Grain-Free Dog Food

FDA Says Grain-Free Dog Food And Heart Disease May Be Linked

The FDA is currently investigating the effect of grain-free dog food and its possible link with heart disease in specific canine breeds.

Grain-Free Dog Food and Heart Disease

Following the rise in popularity of gluten-free foods, pet owners have begun using these same sorts of food for their pets. However, after a number of documented cases of heart failure, investigators in the FDA are now looking into the connection between grain-free dog food and heart disease (1).

Pet owners with a little extra money to burn are buying more “exotic” food for their pets, rather than the tried-and-true diets like chicken and beef.

Some of the new types of dog food include “Bison and Chickpeas,” or “Kangaroo and Lentils.” The foods are packed with unusual proteins and legumes like lentils and chickpeas.

Due to recent studies suggesting that gluten leads to intestinal permeability, the latest health trend is to avoid gluten entirely And pet owners are applying the same logic to their dogs and cats, bringing them much closer to a carnivorous or paleo-like diet (4).

The idea being that the diets given to dogs will be much closer to what their ancestors would’ve eaten. However, in the second week of July, the Food and Drug Administration announced there may be a link between heart disease in canines and the aforementioned diets (1).

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

They call it, DCM, or dilated cardiomyopathy. It’s a heart condition where the organ enlarges and weakens. Some of the symptoms include breathing problems, fainting, coughing, and a lack of energy. Some dogs even have heart failure on the spot (3).

Typically, vets see the illness in larger dogs that have a genetic predisposition to heart problems, like Irish wolfhounds, boxers, and Doberman pinschers.

An enterprise called CVCA, a collaboration of approximately 19 veterinary cardiologists from the Washington D.C., area, told the FDA they had noticed DCM among other breeds as well (1).

And the common link between all of the sick dogs is a diety heavy in lentils, peas, potatoes, and chickpeas. These are typically the carbohydrates meant to replace grains and other foods containing gluten.

A vet who teaches at a university in North Carolina said that she has been noticing this problem in dogs who are eating exotic protein and grain-free dog food.

Even though there are some cases of dogs suffering from DCM, it’s not a proven link yet, so there is no reason to panic.

Martine Hartogensis, who is a director for the Office Of Surveillance and Compliance in the FDA’s Center For Veterinary Medicine, said there haven’t been any recalls yet and thus far, many other dogs are eating this diet and are living healthy lives (1).

CVCA, the group who spoke with the FDA, said they had done a survey of around 150 recent cases of DCM, and most of the dogs had been on a grain-free diet (1).

Steven L Rosenthal, a leader in the organization, stated that their group now sees eight to twelve cases of DCM almost every month, and these cases are not associated with dogs who have a predisposition to heart problems (1).

Currently, researches aren’t sure why these diets are becoming a problem. It’s possible that it’s due to missing grains, too many legumes, or maybe even something else.

Are Grains Really That Bad For Humans And Pets?

Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist, and researcher at Tufts University said even though there is a lot of advertising campaigns and popular conception that grain-free diets are good for you, there hasn’t been any research to demonstrate such a link (1).

According to Lisa, grains haven’t been connected with any health problems, unless the subject has some sort of an allergy. Nonetheless, to Lisa, the narrative in popular culture now is that gluten and grains are the cause of many health problems.

However, as it was noted above, and as it will be explained below, there have been some studies linking gluten and grain with health problems.

The gluten and grain-free craze has swept North America in the last 10 years, and while many people have a gluten insensitivity, or worse, coeliacs disease, it isn’t 100% clear if grain-based diets are as bad as popular conception.

The last seven years, in particular, has seen a large rise in grain-free dog food. In 2011, grain-free dog food made up for approximately 15% of the dog food market, but since 2017, the grain-free portion has exploded to around 44% (1).

Research from the FDA states it may have something to do with taurine levels, whether the dog is able to absorb it through grains, or whether the legumes are interfering with the dog’s ability to create taurine.

Currently, the dog food industry has been trying to keep things together. Dana Brooks, the CEO of the Pet Food Institute, released a statement suggesting for pet owners to take their dog to their local veterinarian to check in on its health if they had any concerns (1).

Other professionals have advocated for pet owners to look to traditional meat sources, that are tried-and-true, like chicken and beef. Other meats including alligator and kangaroo are totally different from what dogs have typically eaten over time.

According to a study from the journal called, Nutrients – An Open Access Journal of Human Nutrition, “intestinal permeability” was a symptom noticed in all of their test subjects, regardless of coeliacs disease or not.

Another word for this condition is a “leaky gut,” which means that your intestines and stomach have a trouble absorbing necessary nutrients for good health.

The importance of the stomach and the gut has only increased in the minds of researchers over the past few years. Some studies have even claimed that Alzheimer’s may start in the gut, rather than in the brain like what was normally stated (6).

According to Science Daily, research has shown that the bacteria within the intestines accelerate the development of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Frida Fak Hallenius, from the Food for Health Science Centre, said their study was unique because it “shows a direct causal link between gut bacteria and Alzheimer’s disease (6).”

A leaky gut is, according to, a precursor to other problems like mood and memory issues, as well as a deleterious effect on the immune system and digestive system (5).

And the damage done is the worst for people who have coeliac disease or a sensitivity to gluten (5). However, while some might think that gluten is straight up bad for you no matter what, some researchers think it has more to do with the way American wheat is manufactured and treated (7).

One of the reasons for the differences could be due to pesticides like Roundup (7).


(1) New York Times

(2) FDA

(3) Cornell

(4) Nutrients 

(5) Gut

(6) Science Daily 

(7) Dr. Ericz