In spite of a strong movement towards increased knowledge of pet care, many pet parents are still confused and misinformed about pet nutrition, a PetMD survey has concluded.
It’s not difficult to figure out the source of misinformation when you read some of the misconceptions. The Internet is rife with people who represent themselves as experts in pet nutrition, when in fact they are misinformed or deliberately trying to frighten pet parents. Shocking and scaring people brings website traffic and sells books, products and subscriptions. There is much to be concerned about when it comes to pet food, but a considerable amount of the information provided online is simple fear mongering.
The survey’s key findings include:
- Misunderstood Terms: A majority of survey respondents said they believe that animal hair, teeth and hooves are included in meat by-products, when in fact, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) expressly prohibits these body parts from being included in a by-product used in pet food.
- The Importance of Feeding Trials: While the majority of pet owners look to the label to learn about ingredients, they fail to look for other key quality information. According to the PetMD survey, only 22 percent of respondents check to see if the diet has undergone a feeding trial. All AAFCO approved pet foods must display a statement indicating how the pet food manufacturer determined that particular diet would meet the needs of pets. This can be done in one of two ways: via a computer program or by actually feeding the food to dogs or cats. According to Coates, “feeding trials are a far superior method for determining whether or not pets will thrive on a particular diet.”
- Misidentifying Potential Allergies: More than 40 percent of respondents cited grain ingredients as the most common allergens in pet food, with more than 30 percent specifically implicating corn. However, some studies have shown that the protein or meat source in pet food is far and away the biggest culprit1.
- An Under-appreciation of Balanced Nutrition: 69 percent of respondents recognized that protein is a key nutrient for pets, yet only 2 percent named fats, 3 percent named carbohydrates, and less than 25 percent named vitamins and minerals. “To satisfy all the nutritional needs of dogs and cats, pet foods must provide all of these ingredients in the right balance,” states Dr. Jennifer Coates, a spokesperson for PetMD. “Too much of one or too little of another can be harmful to a pet’s health.
- Skepticism of Label Accuracy: More than 70 percent of pet owners surveyed believe pet food labels do not list all of the ingredients; however, AAFCO regulations mandate that every ingredient contained within a pet food be included in the ingredient list, in order from the biggest to the smallest contributor, by weight.
Pet parents have learned to be wary of information supplied by pet food companies. Now it’s time we learned to be wary of the other dark side of the pet industry: the people who profit from frightened, loving pet parents.
It’s easy to get caught up in the outrage and believe the big, bad pet industry is out to squeeze every dime out of consumers, even if it means hurting animals. While that may be true of some companies, one has to consider that it simply isn’t profitable to manufacture food that would harm pets. It isn’t worth the risk of losing the trust of pet parents. Any pet food company with an ounce of business sense knows that. Certainly there are some companies that have acted irresponsibly and without ethics, but that is true of any industry. Obviously, we have to avoid products manufactured by those companies.
Finding Solid Pet Nutrition Information
- Due diligence – We encourage you to question everything you read about pet nutrition. Research every fact using reputable (preferably neutral) sources of information whenever possible. If the information is supplied by a pet food company, you need to separate the sales pitch to get the full story. If the source seems more intent on ranting and conspiracy theories than providing solid proof, keep researching. If they tell you everyone is out to get us, including regulators, veterinarians, and entire industries, their paranoia is getting a tad out of hand, or they’re trying to convince you they’re the only one you can trust.
- Be aware that information may be out of date, including books, videos, and studies. There are also online personalities that don’t want to update the information they provide because they think it will make it appear as though they were wrong before.
- While it’s true that Veterinarians aren’t always experts on pet nutrition, they’re still our best source of information about what’s best for our pets. Please don’t allow Internet paranoia to discourage you from trusting your Vet. If your Veterinarian isn’t providing satisfactory information, find another one who understands things like the carno-omnivorous scientific classification of dogs, and other current information.
- If you make your own pet food, it is even more crucial that you understand pet nutrition. There is no reason why you can’t learn everything you need to know to provide a healthy, balanced diet, but you must research reputable sources of information.
The bottom line is, to become a truly educated consumer we have to keep a level head.
Have you been a victim of misinformation about pet nutrition? Please share what you’ve learned in the comments below.
1 Carlotti DN, Remy I, Prost C. Food allergy in dogs and cats. A review and report of 43 cases. Vet Dermatol 1990;1:55-62.
Chesney CJ. Food sensitivity in the dog: a quantitative study. J Sm Anim Pract 2002;43:203-207.
Batchelor, D. J. Sodium/Glucose Cotransporter-1, Sweet Receptor, and Disaccharidase Expression in the Intestine of the Domestic Dog and Cat: Two Species of Different Dietary Habit. 2010.
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