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Lentils make for healthy and balanced dog food - New study says

Many pet owners are conflicted about feeding their dogs grain free food. In 2018 the US FDA released a statement that there may be a connection between feeding dogs grain free food and a heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). It was theorized that the reason for the connection between grain free food and DCM in dogs was that grain free carbohydrates are low in the heart-protective amino acid called taurine. 


DCM is a disease that has many conflicting elements to it, with genetics being the primary cause of the disease. The original FDA statement was released prematurely, before any hard studies were conducted. The FDA has since retracted their original statement citing, “that the evidence was unsubstantiated”. However, many pet owners are still nervous about the thought of feeding their dog grain feed food. 

Pet food companies do not add lentils to their food because it is “trendy” or as fillers. Lentils are actually a great source of plant protein and fibre for dogs. They contain less starch than grains like corn, wheat or rice and can actually help lower blood sugar as a result. The extra fibre that lentils have may also benefit overweight animals as it helps to keep dogs full and boost satiety.

A new study published in November of 2021 by the researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows that grain free pet food containing green lentils may not pose the cardiovascular risk that the FDA originally thought. The objective of their study was to determine the levels of taurine in the blood and urine of adult dogs fed a diet that includes green lentils, a common grain alternative used in grain free dog food.

What they did

The researchers fed twelve adult beagles a diet containing 45% green lentils or a poultry by-product meal diet (as a control) for 90 days. Samples of the diets, blood, plasma, and urine were all collected for lab analysis. 

The samples were examined for the taurine to determine if a lentil diet causes low levels of the heart protective amino acid in the body. Fecal samples were also analyzed for microbial population (which includes probiotic bacteria which are an indicator of good gut health).

What they found

Results of the study showed that concentrations of taurine in the plasma and whole blood showed no differences between dietary treatments or across time points. Their data shows that including green lentils in dog food does not lower whole blood and plasma taurine and suggests that green lentils are appropriate for use in a complete and balanced grain free diet for dogs.

Furthermore, the fecal microbial samples showed that Bacteroidaceae, Erysipelotrichaceae, and Lactobacillaceae as prominent bacteria in dogs fed the lentil diets. These are “good” bacteria which help maintain healthy digestive function. The extra probiotic bacteria associated with the lentil diet are likely a result of the high dietary fibre from lentils.

Take home message

Of course, pet owners should not feel pressured to purchase grain free food for their dogs. There are, however, many health benefits to feeding dogs grain free food, including more dietary fibre, lower blood sugar and helping with weight loss. This study by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a step forward in regaining pet owner trust in grain free dog food.

Pomeranian eating lentils
Pomeranian eating lentils

View Sources

Lauren M Reilly, Fei He, Lindsay Clark, Maria R C de Godoy, Longitudinal assessment of taurine and amino acid concentrations in dogs fed a green lentil diet, Journal of Animal Science, Volume 99, Issue 11, November 2021, skab315, 

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