Dog Food Ratings
See Dog Food Ratings

Grain Free Dog Foods
and Heart Disease

Table of Contents

What's Causing This?
Grain Free Foods 101
What Should I Do Now?

What's Causing This?
Grain Free Foods 101
What Should I Do Now?


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently announced that it is investigating a potential link between grain free dog foods and a common type of canine heart disease (called dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM).

The health issues were detected in dogs not typically prone to this particular type of heart disease (these breeds included Golden Retrievers, Labs, Whippets, Shih Tzus, and Bulldogs). The FDA has not yet issued any recalls but is investigating.

What’s Causing This?

The potential risk in grain-free foods comes from the high amounts of grain-replacements such as peas, lentils, legumes, chickpeas and potatoes. These carbs were also found high up on the ingredient lists, meaning there is a lot of them in the foods.

While there is a potential link between grain-free foods and heart disease, there have been no recalls yet and the cases documented so far have been limited. FDA experts and other researchers do not yet know why grain-free diets may be causing this health issue. It’s possible that it could be caused by the general lack of grains in the diet or the addition of substitute carbs.

The FDA released a statement saying:

“Diets in cases reported to the FDA frequently list potatoes or multiple legumes such as peas, lentils, other “pulses” (seeds of legumes), and their protein, starch and fiber derivatives early in the ingredient list, indicating that they are main ingredients. Early reports from the veterinary cardiology community indicate that the dogs consistently ate these foods as their primary source of nutrition for time periods ranging from months to years. High levels of legumes or potatoes appear to be more common in diets labeled as “grain-free,” but it is not yet known how these ingredients are linked to cases of DCM. Changes in diet, especially for dogs with DCM, should be made in consultation with a licensed veterinarian.” (See sources below for links to all quotes.)

Grain-Free Foods 101

Grain-free canine dog foods have become popular in recent years after massive safety recalls in 2007 for pet foods contaminated with melamine sources from China. However, the health benefits of grain-free diets for dogs have not been proven and this new potential link to health conditions is another reason to be skeptical of the trend diet.

The New York Times quotes Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist and researcher with the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University as saying:

“Contrary to advertising and popular belief, there is no research to demonstrate that grain-free diets offer any health benefits over diets that contain grains.”

“Grains have not been linked to any health problems except in the very rare situation when a pet has an allergy to a specific grain.”

The American Kennel club quotes Dr. Jerry Klein, the Chief Veterinary Officer of the AKC:

“The FDA is investigating a potential dietary link between canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and dogs eating certain grain-free pet foods. The foods of concern are those containing legumes such as peas or lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes listed as primary ingredients. The FDA began investigating this matter after it received a number of reports of DCM in dogs that had been eating these diets for a period of months to years. DCM itself is not considered rare in dogs, but these reports are unusual because the disease occurred in breeds of dogs not typically prone to the disease.”

What Should I Do Now?

It’s too early to know what exactly is causing the canine heart disease. Until the FDA releases its final report it’s a good idea to stay well informed and consult your vet. Dr. Klein is quoted by the AKC as saying:

“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.”

Concerned dog owners can switch away from grain-free dog foods to more traditional diets. If you prefer to do that, look for products not marked as grain-free and products that do not contain peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients.


Short on time?
Find the best dog food quickly!

We've reviewed 3,000+ products.
Check out our ultimate list of the best dog foods.




Made with love in Cambridge, MA.
© 2019 Watchdog Labs Inc. All rights reserved.

Watchdog Labs, Watchdog Score and are trademarks of Watchdog Labs Inc.


DISCLAIMER: All content on this website, including but not limited to statements about products are to be construed as opinions only. All statements made by or associated with Watchdog Labs, Inc., including but not limited to text, graphics, videos, web content, social media content, e-mails, marketing and informational materials, advertisements, statements made by company representatives, and repeated statements which originated from third-party sources are to be construed as opinions only. Watchdog Labs, Inc. is not responsible for the quality or the veracity of statements or information from third-party sources. Third-party sources shall include but not be limited to labs, online stores, sellers, other websites, brands and manufacturers.


DISCLAIMER: Our reviews and testing are necessarily limited in scope, and products may vary significantly from one package to another and from one store to another. We may only test one batch of a product from one store and not all reviewed products have undergone lab tests. Our opinion is based on that limited testing.


DISCLAIMER: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration or the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always consult your veterinary professional before choosing any products for your pet.


DISCLAIMER: Actual product packaging and materials may contain more and different information than what is shown on this website. Always read all labels, warnings, and directions before using a product.


DISCLOSURE: When readers buy products on this site, we earn a commission that supports our work.


Watchdog Labs is not affiliated, associated, authorized by, endorsed by, or in any way connected to the brands and companies mentioned on this website. All trademarks, copyrights, and other rights are the property of their respective owners. See our Terms of Service for DMCA notices.


As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. CERTAIN CONTENT THAT APPEARS ON THIS SITE COMES FROM AMAZON SERVICES LLC. THIS CONTENT IS PROVIDED 'AS IS' AND IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE OR REMOVAL AT ANY TIME. Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. All prices on this site may change and those considered valid are displayed on