritionally. And yes, it may affect dogs, too. But it is incredibly unlikely to happen when feeding a raw, meat based diet. I do not add additional taurine to our foods, as it is naturally present in meat in adequate amounts. Great Danes are very high risk for DCM, and heart murmurs/valve defects. I have actually reversed a valve defect in one of my Great Danes, after I adopted him. He was being fed kibble until I adopted him at 16 months of age. The condition improved dramatically to the point of being “cured” and he lived until the age of 12, never experiencing any cardiac defects or symptoms related to cardiac dysfunction. I added extra heart to his diet, and hawthorn berry plus CoEnzymeQ10…but only until his condition improved, then I was able to stop supplementing. I add hawthorn berry to my Summer Nutritive Herbs blend. I will send you my response to the other post separately…


“Thanks for sharing — this is really great information. Those “grain-free” diets are a new level of terrible — they contain even MORE sugars than grain-based diets = more damaging (pro-inflammatory, increasing risk for cancer, arthritis, incontinence, yeast/bacterial overgrowth). Uugh. And people pay a premium/more for it! I can see how this could very well be another possible issue…will be interesting to see. Any time we stray from feeding what is provided to us naturally by nature’s design, any time we feed species inappropriate, refined and denatured foods, we run the risk for serious issues down the road. Best to stick to real, whole/wholesome natural fresh foods; to choose foods that honor the true nature and digestive system (what is an individual uniquely adapted and physiologically/biologically suited to get their nutrition from) of those under our care. When we deviate from providing correct nutrition, we always run into problems!”


“Lectins may be the true issue here. Would be nice if it’s a taurine deficiency, this can often be reversible with simple supplementation — DCM is a common health issue in Great Danes (genetic).”


I feed supplemental taurine to kittens during the first year, after this, I think simply adding fresh heart a few times a week is adequate for their over 25-30 year lifetime . I do not supplement my dogs/puppies at all…unless they have a known issue or are exceptionally higher risk (siblings or parents died from cardiac dysfunction or have cardiac diseases). For example, we have a bulldog member that has been on our foods his entire life. Mother had a very serious/deadly and heritable heart condition when accidentally bred. Puppies were at high risk. We put this pup on additional heart, nothing else, and he’s now 100% normal. Mom also eventually became normal! Which was a wonderful outcome. This became an undetected issue, after including extra heart in her diet, over time. In most dogs, supplementing their healthy, balanced raw whole foods diet is not necessary. However, taurine is an incredibly safe amino acid, inexpensive, too…we sell it and you can add it in, as an insurance policy, if you’d like. I recommend all felines get either 1,000-2,000 mg taurine added to their food 1-2x/week, or fed regular servings of FRESH (not ground or previously frozen) chunks or pieces of whole heart, too. That is best, IMO.


More on taurine…

In general, raw diets are not going to be deficient in taurine for dogs (and even for cats, depending on what you are feeding and how it is handled/stored) because taurine is naturally abundant in meat and seafood, along with the amino acid precursors, methionine and cysteine (which is what dogs require).  Raw diets will provide adequate amounts, if you feed a normal/advised and common enough quantity of fresh muscle meats – including tongue and heart, IMO.  Seafood such as oysters provide huge amounts, too.

More great reading on this topic can be found here:

Sent: Friday, June 8, 2018 7:54 AM

To: mailto:kasie

Subject: A broken heart: Risk of heart disease in boutique or grain-free diets and exotic ingredients – Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings School

Did you write about this once or have a response to this? I remember reading about taurine in one of your blogs. Can you direct me to it? The greyhound group has a member who’s vet is concerned about heart disease and telling her to get rid of the grain free kibble and go back to regular kibble. Yikes.

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