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DOG / nutrition

What you need to know about grain-free dog food

We answer your questions about DCM and diet.


Dr. Jennifer Freeman, DVM; Services Veterinarian at PetSmart

Hello from PetSmart,

As a veterinarian for over 19 years and one of PetSmart’s resident vets, I know how deep the bonds are between people and their pets. You love your pets. And we at PetSmart love pets. It’s the foundation of who we are as a company. Together, this love can guide us to do what is right for them.

That’s why we want to provide information about the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) investigation into a possible link between diet and the development of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). The FDA is investigating reports of DCM in dogs eating certain grain-free pet foods that contain a high proportion of peas, lentils, other legume seeds and/or potatoes as main ingredients. To date, the FDA has not identified a direct link between diet and DCM but is continuing to investigate and plans to provide updates to the public as information develops.

The role diet may play in DCM is complex and much is unknown. There could be a potential interplay of factors such as the genetic makeup of the dog, the ability to digest or utilize certain amino acids such as taurine, the type of ingredients in the diet, how the diets are processed or the proportion of animal protein to plant-based protein. We don’t know enough at this time to provide definitive answers. We recommend that you consult with your veterinarian to choose the most appropriate diet for your pet’s needs. If you decide a switch is in order, we are here to help you sort through your options.

We await the results of further research on DCM and will keep you updated. In the meantime, more information is available below or from the FDA. Thank you for letting us be your trusted partner in helping to keep your pets happy and healthy.

Dr. Jennifer Freeman, DVM
Services Veterinarian at PetSmart

Frequently asked questions

I’ve been hearing grain-free dog food is bad; what’s going on?

Recent reports from the FDA have many consumers wondering if grain-free dog food is bad. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently conducting research to determine if there is a link between grain-free diets and a heart disease known as Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM).

Does Grain-Free Dog Food Cause Heart Disease?

The FDA has not made a direct link between grain-free products and DCM in the cases that have been reported. But research is currently underway to determine if there is a link between grain-free diets and DCM.

What is DCM?

Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a potentially life-threatening condition that affects the heart muscle. DCM causes the heart to become enlarged and weak, which can lead to congestive heart failure. Some breeds are genetically predisposed to DCM and it has been found in dogs that have a taurine deficiency as well as those with normal blood taurine levels.

How common is DCM?

The FDA reports that, over a five-year period, there were 524 cases of DCM reported among the nation’s 77 million dogs. The actual number of cases of dogs with DCM could possibly be higher than reported due to under-reporting and because many dogs in the early stages of DCM may appear normal and sub-clinical.

What are the signs and symptoms of DCM?

Be sure to watch for these:

  • lethargy/weakness
  • exercise intolerance
  • anorexia
  • weight loss
  • labored breathing
  • coughing
  • panting
  • distended abdomen
  • fainting

What Should I Do If I My Dog Has Symptoms That Could Be Related to DCM?

If you notice any of the above clinical signs, see your veterinarian and bring a list of everything your dog eats. Your vet will listen for a heart murmur or abnormal heart rhythm and may order additional tests including chest radiographs, blood tests and an echocardiogram – the test of choice to diagnose DCM.

What Breeds Are Most Likely to Develop DCM?

Hereditary DCM tends to occur in larger breeds, such as the Doberman Pinscher, Boxer, Irish Wolfhound, and Great Dane as well as Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and mixed breeds. Taurine deficient-DCM is found more commonly in breeds such as Cocker Spaniels, Newfoundlands, English Setters, Golden Retrievers, Irish Wolfhounds and Saint Bernards. The FDA report also includes smaller breeds that are not typically known to develop DCM.

What is the FDA Doing About DCM?

The FDA is continuing to investigate the role grain-free diet may play in the development of DCM. In most cases, the dogs ate dry food. More than 90 percent of diets were grain-free and 93 percent had peas and/or lentils, according to the study. But DCM was also reported in dogs that ate diets with grain as well as raw, novel protein, vegetarian and vegan diets from numerous manufacturers. Based on the data analyzed, the FDA concludes that is “a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors.” At present, the FDA is "not advising dietary changes.”

Is Grain-Free Dog Food Recalled?

At present, the FDA has not recommended any food recalls. PetSmart follows all FDA recommendations and looks to them for guidance. The FDA’s investigation of DCM is ongoing; we’ll continue to monitor it and all sources of information on DCM and provide updates as they become available. We have no plans to remove grain-free products from our shelves at this time.

Should I Change My Dog’s Food or Choose One with Grain?

At present, the FDA is "not advising dietary changes.” If you have concerns, consult your veterinarian about your dog’s diet. The one consistent finding in the FDA study was that dogs that had developed DCM had been eating the same food for months or years.

Can Taurine Help Prevent DCM?

Taurine is an amino acid that is essential for eyesight and heart strength. Dogs have the ability to produce taurine on their own, so there is no set dietary minimum for dog food. When the FDA study was released, some pet parents and dry food manufacturers began supplementing dog’s diets with taurine. Most dogs being diagnosed with DCM do not have low taurine levels. Unless your dog has a deficiency, giving them taurine is unlikely to prevent DCM.