Pet Nutrition Resources for Veterinarians, Grain-Free


In July of 2018, the Food and Drug Administration announced an investigation of grain-free, dog food diets and a common type of canine heart disease  – dilated cardiomyopathy (D.C.M.).  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 click here for questions and answers from the FDA regarding this topic.

CVCA Guidance for Primary Care Veterinarians

     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.

Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University 

American College of Veterinary Nutrition