Update on grain-free diets and DCM cases in dogs


On June 27, 2019, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released an update to two previous advisories regarding dog food and dogs who had developed dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).  The release made a splash in the mainstream news – but this is all that most people seemed to get out of the news coverage: “THERE ARE 16 BRANDS OF DOG FOOD THAT ARE KILLING DOGS!”

Unfortunately, this is a wildly oversimplified take-away message. It set off a panic in the countless dog owners who feed their dogs some variety made by one of those companies, and may have inflicted serious financial damage to the companies named (as well as all the retailers who sell them) – this, despite the fact that the FDA stated at the outset of the release that the cause of the DCM cases is still unknown. “Based on the data collected and analyzed thus far, the agency believes that the potential association between diet and DCM in dogs is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors.”

Further, in a “Questions and Answers” addition to the update, the agency says things like, “At this time, we are not advising dietary changes based solely on the information we have gathered so far,” and “It’s important to note that the reports include dogs that have eaten grain-free and grain-containing foods and also include vegetarian or vegan formulations. They also include all forms of diets: kibble, canned, raw and home-cooked. Therefore, we do not think these cases can be explained simply by whether or not they contain grains, or by brand or manufacturer.”

It’s a bit puzzling, then, why the agency named the brands of foods that were reportedly fed to some of the 560 dogs whose DCM cases they are investigating (and even more puzzling: why they didn’t include the varieties of foods that were implicated, just the company names). Naming the companies suggests that those companies were responsible for the dogs’ illnesses, even as the agency denied this as an explicit causation. We’re not usually conspiracy theorists, but this move undoubtedly gave a boost to these companies’ competitors.

We don’t mean to sound protective of the companies. Don’t get us wrong: If it can be proven that a company has knowingly or even inadvertently (through cost-saving measures, say) taken steps that resulted in a previously known or predictable harm to dogs, we’d be happy to help drum them out of business. The point is, the cause of these cases is STILL unknown. So why name the companies, rather than just describe the characteristics of the products that have been implicated so far?

Our guess is that so many people buy and feed products without having a clear reason for doing so, and so many fail to read the ingredients panel and guaranteed analysis – perhaps naming companies was the only way to get owners’ attention, and to alert them to check their foods, and think about their dogs’ condition. If they are feeding a product from one of the named companies, are their dogs displaying any symptoms of compromised cardiac health?

The only explicit advice that the FDA offered to owners wanting to protect their pets came at the end of the update: “If a dog is showing possible signs of DCM or other heart conditions, including decreased energy, cough, difficulty breathing and episodes of collapse, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. If the symptoms are severe and your veterinarian is not available, you may need to seek emergency veterinary care.” This is sound advice – and owners would do well to follow it regardless of what diet their dogs are fed.

Information about the cases

We do believe that the agency is more concerned about protecting our health and that of our pets than protecting industry interests, though, again, naming some (not all!) of the companies was kind of a weird move. However, we very much appreciate the fact that, in an effort to give pet owners and industry insiders more information about the issue, the agency has shared much more information in this update and other linked documents than was previously released.

Between January 1, 2014 and April 30, 2019, the FDA received 524 reports of DCM; this includes some 560 dogs and 14 cats. Some of the reports include cases in which multiple pets in the same household developed DCM – which is why total affected animals (574) add up to more than the number of reports (524). The cat cases are beyond WDJ’s area of expertise and we will not discuss these.

The agency also has received many reports regarding dogs with other cardiac problems, but if a dog was not diagnosed with DCM by a veterinarian or veterinary cardiologist, his or her case was not counted in the totals above. The FDA says it will continue to collect information about these cases, as dogs may exhibit cardiac changes before they develop symptomatic DCM. For more about these changes, see “Non-DCM Cardiac Cases” in this linked addendum to the June 27 update.

Some of the detail included in the update dramatically helps illustrate the immediacy of the issue. Though earlier reports referred to DCM cases dating back to 2014, we learned from this update that there were only seven reports regarding DCM made to the FDA from 2014 through 2017: one in 2014, one in 2015, two in 2016, and three in 2017.

But in 2018, the FDA received a communication from a group veterinary cardiology practice in the northeast concerning an unusual cluster of cases of DCM. The veterinarians reported that they had seen a number of dogs with DCM who were 1) not breeds known to be at a higher inherited risk of DCM, and 2) most had been eating grain-free diets prior to diagnosis.

Veterinary cardiologists discussed this with colleagues. Soon, other practitioners realized that they, too, had seen more cases of DCM in dogs of atypical breeds for the condition – and many of them, too, were eating diets that were grain-free and/or high in legumes and/or potatoes. More and more veterinarians started submitting reports about their patients to the FDA.

The FDA released its first advisory about this issue in July 2018, in order to alert pet owners and general-practice veterinarians of the possibility for DCM to develop in dogs, especially if they had been maintained on grain-free/legume-rich diets for any significant period of time. The agency warned interested parties to be on the lookout for the symptoms of DCM: loss of appetite, pale gums, increased heart rate, coughing, difficulty breathing, periods of weakness, and fainting.

This news almost immediately triggered a spike of cases being reported to the FDA. Some 320 reports of DCM were made in 2018; so far in 2019 (through April 30, the most recent date included in the FDA advisory update), some 197 reports of DCM have been made. Of the 560 dogs discussed in these reports, 119 have died.

The FDA cannot confirm, however, whether these numbers indicate an actual increase in the population of dogs that develop or die from DCM or whether the attention brought to bear on this issue has increased awareness and hence reporting; unlike in human epidemiology, rates of disease and deaths are not kept for animals. (FDA: “Because the occurrence of different diseases in dogs and cats is not routinely tracked and there is no widespread surveillance system like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have for human health, we do not have a measure of the typical rate of occurrence of disease apart from what is reported to the FDA.”) Because we don’t know what the rate of DCM is overall, it’s possible that many cardiac problems, diet-related or not, have gone unreported or even undetected (for example, mistakenly attributed to “old age”) until the FDA advisories and updates brought it to the attention of many dog owners.

