Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are those of Dr. Roger Welton and not Dogster HQ at large. We often invite people with polarizing opinions to share them on the site in the interest of starting a debate. This post has gotten a lot of attention, understandably, given how passionate we are about what we feed our dogs. Thank you for caring about this issue and for sharing your opinion.
We love our pets and want to give them the best, starting with the food we feed them. But there is an overwhelming amount of misinformation about dog foods out there, making it difficult to determine what the healthiest choice for your pet actually is. In an effort to help dog owners discern the real truth within this noise, I’ll look at a few common pet food myths –- and the facts that will debunk them.
Myth No. 1: Corn is an unhealthy ingredient in pet foods
Reality check: This is one of the most common misconceptions that I hear from my clients and even from people in the pet industry who haven’t been medically trained, such as groomers, breeders and trainers. People are led to believe that corn is unhealthy for dogs, and that it’s just a starchy filler ingredient in pet foods. I’ve also heard others link corn to food allergies and a host of other common diseases in veterinary medicine.
The truth is that corn is an invaluable source of fiber, b-complex vitamins, beta carotenes, vitamin C, vitamin E and other antioxidants –- plus amino acids and fiber. It is inexpensive to cultivate and harvest, and therefore provides a cheap source of key nutrients to keep quality pet food costs minimal. In my view, that’s a win-win for both pet food manufacturers and consumers! What about corn’s effects on the health of dogs? There is no scientific evidence that has linked corn to specific diseases in dogs, except for rare cases where the dogs are allergic to corn itself.
Myth No. 2: “Animal by-product” means the addition of abysmal nutrient sources, such as skin, hair, and hooves
Reality check: The most common animal by-products used in pet foods are organs (liver, brain, heart, kidneys, heart, etc.) and bone meal. Even though I wouldn’t necessarily want to serve those animal parts on my own dinner table, organs and bone meal are actually valuable nutrient sources filled with critical vitamins, minerals and amino acids –- for both dogs and humans! And because most people don’t find them appealing, these byproducts are ideal low-cost (and perfectly healthy) ingredients in dog and pet foods.
Myth No. 3: Veterinarians do not receive significant nutritional training and are thus not good sources for pet food recommendations
Reality check: This is one of the sillier myths I’ve heard. Many people will even ask a pet store employee about the food that’s right for their dog without even thinking to ask their veterinarian. The truth is that animal nutrition is mandatory first year course work in all AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) accredited veterinary curriculums. Nutritional training continues later in physiology course work and where we learn how food specifically relates to physiological function. Our nutritional training then continues in the form of clinical nutrition and the role nutrition can play in disease management and prevention. Your vet is perfectly well-qualified to answer any food and nutrition-related questions you have about your dog, so ask away!
Myth No. 4: “Holistic,” “all-natural,” and “corn-free” are the best criteria to select pet food
Reality check: Labels like “all-natural” are used widely to market consumer food products, and now these terms are being used to market pet foods, implying that they don’t contain processed ingredients.
However, it’s important for people to know that the terms “holistic” and “all-natural” are not official terms recognized in the pet industry. This means that the pet food governing body, the Association of American Feed Control Officials, has not established criteria to meet the standard of “holistic” pet foods. Thus, a dog food product labeling itself as “holistic” holds no significance and does not guarantee that the product is healthier for your pet. Remember, any food that is put into canned or kibble form requires processing, thus, labeling any canned or kibble diet as “all-natural” is misleading and dishonest.
Myth No. 5: Raw meat is most appropriate for dogs because that is what natural selection and evolution have dictated
Reality check: While the dog’s ancient ancestor, the wolf, is the product of natural selection, the domestic dog is not. The domestic dog did descend from the wolf, but physiologically, they are very different as a result of 100,000 years of domestication and selective breeding.
Dogs evolved with significantly less acidic gastric pH comparatively to the wolf, and thus they have less protective mechanisms to protect against raw meat pathogens and parasites. And as you may know, dogs also cannot digest large pieces of bone, even though wolves can –- this is due to differences in jaw strength, dentition (the type, number and arrangement of teeth) and gastric pH. Thus, bones are a common source of gastrointestinal obstruction and perforation for dogs, and feeding them raw meet with bones can have very harmful health effects.
Now, with the myths debunked, let’s move onto what you should be feeding your dog.
How to select the right dog food
Your single best source for seeking the best quality and appropriate pet food for your dog is your veterinarian. They can point you in the right direction and answer your specific questions. Here are some other general tips to keep in mind when picking out dog food:
- Seek life-stage appropriate foods. Be wary if a pet food label claims to be “all life stages,” as there is no diet that exists that covers the unique nutritional requirements of all life stages. On labels, “puppy” is up to one year, “adult” is one to seven years, and “senior” is seven years and older.
- Choose only diets that are AAFCO certified. Look for the AAFCO certification label on pet food packaging to confirm that it has met AAFCO’s standards for pet food.
- Be cautious if you choose to use a non-processed “all-natural” or “holistic” diet. Those foods do not use preservatives, and commonly go rancid as a result. Rancid food can irritate your dog’s gastrointestinal system, and mold growth on food could even cause death. Additionally, holistic diets tend to be too heavy in protein and too light in fiber, which places stress on the liver and kidneys.
- If your dog has an underlying disease, your veterinarian may choose disease specific nutrition for your pet. Several pet food companies offer prescription veterinary diets as an integral treatment component to disease management.
Your dog’s health starts with everyday nutrition through their food, so I hope my advice will be valuable for you the next time you’re at the store. If you have specific questions, talk to your vet –- or ask me and nearly 600 other vets through Pearl.com, where you can get personalized answers to your pet questions 24/7 from verified veterinarians.
About the author: Dr. Roger Welton, DVM, is a licensed veterinarian, president of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, Florida, and author of Canine & Feline 101. He is also a veterinary expert with Pearl.com, which offers 24/7 access to vets and other experts in 700+ fields, and hosts a show on BlogTalkRadio –- listen to episodes at his website.
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