So much information is now available on social media, it’s easy to accept mass public opinion and be misled and confused. Pet food and nutrition is one topic fraught with misconceptions based on popular opinions. Many human diet fads, such as low-carb, no-carb, and paleo, come and go. Now that we consider our pets as family members, we are including them in our diet beliefs, and boutique, exotic protein, grain-free (BEG) diets are rising in popularity.
What are BEG diets?
As people become more educated about their food and nutrition sources, they search for new options for their pets. Marketing plays a huge role in luring pet owners to purchase a food by claiming each product is the most natural, organic, holistic, or premium nutrition available. These diets have gained popularity due to marketing efforts:
- Boutique diets refer to foods manufactured by small companies, which often do not have the budget for feeding trials, extensive research, or the expertise of a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.
- Exotic protein diets are created with different sources of animal proteins, such as kangaroo, alligator, or squid, instead of the traditional chicken, beef, or lamb.
- Grain-free diets have become popular because many pet owners mistakenly believe their pets are allergic to grains, but the protein source is usually the culprit. The grains in these diets are replaced by legumes, such as lentils, peas, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, tapioca, fava beans, and potatoes. Grain-free diets, however, are not low-carb—as many believe. In fact, they are often similar or higher in carbohydrates than diets with grains, and they are also higher in fat.
What are the issues with BEG diets?
Pet owners want to feed their beloved cats and dogs the best food money can buy. Pet-food marketing plays on this emotion, touting grain-free foods, exotic proteins, and fancy boutique diets as the most natural, holistic, healthy options available. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
One disturbing issue links heart disease to dogs fed BEG diets.
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which typically occurs in large- or giant-breed dogs, such as Great Danes, Irish wolfhounds, boxers, and Doberman pinschers, is thought to have a genetic component. DCM causes the heart to become enlarged and beat with less strength, and is characterized by abnormal heart rhythms, congestive heart failure, or sudden death. With the surge in BEG diets, more dogs who do not fit the stereotype, such as miniature schnauzers and French bulldogs, are being diagnosed with DCM.
Several theories surround the link between DCM and BEG diets, but no conclusions have been made. Studies underway at UC Davis to determine the exact cause of these DCM cases are looking at the following factors:
- Taurine deficiency — Dogs can manufacture their own taurine, an amino acid essential for cardiac and skeletal function, but some pets require supplementation. Taurine comes from animal-based protein, but most protein in grain-free diets comes from legumes, which decreases the amount of taurine available. Fiber may reduce the absorption or production of taurine and cause a deficiency.
- Other nutrient deficiency — Some dogs diagnosed with DCM after eating BEG diets have low taurine levels, but most do not. It is unclear whether exotic ingredients interact with the bioavailability of taurine or other nutrients essential for cardiac function.
- Toxicity with BEG diets — Diet-associated DCM may also be due to an ingredient in BEG diets that may be toxic to the heart. These newer foods with exotic ingredients need research, especially regarding their interactions.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and veterinary researchers are actively working on this cardiac mystery.
Pet diets we recommend
Pet food stores can be overwhelming. Even knowing about BEG diets and their potential hazards, how do you choose the best food for your pet?
We recommend diets that follow the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s global nutrition guidelines, including these brands:
- Hill’s Science Diet
- Royal Canin
Are you unsure about your pet’s food? Call us to discuss safe nutrition options so you can make the best choice for your pet.