While it’s great that pet owners are putting so much thought into their pets’ diets, the truth is that grain-free pet foods and those with exotic protein sources may not be the healthiest choice for your pet.

A study done at the University of California at Davis College of Veterinary Medicine has found that there may be a link between grain-free dog foods that contain peas, potatoes, beans and other legumes and a higher incidence of potentially fatal dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs.

What these dogs have in common—aside from being breeds that are usually not predisposed to DCM—is low taurine levels. Taurine is an essential amino acid for heart health in both dogs and cats. While the link is unclear, there is an association between the vegetables and legumes used to replaced grains as an ingredient in dog foods, exotic protein sources and the absorption of taurine.

Because of aggressive marketing, pet owners may assume that grains are just “fillers,” but the fact is that grains provide necessary vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. Pet owners should know that there are no scientific studies to show that grain-free diets are healthier, and actual grain allergies are very rare. If a dog has a food allergy, it’s most likely triggered by animal proteins like chicken, beef, fish or dairy.

Grain-free boutique and small-batch pet food with non-traditional protein sources as well as raw and home-cooked diets are most likely to be deficient in needed vitamins and nutrients because post-production nutritional testing of pet food is not required by law.

However, larger pet food companies do this testing to ensure their products are nutritionally sound and balanced, so it is best to source your pet’s food from these established providers, read labels and consult your Red Hills Veterinary Hospital veterinarian if you have questions.