Thomas Dock, CVJ, Vet. Technician  
Male, 54
Indianapolis, IN

Interests: animals, Reading (sci-fi and fantasy)
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Back to those pesky pet food myths...

Jul 09, 2009 - 14 comments

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…

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874521 tn?1424120397
by opus88, Jul 09, 2009
I do agree alot with what ur saying........most pet foods are basically the same ingredients and unless there is an allergy to a specific ingredient the majority are good foods with alot of research money put into them.
With the exception of some of the cheaper generic grocery store brands as u say.
We all have to read beyond the claims in any product, human or animal related.
The reason I've chosen to feed a brand with no grain products is mainly d/t an allergy to such.
Its a risk with any brand of foods as we don't know where 'they' are purchasing the ingredients and what chemicals are added along the way..........
We all love our pets and all want to do what is best for them, its sometimes hard to read behind the hype.
thanks for the suggestions.

Avatar universal
by Dr. Carol Osborne, DVMBlank, Jul 09, 2009
I agree with Toms thoughts. As a veterinarian for many years, I have become more and more holistic and as a result have alot of success with my patients using home-made diets and organic natural supplements to balance the diet. Unfortunately regulation is lacking for quality control on commercial pet foods and loving owners are leary at this point.

I just received this note today from a cat owner who had experienced a nightmere with Nutro cat Food and want to share this with you.

I've purchased Nutro Complete Care cat food for years.  Most of my purchases have been with Petco.  I buy two big bags at a time and empty them into a container to prevent other critters (raccoons) from getting into the food. We have no physical evidence anymore because once we found out about the recall; I emptied the container into the trash and bought different food.  We have four cats, two indoor and two outdoor.  Outdoor kitty's ages 12 and 13 years: Indoor kitties are 7 years old identical twins which I bottle fed from three weeks old.

One of my outdoor cats was sick, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, no appetite and looked jaundice.  I took him into the vet and left him for treatment.  I didn't know about the recall of Nutro food at this time.  As I was sadly talking about how sick my kitty was, someone asked me what food I was feeding them.  She told me about the Nutro recall but it was too late for my big boy. Unfortunately, Chewy lost the fight the next day.  I told the vet about the food but at the time he felt, the condition, which was liver disease, could have been a result of the cat’s age (as uncommon as it is).  I didn't agree but let it go. I began to notice one of my 7 year old twins not eating.  Then the vomiting started, weight loss and the cycle was repeating it self.  I took her into the vet yesterday and was diagnosed with the same condition as Chewy.  The only humane thing to do was to say goodbye to my little bundle of love.

I called Nutro but they take the stance “no responsibility without proof”. They want lab work that shows the Zinc level.  Since I stopped feeding them this poison about three weeks ago, the only way to get this information is to autopsy or take a liver sample. Very expensive procedures to prove they killed my pets!!

I've lost two loving family cats 12 and 7 years, so far.  My Vet bills are over one thousand dollars thus far and I'm praying I don't lose the remaining two.

Surely there are two sides to every story... this note touched my heart.

Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM

746512 tn?1388811180
by Tammy2009, Jul 09, 2009
I do believe the distance between lower grade and higher-grade pet food is increased (this is not including generic grocery brands either! science diet, iams, nutro vs wellness, acana, go & now, horizon and the like).  The second group of foods do not use vegetable sources of protein (or to a low degree because most grains have some sort of protein in them), instead using easier to digest animal sources of protein.  

They also have a variety of ingredients versus most of the other foods that only use corn and chicken (sometimes will have rice, wheat or pork as well).  

Thirdly, instead of having to add in all the vitamins and minerals in large doses (which I do not believe are stable enough to last the 1-2 years the shelf life says, but I have no proof for this, just advanced biochemistry & organic chemistry courses), vegetables and fruits are added.  We know so little about nutrition even for our own species, how do we know we are adding in the right cofactors to have the body properly absorb the vitamins?  Chelated minerals are also easier and more readily available for the body and not all foods utilize that.  ..... Nutrience dog food has ONE mineral chelated just so they can boost about it. The better foods are also now adding in probiotic cultures, digestive enzymes (maybe necessary, maybe not) and botanicals which should help the overall health of the animals.  

