Jul 09, 2009
As I was reviewing questions at our other forum, I came across one from a user who wanted to know why most veterinarians carry Science Diet or Royal Canin or some other premium food when there are so many websites stating that these foods are bad. As I answered his concerns, I thought “this will be a great blog post…but it will be controversial!!” I do ask that you read all the way to the end before you make an assumption that I am in favor of any one product.
First, let me state that I am not affiliated with any pet food manufacturer, I receive no money from anyone who makes pet food and I don’t sell pet food. Basically, I don’t have a dog in the hunt (to use a phrase common to us back home in West Virginia).
The poster at our other forum wanted to know why veterinarians recommend Science Diet when “they have inferior ingredients and no meat in the diets”. Sadly, this person, like so many other people, have fallen prey to a variety of marketing spins and marketing schemes that continue to plague the pet food industry.
The first concern is, as usual, about using corn as an ingredient. This is one of the biggest myths and mis-understandings that continues to get perpetuated. People have a mistaken belief that because whole corn often passes through us undigested, that any corn product will do the same. Well, these companies don’t use whole corn, the corn is ground or the outer shell is removed. Corn can provide a high level of digestible complex carbohydrates, essential amino acids and important fatty acids, like linoleic acid. Also, until recently, corn was able to provide these nutrients at a price that was not unreasonable. If corn prices continue to rise because of demand for bio-fuels, we will likely see these companies move away from using corn to some other quality plant protein.
Many people believe that corn is a potent allergen and many dogs are allergic to it. Sadly, there is little evidence to back up that claim. In fact, when reviewing confirmed food allergies among dogs, corn and rice have the same number of cases (about 2.4% of all allergies). Beef, wheat, and dairy continue to be the leading reasons for food allergies. Could corn eventually rise up higher? Certainly…given it’s prevalence in many diets, it has that potential, but until your pet is proven allergic to corn through elimination diets, I wouldn’t worry about it.
I will address some of his other concerns (meat meal, by-products, fillers, etc) in other blog postings.
Many people place a lot of stock in comments posted on websites like dogfoodanalysis.com. This site, while very interesting, should be viewed as an editorial site (kinda like this blog!) and not one that provides accurate, peer-reviewed scientific information. The “experts” who rate the foods at this site are all volunteers with a “long standing interest in dog nutrition”. Notice that there is no confirmation that these folks are scientists, veterinarians or even nutritionists. Just folks who like to read about dog food. Could they have valid points? Of course, but they rely on their own intuitions and opinions instead of good solid science. And they have an agenda…promoting their theory or product.
We should also keep in mind that ANYONE can post almost anything on the Internet and very rarely are sites removed because they are incorrect. This is why the urban legend about corn not being digestible continues to be perpetuated.
We owe a lot to pet food manufacturers like Hill’s, Iams, Purina, and Royal Canin for their years and years of research that has shown us how important nutrition is to the overall health of our pets. Research that continues to this day in the form of new diets and novel formulations that will help our pets continue to live longer. If it wasn’t for Dr. Mark Morris developing the first kidney diet for the seeing-eye dog, Buddy, a lot of pets would not live as long as they now do! I personally trust these companies simply because they have put in the hours, done the dirty work, and come up with products that have allowed millions upon millions of pets to live better lives.
BUT…and here is the important part…you can spend a LOT of money on a GREAT dog food and it is absolutely worthless if your pet won’t eat it! You have to do what makes sense for you and your dog. You should work with your veterinarian to review diets and see which one meets with your pet’s satisfaction, works to keep the pet healthy (that keeps the veterinarian happy) and meets whatever other needs you as an owner have (you want to buy from local companies, brand loyalty, etc, etc). Most veterinarians will give you several recommendations to choose from, even if it means you aren’t buying food from them.
(Having said that, if your veterinarian recommends a therapeutic or prescription diet for your pet, you need to follow those guidelines for the continued health of your pet.)
Don’t be swayed by fancy labels, designer diets, or celebrity endorsements. You can find a diet that will work for you and your pet by working with your veterinarian and then, seeing how your pet responds to the food. Some pets will do great on a premium food from the big companies, others will do great eating Blue Buffalo, Taste of the Wild, or Orijen. As long as you are avoiding the generic, grocery store brands that you can buy for less than $15 for 40 or 50 lbs, you will probably do ok!
Alright…bring out the comments! I know some of you have strong feelings about this topic…