Pets Aren’t People: Diet Trends Can Put Animals’ Health at Risk

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Whether they’re going vegetarian or cutting out gluten, more and more Americans are embracing alternative diets in the name of health. But too many pet owners assume that what works for them will also work for their pets. Experts at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine have heard it all when it comes to theories on what pets should be eating, but warn that animals have very complex nutritional needs that are different from humans, and while information online may be convincing, embracing pet diet trends can actually have serious health consequences.

“People just want to do what’s best for their pets, but when they apply human diets to their animals, it doesn’t always work out well,” said Dr. Valerie Parker, veterinary nutritionist at Ohio State. “There’s tons of information out there about alternative diets, but it’s not all based on scientific information. A veterinarian takes things like your pet’s breed, body weight, body composition and medical conditions into account to determine the best diet for them.”

Dr. Parker lists some of the common diet trends pet owners are trying, and why it’s best to reject the hype:

Grain-Free – Unlike in humans, food allergies are extremely rare in dogs and cats, especially allergies to gluten or grain, and feeding your pet a grain-free diet can cause deficiencies in fiber and carbohydrates.

Vegetarian or Vegan – Dogs and cats get essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals from meat that often can’t be found in plant ingredients. This is especially important for cats, who need a lot of protein, but both dogs and cats can suffer serious health issues without meat in their diets.

Raw – Proponents of a raw diet often argue that dogs should eat more like their ancestral wolves. However, dogs’ digestive tracts have evolved significantly from wolves, and not only can they tolerate carbohydrates, but it also provides fiber dogs need. Feeding dogs raw meat also puts them and their owners at risk for bacterial infections.

Homemade – While many pet owners like to control the ingredients in their pet’s food, most homemade recipes will not provide a balanced diet for dogs and cats. If you insist on making your own food, it is imperative that you work with a veterinary nutritionist to ensure your pet is getting the right nutrients in the right proportions.

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