So you have to pick a food and you want the best! How do you decide? There is a plethora of advice out there from the Internet to your groomer. Then you must wade through the fact from the fiction when it comes to the very clever marketing that can be seen on the TV and in pet stores. “But of course the sales person at the pet store, well they know the truth. Right?” Well maybe. Remember that most employees at a pet store know the spiel they have been taught by food companies or the company they work for. Most will not have a degree in nutrition or animal husbandry. They sell a product just like the lady at the perfume counter in Sears sells her wears. Sorry I know that last statement will ruffle some feathers but it is fact. For some reason people take adversity from getting nutritional advice from their veterinarian. “Well they are just trying to sell me their food!” That is what I hear all the time! And yet people are willing to take advice from the sales person at x & y pet store – what do you think they are trying to do? Or from their pet’s hairdresser? And then I wonder, why wouldn’t anyone want to take advice from the veterinarian? Someone who has spent years training and learning about your pet’s biochemistry and anatomy; someone who knows how nutrition prevents and helps treat diseases? So here is my advice. But just so you are aware I will NOT discuss brands. I will not tell you which food I love to feed my pets. I am not here to sell you a food but to sell you nutrition and to help you wade through the chaos and pick your pets food with confidence, whether it is from a pet food store or a veterinary hospital. IF you are the type of person who says to himself, or herself, “I don’t have time for this, just tell me what to buy.” Stop by our practice and we will give you options based on your pet’s breed, age, weight, and health status. For everyone else…here goes……..
- What is the age of your pet? Puppy/Kitten? Senior? Adult? – If you see “For All Life Stages” walk away! There is no way they can make a diet that fits the nutritional needs of all life stages – the diet will be either lacking for the growing stage or have excess for another.
- Does your pet have a medical condition or a specific breed that is prone to certain diseases? Skin issues? Dental issues? Obesity prone? Lucky Winston gets to tick yes to all three of these! So I want a diet that will help me with these issues. For Winston I want a low calorie, high fiber diet that can help his teeth. BE AWARE – dental products are all the rage – so if it says it helps the teeth ask…”HOW?” Also you can check on the VOHC web page. http://www.vohc.org/ This is a group of veterinary dentist who look at studies to see if a product actually helps the teeth or not. YES food companies can claim something helps the teeth without proving it. Now also take note that the VOHC doesn’t look at nutritional content, just the dental claim. Winston does not have food allergies but Atopy (like hay fever) so I am not worried about which protein but do want a diet that has a good level of the essential fatty acids, though I am happy to supplement those as that is an easy step!
- Has the food been “live fed”? What this means is that once the recipe has been determined, does the food company take the time and money to actually feed it to dogs and cats and measure biological response to the diet. It is always great that a computer says that a diet is balanced but the real test is inside the pet. Can they absorb the nutrients?
- Since on the topic…check out the scientific trials! I hear too often that people are feeding their pet from a local food company. That is great but did they do the science? Most small local companies do not have the money to do this. If your pet is eating one brand of food it better be balanced and scientific testing is the only way to know. I have heard of one local company that switched from making steel products to dog food because they could make more money. I ask myself what do they know about nutrition? What testing do they do? From what I can tell is that they know the market and are producing an all natural, grain free, meat first, diet because this is the market trend. But this does not mean it is balanced. Always check the scientific trials and make sure the food does what it claims to do.
- Where does the company get their ingredients? How do they test their ingredients to ensure they are pure? And how do they inform you if something changes in the diet? Melamine – That is all I need to say that shows that the ingredient source and purity is vital! Don’t remember the melamine toxicity of 2007? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_pet_food_recalls
- Is the food guaranteed? Will they take it back for a full refund if your pet has an issue? In 2007 one company stood behind their food during the melamine crisis. They were no more responsible than any of the other hundreds of food companies affected. But this company paid to test all pets eating their affected foods; they paid to treat all affected pets; and those pets whose kidney function was not returned to 100% they treated for the rest of the pet’s life. NOW that is a company that stands behind their food!
WHAT? You are now asking yourself. What about the protein? What about the corn? What about the by-products? Sorry guys but this is the marketing web that we have fallen into. You don’t have to feed corn but I would NOT cross a diet off my list because it is there. The myth is that corn is a filler and has no nutritional value. In truth it contains antioxidants, vitamin A & B, selenium and zinc and when ground can be a great carbohydrate. Remember when you choose a grain free diet it does not mean it is starch free. But grains cause allergies? In fact grains have been shown to be no more allergic than any other ingredient. The grain free diets are being heavily marketed as that is what the trend is in human nutrition. “Ok well what about by-products – That cannot be good!” The great wizards of the advertising world jumped on this word some time ago and they changed people’s beliefs. The myth is that by-product means low quality not safe. This term classifies an ingredient; it dose not say anything about the quality or the nutritional value of the ingredient! By-products are just a secondary product to the principle product. Do you every by the bagged broccoli slaw? It is a by-product. What about salami? Or Wheat Bran? Or liver? All are considered by products. So the word itself tells us nothing, so once again it is important to know where the company sources it’s ingredients.
“Ok but I was told that my pet food is the same as brand X and I checked the guaranteed analysis and they are the same.” This only gives you the minimum and maximum levels NOT the actual levels of nutrient in the food. So if a particular nutrient says 10% maximum then it could be 1% or 10 % but NOT over 10%. And if it say 5% minimum then it could be 5% or 95%, or anywhere in between, but not less than 5%.
It also does not give you any information of nutritional quality. Just looking at the numbers off of two different bags tells you nothing. I never waste my time looking at the guaranteed analysis, but if you want to compare two different bags of food then you must adjust for the varying moisture levels in the food. http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/choosing-dog-food/dry-matter-basis/ Only then will you be comparing apples to apples!
It can be hard to change a way of thinking, especially when certain beliefs have been so well ingrained into our psyche. But for me, I follow the science. Not the market trends. Not the fashionable thing to do. Not the pretty bags that make the food look healthy as it is covered with great images of healthy raw ingredients. If the science supports the food, my pet likes it and does well on it, then that is the perfect food. Remember just because a diet is scientifically perfect doesn’t mean it will agree with your pet – peanuts are a great nutritional food for people unless you are allergic. There is more than ONE best diet but follow the science not the myths!