by Gabi Cantor Goldberg in Australia
Aari and Loki, my beautiful Icelandic Sheepdogs, were diagnosed in May 2019 with moderate and severe DCM, respectively. I was shattered. They were only 6 years old. Even though they are half-brothers, I believed this was diet-related as both boys had eaten the same grain-free foods their whole lives. Their sire Thorri was also evaluated for DCM and cleared by echo, but his diet was mainly grain-inclusive food. Icelandic Sheepdogs are a healthy breed with some dogs living to 17-18 years. They are not predisposed to genetic DCM.
From 2013-2016, Aari and Loki ate Earthborn Holistic food, and from 2016 until late 2018, they were on Taste of the Wild. That is when I learned about the link between grain-free food and DCM and switched their diet to Royal Canin. Even though they seemed fine, my gut kept telling me to get them checked. Sometimes we have to trust our gut as pet parents.
When I brought up testing with my vet, she was surprised because Aari and Loki were both asymptomatic, plus she had not seen any cases. When I insisted on echocardiograms, my boys’ veterinary cardiologist (there are only five in all of Australia) also told me I was the first person to come to her and request echoes on what appeared to be healthy dogs that had been eating grain-free food. She expected their hearts would prove to be healthy, too.
When my vet and the cardiologist performed initial examinations, they said my boys’ hearts sounded fine. The cardiologist said Loki had a Grade 2 murmur but didn’t suspect it was anything serious. Then, while performing echoes, the cardiologist was shocked to find both Aari and Loki had DCM.
It just goes to show that you don’t know what is going on with your dog’s heart without an echo. My boys were immediately started on heart medications and supplements.
I was desperate to know more. And I needed hope. This issue was not widely known in Australia amongst the public, so I appealed to members of this wonderful Facebook group whose dogs had been diagnosed and improved with diet change, medication and supplements. The community rallied around me with an enormous amount of hope and support.
6-month recheck with the cardiologist – great news!
In November of 2019, Aari and Loki had their follow-up echoes. I was beyond ecstatic and relieved by the amazing news. Aari, who had been diagnosed with moderate DCM, now had a normal heart! And Loki, who was diagnosed with severe DCM, now only had mild DCM. The cardiologist was stunned by the results. Aari was taken off of Vetmedin but remains on taurine, l-carnitine and omega 3 supplements. Loki remains on Vetmedin and all supplements until his heart hopefully improves further. Both boys have been doing amazing on Royal Canin.
I suspect there are lots of dogs walking around Australia with nutritional DCM since U.S. brands of grain-free food are very popular and widely used here. It’s frustrating that there isn’t more awareness. Hopefully my vet and cardiologist will spread the word, and I’m sure doing my best. I’m forever grateful to the Taurine-Deficient (Nutritional) Dilated Cardiomyopathy group on Facebook for bringing awareness to this horrendous issue. I would otherwise never have known. I wish I could stop every dog and dog owner from having to go through this.