One of the major points made in the 2018 advisory was that cardiologists were seeing the unexpected development of DCM in atypical breeds and in dogs with other atypical characteristics. DCM tends to affect dogs of certain breeds (most of which are large and giant breeds), older dogs, and more dogs who are overweight than of ideal or low weight. Veterinary cardiologists say they are seeing more cases in breeds that are not known to have a genetic predisposition to DCM, in younger dogs, and in medium and even very small dogs.

The FDA’s 2019 update confirmed that there has been, at a minimum, a shift in the makeup of the dogs involved in these 560 cases. The update contains a table that enumerates how many dogs of various breeds are represented in the 560 cases. The breed with the most cases (95) is the Golden Retriever. However, according to registration numbers of purebred dogs, it’s the third most popular breed in the U.S. Also, the FDA has speculated that there has been greater awareness and social media discussion about DCM among Golden Retriever owners (as they are prone to a taurine-responsive form of DCM), and this perhaps prompted Golden owners to bring their dogs to the vet and be diagnosed sooner, and to report their cases to the FDA.

Mixed-breed dogs are next on the list with 62 cases, then Labrador Retrievers with 47; in neither case would those dogs be expected to have a genetic predisposition to DCM. There are more mixed-breed dogs in the U.S. than any individual pure breed, and Labradors are the most numerous purebred dog in the U.S., so it may be that these dogs are represented so high on this list by virtue of their greater representation in the population. Fourth on the list, though, is a breed that is known to have a genetically higher risk of DCM: Great Danes, with 25 cases. There were 23 pit bulls, and then two more breeds known to be at higher risk of DCM: German Shepherd Dogs (with 19 cases) and Doberman Pinschers (15).

DCM tends to affect more male dogs than females, and that pattern has held, with 58.7% of the cases involving males. This, as well as the atypical age and breed distribution of the cases, had led FDA researchers to surmise that the cases that have been reported to them this far are the result of a combination of expected causes (inherited predisposition) and dietary causes.

The implicated companies

Again, it’s a little weird that the FDA named pet food companies, when the link between the foods and the cases of DCM is not yet clear. Even stranger is that they named only 16 companies – that fact seemed to make the biggest impression on the mainstream media. Headlines in publication after publication make it sound like there are just 16 companies that have been doing something wrong –making it sound as if as long as you avoid those companies when buying your dog’s food, all will be well. If only!

The 16 companies named by the FDA appear on a table presented in the update (linked again here, scroll down). The table lists the 16 companies that were named in 10 or more of the cases of canine DCM reported to the FDA since 2014. These 16 were implicated in 431 of the cases; the foods that were fed to the pets in the other 129 of the cases were not in the table – which leaves open the possibility that someone feeding a food that caused, say, nine cases, remains unaware that their dog’s food, too, may potentially contribute to their dog developing DCM. It’s a tad random.

The companies mentioned in every single one of the 560 cases are available, but not in a particularly accessible way. A link provided in the update takes the reader to a 77-page table that lists all known information about each DCM case presented to the FDA. We plan to mine that 77-page table for all this information – the companies named in fewer than 10 cases, as well as the varieties mentioned in every case – in the weeks ahead. We will share it with you when we’re done – or share a link if someone does this and posts the information before us.

Also, the update did not specify which varieties of each company’s products were implicated. While some of the companies named make only the type of products that have been implicated in the majority of reports (we will get to that in a minute), some of those 16 companies make two types of products: the type that has been implicated in the vast majority of the 560 cases, as well as products that contain grain and do not contain any of the ingredients that seem to be associated with the development of DCM. In the case of these companies, naming only the brand and not the varieties implicated in the reports was a disservice to the companies and consumers alike.

Characteristics of the implicated foods

The FDA has not yet reached any conclusions about definitive links between the foods that the 560 dogs were being fed and their development of DCM. However, if, in an abundance of caution, an owner wanted to avoid products that share the traits of these foods, it’s possible to do so. The update includes enough information about the implicated foods that could help consumers select foods that do not share the traits of the implicated foods. Just keep in mind that causation is still unknown and that the FDA’s only conclusion so far is that “DCM in dogs is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors.”

The vast majority of the products that the owners were feeding to the dogs in the reports submitted to the FDA were dry dog foods: 452 of the 515 reports involved dry dog food. The thing is, 452/515 is 88%. Currently about 85 to 90 percent of owners feed dry food, so this proportion is probably equal to the proportion of healthy dogs who are fed dry diets, so (statistically speaking) is meaningless information.

Grain-free diets represented 91% of the products implicated in the reports; 93% contained peas and/or lentils. Potatoes and/or sweet potatoes were present in 42% of the products. These numbers are far more intriguing.

The inclusion of peas, lentils, chickpeas, and other legume seeds have reached some sort of critical mass in recent years with pet food manufacturers. Though they’ve been present in many pet foods for at least a decade, in recent years, the percentage of their representation in formulas has grown. We wouldn’t worry unduly about one of these ingredients appearing on an ingredients panel in a minor role – 6th or 7th or lower on the list, say. But if there is more than one of these ingredients on the list and/or one in one of the top five or so positions on the ingredients list, for now, we’d look for another product to feed our dogs.

There are a number of animal nutrition experts speculating about what might be happening with these foods and why some dogs who have been eating them have developed heart problems. We will follow up with some analysis of some of the leading theories in future posts, but for now, let’s focus on what owners can do immediately to protect their dogs, based on what is currently understood and/or suspected about the relationship between the foods named in the reports made to the FDA and the dogs’ health problems.

