Do grain-free dog foods cause dilated cardiomyopathy?

By Jennifer Stoeckl, MAT - Dire Wolf Project CEO, Dec. 29, 2023
Monstro happy and healthy in his forest home

Canine nutrition is a hotly debated subject.

Some people are strongly in the kibble camp.

Others stake their claim on the raw food diet route.

I recently received a text from a concerned owner regarding “Taste of the Wild” Grain-Free kibble produced by Diamond.

He was distraught because his vet sent him home with a pamphlet full of scary facts and graphs based on the FDA’s recent findings. In 2019, the FDA listed specific dog foods that were associated with increased risk of diet-induced Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). (Per DNA, DireWolf Dogs do NOT carry inherited DCM.)

All of the listed dog foods were of the “grain-free” variety.

We feed all of our dogs “Taste of the Wild” High Prairie grain-free kibble.

Upon my recommendation, this American Dirus owner continued to feed his dog “Taste of the Wild” and is now seriously concerned because…

Taste of the Wild is among the top three (out of 16) to be negatively targeted in the pamphlet.

The complete list of foods implicated (in order of most to least DCM associated) were:

  1. Acana
  2. Zignature
  3. Taste of the Wild
  4. Health
  5. Earthborn Holistic
  6. Blue Buffalo
  7. Nature’s Domain
  8. Fromm
  9. Merrick
  10. California Natural
  11. Natural Balance
  12. Origen
  13. Nature’s Variety
  14. Rachel Ray Nutrish
  15. Nutrisource
  16. Nutro

Now, let’s get real.

Here are the facts, as reported by the FDA:

  1. From 2014 - 2017, only seven cases (both dogs & cats) of diet-related DCM had been reported. (Source: FDA)
  2. All of a sudden in 2018, federally reported cases jumped to 320 (dogs & cats).
  3. 2019 saw 197 reported cases. (Source: FDA)
  4. The number of reported cases over the next three years dropped to a total of 255. [July 2020 - July 2023]. (Source: AKC)
  5. According to the FDA, “The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that there are 77 million pet dogs in the United States. Most dogs in the U.S. have been eating pet food without apparently developing DCM.”
  6. As of December 2022, the FDA “does not intend to release further public updates until there is meaningful new scientific information to share.”


And you know what?

The pamphlet given by a vet to the confused American Dirus owner specifically recommends to follow WASAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association) guidelines.

Which foods do you suppose these guidelines promote?

If you are paying attention to the circular reasoning going on here, you would be right if you said any of the following:

  1. Hills Science Diet
  2. Iams
  3. Purina
  4. Royal Canin

Hmmm?? Aren’t those the very foods for sale at the vet’s office?

$60 for 24 lbs!

You mean the ones where the following are in the first 8 ingredients:

  1. yellow peas
  2. potato
  3. potato starch
  4. pea protein
  5. chicken liver FLAVOR

The other three are: chicken, chicken meal (meaning the gross parts), and chicken fat.

The FDA strongly implicates a high proportion of peas, lentils, other legume seeds (pulses), and/or potatoes in various forms (whole, flour, protein, etc.) to be a major contributor to taurine deficiency which then is related to DCM.


So let me get this straight.

The FDA announced a sudden dramatic increase of reported cases of DCM in 2018.

Then, they implicated peas, lentils, and potatoes as possible culprits based on taurine insufficiency, (which wasn’t actually the issue for the majority it turns out - only 53 out of 176 in a subsequent related study were low in taurine).

Listing ONLY grain-free foods as the brands these reported cases ate (which could be a reflection of the fact that most owners, who report their dog’s health to the FDA, feed grain-free foods, but I digress).

Shortly after that, veterinary organizations began mass producing scary pamphlets warning pet owners about these “grain-free” foods - calling them out BY NAME…

While at the same time PROMOTING their own affiliated grain-based foods by name that ALSO have the implicated peas and potatoes as 5 of the first 8 ingredients.

Anyone else confused???

Seriously. It doesn’t appear to me that they really know anything about what caused the sudden dramatic increase. Especially since they saw a spike in reported cases in 2018 and a significant drop off of reported cases in 2019 - 2022.

The damage was already done, though, wasn’t it?

Everyone is now confused and scared.

Even in 2023, vets are still sending out those beautifully frightening pamphlets, despite the decrease in reported cases.

Did you change your dog’s diet to one sold by your vet because you were scared?

Not me.

Because I know how this goes.

It’s the SAME cycle over and over again.

  1. A government entity suddenly finds something terrible, calling for panic and urgency.
  2. Big Pharma, the veterinary version, responds immediately to fan the flames, creating confusion and fear.
  3. Expensive sounding studies come out almost overnight with easy-to-read and colorful pamphlets confirming your worst fears… complete with graphs, charts, and warning labels.
  4. The buzz starts in the media.
  5. Many people become confused and/or scared.
  6. People BUY MORE from the system (veterinary appts., affiliated dog foods, medication, etc.)

I am here to tell you there is NO cause to fear.

When you signed up to this newsletter, I sent you a comprehensive guide to immediately increase your dog’s health by providing a nutritious diet with adequate vitamins and minerals.

If you study and follow those recommendations, your dog will have a well-balanced, healthy, and highly palatable diet.

Do NOT fall for the hoopla.

Your vet is PAID to sell you those fancy kibbles specific to your dog’s health needs.

Does your dog have a sensitive stomach?

Your vet has an expensive bag of dog food for that.

What about digestive care, urinary care, gastrointestinal biome?

Yep… it’s all there.

Before you feel pressured by your vet to purchase their affiliated dog foods, check the ingredients!

If they do NOT meet the standards in the free guide you received from me when you signed up…

Just say NO to those outrageously priced and overcooked brown, synthetic and artificially-coated kibbles.


P.S. We are looking for 5 more pre-orders for our 2024 Dire Wolf Project calendars in order to make the second order.

Click the link for pictures and next steps.

The DireWolf Express is leaving soon… more to come tomorrow on the details of the upcoming trip.

Jesse (Tudor/Razar) is HUGE! We are preparing her indoor whelping space for the arrival of the furry bundles from the Giants Litter. More to come on that soon, as well.

Jennifer Stoeckl is the co-founder of the Dire Wolf Project, founder of the DireWolf Guardians American Dirus Dog Training Program, and owner/operator of DireWolf Dogs of Vallecito. She lives in the beautiful inland northwest among the Ponderosa pine forests with her pack of American Dirus dogs.