June 28, 2019

Grain Free Diets and Heart Disease


Some dog parents are concerned about grain-free diets potentially causing heart issues in their dogs. There is growing evidence that grain-free dog foods are linked to a heart condition called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). Unfortunately, there is a lot we still don’t know. Here are the facts:

  1. DCM is a serious disease that causes the heart to enlarge and beat with less force, potentially causing heart failure.
  2. DCM has been found to be associated with dogs fed a grain-free diet, usually with peas and/or lentils. However, all grain-free diets put your dog at an increased risk.
  3. The cause remains a bit of a mystery. A deficiency in the amino acid taurine has been suspected, but there seems to be more to the disease than a simple nutritional deficiency.
  4. The disease is reversible if caught in time.


Signs of heart disease include: weakness, lethargy, shortness of breath, and coughing. If you notice any of these symptoms, take your pet to a veterinarian right away. Your vet will listen for a heart murmur and/or an abnormal heart rhythm and possibly perform additional testing.

I would also like to add my two-cents regarding grain-free diets. Grain allergies are very rare in dogs. Many clients ask me why dog foods contain grains when wolves don’t eat grains in the wild. My answer to this is always the same: dogs are not wolves. Dogs have been evolving with humans for tens of thousands of years and their stomachs have also been evolving to be able to digest our food. Grains are full of nutrients and are perfectly safe for dogs to eat.

Fortunately for our canine companions, veterinary researchers and the FDA are busy investigating this disease and more information should be available in the near future.

Marc Siegel, DVM

Isthmus Veterinary Care