Now for personal experience, my older cat got arthritis at age 9-10 (was on science diet at that time, joints got worse and worse every winter), starting to slow down and was very cranky and uncomfortable.  She also was dehydrated once at the vet and he wanted me to have her eat hills canned k/d only because her kidneys might be starting to be affected.  Lucky us, she would not touch the food!!  So she started getting dry and wet food (mmmmm fancy feast and whiskas pocuhes) When she was 13-14 I started working at a pet store and realized that food was not all equal and spent hours researching food before settling on Wellness dry (that or royal canin were the only cat food with glucosamine at that time) and a combination of eagle pack, wellness, merrick and natural balance cans for suppertime.  We also added in zuke hip action glucosamine treats (not pilling my cat for $100 a mouth when a $5 bag of treats lasts the same amount of time).  Smokey's pain decreased dramatically on the treats but she wasn't too fond of them, no treats and kept the food.  Energy levels, awareness has put her back to where she was when she was 6-7.  

Now Smokey at age 17 passed her senior screen with perfect values and is on a mixture of Go natural chicken and acana pacificia (due to my kitten reacting to the barley in the wellness, but loving it so no wellness in our house :( oh well).  Thus there is no added glucosamine to my old girl and her arthritis is basically gone, once in a while she limps when it is cold but nothing like it was at age 10.  

Now, what else could have caused the change in behaviour and health other than a better quality of food?  And yes I argue with my vet every time I see him about food and that we needs to do some research into the new companies.

tammy:  If I understand your post correctly, it sounds like the research you did and the changes you made in your cat's diet have worked wonders for your pet.  I am sorry that your veterinarian is not more supportive, especially given the abundance of evidence that Smokey is in good health.   Veterinarians and owners need to be partners in their pet's healthcare, not adversaries.

You are also right about more research...we don't come close to understanding how all of the minerals and vitamins, etc fit together in a diet.   That is one thing that I like about the bigger companies, like Hill's, Iams and even Purina.   They have the resources to continue this line of investigation and potentially do something helpful.   They created diets that were much better than what our pets were eating 60-70 years ago and they will continue to produce better and more nutritionally adequate diets as we find out more information.

Smaller companies are also helping by creating newer and unique recipes that provide options for pets and their owners.  While I can't say that all of these start up companies are doing great things, there are several who have shown great results and future promise.  

746512 tn?1388811180
by Tammy2009, Jul 09, 2009
Oops, forgot to add.  Corn is not a bad ingredient, just not the best to use.  Corn is high in protein especially when corn gluten meal is used.  It also is not the easiest to digest (possible when processed, ie ground corn, just not the best) and thus I only have problems when reading bags of food and you see chicken meal, ground corn, ground brown rice, corn gluten meal.  

Hmmm where is the protein coming from?  yes some is from chicken and the rest is probably a mixture of the corn gluten and rice.  Corn gluten is a cheaper source of protein than using protein sources.  

A book I just recently found that basially has everything I have learned from researching in the last three years all wrapped up in one book is Dr Pitcairn's complete guide to natural health care for dogs and cats.  The only part that doesn't make sense is the chapter about cats and fasting.  


931864 tn?1283486061
by Brian C Hurley, D.V.M.Blank, Jul 09, 2009
Food discussions are very difficult.  Like Tom, I do trust the premium foods on the market and appreciate the time, money and effort companies like Hill's, Purina, Iams and Royal Canin put into researching their foods.  They attempt to formulate diets with the highest possible nutritional value for the pet.  They feed these foods to dogs and cats and monitor parameters to ensure the food is achieving the desired effect.  They may not be perfect but only the best intentions go into formulating their diets and the pet is all they have in mind.

I am one who will not stand on a podium and preach about diets.  Tom hits the nail on the head when he states, "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."  As veterinarians, we are advocates for pets and I feel it is my responsibility to educate owners and make recommendations.  Ultimately, the pet owner needs to take this information and do what they feel is best for their pet.  It is not my decision to make.  This is why I became part of PetDocsOnCall and now MedHelp.  I feel I can give the pet owner valuable information and share experiences that is helpful but I would not attempt to force my opinions or experiences on anyone.

I am glad to see the discussion on nutrition and the diversity in thoughts.  We all share a commonality that nutrition is important no matter which path you choose for your pet.

As doctors, we are teachers and we can only hope our students are better pet owners because of the information and care we offer for your pets.

