Grain Free Diets and DCM

Dear Friends and Clients, 

Recently there have been numerous news stories surrounding the Food and Drug Administration’s report of a connection between feeding certain grain free dog food brands, and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)--a serious heart disease in dogs. 

The FDA’s investigation actually began in July 2018 when the FDA first began hearing reports about increased heart disease in dogs on certain diets. At that time, no brands were identified. Fast forward to June 2019, the FDA provided an update on its investigation and named 16 different pet food brands linked to DCM. 

The FDA examined product labels of products reported in DCM cases.  More than 90 percent of products were “grain-free,” and 93 percent of reported products contained peas and/or lentils.  A far smaller proportion contained potatoes.


Which brands are on the FDA’s list? 

  • Acana

  • Zignature

  • Taste of the Wild

  • 4Health

  • Earthborn Holistic

  • Blue Buffalo

  • Nature’s Domain

  • Fromm

  • Merrick

  • California Natural

  • Natural Balance

  • Orijen

  • Nature’s Variety

  • NutriSource

  • Nutro

  • Rachael Ray Nutrish

So, are all these grain free diets bad?

Not necessarily. The reports include dogs that have eaten a mixture of grain-free and grain containing foods and also include vegetarian or vegan formulations in all forms of kibble, canned, raw and home-cooked. Therefore, we do not think these cases can be explained simply by whether or not they contain grains, or by brand or manufacturer. Additionally, no corrections were made for volume sold.

What is clear is that boutique, grain free diets appear to be connected to a disproportionately high rate of dilated cardiomyopathy. 

The FDA isn’t recommending a dietary change away from grain free at this time. The number of cases of DCM is still very low relative to the amount of food sold. However we want our clients to be aware of the connection so they can make informed choices about pet’s diets. 

The prevailing (though unproven) theory as to the cause of these DCM cases is a lack of taurine in the diets--an essential amino acid for heart health. A gradual taurine deficiency can occur with long term, exclusive use with consequences for the heart. 


I’m concerned about my dog, what should I watch for?

Signs of DCM or other heart conditions include decreased energy, cough, difficulty breathing or episodes of collapse. You should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible if you see these symptoms. If DCM is suspected, a consult with a board certified cardiologist will be scheduled for confirmation.

What about cats? 

The studies so far include only 9 reported cases involving cats compared to over 500 cases reporting dogs. Incidentally, as taurine is known to be an essential amino acid for cats, most commercially available cat foods are well- supplemented with taurine. Perhaps more anecdotal support for the taurine theory. 

What do you recommend I feed my dog? 

We encourage our clients to look into some of the more established dog food brands like Hills Science Diet, Royal Canin, Purina or Eukanuba. These brands have long-standing reputation in the industry and have not been identified in the DCM cases. For those clients with a strong preference for grain free we recommend 1. finding alternatives not on the above list, 2. alternating between diets frequently to add variety and 3. avoiding diets that have peas, lentils and legumes as a major source of nutrition.  

Please don’t hesitate to call Boulevard Vet with any questions!


Tyler Williams, DVM

Tyler Williams, DVM

Dylan Frederickson, DVM

Dylan Frederickson, DVM