Laytonsville Veterinary Practice
Laytonsville Veterinary Practice

Grain Free + Boutique Diets, and the dangers of dilated cardiomyopathy in pets on these diets


As of June 2019, the FDA has released the names of the 16 dog food brands that are most commonly associated with the heart disease DCM (Dilated Cardiomyopathy), which recent research has linked to grain-free and boutique diets.

The following manufacturers were named in this study:

Arcana, Zignature, Taste of the Wild, 4Health, Earthborn Holistic, Blue Buffalo, Nature’s Domain, Fromm, Merrick, California Natural, Natural Balance, Orijen, Nature’s Variety, NutriSource, Nutro, Rachael Ray Nutrish

What is DCM?

DCM is a serious, potentially fatal heart disease that results in an enlarged heart that cannot efficiently pump blood. Some signs of DCM in dogs include coughing and respiratory distress, tiring easily during exercise, weakness, collapse, and death. 

What is thought to cause DCM?

While a definite correlation between these diets and DCM has been found, the underlying dietary cause for why these diets may put dogs at risk for developing DCM is still being studied.

Some research suggests that low levels of the amino acid Taurine may be a factor in the development of this disease. Additional research is being conducted to analyze the types of ingredients that are used to substitute grains, such as lentils, legumes and potatoes, and the role that these ingredients may play in the development of DCM. 

Additionally, some breeds are genetically predisposed to this disease - such as Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Newfoundlands, Boxers, Irish Wolfhounds and Cocker Spaniels. 

What is the current recommendation from veterinary nutritionists to minimize the diet-related risk of DCM?

As a rule, well-known brands of dog food employ board-certified veterinary nutritionists, whose job it is to make sure that each batch of food contains the appropriate levels of nutrients that healthy dogs need. In fact, these foods are routinely tested, and batches of dog food from these larger manufacturers will be recalled if they are found to have inappropriate levels of nutrients (most recently this occurred with vitamin D). In addition, many of these brands have higher standards for quality control than their smaller, boutique counterparts. 

What foods do your doctors recommend?

Purina Pro Plan, Hill’s Science Diet, Wellness and Iams are all respected dog food brands with decades of research-backed nutrition.

My dog has been on a grain free or boutique diet - what should I do?

If your dog has been on one of these diets for 6 months or longer, our current recommendation is to schedule an exam, where we will do a heart checkup and take a blood sample to submit for Taurine level testing. If your dog has had any of the symptoms of DCM mentioned above - such as coughing, respiratory distress or exercise intolerance - we strongly encourage you to schedule a heart checkup exam.