Diet-Related Canine Heart Disease

dog diets

Last week, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an investigation into diet-related heart disease in dogs.

I suspect most dog families would be surprised to learn diet may play a role in the development of heart disease in their favorite fur baby. Here is a summary of the FDA announcement.

Heart Disease in Dogs
Veterinarians diagnose three main types of heart disease in dogs. The most common is degeneration of the valves between the chambers of the heart, leading to congestive heart failure. The least common form is congenital heart abnormalities. This form of heart disease might be considered a birth defect. The third form of canine heart disease is an abnormality of the heart muscle called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

Dilated Cardiomyopathy
Canine DCM is a disease of a dog’s heart muscle and results in an enlarged heart that can easily be seen with a chest x-ray. The enlargement is due to thinning of the heart muscle, making the pumping action of the heart ineffective. The heart valves become leaky, leading to a buildup of fluids in the chest and abdomen. Like heart valve disease, DCM often results in congestive heart failure. Breeds that are typically more frequently affected by DCM include large and giant breed dogs, such as Great Danes, Boxers, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards, and Doberman Pinschers. There are also two small breed dogs prone to DCM, American and English Cocker Spaniels. The underlying cause of DCM is not truly known, but is thought to have a genetic component because of the strong breed associations. If caught early, heart function may improve in some cases that are not linked to genetics.

This Type is Different
The FDA initiated the investigation last week because the dogs recently identified with DCM are breeds not appearing on the list above. The cases that have been reported to the FDA have included Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Whippets, a Shih Tzu, a Bulldog, and Miniature Schnauzers, as well as mixed breed dogs. The other common finding in the recently diagnosed dogs is their diet. When the families of the dogs recently diagnosed with DCM were interviewed, they reported their dog’s diet contained 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.

If You Are Worried About Your Dog or Your Dog’s Diet
Check with your dog’s veterinarian before changing his diet. The FDA encourages pet owners and veterinary professionals to report cases of DCM in dogs suspected of having a link to diet by using the electronic Safety Reporting Portal or calling their state’s FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators. Please see “How to Report a Pet Food Complaint” for additional instructions.

Lifestyle Factors Related to Feline Obesity

Buster Brown

June is Adopt-A-Cat Month and every blog post in June will focus on some aspect of our furry feline friends. Today’s topic is obesity.

I saw one of my favorite patients the other day. Okay, I admit, all my patients are my favorite. Buster Brown is a mink-coated Tonkinese cat, just a bit over one year of age. Because he is young and healthy, I haven’t seen him since before he was neutered and was a bit shocked when I put him on the scale. He had gained three pounds during the five months since I had last seen him. When his family saw the numbers on the scale, they asked, “How did this happen?” Below, I have outlined a few of the contributing factors to feline obesity that cat families can use to keep their furry friend at an ideal body condition.

But My Cat is Big-Boned
You are right, the significance of weight gain depends somewhat on the size of your cat. A slinky Siamese can gain less weight and still have a good body condition than the king of cats, the Maine Coon, but adding three pounds is probably too much for just about any cat. When I assessed Buster B’s body condition score, a scale which looks at a cat’s distribution of fat in various parts of the body, he scored 8/9, which is considered obese for a cat of his size.

Fixing Him, Even Though He’s Not Broken
Although Buster B is extremely handsome, he is a pet and was not going to make babies. Thus, he was neutered before he had a chance to start spraying urine on the furniture or drapes. Male cats that have not been “fixed” have very stinky urine and for that reason, pet cats are typically neutered. Neutering is a known risk factor for obesity in cats and portion control is a good practice after neutering. Decreasing a cat’s food intake by approximately one-third after neutering surgery is a good rule of thumb to prevent unwanted weight gain.

He Likes Crunchies and I Hate Those Smelly Cans in the Fridge
I am with you on this point. Cats like what they like and I find those little cans of congealed salmon and tuna pate revolting sitting next to my kale and organic chicken breasts. But, a diet of more than 50% dry food has been shown to be associated with obesity. If you feed your cat dry food fed free choice, without regard for portion control, your kitty can pack on the pounds. Ditto for treats; limit how many your cat consumes per day since snacking predisposes cats to obesity.

