FDA Warns Of Posible Link Between Grain Free Dog Food And Canine Heart Disease

Do you feed your dog a grain free diet? You may want to reconsider that…

On 12 july 2018, the FDA issued an alert to pet owners and veterinary professionals about reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or poatoes as main ingredients. The FDA is investigating this potential association.

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What Is Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)?

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disease of the heart muscle that results in a progressive decrease in contractions and pumping function. As the heart muscle becomes weak and fails to pump blood out of the body effectively, blood backs up in the heart chambers and causes them to enlarge.

As the blood pressure increases in the veins, fluid accumulates in the lungs, abdomen and/or chest. DCM ultimately leads to congestive heart failure.

The cause of DCM is unclear. There appears to be an inherited predisposition to DCM in certain breeds of dogs. DCM is prevalent in middle-age to older, large- and giant-breed dogs such as Doberman Pinscher, Newfoundland, Boxer, Great Dane, and Irish Wolfhound. It can also afflict medium breed dogs such as Portuguese Water, Cocker Spaniel and Dalmation, but is rare in small breed dogs.

Nutritional deficiency in taurine and/or L-carnitine could be a reversible cause of DCM. These amino acids are obtained from protein in the diet and can be synthesised in the body from other building blocks contained in food. They are required for proper functioning of the heart muscle cells.

Why The Reported Cases Of Dogs With DCM Raised A Red Flag

The FDA received reports that DCM is occuring in breeds not genetically predisposed to the disease. They include Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Whippets, a Shih Tzu, a Bulldog and Miniature Schnauzers, and mixed breeds.

The dogs were being fed diets that frequently list potatoes or multiple legumes, and their protein, starch and fiber derivatives early in the ingredient list, indicating that they are main ingredients. High levels of legumes or potatoes are commonly found in pet foods labeled as “grain free”.

It is unclear how these diets are linked to DCM. In the atypical DCM cases, blood levels of taurine were low in 4 dogs and normal in another 4 dogs. Taurine deficiency is a well documented cause of DCM.

Rising Incidences Of DCM In Dogs

Dr. Josh Stern, a veterinary cardiologist at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, started seeing an alarming trend in DCM cases at the veterinary hospital recently. Golden retrievers – an atypical breed – were being diagnosed more frequently with DCM. Many of the dogs were eating the same grain free diet. Blood tests confirmed low taurine levels in the dogs.

This observation prompted Dr. Stern to study golden retrievers with DCM and taurine deficiency. He investigated all diets associated with  both the taurine deficient and non-taurine deficient forms of DCM.

“Diet plays a huge role in this condition,” said Dr. Josh Stern.

He discovered that common dietary trends are strongly correlated with the disease. Many dogs were being fed some variety of boutique (small manufacturer), exotic ingredient (non-traditional protein sources), or grain-free diets.

(Exotic ingredients: duck, rabbit, buffalo, venison, bison, kangaroo, lamb. salmon and lamb)

“I suspect that golden retrievers might have something in their genetic make-up that makes them less efficient at making taurine,” said Dr. Stern. “Couple that with certain diets, and you’ve given them a double hit. If you feed them a diet that has fewer building blocks for taurine or a food component that inhibits this synthesis, they pop up with DCM.”

Symptoms Of DCM To Watch Out For

If you notice signs of heart disease (including DCM) such as weakness, decreased energy, coughing, fainting or trouble breathing in your dog, you should consult a veterinarian.


1. https://fda.gov/animalveterinary/newsevents/cvmupdates/ucm613305.htm
2. https://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/news/uc-davis-investigates-link-between-dog-diets-and-deadly-heart-disease

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