Our recommendations for action

1. As we stated in our response to the 2018 advisory a year ago, no matter what your dog eats, if she has any signs of DCM – including decreased energy, cough, difficulty breathing, and episodes of collapse – you should make an appointment to see your veterinarian ASAP, preferably one who can refer you to a veterinary cardiologist.

2. For now, we would strongly recommend avoiding foods that use peas – including constituent parts of peas, such as pea starch, pea protein, and pea fiber, and especially multiple iterations of peas (such as green peas, yellow peas, pea protein, etc.) as major ingredients. If any one of these appears higher than the 6th or 7th ingredient on an ingredient list, for now, we’d switch to foods that do not display this trait.

Same goes for chickpeas (may be referred to as garbanzo beans), any other type of bean, and lentils.

We’d switch away from any foods containing more than one of these ingredients (peas, beans, or lentils).

3. Also, if you read through the 77-page table that includes every one of the 515 reports received by the FDA about a pet with DCM, you will see many times over that pet owners fed whatever they had been feeding to their dogs for months or even years. The same food, day in and day out. Month in and month out. Year in and year out! We’ve said it before and we will say it again: Feeding the same food for months on end amounts to putting your dog’s life in a single company’s hands. Is there any company on earth that you would trust to provide ALL the nutrition you consume for the rest of your life?

Please switch foods frequently, and not just from one variety to a different variety made by the same company. Switch among products that are made by different companies, with different ingredients. Unless your dog has a proven allergy to a number of ingredients, switching from one food to another, as often as every time you buy a new bag of food, helps provide your dog with “balance over time,” and keeps any nutritional imbalances, overages, or deficiencies from contributing to your dog’s health problems.

4. As we have stated many times, we would feed grain-free foods ONLY to dogs with a demonstrated allergy to or intolerance of grains.

When grain-free dry dog foods were first introduced to the market, we were happy that owners of dogs who had a proven intolerance of or allergy to one or more grains could find commercial dry food options. However, as this segment of the market exploded, it became apparent that many more owners were choosing these products than dogs needed them. Somehow, the message spread among dog owners that grain-free foods were “better” – with little or no explanation offered as to why this was alleged. We based our concern about their over-popularity on the high levels of inclusion of ingredients that did not have a long history of use in dry dog foods. Potatoes and sweet potatoes worry us less than peas, chickpeas, and beans; they have been utilized in dry dog formulas for longer than the legumes.

What if your dog absolutely can’t consume ANY grain (and this has been demonstrated with a sound food allergy trial)? There are a number of companies whose grain-free foods do not appear or appear very infrequently on the 77-page table of all the DCM reports. We are aware that some dog food manufacturers add supplemental taurine to their products (and have always done so). Whether this or some other factor (ingredient sourcing, better manufacturing, better formulation, etc.) is responsible for their scarcity on that list, no one knows for sure. But if your dog absolutely can’t consume ANY grain, we’d look for products without peas or legumes (or those with perhaps ONE of these ingredients low on the ingredients list), from a manufacturer whose name is not found on the table… and to hedge your bet, we’d check to see whether they add supplemental taurine to their formulas (and go with one of their products if they do).

Not all of the dogs in these reports have been found to exhibit low taurine levels – and none of the diets implicated in the reports have been found to contain levels of the amino acids that dogs use to manufacture the taurine they need (cysteine and methionine) that fail to meet the current levels legally required for a “complete and balanced diet.” However, there are several compelling possible reasons that could result in the dogs’ failure to utilize or benefit from these amino acids. For example, some chicken meals are so low in digestibility – and often so heat-damaged – that the methionine is not present in an available form. Also, high fiber levels can interfere with some dogs’ ability to convert these amino acids into the amount of taurine they need. The main point is, there are dogs who have shown improvement after their diets have changed and supplemental taurine was prescribed.

Note: The possibility has been raised that there may be more than one mechanism at work causing all these DCM cases and cases of other cardiac problems, something to do with the cysteine /methionine/taurine issue and something else. While the vast majority of the implicated diets mentioned in the FDA’s reports are dry, grain-free foods, some food that do contain grains also have been implicated, as well as some canned, raw, etc. diets. All owners need to be alert to their dogs’ symptoms – and don’t just chalk up exercise intolerance, panting, lethargy, etc. to “old age” in previously healthy senior dogs! Make an appointment and discuss these symptoms with your veterinarian soon.


  1. As more dogs have a sensitivity to beef & chicken, rather than grains, it would be helpful for you to suggest foods without beef, chicken, peas, lentils, other legumes, & potatoes.

  2. Thank you for this article.
    I have fed Fromm for over ten years varying the different flavors every time I made a purchase. I still believe they are a good company that provides a variety of good foods. The only reason I am not feeding it now is that my Wheaten has some kidney issues( more likely breed related) and the vet suggested changing her diet to a prescription food that seems to have helped. I am not a conspiracy minded person either but that was my first thought when I read some of those names on that list. Thanks for keeping it real.

  3. Why no mention of AAFCO feeding trials? Those are a very important part of quality control as well is the statement complete and balanced statement.

  4. I recently subscribed to the Youtube channel: Kimberly Gauthier, which for the most part is of interest to anyone who feeds or is interested in feeding a raw dog food diet. She interviews integrative veterinarians and animal nutritionists frequently. Just a few days ago I watched her video interview with Laurie Coger, DVM, an integrative veterinarian from New England. When the subject came up about the high incidence of DCM in dogs who’ve eaten grain-free kibble, Dr. Coger hypothesized that these formulas containing peas and/or legumes may be substituting some of the meat in the recipe for more legumes, therefore keeping the protein percentage up, ( and their cost down), but also unknowingly reducing the taurine to an insufficient level. The entire pet food industry lost my trust in 2007. I’ve been feeding homemade raw diets to my dogs and cats ever since. Reports like this, especially with all of the still unknown causes justify my decision to make my own.