Kitty Gymnasium
In a recent scientific study published in Preventive Veterinary Medicine, risk factors for obesity in cats at two years of age were identified. Cats kept indoors were more likely to be overweight or obese. I suspect this is related to exercise or the lack of it in a confined space like your apartment. While research indicating cat calisthenics helps to keep weight off is lacking, exercising your cat with a laser light, fishing pole toy or encouraging them to run up and down the stairs can’t hurt. Better yet, provide a cat tree for climbing as cats love to be up high.

One third to one-half of American cats are considered overweight or obese. Be proactive and keep your kitty slim and trim by controlling his food portions, including some canned food in his diet, and making sure he gets plenty of exercise.

Successfully Switching Your Pet to a Prescription Diet

prescription diet

All veterinarians, not just the specialists at the Animal Medical Center, use specially formulated prescription diets to help manage a variety of diseases in pets. For example, low protein diets are used in pets with liver shunts and kidney disease. Pets with arthritis benefit from diets rich in anti-inflammatory nutrients. But, pets don’t always want to give up their favorite brand of food for something you define as “better for them.” Here are some suggestions on how to get your favorite fur baby to accept a new diet.

Go Slow
Many diseases requiring a prescription diet occur in older animals that may be more set in their ways than a young puppy or kitten. Put out a spoonful of the new food on a separate plate from your pet’s regular food. It might take a few days for your pet to sample the new offering, but if she does, gradually increase the amount offered while decreasing the regular food. If your veterinarian recommends a prescription diet, ask if there are different brands or flavors available so you can change up the food while still getting the benefits of a prescription diet. Warm food stimulates the taste buds, so try microwaving the food for few seconds before offering it to your pet.

Keep it Fresh
If you feed canned food, recommended for pets with urinary tract problems or bladder stones because canned food has a high water content beneficial in these diseases. But after an hour or two of sitting in a bowl on the kitchen floor, the food gets crusty as the beneficial water evaporates. There are now bowls with an automatically opening and closing lid. As your pet approaches, the lid opens and allows your pet to consume fresh, soft and tasty food. When your pet finishes eating, the bowl automatically closes. How you store your pet’s food also impacts the taste. For tips on storing pet food to optimize freshness read this information from Hill’s Pet Nutrition.

Tasty Topping
Some pets need a bit of encouragement to try a new diet. Pretend the new food is a treat and use it as a reward. Once your pet readily takes the new “treat,” start putting it in her bowl. Other pets need a jumpstart of tasty food on top of the new food. Tasty bonito tuna flakes or powder make for a low-calorie taste sensation. Consider spicing up the prescription food with some of the new pet food condiments like Petschup or Meowstard or one of the commercially available gravies. Before you add anything to a prescription diet, make sure your veterinarian approves of the choice.

The Other Pet
Inevitably, the pet you want to eat the prescription diet refuses and the pet that doesn’t need it licks the bowl clean. If you have this problem, look into bowls that use radio frequency identification transponders aka your pet’s microchip to unlock a bowl containing the prescription diet. This ensures your healthy pet will not steal the prescription diet intended for your sick pet.

Once you get your pet eating the prescription diet, he will soon be on the road to recovery.

Feeding Frenzy: Tips for Choosing the Right Pet Food

If I had to venture a guess as to the most fretted over issue for pet owners, it would be finding the right food for their pet. Grocery store and pet shop shelves abound with bags, boxes, and cans. No wonder the decision is difficult. Here are my tips to streamline the selection process:

1. Check the label The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) develops regulations regarding the nutritional adequacy of pet food. If the label says “complete and balanced” for your pet’s life stage (puppy, kitten, adult, senior), then you know it meets the AAFCO regulations and is a food worth a trial run. If the AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy statement is missing from the label, this is definitely not the right food for your pet.

