Does Grain-free Dog Food Cause Heart Disease?


This has been the big worry growing across our country of dog’s owners for the past year!  Do grain-free diets cause a heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs?  With new reports and lists of foods coming out regularly, it can be hard to dissect the information.  Heck, I had to whip out my highlighter and takes notes like the old days of school to research this subject (insert cold chills!)  No wonder every one is asking what to do!  But that  is why we are here-let us get our hands dirty and work through the research.


First, let’s discuss dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).  What is it exactly??  This is a particular heart disease more common in large/giant breed dogs like Dobermans, Irish Wolfhounds and Great Danes.  It can be diagnosed in cats but is usually related to a taurine (essential amino acid) deficiency  in the diet.  When a dog or cat develops DCM, the heart muscle stretches and thins out, thus making it harder to pump.   Common symptoms include lethargy, decrease appetite and coughing.

So why now??? Well, over the past few years, veterinary cardiologists started diagnosing more DCM in breeds that were not typical.  For instance, French Bulldogs and Schnauzers. After this, they realized a large majority of these dogs were on grain-free, boutique or exotic foods (ie kangaroo, duck, bison diets.)   Yep!  Grain-free isn’t the only diet in these cases.  Also, some of these dogs improved when the diet was changed.  The cardiologists, in turn, started to do some research and alerted the FDA.

There has been a big increase in FDA reported cases of DCM in the past two years.  Of these, 91% were on grain-free diets with 93% containing peas/lentils.

Is a lack of taurine to blame??? I mean….if it happens in cats, maybe dogs are having the same problem.  But, one of the first lessons you learn in vet school is, “Cats are not small dogs.”  Dogs don’t require taurine in their diet like cats.  They can make their own taurine from other amino acids.  So why did some of these DCM dogs who were low in taurine improve once taken off the diet? Why were they low in the first place?  The fact is that some dogs who had normal levels of taurine improved with added supplementation in the diet as well.  So nobody is sure.  It may be due to other factors that help dogs make the taurine, like meat source, fiber and breed genetics.  Luckily, more research is on the way for this subject.

0168026001564586683.jpgThe facts do show an increase in DCM and a lot of these dogs are on grain-free, boutique and/or exotic diets.  Let’s look at the facts though.  Veterinarians are not required to report DCM cases to the FDA.  The FDA reported the possible link in July of 2018.  Guess when the drastic increase of reported DCM cases linked to these diets happened??? You betcha…..after July 2018.  Even the FDA admits this.  So there is no real known  tracking of DCM in this country.  Who knows how many dogs get DCM a year? It could be that the numbers are off due to an increase in reporting by vets.  Also, Golden Retriever reporting seems to be high.  The FDA also admits that the high breed support on social media may be to blame. 

So, are you more confused?  Here is the bottom line,  it does seem that there is enough reports to cause concern.  There is not enough information yet to make definitive claims.  The next few years of research will be interesting.  So what do we say when asked if grain-free diets cause DCM?  Possibly!  So we will procede with caution.

If you  feed  a grain-free, boutique or exotic diet  to your dog, ask yourself, “Why?” Is it because it treats a medical disease?  Or did some really great marketing tactic convince you it is better.  Grain in a dog diet has never been proven to cause medical issues.  In fact, dogs are omnivorous-meaning they eat meat and plants.   Some dogs do benefit from these diets in cases of food allergy and intestinal disease. However, not all dogs benefit from these diets.

So if there is no need for the diet, consider switching to be on the safe side.  If your dog needs this diet to remain healthy, ask us or your vet about how to monitor for heart disease along the way.

0983422001564586752.jpgIf you are wondering where I got my information, check out here and  here.  

As always, contact us if you  have any questions.

Have a great day!

Doc R

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