Recently, the FDA issued a warning concerning an increased incident of a severe heart disease, dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), in dogs eating grain – free dog foods and grain-inclusive foods containing legumes or potatoes.

Diets in cases reported to the FDA frequently list potatoes or legumes early in the ingredients, indicating they are the main ingredients. When grain is removed from dry dog food, other carbohydrate sources such as peas, chickpeas, lentils and/or potatoes (white or sweet) are used instead. Very few dogs have true allergies to grains, and there is no scientific evidence that dogs benefit from eating grain-free diets.

These ingredients appear more frequently in diets labeled “grain-free”, but it is not yet known how these ingredients are linked to cases of DCM. These ingredients seem to be interfering with dogs’ absorption of taurine (an amino acid that is needed for heart function) resulting in severe heart disease and in some cases death. These ingredients are also showing up increasingly non-grain free foods and it requires reading the ingredient list on the bag to actually know if they are present.

Until the exact mechanism is determined, we are recommending that our dog patients change to a food produced by one of the large pet food manufacturers. Boutique foods/foods with protein sources that are lower in taurine may also attribute to DCM. There may also be other nutritional and genetic factors that are related to the development of this disease.

For more detailed information, there is an excellent Facebook group moderated by veterinarians called “Taurine-Deficient Dilated Cardiomyopathy” that you can join.

You can also check out Cummings Veterinary Medical Center's Clinical Nutrition Service website or the World Small Animal Veterinary Association's (WSAVA) pet food selection guidelines