2. Look at your pet Not every complete and balanced food is right for your pet. If the food you feed results in a dull coat, vomiting after every meal, or diarrhea, start over and select an alternative food. As your pet matures, switch her food to one formulated for her current life stage. With so many options on the store shelves, there is guaranteed to be a food to meet the needs of every pet and pet family.

3. Variety is the spice of life If you feed your kitten or puppy food of the same flavor every day, you risk raising a finicky eater. Try alternating the chicken flavor of your pet’s favorite brand of food with the beef or tuna flavor. If you feed both canned and dry food, select foods from two different pet food companies. Familiarity with two different textures and tastes may come in handy if one food is taken off the market, is recalled, or if your pet develops an illness requiring a switch to a special diet.

4. Change cautiously When a diet change becomes necessary due to life stage change, illness, or family preference, plan ahead to prevent problems. An acute diet change often results in complete rejection of the new diet or gastrointestinal upset. Gradual introduction of a new food increases your chance of success in gaining your pet’s acceptance of what you want her to eat. Place a second bowl containing a bite or two of the new food next to the old food. Don’t expect instant success and consider a sniff or a lick on the first day a triumph. If she starts finishing the bite of new food, gradually decrease the portion of the old food while increasing the serving size of the new food. The total transition should take a month.

5. Check with your veterinarian This is the most important tip. Your veterinarian should serve as your primary resource for pet nutrition information. We see dozens of pets every week and have a good idea of what foods result in healthy, happy pets. Because your veterinarian knows the health of your pet, she will also know if a prescription diet should be part of the therapy for your dog or cat’s illness.

How Important is Food?

We all know food provides the energy and nutrients each of us, including our pets, need every day. But as a veterinarian, food is more important than just providing nutrients; it is an integral component of disease and recovery.

Food and disease

Food is also related to common illnesses veterinarians diagnose on a regular basis. Take for example Jack, the cat lost at JFK, who succumbed to hepatic lipidosis, a disease provoked by inadequate food intake and treated by feeding!

Excess food intake often results in obesity. Obese animals live shorter lives and have more medical problems, including arthritis, bladder problems, and respiratory disease.

Food as medicine

Veterinarians have been using specially formulated diets as a component of medical therapy since the 1940’s.

“Prescription” diets are now manufactured by several pet food companies. These diets are available by prescription only since the nutrients have been modified to address certain nutritional differences in pets with a variety of diseases, so they are not appropriate for every pet. Take for example the reduced protein diets used in dogs and cats with liver problems. Too much protein can cause seizures in these patients. Protein-restricted diets are commonly prescribed to minimize the protein-induced seizures. For pets with suspected food allergies, diets have been formulated with novel ingredients to facilitate diet elimination trials. The exotic ingredient list for these diets – kangaroo, rabbit, duck, peas, and sweet potato – help veterinarians to eliminate common causes of food allergies, like beef, chicken, corn, and wheat, while maintaining a convenient source of nutrition for your pet. Specially formulated kidney friendly diets are one of the most important types of therapeutic diets and have been shown to minimize clinical signs of severe kidney failure (uremia) while maximizing survival in both dogs and cats with kidney disease.

For The Animal Medical Center’s brochure on feeding pets with kidney disease, click here.

Food and insurance

Can you believe food just got more important? The Trupanion Pet Insurance Company recently expanded coverage to include veterinarian prescribed diets.

Here is the coverage as listed in the sample policy:

Therapeutic Pet Food

(1) Therapeutic Pet Food – We will cover the incremental cost of therapeutic pet food when recommended and dispensed by your veterinarian in the treatment of injuries or symptomatic illnesses covered by this policy for up to two months of feeding. If you continue to feed your pet the veterinarian recommended therapeutic pet food as a long-term replacement diet, you will be eligible for a discount to your monthly premium. This coverage is not for routine/preventive care.

This is great news for pets and pet owners. Clearly, Trupanion understands the importance of food and I hope other pet insurance companies will recognize it too!


