The Recent FDA update on diets related to heart disease in pets

“In July of 2018 the FDA began an investigation on reports of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in many “grain free” labelled diets”.  Today they released additional information including a list of brands being reported by clients.


Dog Food Brands Named Most Frequently in DCM Cases Reported to FDA


The popularity of grain-free diets has boomed over the past few years, and it seems I can’t walk into a pet store without someone attempting to move me onto the latest and greatest and almost always grain-free diet for my dogs.  I understand the desire to fix all ailments, allergies, and cancers with just a good diet – we as Veterinarians have the same goal.  Well, like anything, the popularity of the grain-free pet food diet, outpaced the scientific evidence to promote such a huge change for so many pets.  Today they released an updated report from an ongoing FDA investigation into grain-free diets, showing some of my client’s favorite dog food brands as being related to increased heart disease.

What should you do if you have been feeding a grain-free diet and are concerned?

What should you do if you have a dog on a grain-free diet?  There are a few considerations.  First, does your pet have a medical need for a special diet? Many pets are on these foods because it is popular, highly palatable, and heavily marketed.  If you must know, my colleagues and I see more dogs for diarrhea and gas on a lot of these higher protein, grain-free foods.  Not the end of the world, but for me, the potential for causing heart disease in an otherwise healthy young dog IS a reason to rethink this trend.

Some of the reports are involving more than one affected animal from the same household and the FDA does not think it is genetics in these pets and more than 90% of the products were grain-free, and 93% contained peas and/or lentil beans.

Many owners report hearing about the ever-growing misinformation that grains are a leading cause of allergies in pets.  Some pets can be allergic to grains that is true, many can also be allergic to protein sources as well. If your pet has an allergy, the process of elimination is basically the same as testing a human infant. We start by removing all common food sources and stick to a novel or new protein-based food, that hopefully, the body has had limited access too. Most food allergy patients are allergic to the primary protein source in the diet, not the grain source.  If everything else has been tested, then we should talk about the benefits vs the risks before using these diets at this time.

I like to have clients keep a journal or photolog on their phones of what they are feeding.  Ingredients seem to change from time to time or clients pick a new flavor and may or may not experience a flair-up of symptoms from time to time.  What many people do not realize, is that the food can cause a flair several days after ingestion and can last up to a week! This means a lapse in any diet (a piece of steak every Sunday?!) just once a week, could be the cause of your pet’s allergy symptoms and not their main diet.

Whatever you decide is best for your pet, we are here to guide you through the latest information.  We wouldn’t be doing our job without going over all these new investigations and concerns surrounding these diets.  We can only hope that they will be able to narrow down exactly what the issue is that is causing the increase in pets diagnosed and succumbing to this heart condition.

If your pet has been on a grain-free diet and you are worried, there are a few signs that you can watch for. Simply evaluating them and going over the risks of these diets is a great idea before you see issues.

Signs and Symptoms:


Decreased Energy

Change in tongue or gum color

Rapid Breathing

It may be that this type of grain-free diet is the best for your pet’s particular condition but monitoring and diagnostics should become a part of the routine yearly care. Much like we monitor ourselves for high blood pressure, or heart disease issues. This starts with the physical examination, but we can get digital chest radiographs, ECG and cardiac ultrasound all here at Banderas Pet Hospital. If your pet is experiencing symptoms, we can check taurine levels and make diet and supplement recommendations too.

You can find more information on the FDA website and the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary medicine.

FDA Dog Food investigation

It’s not just Grain Free

If you are concerned or would like to discuss this further, please call to schedule an appointment by calling 949-766-4449.


Dr. Jenna Cooper