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Ask the Vet: Pets Transfer Poison Ivy Oil to People

Dr. Lee Pickett on

A: Your veterinarian has given you good advice, and I hope you follow it. Let me explain what's behind her recommendation.

Dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, is a common heart (cardio-) muscle (-myo-) disease (-pathy). In a dog with DCM, the muscular walls of the heart become weak and the heart enlarges. As the disease progresses, the heart loses its ability to pump blood effectively, a condition called heart failure.

DCM has many causes and is inherited in some breeds. However, in 2018, cardiologists started seeing the condition in other breeds, all dogs that ate grain-free diets from small manufacturers. These diets contained peas, lentils, potatoes and similar carbohydrates in place of grain.

That year, the Food and Drug Administration warned the public and began to collect accounts of DCM in dogs. In 2019, they reported that almost half the dogs with DCM were eating one of three grain-free diets: Acana, Zignature or Taste of the Wild. The remainder were eating one of 13 other grain-free dog foods.

It's not clear yet whether the cause is a harmful substance in one or more of the grain substitutes or the absence of an important nutrient usually supplied by grains.


Still, the association between grain-free diets and DCM is clear, and it's supported by the observation that the DCM that develops in dogs fed a grain-free diet can be partially reversed by feeding a diet that contains grain.

Grains, which dogs easily digest, contain many important nutrients. Moreover, dogs are rarely allergic to grains. If you follow your veterinarian's recommendation to transition Bear from a grain-free diet to one with grain, you'll help keep him healthy.


Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at

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