Canine Heart Disease and the Alarming Link to Dog Food

The FDA is currently investigating a potential link between grain-free dog foods and heart disease.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy, also known as an enlarged heart, results in reduced heart function and can lead to congestive heart failure.

Some dog breeds are more prone to develop DCM including Dobermans, Boxers, Scottish Deerhounds, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Cocker Spaniels, Irish Wolfhounds, and Afghan Hounds.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy and other heart diseases are linked to amino acid and vitamin deficiencies. However, FDA has been receiving complaints of dogs without the common links to DCM. Recent reports of dogs diagnosed with this heart disease include these breeds: Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Shih Tzus, Bulldogs, Whippets, and Miniature Schnauzers.

These dogs have only one thing in common: a grain-free diet. So FDA is researching the possibility of a connection between grain-free foods and DCM.

FDA expects to find a link between the grain replacements, like potatoes and legumes, and this fatal heart condition.

Protein Deficiency & Dilated Cardiomyopathy

In most cases of DCM, the dog is of a breed with a genetic predisposition or has a nutritional deficiency of the amino acids taurine and carnitine. Grain-free dog foods have already been linked to taurine deficiency and dilated cardiomyopathy.

“The truth is many different brands, mostly from medium to large manufacturers are linked to low taurine levels and the DCM diagnosis in dogs.”

Consuming inadequate amounts of complete, easily digested amino acids occurs easily in formulas with low meat content. Plants do not contain entire amino acid chains.

Lack of complete amino acid chains places a strain on the body to find enough of all the necessary amino acids to complete any bodily function, whether digestive, immune, respiratory, or cardiac.

These amino acids further deteriorate in quality during processing with heat and pressure. This includes the typical dog food processing methods of extrusion (heat and pressure creating an expanded cereal grain product), high-pressure pasteurization, dehydration using heated temperatures, and canning.

How Much Protein is in Your Dog Food?

Many pet foods have titles like “with real chicken” and “Chicken and Rice formula” or “Turkey Dinner.” According to the FDA, foods with these titles should have no less than 3% of the ingredients in the name of the food (chicken, rice, turkey).

They also cannot contain more than 9% of the listed foods or they would have to comply with the next protein labeling rule and would have a different description.

(To learn about the protein labeling rules for dog foods check out: Choosing a Dog Food Part 1: Decoding the Label) recently calculated the daily serving of meat found in some popular dog and cat foods to give pet consumers a look at what their pet was eating. Here are the results of the calculations:

“The feeding instructions for a 15 pound dog is 1 1/3 cup of Beneful per day. The Purina website tells us each cup is 99 grams. A 1 1/3 cup daily feeding amount equals 132 grams.

Minimum estimate: 3% of 132 grams = 3.96 grams or 0.14 ounce of chicken per day.

Maximum estimate: 9% of 132 grams = 11.88 grams or 0.4 ounce of chicken per day.”

At those amounts, equal to about one or two-quarter sized portions, Purina’s Beneful dog food is nearly a vegetarian formula. Many other pet foods fall under the same category, containing so little meat that they are almost vegetarian diets.

Vegan/vegetarian diets for dogs have already been found to cause a taurine deficiency.

So is a Protein Deficiency Causing the Rise in DCM?

“Right now (August 2018) – multiple ‘Complete and Balanced’ dog foods brands are linked diet related taurine deficient dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in possibly thousands of dogs. There are more than 8,000 pet owner members of the two Taurine Deficiency Dilated Cardiomyopathy groups on Facebook. Right now (August 2018), thousands of pet owners are questioning why the ‘Complete and Balanced’ claim on their pet food label failed their dog.”

Although there are thousands of pet owners looking for help for dogs diagnosed with nutritionally based DCM, the FDA’s study does not include these multitudes.

“Four of the cases the FDA is studying showed low blood levels of the amino acid taurine.  One of the dogs is recovering with treatment that includes a change in diet, plus taurine supplementation. But four other cases had normal blood taurine levels.”

Unfortunately, only half of the cases in the FDA study have a link to taurine deficiency. Solving this problem may not be so easy.

What else causes dilated cardiomyopathy in dog breeds that aren’t prone to developing it?

DCM & Endotoxins

Dogs are being diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy with normal taurine levels. Could it be endotoxins?

“Gram-negative bacteria such as Salmonella and or E. coli killed through cooking or processing of pet food ingredients ‘get even’ with their killers – they release a toxin that can be more dangerous to dogs and cats than the live bacteria.”

4D meats (dead, dying, diseased, and disabled – and often drugged) are great risks for introducing these harmful bacteria to pet foods. Then upon cooking, radiation, extrusion, and high-pressure pasteurization, endotoxins are released into the food. The resulting pet food is considered to be sterile, but the risk of endotoxins is ignored.

