Day in and day out we answer numerous questions regarding appropriate feeding for our patients, and also attempt to dispel many myths related to the feeding of pets. Pet food companies have become increasingly aggressive with their marketing and have successfully infiltrated the internet and social media with an abundance of information. Much of this information has no data or science to support the claims and only serves to confuse the consumer. A trip through the pet food aisle of the local pet store can leave your head spinning!
I have compiled a short list of the most common pet food diet myths that we encounter. Take a moment to consider the following.
1.) Myth: Grain free diets are the best choice for pets with allergies.
Fact: An extremely small percentage of pets with allergies are actually allergic to the grain component of their diet. In fact, allergy to food in general is much less common than environmental and flea bite allergies. If a pet is allergic to something in their diet, it is much more likely to be the protein or meat source and not the grain.
2.) Myth: Gluten is bad for pets.
Fact: While there are definitely documented issues with gluten in some human patients, this has not been found to be a widespread issue with pets. “Gluten free” diets are often more of a marketing ploy, playing on the public’s ever growing fear of gluten in their own diets.
3.) Myth: “Holistic” diets are better for my pet than standard diets.
Fact: The pet food companies are at it again. This label claim just literally means it is “healthy for the whole body.” It could mean anything or nothing at all in comparison to a non-holistic diet.
4.) Myth: Dry kibble is the best thing for my pet, because it will help keep their teeth healthy.
Fact: There is a grain of truth to this. The mechanical action of crunching dry kibble will help keep the plaque off your pet’s teeth. However, it is not a substitute for other oral hygiene practices such as brushing and dental chews. Furthermore, we have started to advise that our cat patients have some exposure to canned food, because there are conditions later in life that may be treated, at least in part, with a canned verses dry food.
5.) Myth: I should avoid a pet food diet with animal by-products.
Fact: There are actually some very stringent regulations regarding what parts of an animal can and cannot be used as an ingredient in pet food. The “by-products” referred to in an ingredient list are organ meats such as liver and heart. These parts are actually packed with nutrients and are not harmful to our pets.
These are just a few of the common myths that are promoted in commercials, internet and social media. I used to tell pet owners that you often get what you pay for when buying pet food. That isn’t always the case anymore. Unfortunately, it is now quite common to shell out a lot of money for a trendy pet food with claims that it is “holistic, grain/gluten free, and has real meat and no by-products.” Often the bulk of the company’s profits go right back into advertising to further perpetuate the above myths rather than spending much at all on research, development, and pet food safety. So what do we feed our pets? Well, it is not a simple answer, and the solution is likely different for each pet. Your veterinarian is a reliable source of information on the topic, and I encouraged you to reach out to him or her for guidance.
For more pet food resources, click here for answers to more commonly asked questions from veterinary nutrition specialists at Tufts University.