In today’s world, we are surrounded by a sea of controversy. With technology running the modern consumer’s life, debates about every subject, big or small, are constantly taking place. Just as human parents battle each other on the best way to raise children, pet parents tend to be at each other’s throats for the same reason. The way we feed our animals is often at the center of controversy in the pet space, and it’s no doubt because of the marketing that we’re are subjected to 24/7. Since Millennials are having more pets than kids, the pet industry is now a billion dollar industry. We spend money on our pets like people do on human kids. And just as a human parent could fall into the advertising trap, the same is the case for many pet parents.
There are several myths floating around regarding pet food. The options available for dogs and cats are endless. As human diets change, those patterns are being translated to our pets. I had the privilege of speaking with “America’s Veterinarian” Dr. Marty Becker about myths surrounding the pet food industry. We discussed what the myths are, why they are common and how we can educate pet parents about the truth.
I am very passionate about pet nutrition. I became interested in the topic when I learned from top veterinarians, pet nutritionists and research scientists about the truth behind all of the nonsense we hear about pet food. Pet parents are intrigued with crazy verbiage, so it’s no wonder why many dog and cat parents think that their animals have to eat organic hooves straight from the wild Yeti in Alaska…
These absurd marketing ploys have taken over the facts, so let’s debunk some of the common myths.
Common Pet Food Myths
Myth #1: Byproducts are BAD.
Not so much, actually. We hear it all the time…”Our new pet food is made without all of those nasty byproducts!” And pet parents fall for it. Dr. Marty Becker, who has written 25 books and still practices veterinary medicine, likes to refer to byproducts as “co-products.” I love this. He shared a really great example about what byproducts really are; Let’s say a wild wolf goes and kills an animal to eat it. The wolf is going to want the parts that are full of nutrients – the spleen, liver, kidneys, lungs and heart. That’s the natural way of things. But we are taught that this is BAD. The reality is, these parts of an animal are full of healthy proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. Eating byproducts is natural for animals. We have to remember that our cats and dogs are indeed animals – they aren’t humans, no matter how much we treat them as such. Byproducts can actually provide more essential nutrients than regular muscle meat, which can lack in calcium and vitamin A. Something to also note is the fact that in many other countries, the spleen, liver, kidneys, lungs and hearts of animals are eaten by people. First world countries just aren’t used to those ideas, and that leads pet parents to fall into the marketing trap.
Myth #2: I shouldn’t feed my pets grains!
Another common theme we hear as pet parents is “grain-free is the way to be!” We have to feed our animals grain-free food, and if we don’t, we’re basically bad parents. False. Grains are in fact a positive contribution to dog and cat food. Grains deliver more complete nutrition in food as opposed to the popular potato substitute. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather feed my pets grains if they offer more complete nutrition. Grains provide natural nutrients, antioxidants, carbohydrates and protein which help to create a more energy-rich, balanced diet for cats and dogs.
Myth #3: Raw is the best for my pet!
Dr. Becker does not recommend that pet parents feed their dogs a homemade raw diet. I know that it’s the latest craze and something pet parents hear about a lot, but it’s a dangerous trend. The salmonella risk from feeding your dogs raw is REAL. It’s one thing to feed commercial raw food, which is made under FDA regulations, but if you’re making it all yourself, your pet is most likely not getting all of the nutrients that they need. When making your own raw food, your pet and YOU are at risk for salmonella contamination. The FDA has a “zero-tolerance” policy for salmonella in pet food because of how dangerous it truly is. Based on the facts and the risk, I’d steer clear from a homemade raw diet. But if you insist on feeding it to your dog, discuss your plan with your veterinarian.
Myth #4: The ingredients in pet food determines its quality.
People overspend on pet food because we’ve been lead to believe that food with “high quality” and limited ingredients is the only way to go. As you can now see based on the debunked myths above, food without byproducts and grains isn’t necessarily the best way to go. And just because a food is made with only human ingredients doesn’t mean it’s going to be good for your dog. You also need to research the company that the food is coming from. Find out where the company manufactures its food. Do they employee scientists, veterinarians and nutritionists? Does the company have in house testing? Whatever food you purchase, regardless of ingredients, safety and manufacturing standards are just as important. Your pet’s food could cost $178.00 a bag, but if it doesn’t meet or exceed FDA and AAFCO standards, you should probably consider a different food.
In the end, the choice you make on pet food should be based more on nutrients rather than ingredients. Just because you don’t recognize an ingredient doesn’t mean it’s not good for our animals. Let’s face it – we live in a world of marketing. Many companies will do anything to fake pet parents out for the sake of making more money. That’s simply the truth! Sneaky marketing also makes pet parents believe that feeding pets a certain type of food will fix all of our pet’s problems, when that’s just not the case.
So how do you decide what to feed your pet? It’s as easy as asking your veterinarian. Dr. Becker recommends telling your vet where you buy your food and what your budget is. They will be able to make a great recommendation for you based on that information. All you have to do is be proactive and communicate with the professionals. About 90% of veterinarians feed their dogs kibble – that’s a good place to start!
Have more questions on a specific food? Call that company! Ask to speak to a researcher or nutritionist. If they don’t have either of those or they won’t let you talk to someone, perhaps it’s time to consider a different pet food company to buy from.
We debunked four major myths that carry the pet food industry. Remember – don’t trust marketing research. You need to look into nutritional research. Sure, it may take a little more work, but aren’t your pets worth it? I know mine are.
For more information on pet food, a fantastic source is petfoodinstitute.org. Be sure to consult your veterinarian with any specific concerns or questions!