“Bacterial endotoxin, long recognized as a potent pro-inflammatory mediator in acute infectious processes, has more recently been identified as a risk factor for atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases.”

Indeed, the lack of quality in today’s commercial pet foods plays a significant role in our dogs’ risk for heart disease and other organ dysfunctions.

We need to be proactive about providing their dogs diets that are better balanced and of better quality than the average bag of kibble.

Drug Toxicity & Heart Inflammation

One of the top reasons pet owners choose to put their dogs on grain-free diets is in an attempt to treat symptoms of allergies.

We do not know why the dogs in the study were all on grain-free diets, but it is possible they have another thing in common: allergy treatment. This might include drugs to suppress allergic reactions. says that heart inflammation (myocarditis) has several possible causes:

“Although viral, bacterial, rikettsial, fungal, and protozoal infections are the most common cause of myocarditis, drug toxicity to the heart can also be a factor.”

Drug toxicity is an increased risk for dogs as veterinarians and pet owners use more medications to control allergic reactions, parasites, and symptoms of many other disorders.

It is unknown whether the dogs recently reported having DCM were on any medications, were suffering from allergies or another disorder, or were on even the common flea, tick, and heartworm preventives, and vaccinations.

What We Do & Don’t Know About DCM and Dog Food

Some breeds may have a genetic tendency to develop dilated cardiomyopathy. This especially occurs in spayed/neutered dogs over five years old.

However, most of the dogs in the recent FDA reports of DCM were not breeds with a genetic predisposition.

We do know that there are nutritional links to dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs. These include taurine, carnitine, Vitamin B, and magnesium deficiencies.

However, we also know that only half of the dogs in the study of DCM had a taurine deficiency. The cause of heart disease in the other dogs is undetermined, or unreported, so far.

Veterinarians see that many aspects of the typical grain-free dog food will have to be under examination if we are to understand the recent cases of dilated cardiomyopathy. Every step from the growth and harvest of grain replacements, to the moment your dog consumes the food will need analyzation.

What these same veterinarians also see is the need to give our dogs a diet that does not lack essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, and avoids the risks of endotoxins.

Why the FDA Study Won’t Help Your Dog

Unfortunately, FDA has been less than concerned about your pet’s health concerning this possible link between grain-free diets and DCM.

On July 12, 2018, FDA made their first announcement stating that they were investigating the “Potential Connection Between Diet and Cases of Canine Heart Disease.” However, FDA had significant knowledge of the situation a month before alerting pet owners.

In her article “The Most Recent FDA Betrayal,” Susan Thixton writes:

“In that first FDA announcement, the FDA directly lied to consumers. The truth is – at the time FDA told consumers they were working with “veterinary diagnostic laboratories” – they were actually working with the trade association representing the VERY PET FOOD MANUFACTURERS linked to perhaps thousands of dog illnesses and deaths.” 

To be clear, contacting the trade association that represented the pet food manufacturers that are producing the grain-free diets in question is not the appropriate step in this investigation. Testing and examination independent of the trade association and manufacturers are necessary for unbiased results.

FDA has proven once again that they value the profits of the pet food manufacturers above pet food consumers and their animals.

“And…one month prior to alerting consumers to the pet food problem – the agency had provided the Pet Food Institute a slide presentation on the issue. This slide presentation has NEVER been provided to consumers by FDA – FDA ONLY considered industry important enough to be provided with investigation details.”

To see the slide presentation with details about the grain-free investigation check out Susan’s blog

Contrary to the expectation FDA hopes you will have, as a pet owner, trusting FDA to investigate this possible link to heart disease and relying on their public conclusions might be unwise.

Avoiding Dilated Cardiomyopathy

While some breeds should be carefully fed to limit their risk for dilated cardiomyopathy, all dogs should be fed diets that contribute to cardiac health.

A diet that promotes healthy cardiac function in dogs must provide all the complete essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals each with a high biologic value. This is only possible when the diet is high in animal products because of the design and functions of the dog’s digestive tract.

Julia Henriques, the Managing Editor of Dogs Naturally Magazine, lists three reasons why kibble diets are not appropriate for promoting cardiac function or overall health.

  1. Kibble is dead food.
  2. It contains aflatoxins.
  3. And kibble oxidizes, fast.

To this list, you can add inadequate protein content, unbalanced omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, 4D meats, colors/dyes, preservatives, synthetic supplements, anti-nutrients, and high-glycemic loads. Surely a diet with so many risk factors can’t contribute to cardiac health.

