Grain-Free Diets and Nutritional Cardiomyopathy

Dr. Vyvian J Gorbea, Owner Plymouth Veterinary Hospital, Inc.

  • In early 2018, the cardiology department at the University of California Davies identified a group of 24 Golden Retrievers with confirmed dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). All the 24 dogs were eating boutique brand foods with exotic ingredients that were also grain-free (BEG diets). 
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a condition in which the heart's ability to pump blood is decreased because the heart's main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, is enlarged and weakened.  Because the heart loses its ability to pump blood patients suffer from what we commonly call heart failure or congestive heart failure.  
  • After this information was shared with other veterinary cardiologists across the country, other cardiologists began reporting DCM occurring in dogs’ breeds being feed grain-free boutique exotic diets. 
  • This outpouring of patients let the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in July 2018 to open a formal investigation. After collecting data, the FDA has identified 16 dog food manufacturers and diets that were reported in association with DCM. See link for FDA report at
  • In the past two years, the local office of Dr. William Brown, a veterinary cardiologist at Veterinary Cardiology Consultants in Novi, MI, has identified 15-20 dogs with DCM that have been eating BEG diets. Several of the dogs were Golden Retrievers, but many are unusual breeds that are typically not associated with DCM (golden-doodle mix, Pitbull’s, Labrador retrievers)   
  • The “gold standard” for assessing the heart in dogs with DCM is an echocardiogram. However, we are not recommending each dog that is getting a BEG diet to have an echocardiogram. According to Dr. Brown, most dogs getting BEG diets will not develop DCM. Instead, Dr. Brown recommends using a blood test called NT-proBNP testing, which we offered at our hospital. This testing is widely available, and it is not expensive. It has been shown that dogs with significant myocardial or heart disease have elevated numbers on NT-proBNP testing due to the increase in heart size and stress.

How are we treating dogs diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy? 

  1. All dogs with nutritional cardiomyopathy should be transitioned to a new diet. We are recommending feeding diets from an established pet food company and one that meets the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) guidelines
  2. Most dogs with nutritional DCM should be supplemented with taurine. Taurine is an amino acid that has been linked with heart disease and may play a role in this disorder. 
  3. Affected dogs are treated with conventional cardiology medications.  Usually, a treatment plan is developed between a veterinary cardiologist and your veterinarian. 
  4. The new diet should not contain peas, pea fiber, lentils, chickpeas, or beans in the first five ingredients. Ideally, there should be no exotic ingredients such as kangaroo or buffalo.
  5. As always, if you have any questions or concerns about the nutrition and diet of your dog, please give us a call at 734-655-0012 or visit our website at

From: 2019-2020 Small Animal Seminar Series Michigan MVMA Cardiology Conference; November 6, 2019; Dr. William Brown, DVM, DACVIM Cardiology, Veterinary Cardiology Consultants, Novi, MI 

Blog Category: