by Julie Carter in New Jersey
On August 3, 2018, we lost our beloved Oliver to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). He had just turned 4 years old. He was my hero, my heart dog and my best friend. He was also a proud enrolled Hero in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study (GRLS).
Oliver collapsed and died on our kitchen floor from a fatal arrhythmia, something we learned goes hand-in-hand with DCM. I’m so thankful he did not suffer, but the manner in which he died was excruciatingly painful for us. Despite being less than five feet away, there was nothing my husband or I could do to save him. He was gone in seconds, leaving us no time to say goodbye or accept what was happening.
DCM is a cruel and deceptive disease. From the day he was diagnosed to the day he died, Oliver looked and acted the picture of health. He was strong, playful, energetic and completely asymptomatic. Our only clue there was a problem came when a heart murmur was detected during a GRLS vet visit. Within days, Oliver was at the cardiologist having blood work drawn for a taurine test, which came back at 209, and an echocardiogram. He was diagnosed with DCM that day and our lives were turned upside down.
Oliver’s cardiologist prescribed multiple cardiac medications and supplements. He also advised an immediate diet change. With Oliver’s next meal we began switching him to a grain-inclusive, legume-free dog food and started giving him the prescribed medications and supplements.
For almost three years prior, Oliver was fed Zignature dog food, a grain-free limited ingredient kibble. The brand and type of food I chose was based on several pet store employee recommendations, rather than what my veterinarian had suggested. I trusted the wrong people with my dog’s nutrition, and he paid the price for my ignorance.
Oliver had his last echocardiogram the day before he died. Although his heart was still enlarged, the strength with which it was contracting had improved, leading his cardiology team and our family to be cautiously optimistic. His heart gave us no indication of what would happen in less than 24 hours.
DCM has been linked to taurine deficiency and certain diets known as BEG – Boutique brands, Exotic ingredients, Grain free diets. Veterinary cardiologists, nutritionists, scientists and the FDA continue to investigate this correlation. Dogs of all breeds are being diagnosed with DCM at an alarming rate. While some dogs are showing great improvement and even complete reversal with medical intervention and diet change, many others like Oliver have died, leaving their heartbroken families completely shattered.
If you believe your dog looks too healthy to have heart disease, think again. If you think your dog can’t have diet-induced DCM because they aren’t acting ill, please think again. Oliver looked and acted perfectly normal until the moment he died.
Please be your dog’s advocate and spare yourself and your family the grief we have endured. Educate yourself by joining the Facebook groups listed on this website, and by reading everything in the group Learning Units section. Then, spread awareness wherever you go to help educate others. Together, we can be the change that will save lives.