Pet Nutrition Resources for Pet Owners, Grain-Free

In July of 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an investigation of grain-free, dog food diets and a common type of canine heart disease – dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

One of CVCA’s board-certified veterinary cardiologists, Steven Rosenthal, DVM, Diplomate, ACVIM (Cardiology), was interviewed for The New York Times article: Popular Grain-Free Dog Foods May Be Linked to Heart Disease. View the links below for additional information and review questions and answers from the FDA here.

CVCA Guidance for Pet Owners

At this point in time, we are not certain of the exact causal relationship between grain-free and/or high legume diets in atypical dog breeds with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).  Taurine deficiency of these pet foods does not appear to be the primary issue in these DCM patients as we have found normal taurine levels in many of these pets with DCM.  However, in some breeds such as the Cocker Spaniel and Golden Retriever, we have found low plasma taurine levels.

At this time, if there is not a clinical reason (i.e. food allergies or gastrointestinal upset) for use of a limited ingredient, unique protein source (kangaroo, alligator, bison, etc.) diet, we would suggest using alternative diets.  Consultation with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist should be considered.  Another possible consideration is to use two/three pet foods from different manufacturers including a diet that is not full of legumes (lentils, chickpeas, peas) and has some grain in the product.  As we continue to investigate the link between the increased incidence of dilated cardiomyopathy in atypical canine breeds with grain-free diets, we hope to ultimately determine the definitive issue but, for now, we currently do not have that answer.

Your Dog’s Diet

Reconsider your dog’s diet. If you’re feeding a boutique, grain-free, or exotic ingredient diets, we would reassess whether you could change to a diet with more typical ingredients made by a company with a long track record of producing good quality diets.  And do yourself a favor –  stop reading the ingredient list.  Although this is the most common way owners select their pets’ food, it is the least reliable way to do so.  And be careful about currently available pet food rating websites that rank pet foods either based on opinion or based on myths and subjective information. It’s important to use more objective criteria (e.g., research, nutritional expertise, quality control in judging a pet food). The best way to select what is really the best food for your pet is to ensure the manufacturer has excellent nutritional expertise and rigorous quality control standards (see our “Questions you should be asking about your pet’s food” post).

Change your dog’s diet to one made by a well-known reputable company and containing standard ingredients (e.g., chicken, beef, rice, corn, wheat). Changing to a raw or homecooked diet will not protect your dog from this issue (and may increase the risk for other nutritional deficiencies).  If your dog requires a homecooked diet or has other medical conditions that require special considerations, be sure to talk to a veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist ( before making a dietary change.  You can contact the Cummings Nutrition Service to schedule an appointment (

Q&A – Grain-Free Dog Foods

To find many of the questions and answers submitted to us via Facebook, please visit our Q&A page.  Or, check out our Facebook Live video with Dr. Steven Rosenthal below!

Blog  – Real-Life DCM Cases seen at CVCA

Interested in hearing about real-life cases that CVCA doctors have seen? Click here to read our blog, “Weak Heart from Dog Food? Some Dogs Recover!”

News Stories & Helpful Articles

[February 2023] – Petfoodology and Studies

[6-27-19] — FDA Investigation into Potential Link between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy

WMAR News Channel 2 – ABC Baltimore Interviews CVCA’s Dr. Steven Rosenthal

FDA Investigation into Potential Link between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy

AVMA – Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA)

Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University 

American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN)

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA)

Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)