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The Fear of Grain   but Broken Hearted

(By   Brett Grossman, DVM,  Medical District Veterinary Clinic - reprinted with  permission for Charlotte Street Animal Hospital)

There are very few variables in caring for your dog that are more controllable and personal than the diet you chose for him or her. This general topic evokes very heated emotions, and there are (figuratively) billions of topics to address as subsets of diet-related controversies. For now, though, I want to write about the latest developments in grain-free food and the load of information leaking out on the Internet about its correlation with heart-related canine disease. It’s, yet again, another light and breezy summer post with which to cozy up next to your loved ones.

Here’s the Breakdown

A recent well-respected study showed a fairly well-correlated link between heart disease (dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM) and grain-free diets, especially in breeds at higher risks, such as golden retrievers, Doberman pinschers, boxers, Irish wolfhounds, and Great Danes. There is not yet a clear understanding as to why this is the case, but the correlation is clear enough that cardiologists are steering their patients away from grain-free diets.

Some have speculated that the grain-free diets have insufficient taurine levels causing a taurine deficiency, a known cause of DCM, but even that is unclear. A few specific brands were mentioned in these studies, but the only clear commonality is that they were grain-free and legume-based (a plant that is part of the pea-family: alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc.).

On August 10, the United States Food and Drug Administration  issued a statement regarding its investigation into this matter.

For Now:

First, do not panic.

If you have your dog on a grain-free diet, the safest and easiest thing to do is to stop that diet and go back to the debauchery of the pre-grain-free days of dog food. Given that there still is not much evidence of the benefits of going grain-free, the risks outweigh the supposed benefits for now. The veterinary community is working with the FDA to figure out the problem, so we may get answers soon, but until then: Well, I would switch. I am switching, literally, right now, for my dog. Most effects of taurine deficiency (and thus the correlative effects of a grain-free diet) are reversed when the diet is changed back and the deficiency is reversed.

If you have a reason to continue feeding a grain-free diet, please feel free to discuss it with us. Make an appointment and we will go over this with you. Then, we can refer you to a cardiologist for an echocardiogram to make sure there is not already an issue, and we can sample taurine levels and, if they are problematic, give taurine supplementation. We can also just start to supplement with taurine, which is fairly inexpensive. The only thing to remember is that we still are not sure if the taurine is the actual problem, so you would be taking some risks.

Because I Know You (Yes, YOU!) Are Going to Ask…

There is a bit of a grain-free myth out there. Food allergies are fairly uncommon, and allergies to grain are even more uncommon within the subset of rare allergies. You can find accusations of grain causing cancer, still births, arthritis, the multitude and intensity of flatulence, and just about anything else. There is, as of yet, no clear correlation with grain and anything bad. I know people who swear that their dog stopped having all clinical signs of [ anything ] after going on a grain-free diet, and I believe them, but I also may put factors in the mix other than the grain. I know dogs in the wild do not eat grain, but they also do not sleep in temperature-controlled waterbeds wearing footsie pajamas.

I hear many people discuss how they do not trust the big pet food companies. Usually the words, “cancer” and “conspiracy” are thrown out as a consequence of using their products. I am not asking you to support Exxon brand dog treats, but I also suggest that you think about how much testing of nutritional adequacy is done with companies that can afford to do such, versus some companies that cannot. I am absolutely not suggesting that all smaller dog food brands are bad, or not to be trusted, but the foods most implicated in these studies were all made by smaller companies without a long track record of maintaining proper nutritional control over their foods. So maybe until we know the cause of this problem, you may want to stick with a brand of food that addresses this specific problem on their website or in person. If they have no answer, then maybe take a break in your relationship and go to a brand that does. The Tufts Veterinary Clinical Nutritional service lists nine questions you should be asking of the companies that make your dog’s food.

I have had numerous emails about this topic over the last few months, and I have somewhat answered most of them with a “let’s wait and see.” So the “wait and see” is over. If I told you something different before this blog, my new answer is: Switch food.

There has been absolutely no indication that grain-free cat food is causing a problem. This may be because taurine is such a classically known issue with cats that companies are much more “on-the-ball” in regard to taurine in cat food.

So that is it. I expect to hear from all of you in the next hour. Enjoy the end of summer. Be slightly less than all your energy demands.

