The U.S. pet food industry is big business, with sales exceeding $31 billion in 2019, which is more than the cost of veterinary care. With so much money up for grabs, pet-food marketing helps drive business toward certain brands. With that marketing, comes confused pet owners about what is best for their pets. Read on as we dispel the five most common myths regarding nutrition for pets.
Myth #1: Veterinarians receive kickbacks from certain pet food companies
This may be the most frustrating myth for veterinarians, because it undermines pet owners’ faith in their veterinarians and is, unfortunately, hard to dispel. Three major pet food companies—Hills, Purina, and Royal Canin—are routinely accused of this behavior, because these are the “big three” pet-food brands veterinarians routinely recommend, although never for financial gain. Veterinarians recommend these three manufacturers because they are responsible for most of the research and development in pet nutrition, employ many veterinary and PhD nutritionists, and are dedicated to the ongoing health and wellness of all pets, from the young and healthy to the old or sick.
Myth #2: Grain-free food is better for my pet
Grain-free is a buzzword that has been circulating around pet food for the past few years. Pet owners have been turning away from traditional pet-food brands and embracing dietary brands with claims such as “wild,” “allergy-free,” and “fillers” that evoke feelings of a wild wolf pack. Unfortunately, more money has been spent marketing these brands than researching the nutritional benefit of their claims. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has recently been investigating a possible link between grain-free pet food and heart disease in dogs. The truth is, grains aren’t detrimental to our domesticated pets. Like humans, their gastrointestinal tracts have evolved and they can digest foods such as corn and wheat without any issues. Gluten intolerance is another hot-button issue in human nutrition being transferred to pets, but dogs are highly unlikely to be gluten-allergic. Proteins are the leading cause of food allergies in dogs and cats.
Myth #3: Raw food is safe and healthy for pets
As with grain-free food, raw food for pets is based more on a marketing gimmick than facts or research. Unfortunately, raw food can potentially cost more than the price on the package. Raw pet food can carry dangerous bacteria that normally would be killed off during the cooking process, and has been responsible for several illnesses in pets and people. The pathogenic bacteria can be dangerous for human family members who come in contact with the dog who recently ate raw food, other people’s hands, or household counters and dishes that the bacteria can contaminate. Children, the elderly, and immunocompromised people are especially at risk of illness from contaminated raw pet food.
Myth #4: Vegan diets are safe for pets
First and foremost, cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they simply cannot survive without meat protein. Dogs, on the other hand, are omnivores, and more tolerant of plant-based diets than cats. However, any changes to a diet that the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has not approved should be made only under the direction of a veterinary nutritionist. AAFCO’s role is ensuring that manufactured pet food meets the minimum requirements of vitamins, minerals, and trace supplements that healthy pets need. Look for AAFCO’s endorsement on the pet-food package.
Myth #5: Pets want variety in their diet
Many pet owners rotate food type, flavor, and style to keep their pet from getting bored, but pets have far fewer, less-nuanced flavor receptors than humans’ taste buds, and variety has little importance for them.
Food variety comes into play when pets have food allergies. Diagnosis and treatment of food allergies in dogs is through an elimination diet, and dogs who have eaten many different foods have too many options for a food trial. Also, a dog or cat who requires a prescription food for a medical issue will likely need that food forever, and too much variety may encourage picky eaters who won’t want their prescription food.
Many pet owners are willing to buy expensive food to keep their pets healthy and to help ensure a long life. However, marketers use that to their advantage and try to convince owners to spend money on pet food that isn’t healthy. Our veterinary team is your best source of nutrition advice, so give us a call if you have any questions about your pet’s brand of food and her nutritional requirements.