390388 tn?1279639813
by Me967, Jul 09, 2009
Hi.  Great topic again.  

I just wanted to add one comment onto this that I feel is VERY important.  When all of the recalled food actually hit the news my two dogs were already sick.  I lost them both.  I feed my animals Eukanuba, Bill Jack and Rx foods in which is not my point.  My point is, I found out too late.  

Ok what I wanted to add was...... I think it is important for everyone to get on the FDA recall listing.  I think the link is:
https://service.govdelivery.com/service/subscribe.html?code=USFDA_48     or if that is wrong, then just go to the FDA site.  

It is a FREE service that the FDA has.  Then anything that is recalled you get an email from them right away.  You will be amazed with *how many* things (food and drugs) that are recalled that never make the news!  

P. S.  By the way.....no I do not work for them.  I just always want to be prepared and know hand.  I have been on the list ever since my babies got sick.

Avatar universal
by enzymelover, Jul 09, 2009
I will agree that a definite deciding factor in what you feed your pet depends on what that pet chooses, or refuses to eat!
After reading about the research and nutritional experiments of Francis Pottenger (The Pottenger Cat Study), I tried feeding my cat a variety of raw, organic meats and cod liver oil. (not exclusively)  She would have none of it. She seemed to find it disgusting. I gave her back her Iams and she was a happy cat.
Incidentally, would any vet like to comment on the Pottenger Study? I think it's fascinating research.

Avatar universal
by Haddock_Entrap_Propulasion , Jul 10, 2009
Corn, in and of itself, may be fine, but i wouldn't feed an omnivorous human the corn that is on the market today, let alone a theoretically carnivorous dog or cat.  While corn is generally not an allergen, corn that, for example, is modified to produce bt toxin, has a much higher allergy rate in humans, and again, we're actually -designed- to eat the stuff, at least sometimes.  Now, at the moment, I am not financially equipped to practice what I preach, but if I could afford it, my cats would be eating meat or fish, not anything with corn in it, because they're carnivores, and not designed to eat corn, whether or not they can digest it, I really doubt it's the best thing for them.  

746512 tn?1388811180
by Tammy2009, Jul 10, 2009
To Kage_no_Taren

Spend some time in your local pet store looking at the food, you would be surprised about how close some of the food prices are now between lower grade and higher grade.  Our cheapest cat food at the pet store I work at (not including the stupid grocery ones our owner started to carry) is one of the best brand, Horizon.  I believe this is because Acana and Hoizon are local for us (living in alberta), since acana is albertan and horizon is saskatchewan made.

nice food
Horizon - 17.5 ib bag is $40.99
Acana - 17.5ib bags are $41-47

lower grade
Science Diet - 20 ib bags are all $60-65
Iams - 15-20ib (don't remember what they are) are roughly $50-60

675347 tn?1365464245
by ginger899, Jul 14, 2009
I'd just like to mention something about 'corn not being digestible'. My dog LOVES corn, and I know it is good for dogs. But however she once was fed corn niblets whole, and had the most terrible digestive upset. She had vomiting, diarrhea, (profusely), and was quite ill for 24 hours, so badly that I had to take her to the vet. Once the corn was out of her system, and she had been fasted for a day she was ok.
I figured out what was wrong. Dogs can't chew the way we do. Those corn niblets (whole), don't break down inside them. At the best, they just come out exactly the same as when they went in! It must have been like having a bellyfull of stones!
So I cook the corn, then grind it well before adding it to her food, and she is perfectly happy on that. No upsets.

506791 tn?1439846583
by Piparskeggr, Jul 18, 2009
Probably the sweetness, but all of my cats love (have loved ,-) the water from canned corn.  Once in awhile I'll give them a few (3 or 4) kernels as a treat.

One cat we had (Dancer) loved chewing on carrot shreds.

Otherwise, all our kitties have done well on Purina or Friskies dry and wet foods.  We tried introducing them to Science Diet on the recommendation of our vet at the time, mixing it in with their usual, but they picked out the SD and would only eat the usual "mega brand" food.  We'd find the SD mini-nuggets all over the house, the girls liked them as bat-bat toys. ,-)  Never have tried any of the grocery/big box store brands.

Occasionally, we'll share some people food meats with them, Hildiekatt is especially fond of beef, Kestrel and Chesapeake like pork; all three like chicken and some sorts of fish.  Teia, we don't know yet, as until 4 weeks ago she didn't eat canned cat food, just dry.  Now, she's sitting near her bowl at mealtimes and talks to me until she has her portion.

