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Dear New York Times and Washington Post, Grain Free Diets DON'T Break Hearts--Meat Free Diets DO


A torrent of articles on "grain free" diets linked to taurine- deficient cardiomyopathy-- a form of heart muscle failure appeared in the news last month. Just google: grain free pet food + heart disease.

As well and as usual, science illiterate incompetent "journalists" picked up megaphones happy to confuse and frighten the publc.

They succeeded. Some of my clients are really scared. Luna's mom, is one of them. She is terrified after learning that Golden Retrievers are dying of heart failure on grain free diets. Luna has been eating one all her life.

Luna, whom I've known since she was a four pound ball of fuzzy golden puppy love, isn't only cherished by her family, me, and my staff. She is a highly trained assistance dog for kids with learning disabilities whom her soft non judgmental presence gently supports to read.

In spite of Luna's glistening coat, happy wagging tail, bouncy gait, bountiful energy, and my confident reassurances that Luna is not suffering from heart disease, Luna's mom is really worried.

For her it is Deja Vu. Her last Golden Retriever, Murphy, tragically died of heart cancer at just eight years of age.

On a Golden Retriever Facebook Page, with thousands of other Golden Retriever owners she is sharing her research. She is engaged directly with Dr. Josh Stern, a UC Davis cardiologist funded by Morris Foundation to study taurine deficient cardiomyopathy in Golden Retrievers.

What is Taurine?

Taurine is a sulfur amino acid required by cats that dogs can synthesize from precursors, methionine and cysteine. Unlike most amino acids-- building blocks of proteins- taurine is remarkable, because it isn't used to build proteins. Taurine concentrations are high in animal tissues where it is integral to heart and retinal function, conjugation of bile acids and other roles.

Taurine is the most abundant free amino acid in animal tissues (meat and organs).

To reassure the worried owner, we draw a blood sample into heparinized green tubes she packages on ice, Fed-Exing with meticulously completed forms to UC Davis amino acid lab.

Within a few days Luna's whole blood taurine level are reported- 205.

We are home free, I think.

There is no known risk for taurine deficiency with levels above 150!

But no, not so fast.

Luna's mom is getting inundated with condolences from her FaceBook Friends.

Where this taurine level came from is anyone's guess--indeed, the head of the UC Davis amino acid lab who authored several studies on taurine deficient cardiomyopathy who kindly wrote me about Luna, has so far been unable to answer how "normals" for Golden Retrievers were derived.

So, the owner scrambles to get Luna's heart imaged by a local cardiologist. A week later, her cardiac ultrasound reveals completely normal heart function, appropriate chamber dimensions and perfectly normal heart muscle contractility.

Finally.... after weeks, a blood test and an evaluation by a cardiac specialist, the family can put their worries to rest.

Luna is fine--something I was confident of before these tests were even ordered or completed, having seen a taurine-deficient dog decades earlier.

1989..... the year I saw taurine deficient cardiomyopathy at UC Davis.

A Vegan Dalmatian. Bad. Bad. Very BAD IDEA!

Unlike shiny happy Luna running around our lobby, that Dalmatian was a sad, pitiful sight. Her flabby heart muscle too weakened to pump blood from her lungs, drowning in fluid-- every single breath, a battle for air. Her dull spot- coated body barely able to walk.

Remarkably, six months of a standard drug treatment of dilated cardiomyopathy (digoxin, a diuretic, and a vasodilator) plus, notably, a