Are Grain-Free Diets Causing Heart Disease in Dogs?

Are Grain-Free Diets Causing Heart Disease in Dogs?

Grain-free pet diets are offered by just about every brand of pet food available, and while these brands claim to be a better nutritional choice for our carnivorous dogs, new research might indicate otherwise. Recent and ongoing research from the FDA has shown a potential link between grain-free diets and canine heart disease, specifically a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

What Is Canine DCM?


Canine DCM is a potentially fatal heart condition that weakens an afflicted dog’s heart muscle. This can lead to an enlarged heart, poor circulation, and congestive heart failure.

Is a Lack of Grains Really to Blame?

Initial information pointed specifically to a connection between DCM and grain-free diets, noting that 90% of dogs diagnosed with DCM were eating grain-free foods. Upon further investigation, however, the FDA found that some of these dogs actually had grain in their diets, which indicated that the lack of grains was not the problem.

Current information seems to indicate that a complicated body chemistry, which involves specific ingredients in grain-free pet foods, is preventing the canine body from using and processing taurine.

It seems the common factor between affected dogs’ diets has actually been high concentrations of chickpeas, lentils, peas, and a variety of potatoes. This information shifted the blame from grain-free diets to specific ingredients. Several dogs included in the FDA’s study had consumed diets containing large portions of plant-based protein, often called “boosters.” Nutrition labels on these pet foods listed top-ten ingredients such as potato protein, pea protein, dried peas, or other legumes.

The information from the FDA is not final, as the investigation is ongoing.

What to Do if Your Dog Has Been on a Diet Including These Ingredients

If your pet’s been consuming these ingredients, watch your pet closely for signs of heart disease and behavioral changes. Symptoms of DCM include:

  • Fatigue
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Fainting

If you notice any changes in your dog’s behavior, schedule an appointment right away. If your dog’s diagnosed with canine DCM, we’ll begin treatment immediately and help you file a report with the FDA.

How to Keep Your Dog Safe and Healthy

Until the FDA releases more information or finalizes their study, take the following steps to safeguard your dog:

  • Switch your dog to a high-quality food that includes a healthy grain.
  • Do not feed your dog a brand of food that lists plant-based proteins as top ingredients.

At Capital Home Veterinary Care, we understand that selecting a high-quality food for your dog can be overwhelming. Please know that we’re always here to help. We welcome you to contact us or schedule an appointment to discuss your pet’s nutrition.