If Your Dog Has DCM

For pet owners who have a dog with dilated cardiomyopathy, we strongly advise that you take your dog off kibble and find a way to feed him a whole fresh food diet.

There are many options for pet owners looking for minimally-processed dog foods today including dehydrated, freeze-dried, and commercial raw.

Depending on your area, you might find a company that makes fresh food and delivers it to your home. You may also choose to use homemade dog food cookbooks written by veterinarians and pet food experts.

For pet owners on a tight budget, whether you are treating dilated cardiomyopathy or looking to prevent DCM, we recommend supplementing your dog’s diet with whole fresh foods. Sources of healthy fats and protein like eggs, fish, coconut oil, and hemp oil are excellent supplements.

Check out our Healthy Additions series to find more whole foods that are safe for your dog.

UPDATE: What the AVMA Knows about DCM

A recent paper was published in the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Journal titled “Diet-associated dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs: what do we know?”

The paper tells how veterinary cardiologists believe they have been “diagnosing DCM in Golden Retrievers at higher rates than expected and in dogs of breeds typically not thought to be prone to this condition.” These veterinarians have also found that these dogs have been fed unique diets such as grain-free, novel protein (kangaroo, alligator, buffalo, bison, salmon, etc.), and Boutique company foods.

These three groups of foods often contain unique ingredients like novel proteins and many grain replacements such as tapioca, lentils, peas, and chickpeas. FDA’s original statement cast suspicion on these very ingredients.

Interestingly, these veterinarians are also reporting that even dogs not found to have low plasma or whole blood taurine concentrations are also responding positively to taurine supplementation.

The paper suggests that the differing bioavailability of nutrients and how exotic ingredients affect a dog’s metabolism may be causing deficiencies in these dogs leading to DCM.

In addition, researchers have become concerned that there may be a toxicity present in these dog foods that is affecting the heart.

Researchers are also exploring whether diet-associated DCM in dogs without taurine deficiency may be related to inclusion of a cardiotoxic ingredient in the diet. This could be an adulterated ingredient, as with ingredients containing melamine–cyanuric acid that affected pet foods in 2007, resulting in extensive recalls; a heavy metal; a chemical sprayed on 1 of the ingredients; or even a natural chemical compound in 1 of the ingredients that has toxic effects when fed in large amounts.

To read more, check out pet food consumer advocate Susan Thixton’s article on “Diet associated heart disease in dogs, “What we know.”

Pet owners with dog breeds that are prone to dilated cardiomyopathy, or those feeding grain-free, novel proteins, and specialty pet foods – be aware that these foods may pose a health risk to your dog.

We encourage pet owners to find ways to increase the digestibility and protein content of their dog’s diet to avoid potential taurine deficiency. It is also advisable to consider the risk of toxins in your pet’s food; fresh foods will best prevent the risk of mycotoxins while highly processed foods may contain significant amounts of these toxins.

*We will post updates in this research if more information comes available.

For Satisfied Dogs!

 – Cassy Kay

dogs, dog food, grain free diets, allergies, health, natural, grains, mycotoxins, carbohydrates, anti-nutrients


Fascetti AJ1, Reed JR, Rogers QR, Backus RC. “Taurine deficiency in dogs with dilated cardiomyopathy: 12 cases (1997-2001).” 2003 Oct 15. Web. Accessed Sept. 1, 2018.

FDA, Center for Veterinary Medicine. “FDA Investigating Potential Connection Between Diet and Cases of Canine Heart Disease.” July 12, 2018. Web. Accessed Sept. 1, 2018.

Fitzsimmons, Paula. “Can Dog’s Thrive on a Vegan Diet?” Web. Accessed Sept. 1, 2018.

Henriques, Julia. “News: FDA Reports Some Dog Foods May Cause Heart Disease.” Web. Accessed Sept. 1, 2018. “Enlarged Heart (Dilated Cardiomyopathy) in Dogs” Web. Accessed Sept. 1, 2018.

Thixton, Susan. “Some FDA Answers Regarding Investigation into a Possible Connection Between Diet and Canine Heart Disease.” Aug. 10, 2018. Web. Accessed Sept. 1, 2018.

Thixton, Susan. “FDA Investigates Potential Connection to Diet and Canine Heart Disease.” July 12, 2018. Web. Accessed Sept. 1, 2018.

Thixton, Susan. “The Most Recent FDA Betrayal” Sept. 5, 2018. Web. Accessed Sept. 22, 2018.

Thixton, Susan. “Investigating the Grain Free Link to Heart Disease with Blinders On” Sept. 11. 2018. Web. Accessed Sept. 22, 2018. “Taurine deficiency and dilated cardiomyopathy in golden retrievers fed commercial diets.” Web. December 13, 2018.
Journals Plus One. “


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