  5. I have an UBER finicky Black German Shepherd who is also allergic to potatoes/potato starch (causes chronic ear infections) and fowl. She would sometimes eat, often late at night when I was asleep, or sometimes not at all. Had her on two different GF, one-protein (fish as she had digestive issues from lamb) kibbles (one that made “the list”) and she’s recently “tired” of them and wouldn’t eat. She seemed bummed out (?). I started cooking for her. I found a recipe from Healthy Pets (Mercola) and not only is she eagerly eating at EVERY feeding, she is a completely different dog. Her energy and playfulness have returned and she is excited when I carry her bowl to her eating area. I have done a ton of research and am making sure she is getting everything she needs daily (including STINKY sardines!) and will be following the news on DCM, legumes and grain-free kibble. Till then, I’ll be my dog’s personal chef. LOL!

  6. KLM, I finally found Royal Canin’s Skin Support fish diet, which has grains, doesn’t have peas, legumes or potatoes, and doesn’t have the offending proteins. (It does have chicken fat, but I contacted RC’s nutritionists, and the chicken protein has been removed from the fat – and my dog does fine on it. Unfortunately it’s very expensive. Another option is their hydrolyzed protein vet diet – also expensive. I’d love to hear about more options though so that I can rotate my dog’s food rather than feeding one or two lines forever.

  7. Hills Prescription Diet food has nothing in it that is prescription, other than Vets sell it and get a cut. Plus it is more expensive than their other food. Plus, Hills was just responsible for killing lord knows how many dogs because their jobber put 70x the amount of Vitamin D in the food. They only disclosed this when the press got ahold of it. There is no requirement either from the FDA or AAFCO that pet food companies disclose or recall foods that kill dogs. It is all “voluntary”

  8. Taxonomists include dogs and wolves in the same species. It seems unlikely that wolves evolved eating grain, or peas, or lentils. Evolution does not concern itself with health of wolves, humans, or any other species beyond the age required for an individual to pass on its genes. Eating food that is best in the long run does not matter because the long run does not matter. But, just as evolution does not concern itself primarily with love seeking longevity, love does not concern itself much with evolution. Wolves will eat any animal they can catch which does not pose a threat to them. Therefore, the advice to seek variety seems good (although kangaroo seems historically dubious). My next purchase will switch away from the Champion brands, even though I still think they are best overall and have given me the only observable improvement in results over other foods widely deemed to be a bit less good (and certainly less expensive). And I will switch back and forth amid Champion’s fishy formulations. Enlightening article. Thanks.

  9. I don’t see any question about the chemicals that are sprayed on different legumes and potatoes — I have read they can be very toxic — they ought to look into that

  10. Now, I’ve been wondering if anyone has looked at the water quality these dogs regularly ingested. Most humans filter their own drinking water, but not their animals’, and considering how many things are pumped into treated water, there are a slew of chemicals and additives to consider here, which may disrupt nutrient intake. I read years ago when my Maine coon boy cat died of cardiomyopathy that fluoride has been found to inhibit bacterial enzyme growth (why it helps with cavities in teeth), and I’m wondering if that plays a role in the necessary enzymatic process for our fur babies’ ability absorb the taurine quantities they need. Also consider chlorine in the water: what does chlorine do? It also destroys bacteria, and this carries through the digestive system, and, by extension, has been linked to an increase in cancers and heart disease as essential flora aren’t able to perform the same nutritional upkeep needed for a balanced system. I, for one, cannot drink unfiltered chlorinated water, as it causes intestinal upset and acid-reflux. Needless to say, I have been filtering any tap water my animals receive for years, since, I know I don’t want that in MY body, so why put it in theirs?

  11. Kudos, Nancy, for pointing out two of the major gaps:
    1) Brands but not specific formulas. That is outright irresponsible on FDA’s part. Maybe that’s why they released their report to the industry a week before the general public.
    2) The potential for an artificial spike in reporting that is undoubtedly skewing the results. DCM is attributed overwhelmingly to ‘unknown causes’ when genetic predisposition is ruled out.

    I would also like to point out that the FDA graph showing proteins fed is a bit misleading. Since chicken is the most commonly fed protein, you would expect it to show up more frequently in the reported cases than say, kangaroo.

    Peas and lentils first appeared in food without being approved by the regulatory agencies. Those ingredients have since been approved – years after they proliferated – based on ‘there doesn’t seem to be any problem’ argument rather than actual studies about their appropriateness. Another failure on the part of the agencies.

    Kibble is supplemented with taurine as it is heat sensitive so the likelihood that taurine deficient food is the case is suspect. Even as grain-free foods replace meat protein with peas and lentils the supplementation should take care of that. Dog’s diagnosed with taurine deficient DCM usually recover with supplementation. FDA did not find this to always be the case. Interestingly, at least one case reported to FDA shows high levels of taurine in the blood. Something else is going on here.

    I was reading Dr. Jean Dodds’ take on this and she quoted a 2018 study published in JAVMA: “The apparent link between BEG diets and DCM may be due to the grain-free nature of these diets (ie, use of ingredients such as lentils, chickpeas, or potatoes to replace grains), other common ingredients in BEG diets (eg, exotic meats, flaxseed, fruits, or probiotics), possible nutritional imbalances, or inadvertent inclusion of toxic dietary components. Or, the apparent association may be spurious.”. So basically the author of this published article is saying they don’t have a clue. Period. Lots of speculation and that’s it. Her article is also interesting because she details what FDA is doing with the vet community to continue the research this. That information hasn’t really made it to the public. It does look like FDA is making a good faith effort in this area.

