Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) and Grain Free Foods: What’s the story?

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is the second most common type of acquired heart disease in dogs. Our Nutritionist, Sara talks us through the causes and risks of DCM.


   Meet Sara Our Nutritionist

Sara is a proud pet parent to Mae the Cocker Spaniel, 2 cats and a growing flock of hens, and she knows that nutrition is key to their happy and healthy lives. With a degree in Animal Science and over 12 years’ experience as a Pet Nutritionist, Sara shares useful information and resources on dog nutrition with pet parents like you. Over to Sara to learn more about Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)…

What Is Dilated Cardiomyopathy? (DCM)

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is the second most common type of acquired heart disease in dogs. DCM is a disease of the heart muscle, causing it to become weak and resulting in an enlarged heart and reduced ability to pump blood around the body. Most cases of DCM are genetic, with large breed dogs such as Irish Wolfhounds, Doberman Pinschers, Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Saint Bernards and Great Danes being more susceptible along with other breeds such as Cocker Spaniels. Although canine DCM is thought to affect between 0.5 and 1.1% of the population[1], it is believed to affect over half of all Dobermans and one third of Boxers in their lifetime[2][3].

Taurine, cysteine and methionine are amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and are all found naturally in the raw materials we use here at Butcher’s Pet Care. Animal and fish proteins are the only source of taurine, whilst cysteine and methionine are found in high amounts in these ingredients.

What’s The Story on Grain Free Diets And DCM?

We here at Butcher’s Pet Care are aware that there have been investigations ongoing in the U.S. by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) since 2018 regarding potential diet-related causes of canine DCM. The investigations by the FDA have been looking at the potential role diet may play in relation to specific ingredients, focussing specifically on grain-free dry diets. Wet diets are not implicated in any of the studies to date. Over the last few years there has been an increasing interest in diet (or, more specifically, certain dietary ingredient combinations) and their relationship with DCM.

In 2018, the FDA published an announcement alerting U.S. pet food owners and veterinarians to a possible link between high meat containing, novel ingredient, grain free dry pet foods (boutique, exotic-ingredient and grain free; BEG) and increased cases of DCM. These foods typically contained peas, lentils, other legume seeds and potatoes as main ingredients as well as their protein, fibre and starch derivatives. Reports at this time indicated that dogs developing DCM were consistently eating foods containing these ingredients (often found in diets labelled as grain free) for long periods of time (months or years).

In 2019, the number of cases of DCM reported in the U.S. increased, which may, in part, have likely been driven by an increased awareness amongst pet parents following the 2018 FDA announcement.

Further follow-up studies were done in 2020 and more recently in 2021, with the latter identifying peas (and to a lesser extent, lentils) as an ingredient worthy of further investigation, with several potential hypotheses as to why. However, the author of this study also made clear that current studies do not conclude a definitive link between the ingredients and foods investigated within the study and onset of canine DCM.

More recent studies in 2022 have since concluded that the authors have been unable to find any link between grain free, pulse or legume-based diets and onset of canine DCM.

The research to date has finally culminated in a statement released on the 23rd December 2022 by the FDA stating that they do not plan to release any further routine updates on this issue due to insufficient data, coupled with declining case reports[5]. Analysis of reports of DCM found that sharp increases in reports occurred immediately after FDA announcements were made, with a lack of evidence linking diet to canine DCM cases.

What Do the Findings Mean?

To date, these findings have only been reported in the U.S. At this present time, no increase in reported DCM cases or similar issues have been identified in the UK or Europe and the link and data are still all inconclusive, as highlighted in the most recent FDA statement of December 2022. The FDA has not, at any point, taken any steps to recall products or taken any regulatory action against any of the brands implicated within their studies, or indeed declared any specific pet food products unsafe or definitively linked to DCM. The causes of DCM are still not fully understood and are multifactorial.

The industry, including us here at Butcher’s Pet Care, continue to monitor progress of any future investigations. We understand that there may be concern amongst our pet parents given the findings that were initially reported. However, it is extremely important to reiterate that as of yet, no definitive link has been established between canine DCM and diet and/or the presence of specific ingredients, nor that the diets included with the scientific trials are unsafe and require withdrawal from the market. Indeed, many of the ingredients under investigation have been used in pet food for several years without any safety concerns being raised, a point made by the FDA themselves. Butcher’s products are not implicated in any of the research.

How Can I Best Support My Dog’s Heart Health?

It is important that your dog continues to be fed a complete and balanced diet. At Butcher’s we take great pride in ensuring our products are highly nutritious and the Butcher’s range of complete foods contain all of the essential nutrients that your pet needs to ensure that they receive all of the nutrition they require to help maintain their health. They are manufactured to the highest standards and in line with legislative requirements. Should you have any specific health concerns relating to your pet, please speak to your vet.

Butcher’s new Healthy Heart products are 100% complete and balanced wet foods designed to help support a healthy heart, containing ingredients known to be beneficial for heart health and function. These recipes have been carefully created by our nutritionist and come vet recommended. To find out more about your dog’s heart health, our new Healthy Heart products and how you can best support a healthy heart, please visit our dedicated blog written by experts.

For more information on DCM and the latest industry updates, please visit the UK Pet Food website. Further Q&A’s can also be found on the FDA website.


[1] Sanderson, S.L. (2006) Taurine and Carnitine in Canine Cardiomyopathy. Veterinary Clinics Small Animal Practice 36: 1325-1343

[2] Calvert. C.A., Jacobs, G.J., Smith, D.D., Rathbun, S.L., Pickus, C.W. (2000) Association between results of ambulatory electrocardiography and development of cardiomyopathy during long-term follow-up of Doberman pinschers [Abstract]. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 216 (1): 34-39

[3]Meurs, K.M., Spier, A.W., Wright, N.A., Hamlin, R.L. (2001) Comparison of in-hospital versus 24-hour ambulatory electrocardiography for detection of ventricular premature complexes in mature Boxers [Abstract]. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 218 (2): 222-224

[4]Case, L.P., Daristotle, L., Hayek, M.G., Raasch, M.F. Nutrition and the Heart. Canine and Feline Nutrition. 3rd ed. (Missouri: Mosby Elsevier, 2011) pp. 511-519




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