Are grain free dog foods linked to DCM; Dilated Cardiomyopathy?

by Jeannie Middlebrooks
Read this blog to know, is grain free dog food linked to DCM; Dilated Cardiomyopathy?

Since 2018 there has been a drastic rise in the number of reported cases of DCM (Dilated Cardiomyopathy) in dogs.

DCM is when the dog’s heart is enlarged, decreasing the ability to pump blood and resulting in congestive heart failure.

The FDA and the University of California, Davis have done extensive research into the potential link between “grain-free” and “legume-heavy” dog food brands and DCM. Here’s what they found.


The Study

The University of California, Davis did a study that was comprised of 40 Golden Retrievers.

They found that 23 out of the 24 Golden Retrievers included in the study, with significant DCM were fed either “grain-free” or “legume-heavy” diets.

Golden Retrievers, along with many large and giant breed dogs already have a genetic predisposition to DCM.

It is believed that “grain-free” and “legume-heavy” foods can cause a taurine deficiency, leading to concurrent DCM. This is believed to be due to the reduced amount of Taurine in plants.

Taurine is an essential amino acid in dogs, one which helps develop the heart and lungs.

Without this essential acid, growing dogs’ hearts don’t develop the way they should, leaving the heart muscles weak.

When left untreated, this can cause a normally happy, playful pup, to die nearly instantly.

Not something any pet owner wants.


What Foods to Watch Out For

The FDA has released an updated statement as of July 2019 relating to diet and canine heart disease.

In the Dec 1st edition of the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, Lisa Freeman, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN, emphasized that the issue isn’t just grain free dog food, but rather suspects the diets to be “BEG” (Boutique companies, exotic ingredients, or grain-free).

Here is a list of dog food brands that were named in more than 10 cases reported to the FDA of dogs with DCM through April 30th, 2019

  •     Acana- 67 Reports
  •     Zignature – 64 Reports
  •     Taste of the Wild – 53 Reports
  •     4Health – 32 Reports
  •     Earthborn Holistic – 32 Reports
  •     Blue Buffalo – 31 Reports
  •     Nature’s Domain- 29 Reports
  •     Fromm – 24 Reports
  •     Merrick – 16 Reports
  •     California Natural – 15 Reports
  •     Natural Balance – 15 Reports
  •     Orijen – 12 Reports
  •     Nature’s Variety – 10 Reports
  •     Nutrisource – 10 Reports
  •     Nutro – 10 Reports
  •     Rachael Ray Nutrish – 10 Reports


Most research shows that “BEG” diet foods fed from an early age increase the chance of taurine deficiency in your pet.

This potential link does include some data on cats, but it isn’t nearly as significant a number as it is with dogs.

If you are getting a puppy, please consult your veterinarian before beginning a “Grain-free” or “legume-heavy” diet. Some animals will require this type of diet due to allergies, skin conditions, etc.

Extreme care must be taken if your dog must be on these types of diets.


What to do now?

Knowing the potential side-effects or risks associated with these kinds of diets will only help you lengthen the life of your pet. “Grain-free” and “legume-heavy” diets have been a growing trend over the last few years, and the marketing ploy has grown tremendously in order to have pet owners believe these foods are the best for their pets.

But the truth is, that our pets need proteins, not fillers. They need the taurine in meat by-products.

Their growing little bodies need all the things that come with a diet balanced with protein, calcium, and other essential elements.

Especially if you have a large or giant breed puppy.

Their growing bones, expanding muscles, and quickly beating hearts need certain minerals and vitamins to keep up.

Although there is believed to be a link between “BEG” diet foods and DCM, it has not been proven yet.

The best option for you to do is speak with your veterinarian and decide on the best course of food for your specific dog and breed.

You can have yearly blood draws to check for taurine deficiency and other critical blood values, as well as a yearly EKG or ultrasound, to check for potential cardiomyopathy.

If you have one of the few breeds that are genetically predisposed to DCM, taking care to monitor your pet’s health and regular veterinary checkups are highly recommended to ensure the best care possible.

Do your research before jumping on the “BEG” diet bandwagon, it could save your pet’s life. 

Want to read another blog on How to take care of Routine health care for Dogs?

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