A None Bias Opinion on Grain-Free Diets and Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

Disclaimer: This blog is to not meant to bad talk anyone and/or any companies out there making/and or using grain-free diets. This blog is meant to give everyone the right information so that everyone can make the best decision for their canine companion.

As many people know, in July of 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted an update about Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs and the relation to “grain-free” diets. The FDA has been investigating this issue for the past year. As a veterinary clinic, we want to give everyone a place to go to get some true and factual information about this, because it is something that can be very terrifying and worrisome.

Here is some background information on “Grain-free” diets and what DCM is.
A “grain-free” diet is characterized as a diet that is food made without corn, rice, wheat and other grains. The ‘grain-free’ diets we are concerned about are the ones that contain legumes, like lentils, legume seeds (pulses), peas, and/or potatoes in a variety of different form (flour, protein, whole, etc.,) as the main ingredients in the food. If it is the main ingredient, it will be listed within the first ten ingredients in the list provided on the bag, before the minerals and vitamins.

DCM, as said above, is a condition known as Dilated Cardiomyopathy. It is a disease of the heart muscle that is usually prevalent in our large breed dogs like Great Danes, Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, Newfoundland, the Irish Wolfhound, etc. DCM is less common in our small/medium breeds, with the exception of English and American Cocker Spaniels. The disease is characterized by enlargement in the lower chambers of the heart, called the ventricles, and the thinning on those ventricular walls. It causes the heart not to be able to contract/pump normally, which in turn causes the blood not to be able to pump out of the heart to the rest of the body as well as it should. It can result in Congestive heart failure (CHF).

The FDA is investigating this because there have been cases of dogs not being predisposed to this condition, getting DCM. These breeds include, not limited to, Whippets, Shih Tzus, and Golden Retrievers. The reason they took notice of this is that these dogs all ate grain alternatives in their diets.

The recent increase in DCM diagnosed patients and cases have occurred just in the last few years. The FDA has stated on June 27, 2019, between the dates of January 1, 2014, and April 30, 2019, they did receive 524 case reports of diagnosed DCM. In the cases, there were 560 individual canines diagnosed with DCM and 119 of those were fatal. There were 14 individual felines, 5 of which were fatal. FDA also stated that some of these cases involved more than one animal from the same home.

FDA has stated that it is not clear why these diets may be connected to this disease. We would like people to know that there are many causes of DCM (Taurine Deficiencies for an example). The FDA also has said that the nutritional makeup of the food (processing, amounts used, sourcing of the main ingredients) and the way the canines digest/process these ingredients/foods could be involved in this increase in cases of DCM in breeds not predisposed to it.

The FDA is still investigating this link between “grain-free,” legume and/or potato diets, and DCM in our canine companions and that there is still a lot of information that is still not known. This, however, does not mean that the information they are giving to the public is not accurate and not worth listening to.

In the end, the pet owners are the ones to decide on what their dog eats. We as veterinary professionals are here to give our pet owners information so that you can make that decision, and no matter what your decision, we will always support you and never judge you.

If you have any more questions, and/or your pet is showing symptoms of, coughing, difficulty breathing, loss of energy, anorexia, distended abdomen, and/or collapsing, please contact your veterinarian and book an office visit with them today.

We would also like to say that all dogs have different nutritional needs, and the same product might not work for everyone. Always consult your veterinarian if you decide to switch diets so they can make sure that your dog is getting all the nutrition they need to have an amazing and fulfilling life.

Here are some sites by the FDA to find more information:

  1. FDA Investigation into Potential Link between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy
  2. Questions & Answers: FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine’s Investigation into a Possible Connection Between Diet and Canine Heart Disease

Written by: Morinville Veterinary Hospital