Pet Food Myths and Facts

Pet Food Myths and Facts

MYTH: Corn is a major source of pet allergies.

FACT: Less than 3% of dogs demonstrating allergies show allergies to corn, while 58% show allergies to beef. Beef, wheat, dairy, chicken, chicken egg and lamb constitute 93% of all allergies in dogs.

MYTH: Dogs are carnivores (meat eaters).

FACT: Dogs are actually omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. They need both plant and animal material in their diets. In the wild, predators (like wild dogs and coyotes) often go for the internal organs (stomach, intestines, etc.) of their prey first, which many believe is because they are going after the plant material that has been eaten by the prey first.

MYTH: The pet food industry is well regulated.

FACT: There is very little regulation in the pet food industry and almost no quality control. It is a “buyers beware” industry, and the FDA only gets involved if there is a major incident.

MYTH: Pet food labels are good sources of information.

FACT: There is only one aspect of pet food labels that have any legal significance, and that’s the AAFCO statement. This statement should tell you two things: 1) How the diet was derived (i.e. formulated or through animal feeding studies) and 2) what life stage it was designed for. The life stages currently recognized in the pet food industry are puppy/kitten, pregnant bitch and maintenance. Diets that claim to be for “all life stages” must meet the needs of puppies or kittens and pregnant pets.

MYTH: The list of ingredients on the bag represents what is in it based on quantity (weight).

FACT: This is actually true, but because the rules are vague, companies often manipulate the system. For example, a reputable company that includes chicken would measure only the chicken meat they put into the diet. A less reputable company will include whole chicken with internal organs, bones, etc. They may even inject the chickens with water so they weigh more to move it up the list of ingredients.

MYTH: My dog loves the taste of this diet, so it must be a good diet.

FACT: There are three things that make diets palpable: sugar, salt and fats. Even though diets filled with these taste good, they can be bad for your pet’s long-term health. We all love fatty fast foods and candy bars, but we all know what happens when we eat too much of them.

MYTH: BARF (bones and raw food) diets and other raw food diets are always better than commercial diets.

FACT: There could be some benefit to a diet of freshly killed meats balanced with other nutrients, but there is no data to prove it. Unfortunately, all the commercially available raw diets go through slaughterhouses and, in turn, can have high levels of salmonella and E. coli. Dogs are susceptible to salmonella just like people are. Their digestive tracts do not kill salmonella, and if a dog is infected with salmonella, they can shed it around the house. These diets also often contain ground up bones, and ingesting these leads to high ash ingestion (calcium, phosphorus), which can lead to early kidney disease. These diets can also contain shards of bone, which can cause intestinal obstructions, fractured teeth and gastrointestinal perforation.

MYTH: Grains and carbohydrates are not digestible by domestic dogs.

FACT: Dogs are quite capable of gaining large amounts of energy from grains. Nearly 99% of the starch fraction and 60 to 84% of the protein fraction of commonly used grains is digestible in dogs. The difference is in the type of grain used. For example, corn gluten is very digestible, while whole corn is not.

MYTH: There is no difference between diets that are formulated using the AAFCO guidelines and those that have used the AAFCO feeding guidelines.

FACT: In some cases, this may be true, but there is no way of knowing. A diet of old shoes, oil, coal and water could technically be made to meet the formulated standard, but we all know it would not pass a feeding trial.

MYTH: Meat by-products in pet foods are bad and should be avoided.

FACT: By-products by definition are secondary products produced in addition to the principle product. Some common by-products we consume as humans are vitamin E, Jell-O brand gelatin and beef bouillon. Examples in pet foods are lamb meal, fish meal, salmon meal, vitamin E, chicken liver, whey, beet pulp, chicken fat, rice bran and tomato pomace. Good pet food companies will use by-products to enhance the product; lesser companies may use these as cheap substitutes or fillers.

MYTH: Organic pet food is always healthier.

FACT: Unless the pet food has the USDA label for organic diets, it is not 100% organic. Many companies will use one organic product in the formula and then claim the whole diet is organic.  If it is not outrageously expensive, it is probably not organic. That is why most companies do not have full organic lines: these foods are expensive to produce. There are new regulations in place for how foods with organic ingredients can be labeled:

  • “100% organic” – This is the USDA’s certification. Food with this label must truly be 100% organic.
  • “Organic” – The food must be at least 95% organic by weight.
  • “Made with organic ingredients” – The food must be at least 70% organic.
  • If food is less than 70% organic, it cannot be labeled organic on the main panel.

Organic does not denote quality or research, only that the ingredients used are organic.

MYTH: All-natural pet food is better.

FACT:  “All-natural” means that all the ingredients came from nature without chemical alteration.  Coal, oil, feathers and hemlock would all qualify, so calling a food “all-natural” doesn’t really mean anything. Marketing departments like buzzwords that impress us, even though they have limited value in helping us pick diets for our pets.

MYTH: Holistic pet diets are better.

FACT: There is no legal definition of holistic in the laws regulating pet foods. Any manufacturers could make claims of making “holistic” food in their literature and brochures regardless of the ingredients they use. It’s another marketing buzzword that doesn’t reflect the quality of the product.

MYTH: I bought a huge bag of dog food for a low price, so I got a great deal.

FACT: The only way to know if you got a good deal is to look at relative cost. A good example is the cost per day to feed your dog. A lot of cheaper diets add fillers and other nondigestible material to their diets to make it seem like they’re providing more food. But actually, this just equates to more feces and clean up. Good diets use ingredients that are more digestible, which minimizes feces and keeps your pet satiated.

Still need help debunking pet food myths? Talk with your Animal Health Services veterinarian.

Christopher Beauchamp