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Making Sense of the grain-free food debate.

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Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)


If you’re a dog parent, you’ve probably heard all of the discussion around grain-free foods and dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM. But if you haven’t, here’s a quick summary. In July 2018, the FDA warned that certain diets may be to blame for nutritional illnesses in dogs, like taurine-deficient DCM. This warning made a lot of people nervous and rightfully so as DCM is a scary condition.

What the heck is DCM?

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a condition where the heart becomes enlarged and cannot properly pump blood, eventually leading to congestive heart failure. It has many potential causes including genetics and nutritional deficiencies. One such deficiency that causes DCM is a lack of the amino acid taurine. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein necessary for a healthy, functioning body. Taurine is found in different animal sources, and in healthy dogs, can be produced naturally from other foods. It’s an important nutrient for heart health. Some dogs diagnosed with DCM were found to be taurine deficient; however many were not. In fact, only about 10% were found to be taurine deficient.

Let’s talk facts.

After the FDA warning, recent reports of dogs on grain-free diets developing DCM caused many people to jump to their own conclusions. They saw that some DCM-affected dogs were fed grain-free diets high in legumes, peas and potatoes and believe that these correlated diet items caused lower taurine levels, and in turn, DCM. But in fact, many grain-free diets contain taurine-rich meat and are even supplemented with extra taurine, and cases of dogs with DCM were reported as early as 2001, years before grain-free dog food became widely commercially available.

Balanced, rotational diets matter.

One thing many of the reported cases did have in common is that the dogs were eating the same diet for years, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies. That’s why we recommend a balanced, rotational diet, to provide your dog a range of nutrients from a variety of sources.

So far, DCM has no clear cause.

DCM is idiopathic. This means that there is no clear cause of the disease, but the FDA is investigating three possibilities:
- Genetic predispositions
- Nutritional deficiencies
- A dog’s ability to correctly process nutrients

Certain breeds like doberman pinschers, great danes, boxers, irish wolfhounds, cocker spaniels and possibly golden retrievers are prone to inheriting the genes that cause the condition. To muddy the waters even further, the FDA report found that the dogs diagnosed with DCM were eating many different diets including kibble, canned, vegetarian and vegan diets, both grain-free and grain-inclusive. But in short, grain-free diets have not been proven to cause DCM in dogs. Furthermore, the FDA is not recommending switching your pet’s food at this time.

So, are grain-free diets good or what?

For many dogs, absolutely. Ask yourself why your dog is on a grain-free diet. For dogs with a food sensitivity, food allergy, sensitive stomach or other health concerns, grain-free food may be a necessity. For an otherwise healthy dog that doesn’t have a specific reason to eat grain-free food, this is a perfect opportunity to start feeding a rotational diet that includes switching between both grain-in and grain-free foods, different protein sources, and different brands of food. Every pet is an individual, and it’s up to us as pet parents to feed them as such.

There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Experts recommend feeding your dog foods with proper levels of high-quality, taurine-rich animal-source protein. Whether that’s grain-free or not depends on your pet’s specific dietary needs, so always talk to your vet to decide what’s best. We also believe that adding fresh, less-processed food to your dog’s diet is important, and that can be achieved with raw, freeze-dried, and dehydrated mixers or toppers. Keep checking in with us – we’re working with our veterinarians and manufacturers to monitor any developments on the DCM issue so we can give you the best advice possible.


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Produced in consultation with leading veterinarians.

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