Let’s Talk DCM in Dogs and Grain-free Dog Foods

Posted by Dana Rice on

Like a lot of things these days, the headlines get your attention, but if you want to really understand the issue, you have to dig into the facts.

Dogs are dying from grain-free diets!

Did I get your attention? Is it true? Well, no, it’s just not that straight-forward and the studies are still on-going to understand whether there is truly any connection between grain-free diets and the heart disease Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs.

DCM is a common type of heart disease in people and also occurs in dogs. DCM in dogs is a disease of the heart muscle that results in an enlarged heart. As the heart chambers become dilated, it makes it more difficult for the heart to pump, causing a build-up in fluids in the chest and abdomen, leading to congestive heart failure. So, if your dog is going to develop heart disease at all, it’s probably going to be DCM.

Approximately 10% of all dogs will develop heart disease in their life1, many times going undetected. For perspective, approximately 15% of all dogs will suffer from hip dysplasia2.

Some breeds are hereditarily predisposed to DCM, including Doberman Pinchers and Golden Retrievers. In addition, DCM can also be caused by environmental and dietary factors.

In 2018, the FDA was alerted to an apparent increase in the number of DCM cases that were being seen by veterinarians among breeds that did not traditionally have genetic markers for heart disease.3 At the time, the pool of data was quite small, but the one thing the dogs seemed to have in common was a diet of grain-free dog kibble.

Commercial grain-free kibble started showing up as an option for dogs around 2009 and grew in popularity as people have become more conscious of their own health and perceived grain-free as a healthier option for their dogs. By 2018, grain-free diets were a common choice for many dog owners.

Despite the initial data pool being quite small, there seemed to be enough there that the FDA opened an investigation. This investigation has been ongoing with periodic updates coming out. In August 2021, an update was published on Nature.com4. The authors of the update have been studying dog kibbles, both grain-free and with-grains to try to better understand the possible connection to DCM.

This most recent study seems to indicate that there could potentially be a connection between DCM and foods containing three or more pulses (peas and legumes), potatoes or sweet potatoes. Peas in particular seem to be an ingredient of potential concern, especially when in combination with other pulses or potatoes that are all listed high on the ingredient list.

Legumes have been used in dog kibble for decades, so it may not be that peas are necessarily bad, but rather that large amounts of peas in a diet may result in an over-exposure of what is typically a good food ingredient. But casting peas as the villain ingredient would be too simplistic at this point. The research also indicates that insufficient levels of certain amino acids and taurine are another area that needs more investigation.

So, what does all this mean?

There’s still a lot that we don’t know! While the current study starts to get us closer to a possible answer, there are still many variables that have yet to be defined.

Where does that leave a responsible pet owner that wants the bests for their pet?

There are some things every pet owner can do:

Read the ingredient panel on the dog food you are using, but don’t panic!

DCM is a condition that happens over time and in the case of dietary-related DCM, it seems that the disease often improves with a change in diet. If you find that you have been feeding a kibble that has peas in the first 4-5 ingredients and the ingredients also include two or more other legumes or potatoes within the top ingredients, it might be time to transition to a different food that doesn’t include these things high on the ingredient list.

While your veterinarian may be recommending switching away from a “grain-free” diet, know that not all grain-free diets are high in peas or other legumes and potatoes.

If you like the idea of grain-free and your dog seems to be doing well on a grain-free diet, or a diet free of wheat or corn, you don’t necessarily need to move away from grain-free. Look a bit closer at the ingredients and find the options that do not contain peas, other legumes, or potatoes as main ingredients.

Start a rotation diet for your dog!

One thing we have always encouraged people to consider is rotating your dog’s diet among a range of quality dog food brands and formulas. No matter how good any one dog food is, all dog food manufacturers make choices in their formulas, so if a dog is fed that same diet every day for years, they are bound to get either too much or not enough of something. We suggest changing foods approximately every six months to encourage a better overall balance of ingredients and nutrients.

Know the facts.

We encourage you to read the links below and dig into the facts behind the headlines, so that you can be informed and make the best decisions for your individual dog.

We’re here to help, so if you have questions, email us at dogwildsupply@gmail.com about your specific concerns and we’ll do the best we can to help.

Check out our kibbles that contain healthy grains, something for every budget:



1 https://www.cvcavets.com/canine-heart-diseases/

2 https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jvm/2017/5723476/

3 https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/science-research/vet-lirn-update-investigation-dilated-cardiomyopathy

4 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-94464-2

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  • Hi Mary,
    It seems that there are many factors in the studies conducted so far that have not been taken into account to determine if there is a cause and effect relationship; it could certainly be suggested that how food is made and where it comes from are some of those factors.

    Dana Rice on
  • Why isn’t there any mention of the country of origin? Who made it? This could be a very important factor!!

    Mary Schmidt on

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