Grain Free Diets and Heart Disease

By January 9, 2020 No Comments

Dear Gateway Family, 

You may be hearing some concerning information about grain free diets circulating in the news and on social media.   This is a serious and important health topic that pet owners need to know about.  We will do our best to provide you with the most accurate information that we have available to us.  

Since June of 2018, the FDA has been investigating a growing number of cases of a heart disease called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs.  Canine cardiologists started investigating the problem as it became apparent that there was an increase in the number or cases in breeds that are not usually predisposed to this type of heart disease, and a link was made to the grain-free diets that these dogs were eating. 

What we know at this time is that 90% of the dogs diagnosed with unexpected DCM are on grain-free diets.  Over 90% of the diets were reported to contain peas, lentils or other legume seeds (pulses) or potatoes) as main ingredients.  It is important to know that no definitive cause for DCM in these dogs has been identified to date, so it is very difficult to make specific recommendations as to what diets are safe and what diets are not.  No veterinary diets have been implicated as a cause of DCM

The FDA has released a report listing diets that have been implicated. This likely only represents a very small fraction of true cases, as inclusion in the FDA data requires cardiac ultrasounds to establish a diagnosis of DCM, and evidence that the disease resolved with diet change using follow-up ultrasound.  Many pet owners are unwilling or unable to afford this type of workup.  

Some of the implicated companies are taking steps to publish press releases and even change their formulations, but given that the exact cause has not been identified, this is not sufficient to accept this diet as being safe to feed.  

The veterinarians at Gateway Pet Hospital are currently recommending that you avoid feeding grain free diets, especially those containing peas, lentils or other legumes.


For most of us, our pets are valued members of the family. We want to give them the best possible nutrition.  Pet food companies spend billions (yes billions) of dollars on advertising to convince buyers that their food is the most nutritious. They use many industry tricks such as the use of pleasing words like “holistic”, “organic”, “real meat”, “human grade” … and “grain free” to make their foods sound more attractive. They use tactics to get meat as the first ingredient such as using the heavy pre-processed weight of the meat. They use tactics to get the grains lower on the list by splitting them into several different grains. The truth is that dogs are omnivores, not true carnivores, and they do very well with grains in their diets.  



1. For dogs without specific dietary allergies, changing their diet is the simplest and most conservative action until more definitive information relating to this emerging pattern is discerned. 

2. For patients with known or suspected grain allergies, contact your veterinarian for recommended diet changes.  Here     are a couple of important notes:

a. Many dogs with allergies are actually allergic to the protein, not the grain in their diet. Chicken and beef are the top two food allergies in dogs. 

b. No veterinary hypoallergenic diet has been implicated as a cause of DCM in dogs, so switching to one of these diets is recommended if your pet has a true grain allergy. 

3. If you are unable or unwilling to change your pets diet, the following proactive approach to detecting DCM is recommended: 

a. Book your pet in for a physical examination with your veterinarian to assess his/her overall health and detect any evidence of a new arrhythmia or heart murmur that may be an indicator of DCM.  However, not all pets with DCM will have a heart murmur. 

b. Consider taurine testing – some, but not all, of the cases of DCM that have been linked to diet have shown low levels of taurine, an amino acid that is essential for heart health. 

c. Consider having a cardiac ultrasound performed. 

d. Taurine supplementation can be considered under the supervision of your veterinarian as a last resort, but again, given that the cause of DCM has not been definitively identified, this may not prevent disease. 


Here is a link to the FDA report and of course call us anytime with any concerns you may have about your pet or their diet!

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