My wife and I have never done a lot of research, but feeding with the above brands have helped all our cats grow to good size (14+ pounds with frame to match [save Dancer, who was never bigger than half that]), kept/keeps all our girls healthy and with good longevity (16 - 21 years so far on our past companions, save Dancer who died of anaphylaxsis at 6 1/2).

So, no empiric information here, just anecdotal...go with what your animal will eat from amongst what will keep them healthy.

My couple pennies worth - Pip

974381 tn?1248030089
by lucysmom59, Jul 19, 2009
My dog (a 12 year old female Vizsla, adverage weight 52 pounds) Lucy's kidneys started to fail. I recently bought her some treats called "Canine Carry Outs - Grillers made with real chicken" by Del Monte. There was a sale on the treats buy one get one free, so I thought I would treat my dog. Lucy oved the treats and I gave her a couple of them every day. Since getting the treats she lost 6 pounds in a 2 month time frame and started throwing up and drinking allot of water. I took her to the Vet and microalbuminuria ( damage to the kidney ) was the result of her urine test. My Vet can't say for sure if the treats were the culprit .... but Lucy's health started going down hill just after she started getting the treats. She gets no more treats and she now seems to be on the mend...I hope! I am now feeding her Halo Spot's Stew Holistic Pet Food and some people food.

675347 tn?1365464245
by ginger899, Dec 15, 2011
I know this is an old blog, but I just re-discovered it.
My dog was recently (2-3 months ago) diagnosed with very early stage renal failure. Her Creatinine and Urea nitrogen were both slightly elevated, but no other bad things going on in her bloodwork.
She had started drinking more, and sometimes wetting the bed. Otherwise she was full of energy, eating well, and seemed totally well.
So the vet and I decided to give this the works from day 1. He prescribed Royal Canin renal prescription diet (both dry and canned) he tried a month course of antibiotics (in case of any possible sub-clinical infection going on. I areed to try this even though the vet didn't think it would make much difference. And ACE inhibitors to encourage better renal blood flow.
Well I wasn't immediately impressed when I read the ingredients on her R.C. diet food! She had been used to good wholesome dry food, plus home cooked meats and vegetables.
It upset me for day that I would now -when she surely needed high-class nutrition -had to start feeding her what I considered to be "junk dog-food" ! I started researching wildly to come up with healthier options, maybe a home cooked diet...I got terribly confused by a lot of contradictions I was reading on this and that website....
I had a consultation with a qualified veterinary nutritionist.
She had no axe to grind. She didn't work for Royal Canin, or have any agendas. She then explained to me the NEED for a diet like this, and how it was especially balanced for the unusual dietary requirements of a dog with weakened kidney function. That a dog like that COULDN'T eat what a normal  dog with normal kidney function could! However, she did say that now and again I could give my dog a scrambled egg, or some boiled chicken breast.

I decided to really give the Royal Canin a try.
The vet said she might not like it as it is very bland.
I opened the pack of dry and sniffed it. It smelled very good! I then opened the can and sniffed it and that smelled good too. My dog wolfs it down with no problem. She likes it.
Wow! My dog's energy improved  (and she was pretty brilliant before for her age!) But the diet certainly didn't seem to be doing her any harm. She showed no signs of being undernourished or lacking energy in any way.
So I watch her carefully. And I watch her energy levels, and keep an eye open for a wet bed now and again. Right....if she has ONLY the diet, she doesn't wet the bed, and her energy is fine. If (as I do occasionally just to add variety to her food) I give her chicken breast.....although she enjoys it, early the next morning she will have an "accident" even though I have taken her to pee twice before bed, and she has drunk the same amount of water.
I figure that the little bit extra Nitrogenous waste produced by the protein from the chicken causes her kidneys to produce more urine to flush it out.

On the diet that doesn't happen.

Well, that is what I have observed anyway. I have put my emotions and prejudices about commercial dog food on hold
I know all dogs are different, and all stages of kidney failure are not the same, and require different approaches. But all I can say is my dog is doing fine on Royal Canin Renal prescription diet.

By the way, at her last bloodwork, her Creatinine and Urea had both come down to borderline "High Normal". So far, so good.

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