Busting common myths about pet food and nutrition
Many pet parents make decisions about pet foods based not on facts, but on the many common myths and misconceptions that prevail. As a responsible pet parent, it is important to understand the science behind the food and nutritional requirement of your furry friends.
Myth: The Ingredient list is a right approach to determine the quality of a pet food
Truth: Ingredient lists are commonly used by people to determine the quality of pet foods, but this approach has many pitfalls and can be subjected to intentional manipulation by the pet-food manufacturer. Ingredients are listed on labels in order of weight, including water, so ingredients with high water content (like fresh meats and vegetables) are listed before similar amounts of dry ingredients, even though they may contribute fewer nutrients overall.
It is important to understand the difference between ingredients and nutrients. Ingredients are the raw materials in a diet that are vehicles to deliver nutrients and these nutrients are absorbed in the body for the growth and development of cats and dogs. Foods full of great-sounding ingredients can be less nutritious than those containing less appealing (to pet parents) ingredients. Some manufacturers may add ingredients to products solely for marketing purposes, to increasethe appeal of the food to consumers. Make sure that your pet is obtaining a complete and balanced meal in right amount of with theexact level of natural antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins.
Myth: Home-cooked foods are healthier for my pet than pre-packaged products
Truth: Home-cooked foods allow more control of ingredients and can be customized as per your pet’s specific taste. But most homecooked food recipes are not formulated by a qualified veterinary nutritionist and may be deficient in multiple essential nutrients, making them much less nutritious than prepackaged pet foods. Even when the recipe is nutritionally balanced, there is no evidence that the average animal receives better nutrition from a home-cooked food than a pre-packaged food. Pre-packaged pet foods offer the best nutrition with convenience and affordability for a lot of pet parents.
High-quality pre-packaged pet foods have been tested over decades to provide adequate and balanced nutrition for dogs and cats. Except for some pets with multiple or severe health concerns, there is a pre-packaged food that is appropriate for every pet, and nutritional deficiency diseases are rare in pets who are fed good quality pre-packaged products.
In 2013, a study looking at 200 homeprepared diets for dogs found that over 95% were deficient in one or more essential nutrients. The nutritional adequacy of recipes for 67 home-prepared diets for dogs and cats with chronic kidney disease has been evaluated, and assumptions were needed for the preparation of every recipe. Lack of clear instructions likely increases variability and potentially impacts the nutritional profile of the prepared diet. Combined with problems of nutritional adequacy, this may result in substantial harm to pets when homeprepared diets are used on a long-term basis In general, many home-prepared diets are costly, more time-consuming to prepare, and less convenient than are pre-packaged diets, and many home-prepared diets have major nutritional imbalances.
Myth: Feeding my pet raw food will help with proper nutrients
Truth: Despite anecdotal reports from pet parents and even some veterinarians, there is currently no evidence that raw foods offer any benefits over cooked ones. Pets who eat contaminated raw foods have been demonstrated to shed viable pathologic organisms in their feces, and contaminate the area where they shed.
In addition to food safety concerns, nearly all home-prepared raw diets and many commercially available raw products are deficient in essential nutrients. It is also common for commercial raw products to be very high in fat, which may become a health hazard. Putting your pet on a raw food diet comes with risks to both the pet and the people living in the household, says Alison Meindl, DVM, a veterinarian and professor at Colorado State University. Some of the risks of a raw diet include:
Bacterial infection – Compared to cooked diets, raw diets are more likely to be contaminated with bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli, which can make your dog seriously ill. But even if your dog doesn’t get sick, he could shed bacteria into your household, which could then get picked up by another pet or human.”These infectious organisms can be very dangerous to immune compromised people living in the household with the dog,” Meindl says. This can include elderly people, young children, and people on immuno suppressive medication such as chemotherapy.
Nutritional deficiency– “Many raw diets are also not nutritionally balanced and healthy. Unless formulated by an expert in veterinary nutrition, these diets can lead to malnutrition and health problems,” McKenzie says.
Injury from bones – Bones are often a part of raw diets, but they may not be safe for dogs. Dogs can break their teeth while chewing on bones and shards of bone can pierce their intestines or cause blockages Larsen says. In some cases, these injuries can be life-threatening.
The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) conducted a study to screen 196 samples of commercially available raw dog and cat food. Of the 196 raw pet food samples analyzed, 15 were positive for Salmonella and 32 were positive for L. monocytogenes.
Myth: Grain-free diets are superior to pet foods containing grains
Truth: Whole grains, rather than fillers, contribute to valuable nutrients including protein,vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and fibre to foods while helping to keep the fat and calories lower as compared to other animal products. Even refined grains such as white rice and corn can have beneficial health implications depending on the type of food and the pet. Dogs and cats can efficiently digest and use nutrients from grains. Allergies to grains (and even to animal proteins such as chicken, beef, and dairy) are actually very uncommon in dogs and cats. It is becoming more common in the saturated pet food market for manufacturers to perpetuate myths to sell products and increase market share.
Grain-free foods are often an example of this strategy. Many such products merely substitute highly refined starches such as those from potatoes or tapioca in place of grains. These ingredients often provide fewer nutrients and less fibre than whole grains while costing more at the same time. Whole grains provide an important nutritional resource for your dog, including B-group vitamins, iron, magnesium, selenium, carbohydrates for energy, and fibre to aid in digestion.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has opened an investigation into the development of dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs who are fed grain-free diets. They have found that with the 1100+ dogs studied, 90% of the products fed were labeled as grain-free diets.
Your veterinarian should be consulted regarding the best dietary choices for your pet, “Take your Pet to the Vet” an initiative by Royal Canin to create awareness about preventative care of pets and make an informed choice