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Is Grain-Free Good For My Dog? Kingsbrook Animal Hospital Discusses Diets

One of the biggest conversations in the pet-owning world right now is what to feed our pets. In some ways, nutrition is like religion – there are a lot of options out there, and there isn’t one right answer for every pet.  The confusion is further compounded by the differing information from pet healthcare professionals….for example, your dog’s groomer tells you to feed him a raw diet, but his dog walker swears by a limited-ingredient grain-free dry food. Of course, all you want is to do the absolute best thing for your fur-baby, but it is so hard to know what that is!

Enter the veterinarians and staff here at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital. All of our doctors and technicians have extensive pet nutrition education and are constantly pushing to learn more by attending continuing education classes and seminars. Below, we try to take some of the mystery out of what sounds like it should be an easy part of pet ownership: what to put in the food bowl.

First, it’s important to understand the terminology that’s being tossed around in these conversations. A raw diet is one that contains uncooked proteins, such as raw chicken or venison. Limited-ingredient diets contain just one protein and one carbohydrate source: for example, chicken and brown rice. Grain-free foods use a non-grain source of carbohydrates like green peas, oatmeal, or potato, and an exotic protein is one that isn’t normally found in pet foods (like kangaroo).

Grain-free diets are usually cooked foods.  Oftentimes, pet owners feed these to avoid “fillers” or because their pet has allergies. Feeding a grain-free diet also parallels current human diet trends: keto diets, the Atkins diet, etc. New information has come to light about the long-term effects of feeding pets a grain-free diet, and unfortunately it isn’t all good.  Recent and on-going studies show a link between grain-free diets and the development of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a condition where the heart muscle becomes very thin and weak and eventually gives out. The reason appears to be the lack of taurine, an essential amino acid, in these diets, as well as the presence of taurine-blocking ingredients like legumes and lentils. DCM is a fatal condition, and while medications can help a pet who has been diagnosed with this heart condition, there is no cure.

As far as allergies go, only about 10-15% of allergies in pets are food-related—the remaining 85-90% are environmental, so avoiding grains won’t help the majority of dogs and cats. Pets who have a confirmed food allergy are often placed on a limited ingredient diet, but it doesn’t have to be grain-free.  And as for fillers, the important thing is to remember that pets have very different nutritional requirements from people. They benefit greatly from some things in their diet that we as humans wouldn’t dream of eating—chicken livers, for example.

This is just the tip of the pet-nutrition iceberg—there is a lot more to the diet conversation! Please reach out to a veterinarian or technician at Kingsbrook Animal Hospital with any questions, or to schedule a nutrition consultation for your pet.

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