    One last observation. If you group the brands according to who manufactures (co-pacs) them, one company stands out – Diamond.

  12. Thank you for this article. I felt like the FDA Statement was made for shock value, We feed our dogs Farmer’s Dog food – both our dogs get the pork and turkey meals – since last October and they’ve been doing great with that. Their food has sweet potatoes as the 2nd ingredient on one of the formulas, and the other formula has split peas. I brought the ingredient lists to the vet to review last week while there for a regular appointment, and he said he didn’t love the potatoes or the sweet potatoes” in the foods, and suggested I switch our dogs to Purina Savor food (*gasp* on the Purina suggestion). I decided to wander through the pet food aisle at Tractor Supply to see what the food options are, and at least 90% of the foods were grain-free, and at least most of them were also an “…& Potato” formula. Unless I start cooking for the dogs myself again, I’ve been feeling a bit like I’m floating out at see with a leaky boat

  13. My point as well! With regards to WDJ: “If it can be proven that a company has knowingly or even inadvertently (through cost-saving measures, say) taken steps that resulted in a previously known or predictable harm to dogs, we’d be happy to help drum them out of business.” Yeah, it can be proven. None of the companies actually testing their food are making dogs sick. These boutique foods that WDJ recommends so highly command exorbitant prices, yet do zero testing for the bioavailability of their foods’ nutrient profiles or the lifelong effects of their foods on dogs. Owners that feed these foods are basically paying for the privilege of their dogs being test subjects and gambling with their dogs’ lives. The companies can claim ignorance because they honestly don’t know their foods are bad for dogs. They never bothered to test them to find out. And yet WDJ touts these foods as being “quality” foods?? It’s shameful and it’s purposefully ignorant articles like this that are the reason I’m cancelling my subscription.

  14. Thank you for this article. You raise some good points about interpreting the claims. I was surprised that the premium grain-free dry food I am giving my lab has peas, pea flour and lentils listed in position 5, 6 and 7. One note, you suggest changing food often – doesn’t this pose a problem to a dog’s GI? I believe that if you are to switch foods, it should be a gradual process. Based on your suggestion, one would need to be mixing dry foods most of the time as a way to transition slowly.

  15. A couple of the articles floating around have “veterinary cardiologists” recommending that people only feed Royal Canin, Hills or Purina. Ignoring the fact that these manufacturers have had numerous recalls, and also ignoring the fact that no one knows exactly what is the link between DCM and dog food, if any. This whole thing just doesn’t pass the smell test for me.

  16. I applaud your article. I had switched my 13 year old pug and 2 year old German Shephard to grain free. Taste of the wild. After about 2 months they both started to develop ear issues. I went through the entire list of pages of foods. After reading your articles I switched back away from grain free. I am now slowly seeing their ears improve. Thank soooo much

  17. The common element across all dry dog foods in the study was they used rendered meals as a primary protein source. This denatured protein is SO overprocessed that dogs are not getting the complete amino acids required for proper nutrition. From the cheap seats, it seems big pet is using using shills like Ms. Kearns and Ms. Freeman to create fear and drive folks to their local vet. Ironically, local vets don’t know anything about nutrition that isn’t taught by Mars, Purina or Hills in vet school. My store stands by the grain free foods we carry.

  18. I can’t help but wonder that by naming those companies the FDA “thinks” is at fault, and, like you said, without naming the exact foods, that this isn’t a big corporate scare tactic to get people back on RC, Purina, and Science Diet. Our vet clinic get daily phone calls now about this, and guess what our vets advise? Feeding Royal Canin, Purina, and Science Diet because these foods have veterinary nutritionists!

  19. I am surprised that no one seems to be entertaining the possibility that this is not diet related at all. I find it interesting that the first increase in these types of reported cases occurred in the tick phobic northeast. The use of chemical flea and tick control products has skyrocketed in the past decade. All of these types of products are systemic pesticides. Is it possible that one or more of these chemicals could negatively impact the heart? Or, it may be possible that some of these chemicals may interfere with the absorption, creation or utilization of nutrients required by the heart? I would like to see statistics that show what pest prevention these dogs have been on and for how long.

  20. The reason many dog owners are switching to grain free diets is to avoid carbohydrates. From my time working in a doggie hotel just out of a population of 300 guests who have been in our hotel, 10 of them received insulin injections. This report has just 574 cases of DCM out of over a million dogs. The percentage is staggeringly higher our dogs will get diabetes from a grain diet. And rice and potatoes are high in starch which converts to carbohydrates.

    For the time being I would give supplements containing taurine and stay grain and potato free.

    And why in the world are carbohydrates NOT listed on pet food nutrition panels?

  21. I also (mainly) feed raw, but I’m concerned that there have been a few raw-fed dogs with DCM that don’t fit the profile of those with genetic links. So, raw may not get us off the hook.

    The only reason I choose mainly grain-free kibble (for training treats, mainly) is that these formulations tend to feature more meat than meat meal. and no meat byproducts. I’m concerned about the legumes, but I also started adding small amounts of taurine to my dog’s diet just in case (not enough to throw of her amino acid balance).
    I wish this weren’t so complicated.

  22. I’d personally never feed Hill’s unless the only other option were to starve my dog.

  23. Look into Purina Pro Plan Sensitive Skin and Stomach Salmon and Rice kibble. Contains only rice, barley and oatmeal, no other grains, and is a single source protein … salmon. No cases of NDCM have ever been reported as Purina follows WSAVA guidelines and employs MANY full time PhD veterinarian nutritionists who perform feeding trials, sometimes for years before releasing foods to the consumer public. Pro Plan is the top of Purina’s line and has long been the choice of breeders and show dog owners. The other large companies who, like Purina, have had no cases of diagnosed NDCM are Royal Canin, Iams/Eukanuba and Hills/Science Diet. Most of these large companies have many varieties that may fit your requirements for food.

