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Do Grain-Free Diets Cause DCM?! Are Grains Really Healthy For Dogs?

Updated: Aug 1

myths about grain free pet food and DCM

Let's talk about this Grain Free (GF) topic!

It seems everywhere I look someone is bashing GF pet food. Many veterinary professionals (and pet owners) have taken to this storm as their new gospel.

"Don't feed grain free diets, they've been linked to DCM! Ask your vet! They will tell you what food you should feed!" ..... Yeah, their food!

Where did it all start? I'm not 100% sure... My guess, most likely through clinics and pet stores losing money when pet owners started switching to a more appropriate, meat based diet for their carnivorous pals.

Soon, many big name companies even jumped on board and started offering GF options. Even Hill's and Purina, who have a long reputation of promoting grain inclusive diets as being the healthiest of foods.

But the latest attacks have been aimed at dogs developing a condition called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM).

500+ cases have been reported in the past 5 years.

(Keep this number in mind).

Long story short, this caused an UPROAR and prompted an investigation by the FDA.

There still has been no definitive cause, but many speculate it is due to lack of taurine, yet, this has also been inconclusive.


What are Grain Free Diets?

GF diets also called commonly "boutique diets" or BEG, (I absolutely despise this term) tend to use peas, potato, and lentils as the carbohydrate source, instead of grains like corn, wheat and rice.

Contrary to popular OPINION, cats and dogs DO NOT actually need carbohydrates, the main purpose is that the starch is what helps the kibble hold its form. That's a fact.

Now, peas and lentils, etc -while healthy to consume in moderation, contain what is called Lectins. Also known as 'anti-nutrients' ...

Lectins can attack and bind to the intestinal wall. Preventing proper nutrient absorption, and creating deficiencies.. I.e. low taurine levels. They can also trigger an autoimmune response, damage intestinal lining and cause inflammation and leaky gut.

Lectins can be decreased by certain processes such as fermenting, boiling, or sprouting. But this is not done in the pet food industry... Who has time for that?!


Are grains really that bad?

They can be.

Especially when they are fed in abundance, and especially when they are fed to carnivores!

Low meat, and meatless diets can actually be fatal to cats!

Grain heavy diets can lead to

We know grains are fed to livestock for finishing.. The primary goal being to fatten them up.

What would make in any different for our pets?

And lets face it, even ruminants are not supposed to eat a grain heavy diet. It can actually cause several digestive problems.

What I find interesting, is that even the AKC recommends grain-free diets to correct tear stains in small dogs!


Back the main issue: DCM

Why, out of 500+ cases, over the span of a few years, is there an entire nation freaking out over DCM, POSSIBLY being linked to GF diets....?

Let's think about another statistic here:

Why are MILLIONS of pets each year being diagnosed with diabetes, arthritis, dental disease, seizures, obesity, dermatitis, parasites, autoimmune disease, hip dysplasia, tumors, glaucoma, 'anxiety disorders,' cancer, kidney disease... The list goes on...

And all these pets seem to be eating the veterinary recommended, or 'prescription' foods...

Yet, no one questions this, or perhaps even notices..?

It's time to change the narrative.

The next time you hear "Grain Free is bad!"

take it as a chance to educate, and ask questions.

And, if your pet's food contains an unusual amount of carbohydrate sources, consider switching food, or at least adding more variety of fresh, whole foods to balance things out, boost their immune system, and prevent deficiencies.

More about the DCM and the grain free cases HERE.

Learn more about the repercussions of plant vs animal protein used in pet food.


Update June 2019

"According to Dr. Klein, “At this time, there is no proof that these ingredients are the cause of DCM in a broader range of dogs, but dog owners should be aware of this alert from the FDA. The FDA continues to work with veterinary cardiologists and veterinary nutritionists to better understand the effect, if any, of grain-free diets on dogs.”




After much deliberation, researchers can still not conclude any reason why Grain Free food would be causing DCM.

In fact, over 150 studies have found NO correlation at all!

HOWEVER! Stated in this article, it says:

"A group of researchers found no definitive relationship between grain-free and legume-rich diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, according to the authors of a new article published in the Journal of Animal Science."

“We wanted to gain the best understanding of this issue, so we examined the results of more than 150 studies, which taken together did not support a link between grain-free and legume-rich diets, and DCM”

-Dr. Sydney McCauley

Further, it states than many factors may contribute to DCM including various disease and pre-existing conditions... And NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES!!

While any diet can indeed cause a change in health, for better or worse.. I must point out here that we clearly now know grain free diets alone do not cause DCM.

As these studies have stated, there are many factors including breed disposition, age, genetics, etc. that can bring about this problem... Pets have also developed DCM NOT on grain free food... On the contrary, there are also millions of pets who eat grain free and DON'T develop DCM. I don't think a little over 500 cases is a big enough number to cause such an outcry.... But that's just me.

Grain free diets can, however, contribute to less than optimal nutrient absorption (as can many other diets, including grain inclusive) and therefore cause various health issues, such as the development of DCM.

And there ya have it!

For more information on the connections (or lack thereof) between nutrition and DCM, please see THIS LINK!


Update March 17, 2022

2022 press release from veterinarians and scientists from BSM (largest pet care research and consulting firm) stated the following:

"The peer-reviewed article, which appears in Frontiers in Animal Science, includes data that did not indicate a significant increase nationally in DCM incidence over time, from 2000 to 2019, while grain-free pet food store sales grew 500% between 2011 and 2019. Researchers also found no significant correlation between the national DCM incidence rate in relation to the grain-free pet food sales."


Another recent study:

“Pulse ingredients are not a cause of nutritionally mediated DCM, and thus other potential dietary variables should be investigated.”



Update July, 2022

I recently had a discussion with a veterinarian about her stance on GF diets, as she continually tried to undermine my research into the issue saying that grain-free diets across certain brands have ALL been linked to DCM....

She says to me:

"Grain allergies are rare, there's no need for a grain-free diet."

I'm over here thinking to myself:

Do you know the difference between an allergy and intolerance? A pet doesn't have to be deathly allergic for it to cause harm in the body. Chronic inflammatory conditions like auto-immune disease, leaky gut and seizures have all been linked to GRAIN CONSUMPTION in humans and animals.

Then she goes on to say:

"If any pet DOES eat a grain-free diet... It should be Purina brand, they have a grain-free diet that hasn't had issues like other brands."

Again, I'm over here thinking to myself:

So if it's a brand that's filling your pockets, it's okay? Why is Purina GF good, but all other brands are bad? Have you read the recent article that these big name companies are the ones who funded all this DCM hype?!

A recent report states:

"A six-month investigation by 100Reporters has found that veterinarians who prompted the FDA to consider diet have financial and other ties to the leading sellers of grain-inclusive pet foods. Additionally, agency records show that for the initial study, some vets were instructed to submit only dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) cases that implicated grain-free, “exotic” or “boutique” pet foods."


No conflict of interest there, huh?!


Update December 23, 2022

The FDA has issued their final statement on the matter, in a not so public announcement:

"FDA does not intend to release further public updates until there is meaningful new scientific information to share."

In regards to the reports of DCM that were made, the FDA also stated:

"... they do not supply sufficient data to establish a causal relationship with reported product(s)."



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