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Update on Diets and Heart Disease

This is an update to our March Blog regarding diets and heart disease:

In recent years there has been a trend in the pet food industry to produce, market and have pet owners feed grain free diets.  While cats are truly best adapted to a high protein diet, dogs are omnivores who evolved to handle a diet replete with starches. Articles in both American and Science.

It is known that some individual pets have sensitivities to the proteins in grains, just as they can have sensitivities to meat proteins (beef, lamb, and poultry, for example. Nevertheless, grain-free is now a common label on the pet food shelves.  However, in many of those foods, the starchy content of grains (wheat, oats, corn etc.) has often been replaced with other plant products (peas, lentils, chickpeas, potatoes).

Recently there has been a concerning observation among veterinary cardiologists. As described in a recent New York Times article, dogs are developing heart disease specifically a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. These are dog breeds that don’t typically develop this condition. The common denominator in the history of these dogs seems to be diets that are grain-free. Instead of corn or other grains these diets have higher amounts of legumes or potatoes in them. While these ingredients have been in pet foods for many years, recently they have been in diets at much higher levels. The FDA recently posted an alert.

More recently, the FDA has released a list of the food brands fed to more than 500 dogs who developed DCM.  The difficulty with this list is that we don’t know the total number of dogs fed these particular diets.  For example, Taste of the Wild was reported to sell 29 million bags from September 2017 to the time of this report (Summer 2019), out of which arose 53 cases of DCM reported by the FDA.  To truly determine “risk”, one needs to have the “denominator”.  If, out of 1000 people, 900 drive Toyotas and 100 drive Subarus, you might find 9 accidents from Toyotas and 1 from a Subaru.  That’s a rate of 1% for each make but it can look like Toyotas are riskier if you don’t know the number of people who drive each make. 

Until we know more, we can advise that it is impossible to understand what the relative risk is for individual dog foods but it may be best to avoid foods containing potatoes and/or legumes and to feed a more balanced ration (which includes grain).

For the most recent FDA information please visit

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