  24. As WDJ has pointed out before, regularly changing and mixing foods makes it no big deal to switch as the dog’s digestive system is already used to providing the enzymes needed for proper digestion. Variety is indeed important. I don’t find it takes 2 weeks to switch foods. I mix it up all the time, and no digestive upsets. I feed mostly homemade raw with some supplemental kibble, mainly for training treats, Kong-stuffing, or a minor part of a meal, etc. Best wishes.

  25. Question: is there any issue with DCM in dogs in the EU? Is this a US based problem only? Some of these foods are available there too but I haven’t heard of any issues anywhere in Europe.

  26. Thanks for the update. I’m puzzled by anyone who says they’re canceling their subscription because of your reporting on this subject. I find your reporting to be very helpful. I trust that you’ll keep us updated with any new developments or insights. Thank you.

  27. Do your research before making a blanket statement about dead dogs. There were NONE due to vitamin D over abundance due to the company Hills sourced their vitamin D from. It is true that Hills immediately voluntarily withdrew the affected canned food from the market AND alerted the FDA and the media … as well as offered recompense for veterinary bills and testing and for the cost of the food that was returned. Wouldn’t that show responsible actions from a responsible and trusted company? I think so. Also, veterinarians are entitled to a small profit margin for the cost of the space used to stock products for sale to their clients.

  28. According to the United Nations Department of Agriculture analysis, grains do NOT contain ANY taurine at all. Neither do most fruits and vegetables. So I don’t think that it the presence or lack of grain that is the significant factor in these cases of DCM. Supplementing your dog’s diet with taurine is easy enough, as it is found in heart, dark meat poultry, fish, and clams. It is also sold in capsules at the Vitamin Shoppe and by online pet stores. There must be some other factor causing this (relatively small) number of cases.

  29. Certain dog food companies definitely are implicated: The ones who advertise, without any evidence to support it, that a grain-free diet is healthier or better for your dog than one containing grains, or that ones containing exotic or less common protein sources (lamb, trout, bison, duck, etc.–to include peas, other legumes and beans) are somehow superior to other brands. None of this is substantiated, and this deceptive marketing is meant to prey on the fears of well-meaning but poorly-informed dog owners. What is substantiated I bet are the profit margins from selling smaller bags of food at higher prices.

  30. Thank you for your article regarding this FDA report. I have been following this for some time now as my Male Golden Retrieve passed suddenly heart related at just 9 and I fed him what I thought was the best of these grain free foods and peas were way down on the list. I have since learned whole chicken as the first ingredient is 75 % water therefore the peas move way up. I know longer use grain free foods although I realize there is no definitive answer it is a risk I’m not willing to take. I advise others to do the same. In fact for the most part I am cooking for them. I certainly hope the companies were not aware of the potential problem, but now that they are I for one who like to see some action. When I called them when my dog passed they essentially ignored my questions and expressed their sympathy for the passing of my still young dog. Just be careful everyone. 🐾💔♥️

  31. Thank you, WDJ, for staying abreast of this current canine health controversy. I thought it was extremely irresponsible that the FDA reported only the names of the brands and not the specific meal formulations within the brands that were suspect. Many of those brands offer both grain-free and foods with grains. I was one of those people who bought into the “grain-free” story. Now that every vet I know has said that grains are fine, I switched to Fromm’s Gold Large Puppy kibble with healthy grains, but no corn or legumes. Our 7 month old large breed mix puppy loves it and is very energetic and healthy. I boil organic chicken breast and add about half a cup of the unsalted broth and about an ounce of chopped boiled chicken breast to each meal, as wetting the kibble helps prevent bloat. Also, the chopped chicken gives the food a little more oomph, without creating a dietary imbalance.

    Where will this controversy land? It’s hard to say. But until then, let’s all just be smart and, more importantly, be ever aware of our dogs’ state of health.

    I appreciate all the great information you provide. Thank you!

  32. another problem, is that many people are taking the time to report their dog/cat. i found this out recently. some vets are not even reporting animals. so the amount of animals could be much higher. i check everything that i buy for my girls, it if has peas. lentil, etc. i dont give it to them. i took my dog food to my vet when this first came out, she said no peas, etc. i now cook most of their food. most gf dog foods have these in them, somewhere. you can also feed freezed dried foods. freezed dried raw as well. my youngest will not eat raw. i spoke to one of the owners of a local pet store last year and he said that many of the dog foods were going to be redoing their ingredients because of this, maybe adding taurine. if you do supplement your dog’s diet with taurine, make sure it is the correct amount. you can cause problem by them getting too much as well.

  33. My holistic vet said the following: that the peas, lentils & chickpeas and legumes are all cheaper sources of protein and harder for the dog to digest. They did not used to be IN ANY grain-free dogs foods. These ingredients BLOCK (to some extent) the absorption of taurine, so even if it is added to the kibble (by the manufacturer) that may not fix the problem. She felt feeding a fish variety of dog food, or adding some canned fatty fish to the dog’s diet, was a good idea, if you were going to feed grain-free, versus feeding raw but she was a BIG ADVOCATE of raw – if you knew what you were doing.

    She also felt that grain is very inflammatory (and is the root of a great many health problems for many dogs) and she does NOT advocate feeding ANY grain. Grains (as another poster mentioned) HIKE the dog’s blood sugar SKY HIGH very quickly (unlike sweet potatoes) which are fibrous and low glycemic (if you need a carbohydrate). Anything that digests quickly into SUGAR is inflammatory; it increases pain, feeds infections, feeds yeast inbalances, hot spots, and sugar feeds cancer cells. Sugar also taxes the canine pancreas (which is NOT designed to handle sugar).

