Tag: diet

Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Golden Retrievers: What You Need to Know

The incidence of dilated cardiomyopathy in Golden Retrievers is on the rise.  Could diet be the problem?  Some veterinarians are beginning to think so.  Here’s what you need to know about the ongoing research.

What is Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy  (DCM) is a condition caused by a weakening of the heart muscle that leads to poor contraction strength.  Ultimately, both the left and the right chambers of the heart become dilated, with thin walls.  The disease is most often progressive and fatal.

Some breeds have a genetic predisposition to DCM.  Affected breeds include the Doberman Pinscher, Boxer Dogs, American Cocker Spaniels, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Portuguese Water Dogs, mastiffs, and Great Danes.  Other breeds, including Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Saint Bernards, Springer Spaniels, English Sheepdogs, Afghan hounds, Scottish Deerhounds, terriers, and English Cocker Spaniels also have a relatively high incidence of the disease.

But genetics isn’t the whole story in some cases.  In the 1990’s, veterinary cardiologists began to connect dietary taurine deficiency with DCM in some breeds.  They found that the disease was linked to diet in some Cocker Spaniels, Newfoundlands, and Golden Retrievers.

What is taurine?

Taurine is an amino acid.  Unlike many amino acids, it is not used by the body to build protein.  Instead, taurine helps regulate the volume of cells, and  it is a component of bile salts. It is necessary for many body functions.  Many animal tissues contain high levels of taurine.  Dogs can make taurine, and it is not considered an essential amino acid for the canine diet.

Dr. Josh Stern, a veterinary cardiologist who studies DCM at the UC Davis College of Veterinary Medicine thinks that some dogs may have something in their genes that causes them to make less taurine.  In these dogs, diets that are lower in taurine could lead to disease. He is studying blood samples from dogs with and without DCM for clues.

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What diets have been associated with Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Golden Retrievers?

Although there are no published studies that link any diets to DCM, Dr. Stern and others have observed an association between some diets and the disease.  These diets include high fiber, lamb and rice meal, and very low protein diets (Morris Animal Foundation, Golden Retriever lifetime study).  Recently, investigators have also linked some grain-free diets, especially those high in legumes such as peas or soy,  to development of DCM.   They speculate that there may be something in legumes that hinders the absorption of taurine.

What should parents of Golden Retrievers do?

Regular veterinary visits and health examinations are essential for any dog.  Make sure you talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s diet.  Your vet may recommend a blood test for dietary taurine levels.  If your dog has signs of dilated cardiomyopathy, your vet may recommend a taurine supplement.  Continue to feed your dog a balanced diet with plenty of protein.

It is important to catch the disease early.  Taurine supplementation will not always be effective in treating the disease.  However, the earlier treatment begins, the better the chances for improvement.

Photo credit: Yvonne Kubo

Diabetes in Dogs and Cats, Part 3: Treating Diabetes

For many pet parents, the thought of treating diabetes in their pet is overwhelming.   Up to 40% of cats and 60% of dogs will be euthanized within a year of diagnosis.  Treating a diabetic animal is challenging, but pets with diabetes can have an excellent quality of life with proper care.

Initial stabilization and treatment

The period of time immediately after a pet is diagnosed with diabetes may be particularly challenging.  Pets with complications of their diabetes, like ketoacidosis, or pets that also have other diseases may need to be hospitalized.  Most veterinarians put newly diagnosed pets on twice daily insulin injections.  With some types of insulin, once-daily injections may be possible.  Veterinarians adjust the dose based on blood glucose control.  Control is assessed using blood glucose curves.  This means that your veterinarian will assess blood samples at various times after your pet is fed and treated with insulin to determine how long the insulin is acting iand how well the dose controls the peak blood sugar.  Glucose curves may be done in the clinic or at home.

Just as it is in people, diet is a very important part of treating diabetes in pets.  Your veterinarian will most likely recommend a high-protein, low carbohydrate diet for a cat, or a high-fiber diet for a dog.  Exercise is also key.  Exercise helps your pet’s body use glucose more efficiently.  Increase your pet’s activity level gradually once diabetes is stabilized.

For the initial treatment phase, you will need syringes and insulin, and perhaps a blood glucose monitor and strips.  You may need to purchase a special diet for your pet.  Be prepared for frequent visits to your veterinarian during this time.  This period can be expensive, but there are options to decrease costs.  Pets with Diabetes is a good resource for parents of diabetic pets.

Treating diabetes in the long term

After your veterinarian stabilizes your pet and the dose is adjusted, you will need to continue to monitor your pet’s blood sugar frequently.  Some cats will experience diabetic remission.  This means that they will no longer require insulin.  Dogs will need to remain on insulin for life.  There are some non-insulin, oral therapies available for people with type 2 diabetes.  Unfortunately, no oral treatment has been approved for animals yet.

A number of other diseases may affect your dog’s response to insulin.  For this reason, it is necessary for your vet to monitor your dog’s health closely.   In  both cats and dogs, diabetes can lead to other health problems that pet parents should watch for.  Even welll-controlled diabetic dogs may develop cloudy eyes, or cataracts.  Cats may develop weakness in their legs, especially the hind legs. .Although it is commonly believed that a well-controlled diabetic dog or cat may have a normal life expectancy, there isn’t a lot of research on this topic.  It is certainly true that both cats and dogs with diabetes may live a full and happy life, just as people with this disease do.

If you dog or cat is diagnosed with diabetes, talk to your veterinarian and share your concerns openly. Your vet can help you find the support you need to provide the best possible treatment for  your pet.

Image, Adobe Spark

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