Grain is pushed into a heart shape.

In 2020, the FDA raised the alarm on the rising number of dogs diagnosed with DCM. DCM stands for Dilated Cardiomyopathy and is usually a hereditary disease. Many of the dogs being diagnosed with DCM however, were not from breeds that were genetically prone to the disease.

Instead, the dogs appeared to be linked by eating a grain-free diet. All in all, the FDA named 16 brands linked to DCM. When some of these dogs received a diet change. These brands included:

  • 4Health
  • Acana
  • Blue Buffalo
  • California Natural
  • Earthborn Holistic
  • Fromm
  • Merrick
  • Natural Balance
  • Nature’s Domain
  • Nature’s Variety
  • Nutrisource
  • Nutro
  • Orijen
  • Rachael Ray Nutrish
  • Taste of the Wild
  • Zignature

Do Dogs Need Grain for Heart Health?

The short answer is no. Dogs have no biological need for carbohydrates of any kind. The AAFCO, which is the Association for Animal Feed Control does not have any requirement for carbs in their nutrition profiles because dogs do not need them.

After 2020, the number of DCM cases reported to the FDA fell off just as abruptly as it rose, most likely due to the dog food companies changing their food profile. At this time, the FDA has not been able to ascertain for sure why these dog foods seemed to be associated with DCM, only that they tended to have more non-soy pulses than typical grain-free foods.

What Nutrients are Important to Heart Health

Although dogs do not need grains for their heart health, they do need specific nutrients to make sure their heart stays healthy and strong. These include:

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 Fatty acids help promote heart health in dogs by reducing inflammation and lowering blood pressure. Omega-3s specifically for dogs with heart disease is currently an area of study. There’s good evidence that not only are Omega-3 Fatty Acids good for maintaining a healthy heart, they may help reduce some of the symptoms associated with heart disease as well.  


Taurine is an essential amino acid your dog needs for proper heart health. When your dog does not receive enough of it, it can cause problems with their heart. Most dogs get enough taurine through their regular diet, but in certain cases it’s not enough.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is another common vitamin that benefits your dog’s heart health. It helps reduce inflammation and is essential to life for your pet. This is one vitamin you’ll want to ask your vet before supplementing. Although a vitamin E supplement can be beneficial, it’s also possible to overdose it.

Your vet will be able to help determine if your dog will benefit from it, and if so how much they need.


L-Carnitine helps by transforming fat into energy for the heart. If your dog is on a protein-rich diet, chances are it is getting enough L-Carnitine, but it’s also possible for some dogs to be deficient of it. If you’re worried about your dog’s heart health, it may be worth speaking to your vet about the benefits of supplementing L-Carnitine.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

 This supplement has not been well studied, but what studies have been done show promising results. Studies in small dogs show that it may make a significant different for degenerative mitral valve disease, the most common type of heart disease in small dogs.

What Foods Are Best For Your Dog

We put together the best dry foods of 2023 here, and yes, some of the brands on the list of potentially linked dog foods are there. We believe that the problem has been addressed somehow, thus the steep drop-off in cases that occurred.

Regardless of whether your dog food includes grains or not, a good dog food has the same key features. It should be high in protein, contain no unsourced animal products (“meat” or “animal” instead of “beef” or “lamb” for example), and ideally have proof of ingredient quality.

Whether it contains grains or not is up to you.

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By Andrea

Andrea is a dedicated dog mom of three chihuahuas. She has over a decade of experience as a dog groomer, chihuahua owner, and more recently as a dog trainer. She loves all things canine, particularly chihuahuas.

One thought on “Do Dogs Need Grain for Heart Health?”
  1. […] He already eats a home cooked diet tailor made to his nutritional needs, one that is naturally high in nutrients like Taurine and L-Carnitine, but we added a few supplements that may help him live a little longer. We also looked into other aspects of heart health, such as the recent FDA investigation into whether grain-free diets could be a cause of heart problems. You can read our thoughts on this here. […]

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