    It is my own personal question (since nearly all the dog food companies are now bought out and owned by one of THE BIG THREE massive companies – like Mars & Nestle) whether they would (now) intentionally TRY to find a way to kill off the grain-free dog food market…. on purpose. As WDJ pointed out, many years ago (the sudden lack of taurine) was a major problem in manufactured cat food. It was not immediately known, though and it was more serious for cats, since they CANNOT MAKE any themselves and must get ALL of theirs from their diet, unlike dogs, who can make some. Grain-free food has been looked down on by the cheaper grain-filled dog food companies for years, but it has TAKEN OFF and is (or was) much preferred, although now RAW is becoming very popular as well. They have done all they can to cheapen the recipes of the independent companies they BOUGHT OUT. Innova, for instance 10-15 years ago HAD NO peas, or any of these products in their grain-free foods. I know, because I have a dog who is SUPER ALLERGIC to peas. You virtually can’t find a food (without at least peas) or one that is NOT MADE IN PLANT, with other foods MADE WITH PEAS. (Think of the severity of a peanut allergy, yes -that’s my dog’s situation.)

  34. Hmmmm….My veterinary nutritionist and my veterinary cardiologist BOTH told me — one just today — that taurine is not toxic, and excesses, if any, are eliminated through urination. My dog has been supplemented since September when his serum taurine was 16, far lower than the “critical level” of 40. It was within the normal range at 251 in April. However, the cardiologist wants me to continue supplementation. My dog does NOT have DCM.

  35. I have 2 golden retrievers from New Zealand. They are not remotely related. I was feeding Taste of the Wild grain free for years.Roasted Lamb variety. Taurine was listed as an ingredient. Through a golden retriever group i was made aware of the possible issue with grain free foods and Nutritional DCM. My dogs had no symptoms indicating any problems. They both competed in obedience and had no shortness of breath or the other symptoms they say to look out for. I had the opportunity to have echocardiograms done by a cardiologist at a local breed clinic. Both dogs had “marginal left ventricular function”. I was shocked. I was told to change foods to non grain free and supplement with Taurine for both, and include L Carnitine for the younger one with worse numbers. Recheck echos in 6 months. I did this, and on their 6 mo recheck their echos had vastly improved and ventricular function is in the normal range for one, and almost there for the other. Need to have another echo final in 6 mo. If there were no intervention they most likely would have progressed to DCM .
    Its my understanding that the inclusion of peas, lentils and other legumes is fairly recent . I believe my formula changed in 2015.

    I do not use chemicals on my dogs for fleas/ticks

    This problem is real folks. If you wait until your dog shows symptoms it could be too late and not reversible. Why take the chance?

  36. The only problem with Pro Plan is the cost. I did buy a small bag and my girl loved it. Being on a fixed income makes it hard to buy the more expensive food. My girl is 5 years old and has always eaten Taste of the Wild(High Prairie)

  37. PhD veterinarian nutritionists (canine NOT bovine, porcine, etc.,) are employed full time by the big 4 dog food companies. They often keep foods in their off market pipeline for years before releasing them as commercially available diets, only after trial testing and tweaking them. If you care to know which brands and varieties of brands were reported to the FDA by owners of dogs diagnosed with NDCM, you merely have to access the “Complaints” section of the FDA Update, available in the update via highlighted links in several places. There you will find the information reported to FDA on each dog, their age, sex, breed if known, and detailed diet information listing brands fed and varieties of those brands for the time period reported..it is not the FDAs objective to collude with some dog food manufacturers in order to put others out of business. This update, FDA’s third one in a year, is merely an update on the information reported to this agency. FDA HAS FINALLY NAMED NAMES OF COMPANIES PRODUCING DIETS REPORTED TO HAVE CAUSED DIAGNOSED HEART DISEASE AND DEATH IN DOGS. If these 16 named manufacturers and the dozens of smaller companies with fewer than 10 reported cases doesn’t alert the public of the impending heart disease epidemic, then FDA has failed to do its duty. RC, Purina, Science Diet and Iams Eukanuba have not had even one case of reported NDCM so far in this study. This is because of the money spent in hiring the professionals and doing the trial testing required, not by mixing up foods that sound good on a human restaurant menu. Dogs have specialized dietary needs and require being fed accordingly to keep them healthy. Wake up people,,start putting your trust in your veterinarians again. They know more than you think and that’s why we take our beloved animals to them … for their advice. NDCM (nutritional dietary cardiomyopathy) is an evolving heart disease in dogs and vets are coming up to speed on it just as is the pet owning public. You’ve fallen for the very slick marketing of small pet food companies who are making huge profits on cheaply formulated foods of questionable nutritional quality. Educate yourselves.

  38. Marvellous, I do the same. I feed my German Shepherd 200 gr boiled organic chicken breasts on top of her Hill’s Science pellets every day and she loves it and is doing fine.

  39. What about all these poisonous vaccines that are given to our dogs! Have the dogs who got sick from these foods been over vacinated? What about all the foods on the “dirty dozen” list that may be on these foods? Many food items and water have been tested and they contain traces of the chemical in products like Roundup and plastics in water and food! I do believe in changing foods frequently and avoiding the ingredients that are named but the vaccine issue and the chemicals in our food and water is changing the chemistry in our bodies and our best friends. Look for yourself what dangers are in the vaccines we have been programmed to use.

  40. I am trying to find a dog food that contains good grains but no rice (very hard to find). I am concerned about the arsenic in rice and am wondering if anyone knows about how arsenic might affect our dogs? Love all the comments and appreciate WDJ.

  41. I agree. I also wonder if the increased use of Glyphosate is a factor. Glyphosate has been shown in studies to affect the heart. It is common,y used to dry lentils and peas in NA in order to harvest them more quickly. I also found it interesting that the article said that in some cases several Pets came down with DCM. They were likely fed the same food, however, perhaps they are being exposed to Roundup around their yard or in their community.