This may also be found in the Tales from the Pet Clinic blog on

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Cat Food Myths Debunked

A few months ago I wrote about cats and “cat salad.” Since we are at the end of Adopt–a-Cat month, I hope there are many new cat owner readers who will be interested in these food myths about cats. These myths have come from conversations with my cat-owning clients at The Animal Medical Center.

All cats like fish.
Partial myth. Cats’ food preferences are strongly influenced by those of their mother. If the mother liked and ate fish, the kittens are likely to crave fish as well. But the food preferences of the finicky feline are not so simply categorized. Despite the daredevil behaviors of young cats – flying from cabinet to refrigerator and scaling bookshelves with abandon – they are not so adventurous when it comes to food. Young cats fed the same diet consistently are often reluctant to eat a different diet if one is offered to them later in life. A cat food with a “good” smell is more likely to be chosen by a finicky feline, and if your cat doesn’t find any of the food attractive based on smell, it may taste several before choosing one. One fun fact about cats’ food preferences is cats probably don’t chose food based on salty or sweet flavors since their taste buds are insensitive to salts and sugars.

Cats should have milk to drink.
This is a companion partial myth to “cats like fish.” Some cats like milk, some don’t. Most cats lack the digestive enzyme, lactase, responsible for digestion of lactose, or milk sugar. A bowl of milk may lead to an upset stomach or diarrhea in cats. This situation can be avoided by treating your cat to a bowl of low fat lactose-free milk or one of the cat milk products available at the pet store. Since treats should comprise only 10% of the daily caloric requirement, keep the amount of milk to about 1/3 of a cup, or roughly 30 calories per day for the average 8 pound cat. Cat milk products have the added advantage of supplemental taurine, an essential amino acid for cats.

Cats can be vegetarians.
This is a myth, and a dangerous one. Nutritionally speaking, cats are obligate carnivores. Everything about their physical structure says “meat eater” from their sharp pointy fangs to their short digestive tract. Veterinarians will discourage owners from preparing vegetarian or vegan foods at home for their cats. Without the input of a specialized veterinary nutritionist, homemade vegetarian and vegan diets for cats are frequently deficient in taurine, arginine, tryptophan, lysine and vitamin A. Taurine deficiency leads to heart failure and a cat fed a diet without arginine may suffer death within hours. Both taurine and arginine are found in meat.


This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

You Learn Something New Everyday…About Pet Food

Pet food is important to pet lovers since we all want to feed our pets a diet which will help to keep them healthy family members for as long as possible. Many veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center prescribe special diets as part of the treatment for medical conditions. Research into various disease states has resulted in the development of “prescription diets” to meet the nutritional needs of pets while treating a medical condition.

Heart diets have lower sodium, joint diets contain ingredients to promote healthy joints and other diets are easily digestible for pets with gastrointestinal problems. These diets are an important part of many medical interventions. In fact, kidney-friendly diets have been shown to prolong survival in pets with kidney disease.

One of my patients, a French bulldog being treated for allergies, eats a Royal Canin novel protein diet composed of duck and potatoes. He has responded well to this diet and scratches much less when than when he was eating a regular dog food. His owner called me a day or so ago because the bag design had changed. The label said the food was the same, but when the bag was opened the nuggets were a different color.

I called the veterinary hotline staffed by customer service representatives of Royal Canin to check and be sure the food was really the same inside the bag since the outside had changed. The very helpful staff confirmed the food is being made in the same plant and the only change to the recipe was an increase in some vitamins to improve coat health. They also mentioned other consumers had called because of the color change in the food. According to the representative to whom I spoke, there is seasonal variation in the color of the duck meat and potatoes used to formulate the diet. This most recent batch was lighter than usual.

If you have a question about your pet’s food, check the label on the bag. Most pet food companies have a consumer hotline and, as I found out, they can be very helpful. Or call your veterinarian. They are a wealth of information and already know your pet’s medical issues. For tough nutritional issues, your veterinarian may suggest you consult a board certified veterinary nutritionist.


This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.