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It seems like every week someone is promoting a new trendy diet that you just have to try. We, as pet owners, obviously want the absolute best for our animals. People seem to be passing along these popular food trends on to their pets. Just because something may benefit our health, that doesn't mean it will be nutritious for our dogs.

Some recent trends include grain-free, organic, no GMO, local sourcing and fancy proteins. You may be wasting your money on overpriced premium dog food that's actually worse for your dog than traditional pet store food.

Researchers have learned a lot about pet nutrition in recent years. There are special foods designed for particular pet size, breed, activity level, and health condition. Because of this, our furry friends are living healthier and longer lives.

Lisa Freeman, veterinary nutritionist and professor of clinical nutrition at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University said, "In my 20 years as a veterinary nutritionist, I’ve seen vast improvements in our knowledge about pet nutrition, in the quality of commercial pet foods, and in our pets’ nutritional health (other than the unfortunate rise in obesity)."

"However, in the last few years I’ve seen more cases of nutritional deficiencies due to people feeding unconventional diets, such as unbalanced home-prepared diets, raw diets, vegetarian diets, and boutique commercial pet foods," said Lisa.

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Lisa said that heart disease is quite common in pets. It affects 10-15% of cats and dogs. However, there has been a recent increase in dilated cardiomyopathy (a disease of the heart muscle) reported by some veterinary cardiologists. Lisa said that dilated cardiomyopathy is being reported in breeds that don't normally have the disease.

"There is suspicion that the disease is associated with eating boutique or grain-free diets, with some of the dogs improving when their diets are changed," said Lisa. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine and various veterinarian cardiologists are looking into this claim. "It’s not yet clear if diet is causing this issue," said Lisa.

One possible link between the two may be a deficiency in an amino acid called taurine. Researchers have found that many dogs who have both dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) as well as a taurine deficiency were more often eating boutique diets, grain free diets, or diets containing unusual, exotic ingredients, like kangaroo, buffalo, bison, peas, tapioca, and lentils. DCM and a deficiency in taurine were also found in dogs that were eating raw and homemade diets.

Here is the truth about a few popular pet food trends.

Grain-Free

Veterinarian Donna Solomon said, the grain-free trend definitely didn't originate in the professional veterinary community. "I speculate that this movement was triggered in part by a pet food company’s advertising campaign to generate a buzz around their unique pet food," she said.

Another possible cause could be the incident that occurred in 2007 when melamine, a chemical used in fertilizer, contaminated the wheat gluten used in pet food. This accident caused over 100 pet deaths. Possibly after this scare, pet owners tried to find safer foods for their animals.

People who feed their pets grain-free and gluten-free meals claim that because dogs' ancestors didn't eat grains, no dog today is designed to either. Veterinarians say that grains aren't an issue for pets, unless in the rare case that they have an allergy or an intolerance to specific grains. Donna Solomon said that some dogs do better on grains because of their high-fiber content.

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New Proteins

Darren Stephens of American Nutrition, a custom pet-food manufacturing company, wrote, "Chicken has become the 'four letter word' of the pet food industry, with a caution around chicken allergies taking hold of the market."

"This, combined with owners’ desire to provide their pets with a variety of flavors, has inspired pet food manufacturers to begin offering exotic protein sources including bison, rabbit, kangaroo, and alligator."

Daren said that when the protein is from unusual sources, it can cause dietary complications. "Exotic ingredients have different nutritional profiles and different digestibility than typical ingredients, and also have the potential to affect the metabolism of other nutrients."

Small-Batch Foods

Some smaller companies that produce dog food, use few ingredients and are minimally processed. This can be appealing to pet owners because they may prefer minimally processed food for their own diets. Although it is important to shop locally to help your community and environment, larger companies have larger funds that are dedicated to research and development, testing, and quality control. These larger companies tend to have more expertise and resources to produce healthier and safer food for your animals.

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