I have noticed that the subject of pet food has an extraordinary ability to get people riled up. Folks tend to have strong opinions about what pets should eat. I therefore could not resist publishing the following e-mail.
Dear Dr. Barchas,
Im writing to let you know about a report on pet foods just released by Consumer Reports Health on its website ([click here]) and in the March 2009 issue of Consumer Reports. Given the focus of your Dogster/Catster blog, I thought it might be of interest to you and your readers.
For the report, Consumer Reports asked experts at seven top veterinary schools whether pet owners should be paying a lot for fancy pet food brands, what ingredients they should be looking for, what common claims on pet-food labels really mean, and more. The bottom line: there isnt scientific evidence that pricier foods are better, or that cheap food can make pets sick. Consumers should pay more attention to the nutrient profile of the food than the price, and the health, age and lifestyle of their pets have a lot to do with whats best.
Details about these findings and a lot more information about pet food can be found on the Consumer Reports Health website: [click here] . . .
Mr. Selker attached a press release to the e-mail. I have a hunch that readers may have a few things to say about some parts of it. For instance:
Be careful when making your own pet food. Most experts said they hadnt seen a pet get sick from inexpensive food; however, half said they had seen pets become ill from eating homemade pet food, a growing trend since the 2007 recall of some commercial pet food contaminated by melamine. Dogs and cats each require about 40 different nutrients in very specific proportions, so pet owners who insist on making their own pet food should consider enlisting a nutritionist certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition . . .
Consider your pets age. Age-specific food is very important for puppies, kittens, and pregnant pets, who have especially stringent nutritional needs. Foods labeled either for growth or for all life stages meet those needs. Foods for maintenance are for healthy adult animals only. Senior is a marketing term, not a nutritional term.
Weigh the costs and benefits of wet versus dry food. Theres no nutritional difference between wet and dry pet food, but there is a cost difference. Wet foods contain about 75 percent water, so pets need more to get the same calories, and that makes wet food more expensive per serving.
[Regarding interpreting claims on pet food labels:] Grain-free. Protein in the product comes from nongrain sources (perhaps for people who want pets to eat more animal protein). Its unclear whether theres any benefit to a diet high in animal protein.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that Consumer Reports did a great deal to damage its credibility in my mind (and in the mind of basically every veterinarian in America) when it published an article on veterinary services several years back.
The article, as I remember it, recommended that people seek the cheapest possible health care for their pets. It ignored the fact that cost of care may be related to quality of care. Many vets (including me) interpreted the article as advocating that people cut corners when seeking medical care for their pets.
Given the rocky relationship between vets and Consumer Reports, I can’t blindly sign off on this most recent article. But I encourage you to read it and offer your thoughts.