Almost one-year-old Magpie is happy and playful after her owner, Lily Clarkson consulted the veterinarian about her food diet. Credit: Courtesy of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine

Popular diets may lead to a “ruff” life for pets. 

Pet owners wanting to put their animals on vegan, vegetarian, grain-free, raw or other homemade diets may not be uncommon, but it also may not be the best for the animals, an expert at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State said.

Valerie Parker, a veterinary nutritionist at Ohio State, said diet trends can put animals’ health at risk because they can lack nutrients, and pet parents should remember that animals aren’t people when it comes to food. 

“In the last few years, there has been an increase association shown in some dogs eating a grain-free diet and developing diet-associated dilated cardiomyopathy,” Parker said. Cardiomyopathy is a heart disease that causes an enlarged heart muscle, making it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body according to Mayo Clinic’s website.

Parker said dogs can eat grain-free diets, but it has to be done safely and correctly if owners prefer that method by consulting their vet on brands of grain-free food that contain more nutrients. She also said people shouldn’t assume that foods that work for them will also work for their pet because animals have different nutritional needs than humans. 

Lily Clarkson, the owner of an almost 1-year-old Australian cattle dog and Australian shepherd mix, Magpie, said she became overwhelmed when seeing all the different diet options for her puppy.

At first, she wasn’t sure which option to choose but heard good things about a grain-free diet, and though Magpie didn’t have any of the problems that grain-free diets are intended to help with, she wanted to avoid the potential for future problems by starting grain-free. 

Parker said there are some health risks that have been associated with vegan diets in dogs, and cats especially have shown amino acid deficiency or other nutrient deficiencies.

“If it’s just a home-prepared vegan diet, then it might have multiple nutrient deficiencies associated with it,” Parker said. “It can cause derangements of calcium in the blood. It can lead to fractures and diet-associated dilated cardiomyopathy.”

Since initially starting Magpie on a grain-free diet, Clarkson said she’s switched her to a whole-based diet food called Purina Pro Plan after meeting with her vet.

“There’s a ton of research that goes into that brand of food, so I can know exactly where her food is coming from,” Clarkson said.

Parker said that when she does nutrition consults, she has owners fill out a form of the animal’s diet history so she has a good understanding of what they’ve been eating. In order to determine the best option, Parker said she takes an individualized approach with the animals using their breed, weight and medical history. 

Parker said there’s a lot of good information online regarding animal diets, but making sure it’s coming from a reputable source — like a certified vet nutritionist — is necessary. 

“Absolutely go to your veterinarian. There is so much information on the internet, and you don’t know where some people are getting their information,” Clarkson said. “Veterinarians are professionally trained, so why not go to your vet, who’s an expert in that area?”