by Art & Maxine Cook in Pennsylvania
Today is December 3, 2019, and Beatrix Kiddo vom Kirchenwald is a 5.3-year-old West German Shepherd Schutzhund girl. “BB” was a raw-fed puppy from 10 generations of raw-fed, highly bred West German Shepherd working dogs. We didn’t want to feed raw food, so her breeder suggested grain-free Taste of the Wild large breed puppy kibble. BB had issues with diarrhea from the first bite. We switched her food many times and quickly found that with her sensitive gut, all she could eat was grain-free, chicken-free food. We settled her down on Castor and Pollux Organix Lamb and Lentils and she ate that for most of her first four years.
In November 2018, I read an article about the link between legumes, lentils, pea starch, white and sweet potatoes, and diet-mediated (nutritional) Dilated Cardiomyopathy, or nDCM. The article referred me to a Facebook group called Taurine-Deficient (Nutritional) Dilated Cardiomyopathy. We had a horrible sinking feeling and just knew that BB was one of the affected dogs.
We immediately took her to see Dr. Stacey Sheahan, her primary veterinarian, who was agreeable to sending a blood draw to the amino acid testing lab at UC Davis to test BB’s taurine level. At the same time, Dr. Sheahan drew blood for a cardiac enzyme test called N-proBNP.
While the taurine test would take two weeks to reveal a normal taurine level, the N-proBNP came back within days to reveal a very high enzyme level, 2093, indicating that she had an enlarged heart. This was in a dog that had zero symptoms of heart disease!
We were immediately referred to Dr. Eva Sikorska at PVSEC, Pittsburgh Veterinary Cardiology in Pittsburgh, PA. On December 20, 2018, Dr. Sikorska performed an echocardiogram and drew additional bloodwork, and diagnosed BB with moderate diet-induced or mediated dilated cardiomyopathy.
BB’s treatment consisted of Pimobendan, a cardiac medication that dilates blood vessels, making it easier for the heart to pump blood. She was also prescribed supplemental taurine and L-carnitine, both amino acids that were being blocked by her grain-free, legume-heavy diet, but that her heart needed to work normally. She would return in late June 2019 for a repeat 6-month echocardiogram to see if her treatment was working to reduce her enlarged heart to normal.
Dr. Sikorska told us that this type of cardiomyopathy could only be diagnosed fully by echocardiogram and could be reversed if caught and treated in the early stages, before it turned into congestive heart failure. She said healing would come from the change of diet away from the BEG (boutique, exotic ingredient, grain-free) diet she had been eating, which was believed to have caused her nutritional heart disease.
The long winter and spring of 2019 wore on
We believed our girl was improving but we would have no actual proof that this was the case until her next echocardiogram at the end of June. With great trepidation, we made the trip back to Pittsburgh on June 27, 2019, to again submit our girl for another echocardiogram. We got extremely exciting news from Dr. Sikorska this time. She said BB had a very strong heart and had major improvement over the previous six months, going from moderate nutritional DCM to only very mild cardiac dilation.
Dr. Sikorska wanted to repeat an echocardiogram in 4-6 months and continue BB on Pimobendan, taurine and L-carnitine. BB was allowed to resume her scent-work training, and play dates with friends were occasionally allowed. If her improvement continued at the rate she experienced over the previous six months, Dr. Sikorska felt BB would be completely healed by her next visit. She said BB’s healing was due to changing her diet away from a BEG food to the Purina Pro Plan we had chosen.
We drove to Pittsburgh for our follow-up echo on the Monday after Thanksgiving, December 2, 2019, in a mini-blizzard, my husband and I both nervous wrecks, silently watching the road through the wiper tracks.
They don’t allow pet parents in the echocardiogram lab to watch or help, so we sat in the waiting area and twiddled our thumbs for a long half hour.
Then, out of the double doors busts BB, dragging an attendant at the end of her leash. She was grinning and prancing down the hallway toward us; the attendant barely keeping his feet on the ground, hanging onto her. He ushered us into an exam room to await our consult. BB, ever the dramatic Shepherd, was panting and grumbling from her ordeal, so I went to get a styrofoam coffee cup of water for her and a handful of paper towels for the mess that was coming. That kept us occupied for a few minutes.
When Dr. Sikorska entered the exam room, she spread her arms wide and declared, “She’s CURED!” I swear she was as happy to announce that as we were to hear it! Big grins all around!
Dr. Sikorska told us that dogs who at diagnosis have not yet progressed to congestive heart failure (CHF) most often go on to heal and their hearts remodel and normalize. Dogs who have progressed to CHF, murmur and/or arrhythmia, mostly do not get completely well or maintain heart wellness. They may appear well, but they are always in treatment, on meds, and can go backwards in heart health at any time, and often do. Their hearts are just too damaged to mend. And, she said, many dogs die suddenly because this heart failure is not recognized until it’s too late to save them.
At this visit, BB’s diagnosis was amended and recorded to read “resolved nutritional dilated cardiomyopathy” – and she was taken off of her heart medication.
BB was pronounced “cured” exactly one year to the day she was diagnosed by Dr. Sheahan using the n-ProBnp test in 2018 … the Monday after Thanksgiving. How amazing is that?!
I wanted to share our relief and happiness over our girl’s return to health, and even gratitude for this despicable disease because it brought me to this wonderful group of veterinary professionals and fellow owners of affected dogs and volunteers who are ambassadors and moderators and administrators on the sites and in the groups. We pray for healing hearts for every single precious pup and family going through this.
Please share BB’s story from this page if you believe it will give hope to others whose dogs are affected by nutritional DCM.