FDA Warning- “Grain Free” Diets Linked to Heart Disease?

Dr. Mark Kummer, Medical Director

Potential Link Between Grain-Free Diets and Heart Disease in Dogs- Diet Change Recommended for Safety

The FDA published an article late last week highlighting a potential link between certain brands of food (producing mostly grain-free diets) and a significant increase in reported cases of “Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy”, particularly in medium and large-breed dogs.


Currently, the cause of the problem is unknown, and is likely to be quite complex.  Taurine and other amino-acid levels, the grains being used, manufacturing practices, and ingredient sourcing are all being investigated.  It will be quite some time before we have a clearer understanding of the cause.

The scope of the problem is also unknown.  Reported cases so far represent a very small percentage of dogs being fed the listed diets.  Until more is known, Fairhaven Vet recommends the following precautions to help keep your dogs healthy:

  • Diet Change: If your dog is being fed a grain-free diet and does not have a specific medical need to avoid traditional grains and protein sources, we recommend a gradual switch to a traditional diet produced by Hill’s, Purina, Iams, Royal Canin, or one of the other large, longstanding pet food manufacturers. The diet should state on the bag, “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [this food] provides complete and balanced nutrition.”  Note that feeding tests are not required before a food goes to market.  While feeding tests may be too short to identify long-term nutritional issues, they still provide far better assurance than the similar statement “[This food] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or cat) Food Nutrient Profiles.” If your dog has a medical need to avoid traditional grains and protein sources (most commonly due to skin or intestinal allergies), we recommend a gradual switch away from the listed brands, to one of the veterinary “prescription” foods produced by Hill’s, Purina, or Royal Canin.
  • Monitor for Clinical Signs: Whether or not your dog has been eating one of the listed foods, please call to schedule an examination your dog is develops any of the following:
    1. Persistent Cough
    2. Labored Breathing
    3. Tiring easily with exercise
    4. Significant lethargy
  • Proactive Monitoring in asymptomatic animals? Thankfully, preliminary data indicates that switching to a different diet is likely to reverse any early changes to the health of the heart muscle.   If your dog has no symptoms, this is likely all that is needed.   If you prefer to be more pro-active, please schedule an examination for our doctors to listen to the rate, rhythm, and pulse-quality of your dogs heart.  Additional testing can be discussed at that time, possibly to include chest xrays, an ECG, an Echocardiogram, and measuring blood Taurine levels.

Additional Resources:

Tufts Veterinary Nutrition Servicehttps://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2018/06/a-broken-heart-risk-of-heart-disease-in-boutique-or-grain-free-diets-and-exotic-ingredients/

UC Davis Veterinary Schoolhttps://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/news/uc-davis-investigates-link-between-dog-diets-and-deadly-heart-disease