Grain-free Diets and Heart Disease

>What is the latest information about myocardial failure and grain-free diets?

In July 2018, the FDA issued a warning that some diets might be associated with a heart disease called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). However, the association is far from established or clear.
As of July 2018, several cardiologists have examined this issue and have not come to a single conclusion — some have implicated diets and taurine (an amino acid) deficiency in specific breeds (e.g. Golden Retrievers) (Olsen 2018) (Morris Animal Foundation 2017), while others have shown a relationship between the implicated diets and DCM but failed to find a strong association with taurine deficiency (Adin et al 2018).

Which diets have been implicated?

Multiple diets have been implicated. One of the most common implicated diets is the Acana Pork and Squash Singles diet, although Nutrisource grain-free food has been mentioned as well. It is important to understand that any of the grain-free diets could be problematic (although there is currently no conclusive evidence that they are causal).

Guidelines to help pet-owners navigate this complex issue:


1. Evaluate the diet that you are feeding your pet. If the diet is boutique, contains exotic ingredients, or is grain-free, you may consider a diet change to one without these properties. Talk to your veterinarian about the FDA announcement and what diet may be best for your dog.

2. If you are concerned about your dog based on what you are feeding, watch closely for signs of heart disease such as weakness, slowing down on walks, coughing, fainting or trouble breathing. Your veterinarian may also recognize early heart disease by hearing a heart murmur or abnormal heart rhythms. If you observe these things or your veterinarian is concerned, additional testing may be indicated such as x-rays, blood tests, EKG, or heart ultrasound (echocardiogram).

3. If your dog is diagnosed with DCM, particularly if eating a diet that meets the criteria listed above:

  • Ask your veterinarian to test blood taurine levels.
  • Report the findings to the FDA.
  • Change your dog’s diet as directed by your veterinarian’s recommendations.
  • Ask your veterinarian to help you identify a dose for taurine supplementation.
  • Seek guidance from a veterinary cardiologist.
  • Follow the instructions from your veterinarian or veterinary cardiologist as repeat evaluations and other medications may be needed. It can take multiple months to see improvement in many cases of diet-related DCM.

Helpful Links:

1. FDA update – https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/CVMUpdates/ucm613305.htm
2. Research at Tufts – http://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2018/06/a-broken-heart-risk-of-heart-disease-in-boutique-or-grain-free-diets-and-exotic-ingredients/

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