Pet nutrition is a topic often discussed between family, friends, and coworkers. With all the choices there is bound to be confusion when it comes to pet foods and how to know what is best suited for your special friend.
As a veterinarian, I spend time discussing diets with pet owners. I do not want to be indicating that I have all the answers. For every answer there are always more questions. Yet, I feel some basic information can be helpful when seeking a perfect diet for your pet. I would like to dispel some of the myths and reiterate several of the facts surrounding pet nutrition.
- Active dogs need high protein. This is a FALSE statement. Fats provide more energy than proteins. Proteins do provide energy, but fats offer 2.25x more energy per gram. Over a long period of time a high protein diet has a negative effect on the kidneys and liver function.
- “ALL LIFE STAGES” FOODS = PUPPY/KITTEN FOOD. This is a TRUE statement. Therefore it is not wise to feed this diet to dogs or cats that are not in an active growth stage or state of pregnancy.
- Corn and/or grains are bad. This is a FALSE statement. Of all the myths, this is by far the most common one I hear. The marketing has been huge at changing how pet foods are made. Corn offers 16 grams of protein in each cup of corn. It is a good source of vitamins and fatty acids. The carbohydrates are highly digestible. Less than 3% of dogs have food allergies to corn and 1% of cats.
- Gluten intolerance is extremely rare in pets. TRUE. Some Irish Setters have shown a wheat sensitive enteropathy and it is seen in the first 6 months of their life. Gluten is not a problem for a majority of pets.
- “Raw” diets are acceptable diets for dogs and cats. FALSE. The issues with raw diets are many. We see mineral and vitamin imbalances. Often people alter the recipe and thereby do not keep it consistent from day to day. Excessive proteins are the norm with these diets. Raw diets have shown to decrease the life span of our pets.
- Dogs and Cats are carnivores. FALSE. Cats are carnivores but dogs are omnivores. This indicates dogs can eat and remain healthy with both plant and animal diets. Cats on the other hand have certain nutrients that are only available from animal sources required in their diet. Over time if cats are not offered these nutrients serious health issues will develop. That is why dogs should eat dog food and cats should eat cat food
- Dogs and cats eat 1/2 of their body weight per month. TRUE. This is a helpful formula if you are attempting to purchase food and wondering how long will this bag of food last.
- Dry kibble will promote better dental health. FALSE. Before you call to say that this statement is true. Look at the numerous studies that indicate the location of plaque and tarter(calculus) is at the gum surface. Therefore any chewing of dry kibble would have a difficult time successfully removing plaque. That is like saying you eating dry foods will promote better dental health for yourself. We know that only brushing can have a sustained positive effect on oral health when done daily. Now having said this, there is a website from Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) that lists products that meet standards of plaque and tarter reduction in pets: VOHC Accepted Product List. Feel free to research this further. I am still working to change my talking points on this one.
- All AAFCO labels are the same. FALSE. Look for the AFFCO label that indicates: Animal feeding tests using AFFCO procedures substantiate that this product provides complete and balanced nutrition for the maintenance of adult dogs. This means it has been fed to dogs for a minimum of 26nweeks. The wording may vary but it should indicate that it has been fed to dogs verses saying it has been formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AFFCO. There is a big difference.
- These are the only MYTH’s about pet foods. FALSE. It would take pages and pages to list them all. I just wanted to focus on a few that seem to surface more in our practice. Marketing of pet foods has really over run the nutritional side of pet diets. Ingredient labels and guaranteed analysis are difficult to compare from company to company. Lack of Kcal/cup listed on bags makes it hard to know if this diet will be fewer calories than your last diet. Do the words Natural, Organic, Human Grade, Holistic, etc even mean anything? How does ingredient splitting mislead consumers? Are words such as Lite or low calorie or weight care regulated? Maybe another blog we can answer some of these questions.
Recently I attended a conference on nutrition and the speaker placed this slide in front of us and asked if we would feed this diet to our pet.
Crude Protein (min) 37% Crude Fiber(max) 8%
Crude Fat(min) 16% Moisture(max) 12%
Of course we were all suspecting something fishy since our whole morning had been spent discussing myths about pet foods. Here is a list of ingredients that made up that Guaranteed analysis:
1 pair of leather boots, 4 quarts of crank case oil,
1 pail of crushed coal, 1 quart of water
blend together and extrude into 12 mm round kibbles
My point for sharing this is to make certain you realize that labels and guaranteed analysis can be very misleading. You cannot compare bags of food based on what information is given to you on the package. You cannot assume that if you spend more money on this food then it must be better. I wish it was that easy. Be cautious about what you read on the internet about pet foods. Ask your veterinarian for help in selecting a diet that will allow your pet to live a longer healthier life. Nutrition is important in keeping our pets in our homes for more years and hopefully with a better quality of life.