  42. I’ve not seen any companies actually make claims that grain-free is healthier, they just advertise that they don’t contain corn, wheat or soy, for instance. There is reason to believe it may be safer to feed a variety of proteins rather than just 1-2 meat sources day after day, year after year. It’s common knowledge that that kind of strategy can lead to the development of food intolerances or allergies over time in humans; are dogs any different? There’s no reason to believe, that I’ve seen, that there is anything dangerous about feeding trout, bison, rabbit, etc, instead of just chicken all day every day. It’s what else goes into the kibble or diet that seems to be the issue.

  43. “not by mixing up foods that sound good on a human restaurant menu.”
    Do you really think this is how people devise homemade diets?

  44. Good questions! Obesity and diabetes are a far bigger problem, which is not to say the apparent rise in nutritional DCM is not concerning.

  45. “What is substantiated I bet are the profit margins from selling smaller bags of food at higher prices.”
    I think Purina et al are very comfortable with their profit margins, especially given their tremendous volume. There are few ingredients cheaper than corn and rendered meat byproducts.
    There is indeed reason to believe that varying protein sources is a good idea: 1) to balance differing nutrient profiles over time, 2) to avoid developing food intolerances or allergies if only the same few ingredients are consumed exclusively, 3), to avoid boredom 4) to avoid depending on one food in case of contamination/recalls. If there are production problems in a smaller manufacturer, it’s easier to trace and correct than huge manufacturers with wider distribution.
    Also, many of the boutique food manufacturers take great care to source their ingredients responsibly and to process the ingredients carefully for maximum digestibility and preservation of nutrients. It’s unfortunate that the FDA didn’t require testing the effects of adding large amounts of legumes to dog food; I don’t think that’s evidence of mal intent on the part of the dog food companies. They’re all following perceived consumer preferences to some degree, including the big guys.
    So, no, I don’t accept your assertion that it’s all about “fears of well-meaning but poorly informed dog owners.”

  46. “…taurine is not toxic, and excesses, if any, are eliminated through urination.”
    That’s good to know, thanks!

  47. I knew that glyphosate can cause many serious health issues but did not know that about the heart. Thank you so much for pointing that out. Certainly it is obvious that there are a number of factors that seem far more likely to be problematic than the diets. Of course big pharma and big chem have far more influence than dog food companies so it is not a wonder that they are being scapegoated.

  48. I had an adopted dog who died last year of a heart murmur- a cavalier- American cocker mix ( they have a genetic tendency for it) but I am sorry I fed her a limited ingredient diet.She had the heart murmur when I adopted her at 10 and she was sensitive to many foods she couldn’t eat rice- did terribly on the premium dried foods like Orijen and she ended up ending natural balance sweet potato and venison canned only until she died at 13.I probably inadvertently added to her health issues. I now have an english cocker who had telescoping of the intestines and lives on ID Hills prescription diet.He too did poorly as a puppy on the premium foods and at a year old he had his surgery and now lives on canned gastro diet.I dont think lentils or chickpeas or pea protein have any place in dog food and I am sorry with both dogs that I followed the hype about the grain free.Years ago the other dogs I had were fed Eukanuba and there were no gastro issues though being english cockers they are prone to kidney disease I would like the current dog I have to be on another food but he simply can not tolerate legumes, fruits or most vegetables found in most foods canned food .He cant tolerate dried food even the prescription dry food upsets him because it is so highly processed.I do sometimes give him sweet potato and I supplement with eggs or sardines but it is a delicate balance with him and his only constant is the chicken stew prescription.Mainly because very few canned foods have low protein and fat levels like the prescription food and are devoid of fillers like peas.Both dogs could not tolerate dry food and I wonder if another english cocker I had who died about 7 years ago of kidney disease would have done better if I hadn’t fed him the high protein kibble foods that were faddish ten years ago.I have not had any good experiences with the dog food industry.Home cooking( with restrictions) is probably my only alternative.Even with a cat I recently got I started feeding her all the premium canned cat foods literally tried everything but all she like is Purina one dry food and fancy feast medleys and that is what she is getting after throwing out cans of Weruva, wellness, etc nd trying to hide “”taste of the wild dried in her bowl of purina one- maybe she is wiser than I know.

  49. Jeanmarie Todd … I was replying to the post above mine. Nowhere did I EVER mention homemade diets. Do not accuse me of saying something you want me to say.

  50. “RC, Purina, Science Diet and Iams Eukanuba have not had even one case of reported NDCM so far in this study.” This statement is false. Read through the case studies (the 77 page document) and you will see all of these brands listed.

  51. Krista … look at the diagnoses of these NDCM dogs you are captioning. Most have reasons other than nutritional, or in addition to nutritional, some are genetically predisposed breeds, for their DCM. Also, in companies as large as these (feeding hundreds of thousands of dogs) there will always be some outliers.

  52. I had researched dry dog foods & which Brands were best according to Ingredients & the placement of each in the listings. I fed my dog-8yrs old Labrador/pit bull mix-Farmina: Ancestrial Grains , which had high meat/protein amts w barley groats, br rice & oatmeal for the grains. I alternated with Frommes Four Star Chicken . My pup is a picky eater-I often mix his kibble w lean, grass fed cooked ground beef-pouring any grease off b4 mixing-I usually add about 1/3 cup to 2/3 cup kibble.
    I’m wondering if this is healthy for my dog-any opinions?

  53. Hello, I also have two golden retrievers one mail he’s 3 I’ve been feeding him taste of the wild for the last year I’m hoping it isn’t too late as far as I know he doesn’t show any signs yet. I also have a 6 week old female. Do you mind sharing what food you feed your fur babies?