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FDA Alert - Grain-Free Dog Food

lizasperling [Flickr]

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration  is investigating a possible link between incidents of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs and extended consumption of "grain-free" dog food, after several reports from veterinarians.  


Earlier this month the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to dog owners about a potential connection between diet (specifically a certain kind of dog food) and a disease called dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM.

The condition is one of the most common causes of heart failure in certain large dog breeds, such as Dobermans, Great Danes and Boxers, but reports received by the FDA show DCM occurring in breeds not usually prone to the disease, such as Retrievers, Whippets, even some mixed breeds.

The one common factor in the reported cases seems to be a diet high in things like potatoes, peas, lentils, legume seeds, which are often the main ingredients in dog foods labeled as “grain-free”. In the cases reported to the FDA, veterinarians indicated the dogs had been eating such foods consistently for months or years.

Several of the animals had low blood levels of the amino acid taurine. It has been shown that taurine deficiency can lead to DCM, and the FDA suspects that grain-free foods containing potatoes, peas and legumes might be causing the reduction of taurine levels in dogs.

No specific brands of dog food were listed in the FDA warning, but owners can check to see if potatoes, peas, lentils or legumes are listed as main ingredients in their pet’s food. Even better check with your veterinarian for recommendations about the best diet for your own furry friend.

So, how would you know if your dog might be suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy? Symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing, reduced energy – if your buddy can’t play like it used to, or chase the ball, or gets winded easily, it’s time for a visit to the doctor. If your veterinarian suspects your pet may have DCM linked to its diet, report it to the FDA.

You can read the FDA warning about the potential connection between diet and canine heart problems by visiting the agency’s website at

We all want to do what’s best for our four-footed friends, including feeding them a healthy diet. But for dogs, “grain-free” may not be the best choice, especially when we’re speaking of pets.


Mindy Norton has been “Speaking of Pets” on Alabama Public Radio since 1995.
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