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Food That Kills: Taurine and Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dogs are succumbing to a taurine related dilated cardiomyopathy, and dog food is the cause. We have a problem in the pet food industry, it’s called a BEG diet or rather a boutique, exotic ingredient and/or grain-free diet.

It’s the diet implicated in the worldwide occurrence of dogs suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy due to a deficiency or inability to absorb, taurine. But adding taurine isn’t going to make this problem go away. 

The pet food industry is highly unregulated and sadly, this means that anyone can design a pet food and sell it to unsuspecting dog owners.

Pet food is big business, many companies are merely a marketing face with no nutritionist on board. Testing of diets don’t occur and research is non-existent.

We are now starting to see more situations where a diet is causing some pretty major health issues for our dogs.

Due to a surge in dogs succumbing to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and the smart thinking of UCDavis veterinary cardiologist Dr Stern who first suspected a link between these dogs and grain-free BEG diets, the FDA has been and is currently investigating a possible link.

Listen To Dr Stern Describe The Problem Of Grain Free Diets


Veterinary nutritional experts believe that the potential association between diet and DCM in dogs is a complex scientific issue that may involve multiple factors.

As mentioned above, it’s not as simple as adding taurine to a diet, even though we know that taurine seems to be implicated. 


fda number of cases of dcm in cats and dogs
DCM reports from FDA June 2019.

What Dog Food Is The Problem?

Dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM is the name given to a situation when the heart muscle becomes thin and flabby, resulting in an inability to pump blood adequately resulting in congestive heart failure. For some dogs this leads to sudden death.

As the FDA has already said, the problem that we are seeing is complex and we are not entirely sure of the mechanism that is causing these dogs that eat a BEG diet to then develop DCM.

We do know that Taurine is involved, but it is not as simple as a deficiency.

While we do recommend taurine testing to check whether a dog is deficient, we now know that some dogs with sufficient levels have developed DCM.

This indicates that these BEG diets may be interfering with taurine metabolism or absorption.

It appears that lentils and peas seem to be the most common legumes implicated.

graph of ingredients implicated in dcm cases
Ingredients implicated in DCM cases reported to FDA. June 2019

What Foods Cause Taurine Dilated Cardiomyopathy?

The FDA has named the following brands as being frequently named when diet was examined in the DCM cases:

  • Acana
  • Zignature
  • Taste Of The Wild
  • 4Health
  • Earthborn Holistic
  • Blue Buffalo
  • Nature’s Domain
  • Fromm
  • Merrick
  • California Natural
  • Natural Balance
  • Orijen
  • Nature’s Variety
  • Nutrisource
  • Nutro
  • Rachael Ray Nutrish
food brands implicated in DCM cases
Dog food brands most frequently reported to FDA as causing DCM. June 2019

How Can You Prevent Taurine Associated DCM?

The vast majority of dogs do not need to be fed a grain free or BEG diet.

Currently, there is no veterinary literature supporting the routine use of grain-free foods. It is a very successful marketing ploy based on the current trend of low-carb/ketogenic-type diets in people.

If you are currently feeding one of these grain-free diets then WSAVA (World small animal veterinary association) currently recommends to please change the diet AWAY from it to allow the heart to heal.

Currently, we are recommending switching to a diet that has been developed by a veterinary nutritionist and has had proven feeding trials demonstrating safety and efficacy.

An appropriate choice is a commercial, non-boutique, non-exotic protein, non-grain-free diet with standard ingredients manufactured by an established company such as Royal Canin, Hill’s, Purina Pro Plan, Iams and Eukanuba.

If you are in doubt about what to feed, speak to your veterinarian or one of our online vets.

It’s vitally important that you do not rely on a pet store owner or employee to counsel you on nutrition. These store employees are not trained in nutrition and they have a financial incentive to sell you the most expensive diet they have.

If your dog is currently being fed a BEG diet, it is worthwhile discussing with your vet whether to test for DCM.

What Are The Signs That My Dog Is Affected By DCM?

Sadly for many dogs, the first sign that you may notice that there is a problem is sudden collapse including death.

The more subtle signs that you might notice include

  • lethargy
  • reluctance to go for walks or run around
  • general exercise intolerance
  • wheeze or cough
  • elevated respiratory rate especially while resting
golden retriever asleep


If you would like to discuss any signs your dog is showing feel free to get in touch with one of our vets.

In this video Dr Leigh discusses an xray taken of a dog with DCM taken from the weekly Take A Guess Tuesday on the Your Vet Online Facebook page.