Brett Grossman, DVM
Medical District Veterinary Clinic

AAHA-Accredited Hospitals: Champions for Excellent Care

Charlotte Street Animal Hospital is proud to be one of only 4 AAHA-accredited general practice veterinary hospitals in Asheville.

Less than 15% of animal hospitals in the United States have gone through the voluntary accreditation evaluation process by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).  The accreditation process is rigorous and time-consuming, and not every veterinary hospital wants to go through the lengthy process, but we know the value.

Pet owners gain peace of mind when they choose an accredited animal hospital because they know their AAHA-accredited hospital has passed the highest standards of veterinary care.

AAHA-accreditation means we hold ourselves to a higher standard. Pets are our passion. And keeping them healthy is our #1 priority. At Charlotte Street Animal Hospital, we strive to deliver excellent care for pets. Because your pets deserve nothing less.

Learn more about AAHA accreditation and why our accreditation is important to you and your pet. Visit  aaha.org/petowner.

Rare Tick Species Found in North Carolina

A new species of tick has been discovered in nearby Polk County, North Carolina.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture found the Longhorned tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis) on an opossum in Polk County.

The Longhorned tick is an exotic East Asian tick. Prior to its first identification in the United States last fall in New Jersey, the Longhorned tick was not typically found in the United States (only been found in 4 states so far).

The Longhorned tick is a serious pest of livestock in East Asia and the means of introduction into the U.S. is unknown.

The tick is an aggressive biter causing animals great stress and blood loss.  It can reproduce parthenogenetically (without a male) and a single fed female tick can create a localized population.

Ticks spread diseases such as Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Charlotte Street Animal Hospital recommends year-round tick and flea prevention for all pets!  Come see us today to discuss the best tick prevention for your pets.

Don't Let a Mosquito Break Your Pet's Heart

Asheville, NC pet owners - It takes one bite from an infected mosquito to break your pet's heart!

What are heartworms?  Heartworms are a serious and potentially fatal disease in pets, particularly in Asheville with the prevalence of mosquitoes. Foot-long worms live in the heart, lungs & blood vessels of infected pets, causing lung disease, heart failure, organ damage and can be fatal if untreated.

How does my pet get heartworms?  Heartworms living in an infected dog, cat or wildlife produce baby worms that circulate in the bloodstream. When a mosquito bites an infected animal, it picks up these worms and when it bites another animal, the worms enter through the bite wound. Heartworms can grow and live for 5 - 7 years in dogs and 3 years in cats.

How prevalent is heartworm disease in Asheville?  Heartworm disease is a year-round problem.  In Buncomb e County - 1 in 49 dogs tested positive for heartworms. 

What can  I do to protect my pet from heartworms? Heartworm disease is preventable! Dogs should be tested annually and before starting prevention. Prevention is the safest and most cost-effective option, but treatment is available for dogs (although costly & lengthy). Cats should be tested before starting  prevention and re-tested as the veterinarian deems appropriate. There is NO  treatment in cats, so prevention is critical and the only means of protection.

Charlotte Street Animal Hospital has safe, effective products available that cater to you and your pet's lifestyle and budget.  They must be administered year-round to protect your pet.  Keep your pets safe from this deadly but preventable disease! Schedule an appointment for their heartworm test and to discuss the best prevention options for your pets.

New App & Pet Portal 

Thank you for allowing Charlotte Street Animal Hospital to be your partner in your pet’s health!  Beyond providing your family with veterinary care, we offer you two options to view your pet’s medical info 24/7 and contact us to request appointments or prescription refills.

Through our NEW and upgraded mobile   PetPage   app or  online pet  portal, you can easily:

* View upcoming services due

* View scheduled appointments

* Request an appointment time or request a prescription refill

To Download PetPage App

1) Access Google Play or Apple Store by clicking one of the links below (you must be using your mobile phone in order to install the application).

Google play link: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.allydvm.comet&hl=en(link is external)

Apple Store link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/allyconnect/id920690093?mt=8 2(link is external)) 

After you have installed and opened the app on your mobile phone click the “sign up” button on the home page of the app. Enter your email address, choose a password and click the blue sign up button. 3) You will then be sent a confirmation email. Click the link in that email. Check your SPAM folder if you do not see the confirmation in your inbox.  

To Access Pet Info Online (Not on Smartphone App)

You can access your pet health info without a  smartphone here through your online portal(link is external). You will need to sign up before logging in. Use your email address as your username.