As a dog owner, if you’ve been following the recent news about a potential link between grain-free dog foods and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), you may have questions and concerns. The following is an overview of DCM and information on the known causes of the disease.

What is DCM?

DCM is a disease that affects the heart muscle. In dogs with DCM, dilation of the ventricles, or large chambers of the heart, reduces the heart’s ability to effectively pump blood through the body. As the disease progresses, the heart becomes enlarged and, if severe enough, signs of congestive heart failure develop. DCM affects adult dogs, typically between the ages of 5-10 years. In the early stages, there are no clinical signs of the disease. As the condition advances, signs may include difficulty breathing, reluctance to exercise and loss of appetite.

What causes DCM?

While recent coverage of the FDA’s investigation has been focused on a potential link between certain pet foods and DCM, nutrition is only one of the potential causes. There are also genetic links to the disease. We’ll discuss both.


Some dog breeds appear to be predisposed to DCM as they are more likely to be affected than other breeds which would indicate a genetic cause within these breeds. These include Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Boxers, and Cocker Spaniels. Variations in the DNA of two breeds, the Doberman and Schnauzer, have been linked to an increased likelihood of developing DCM.  Genetic health screenings can determine if your dog carries a disease mutation for DCM.

Carrying the gene mutation for DCM, however, does not mean that a dog will automatically develop the disease as there are likely other genetic or environmental factors that can play a role in disease development. For example, Wisdom Health has the ability to test for two DCM mutations—one found originally in Schnauzers and one found originally in Dobermans—but our research has shown that the mutation found in Dobermans does not appear to be associated with clinical heart disease in breeds beyond the Doberman. Meaning, while some dogs may test positive for the mutation, the result doesn’t indicate an increased likelihood that the dog will develop DCM. For this reason, we removed the Doberman DCM test from our WISDOM PANEL™ Health kit to avoid causing unnecessary concern for dog owners. We do include the test in our OPTIMAL SELECTION™ Canine Genetic Breeding Analysis test specifically for Doberman breeders.


The FDA is currently investigating a link between DCM and certain diets, most of which are considered “grain-free.” In particular, the FDA is looking at diets that contain foods such as peas, lentils and potatoes (including sweet potatoes) as a primary ingredient. The investigation began after reports of DCM in dogs that are not thought to be genetically prone to the disease but had been on diets including these ingredients for a period of months to years. While the investigation is ongoing, there is not yet any proof that these ingredients cause DCM.

Taurine deficiencies can also cause DCM. Taurine is one of twenty amino acids in the body. Unlike cats, dogs are able to synthesize taurine in their bodies, so taurine is not typically added to dog food. However, some dog breeds—such as Cocker Spaniels and giant breeds like Newfoundlands—do appear to be predisposed to taurine deficiency. An inherited condition called cystinuria also has the potential to cause a taurine deficiency. The WISDOM PANEL Health test screens for two types of cystinuria and may provide valuable information for veterinarians partnering with you on your dog’s healthcare.

Proactive steps for dog owners

While DCM is a complex disease with complicated causes, genetics and proactive veterinary care can help.

Partner closely with your veterinarian on all aspects of your dog’s lifelong healthcare, including their nutrition. It’s wise to discuss the pros and cons of all dietary choices with your veterinarian, including grain-free options. And when selecting a dog food brand, we recommend choosing a company that consults with board-certified veterinary nutritionists when developing its formulas.

Genetic screenings also provide additional insights into your dog’s overall health and can allow for more proactive healthcare planning as your dog ages. In addition to the DCM and cystinuria diseases mentioned above, the WISDOM PANEL Health test screens for over 150 health conditions.

Through July 27, you can save $30 on a WISDOM PANEL Health kit when you use promo code HEALTHYSUMMER30 in our online store.