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Some grain-free dog foods might not be as healthy as you’d think

Dogs should eat a meat-based diet, says Dr. Katy Nelson. (Getty Images/iStockphoto/LightFieldStudios)

WASHINGTON — A trend toward healthier dog food could actually be causing health problems.

The Food and Drug Administration recently began studying grain-free dog diets after some reports of dogs being diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscles are weakened. The condition can cause the heart to not beat as strongly as it should, and can even cause congestive heart failure.

According to one veterinarian, the FDA has found early in its investigation that grain-free diets with a high amount of legumes (i.e., peas, lentils, chickpeas, potatoes, etc.) are linked to low levels of taurine, a key amino acid.

“Taurine is one of the amino acids that is found in meat and milk, and dogs and cats are dependent upon this,” Dr. Katy Nelson told WTOP’s Brennan Haselton.

And low taurine levels, in turn, have been linked with cardiac disease.

Nelson stressed that not all grain-free dog foods are the focus. Just the ones that use legumes as a primary ingredient.

She suggests that if a dog is eating grain-free, owners should check that peas, chickpeas, lentils or potatoes aren’t in the first five ingredients.

The same applies to pet owners who make their own dog food. “If you are planning to cook for your dog, you absolutely need to be working with a veterinarian,” Nelson said. “You need to make sure this is a complete and balanced diet.”

Also, make sure that their diet is meat-based. Pet owners who themselves eat a meatless diet should refrain from making their dog eat the same way.

“Our pets are not made to do that,” she said.

Learn more about the study online from the American Veterinary Medical Association or the FDA.

FDA studies grain-free dog food

Dr. Katy Nelson with WTOP's Brennan Haselton

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