Grain-Free Diets: A cause for concern?

The following information is not intended to cause alarm, but to keep our clients informed on current news in the veterinary industry that may concern the health of their pets.

In recent years, there have been concerns over a possible link between grain-free diets and a type of life-threatening heart condition found in dogs, called canine dilated cardiomyopathy.

What is Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)?

DCM is a disease of the heart muscle characterized by failure of one of the heart chambers, namely the ventricles, to pump blood through the vascular system. As a result, the ventricles of the heart dilate causing thinning of the wall and enlargement of the hear, the heart valves may then leak causing fluid build-up in the chest and abdomen. This may cause a dog to have a cough, difficulty breathing, low energy and can suddenly lead to collapse.

Certain breeds are genetically predisposed to developing DCM, including Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Boxers, Irish Wolfhounds, Newfoundlands, Old English Sheepdogs, Dalmatians, and a variety of Hound breeds and Spaniels breeds, although nutritional and infectious factors also play a role.

The late concern is due to reports of the disease in breeds that have no known genetic predisposition to DCM and that many of these dogs were being fed grain-free diets.

What is considered a “grain-free” labeled pet food?

These are diets that use legumes, such as peas, lentils, legume seeds, as well as potatoes and yams as main ingredients and in place of grains. Main ingredients are listed within the first 10 ingredients on a food bag.

How are these food ingredients possibly causing heart disease?

Research is still underway to determine the mechanism of action on the heart of non-specific dog breeds who consume grain-free diets. As stated by the FDA (June 2019), “based on the data collected and analyzed thus far, the agency believes that the potential association between diet and DCM in dogs is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors.”

There is not only one cause of DCM. For example, deficiency of the amino acid, Taurine, has been shown to cause DCM, although it is not the only cause of the disease. Nutrient bioavailability and digestibility of ingredients and their effects on the heart are also currently being theorized and studied.

Which food brands are currently being investigated?

Please visit the FDA’s website link: FDA Diet Information, and refer to the section entitled: “Diet Information from Reported Cases”.

What should I do if my pet is on a “grain-free” diet?

To put the issue into perspective, of the 7.7 million dogs living in the U.S. (AVMA, 2017-2018), 560 dogs diagnosed with DCM were suspected to be linked to grain-free diets (FDA, 2019). For this reason, the FDA is not advising owners to change diets since millions of dogs eating a grain-free diet have not developed DCM.

However, if you wish to switch your pet to a different food to mitigate this potential risk, we would be more than happy to help you select a new diet that meets the nutritional needs of your dog.

What should I do if my dog is showing signs of DCM?

Clinical signs of Dilated Cardiomyopathy include coughing, difficulty breathing, restlessness, low energy, episodes of collapse, decreased appetite, and distended abdomen.

If you are concerned that your dog is showing signs of DCM, please book an appointment today. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination and recommend chest radiographs and, if heart disease is suspected, will refer you to a cardiologist for an echocardiogram and ECG recordings.

If your pet has been diagnosed with DCM and has been on a grain-free diet, it will be reported to the FDA.


Hitch Hikers & Uninvited Guests: What You Need to Know About Pet Parasites

Moving into spring with warmer temperatures we begin to think about your pet's increased parasite risks. This is often an invisible problem where infection isn’t detectable to the naked eye, low infection levels cause subclinical disease and environmental contamination is invisible.

Read More
See All Articles

Last updated: September 3, 2021

Dear Clients,

With recent changes to restrictions on businesses, we have made some important updates to our operating policies.


This includes vaccines, wellness exams, blood work, heartworm testing, spays and neuters, dental services, and more!

Note: Priority will be given to urgent or sick pets, as well as time-sensitive puppy/kitten vaccinations.



If you wish to connect with a veterinarian via message, phone or video, visit our website and follow the "Online Consultation" link.


We are OPEN with the following hours:

Monday : Tuesday: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Wednesday : Thursday: 9:00 am - 7:00 pm
Friday: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Saturday: 8:00 am - 4:00 pm
Sunday: CLOSED

Thank you in advance for your patience and understanding and we look forward to seeing you and your furry family members again!

- Your dedicated team at Bow River Veterinary Centre