We remain open to provide care for your pets. We are following the direction of government and regulatory authorities and have implemented hospital and visit protocols to keep both you and our team safe. For regular updates on our hours and visit protocols, please follow our social media platforms.

Can Grain-Free Diets Cause Heart Disease in Dogs?

In 2018, it was becoming apparent that veterinary cardiologists were seeing an increase in the incidence of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). DCM is a relatively rare heart disease leading to congestive heart failure. Historically, most cases of DCM have been seen in specific breeds (Irish Wolfhounds, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, and Boxers) and thought to have a genetic predisposition. However, the recent spike in cases has involved several other breeds of dog not known to have a genetic predisposition to DCM (including mixed breeds). In many of these cases, diet is believed to play a role. This prompted the United States FDA to issue a statement in July 2018 warning the public about these potential concerns.

While the role of specific nutrients and/or ingredients involved in the diets fed to these dogs has yet to be determined, some common features have been observed. Most of the recent Diet-related DCM cases have been fed so-called “BEG” diets. BEG is an acronym for Boutique, Exotic ingredients, Grain-free.

  • Boutique diets are manufactured by smaller companies, often without an employed veterinary nutritionist. They are also frequently without the rigorous quality control measures in place that would typically be found at a larger reputable food company.
  • Exotic ingredients include unusual meat sources such as Kangaroo or Venison and large quantities of legumes or pulses. The only circumstances where these types of diets are specifically indicated are in cases of dietary allergies. They have no added nutritional benefit in regular maintenance diets.
  • Grain-free diets have become increasingly popular. There is no scientific evidence to support any advantage of a grain-free diet over more traditional corn, rice, or wheat-based diet. Grains are nutritious and safe to feed to dogs.

Unfortunately, marketing tactics rather than scientific data tend to drive consumer behaviour, making BEG foods increasingly popular. The minimum standards to be achieved in a dietary formulation to allow the product to be sold as pet food are low. They do not guarantee a fully balanced, nutritious food.

Some of the recent diet-related DCM cases have been shown to be deficient in taurine (an amino acid essential to heart function). However, others have had normal taurine levels, so it is not thought to be the only nutrient involved.

Further investigation into diet-related DCM is ongoing, and until we have a clearer picture of the exact cause(s), it is best to avoid feeding BEG diets and consult with a veterinarian if you have concerns about the diet you are feeding. If your dog is showing symptoms of heart disease such as slowing down on walks, coughing, fainting, or trouble breathing, it is essential to have a veterinarian examine him or her.

Dr. Lisa Freeman, a Veterinary Nutritionist working out of Tufts University has a great nutrition website. Click here to read an article she wrote on questions to ask and factors to consider in selecting the best diet for your pet. Click here to read her current findings and experience with recent diet-related DCM cases.

In conclusion, diet-related DCM has recently become a more common cause of heart disease in dogs. We still do not have a full understanding of all the factors that are associated with this condition. There is significant evidence implicating so-called BEG diets as a common factor in the reported cases.

Please consult with your veterinarian if you have any concerns about the diet you are currently feeding your dog, or if your dog is showing signs of heart disease.

Written by: Dr. Rael Rifkind, DVM



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COVID-19: Additional measures we are taking

Dear Clients,

Due to the close contact that our work requires, we have taken additional measures to protect you and our team while providing care for your furry family members.

The following changes are effective as of Monday, March 23, 2020:

1. We are currently operating a “closed waiting room” policy to protect our clients and staff. When you arrive, please remain in your vehicle and use your cell phone to call us at 416-537-3128. We will take a history from outside of your vehicle, and bring your pet into the clinic for an examination with the veterinarian. We will then return to your vehicle with your pet to discuss our recommended treatment plan. If you do not have a cell phone please knock our door to let us know you have arrived and then return to your vehicle.

2. We are continuing to accept appointments for urgent or sick pets, as well as time-sensitive puppy/kitten vaccinations. All other services will be scheduled for a later time.

3. We are still OPEN with the following hours: Monday & Friday: 8:30 am – 7:00 pm, Tuesday to Thursday: 8:30 am – 6:00 pm and Saturday: 9:00 am – 12:00 pm

4. If you are ordering food or medications, please allow 3-5 business days as our suppliers are dealing with increased demand and are trying to fill orders as quickly as possible. We will advise you as soon as your order arrives. Please call us when you arrive to pick up your order, but do not enter the hospital. Our staff will bring your order to your car and take payment over the phone. You can also use our online store and have your food delivered directly to your home. To sign up for the online store, visit our website.

5. For the time being, we are not accepting cash as payment. Credit cards and debit card payments are still available.

6. Online consultations are now available! If you wish to connect with a veterinarian via message, phone or video, visit our website and follow the "Online Consultation" link.

Following the recommendations of our government and medical experts, we are doing our best to practice social distancing within the constraints of our roles. As such, we have taken measures to avoid both contracting and facilitating the spread of this virus.

Thank you for helping us be diligent for everyone's safety. As we have heard from all levels of government, the situation is fluid and any updates will be provided as changes occur.

- Your dedicated team at Annex Animal Hospital