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What pet owners need to know about pet food myths

Pet foods and the safety of pet foods have been in the news recently due to a serious contamination with a euthanasia drug. Although the levels of the drug found in the popular diets were likely too low to cause any issues in our pets, presence of pentobarbital in the food means that it has been adulterated and should not be given to dogs or cats. Several brands were recalled based on this information.

Thomas F. Dock, Veterinary Journalist and Practice Manager, Noah’s Animal Hospitals, explains:

  • Conspiracy theorists and some hard-core, anti-corporation pet food activists blame euthanized pets being used in the food for the presence of the drug. More likely, a sick beef cow was euthanized and not properly removed from the food chain.
  • Other common myths about pet foods include things like 1) corn is bad, 2) by products are bad 3) “natural” or “organic” foods are healthier and 4) veterinarians are not educated about nutrition or that they receive “kickbacks” for selling food!
  • When discussing the role of corn in pet foods, it’s important to remember that we aren’t talking about corn on the cob! Corn products in pet foods are generally of a ground variety and help provide essential amino acids for the pet.
  • Also, despite Internet rumors, both dogs and cats CAN digest corn, in fact, studies show that both species can effectively utilize this ingredient as a carbohydrate source (good energy source) and for utilization of the amino acids (for protein development, repair, etc)
  • “By-products” are an unfortunate naming convention from the human food supply chain. In essence, “by-products” simply refer to parts of the food animal not utilized by people.  Many nutritious organs, smaller muscles, etc can help provide high quality proteins for the pet’s food at a lower cost.   PLUS, by using the WHOLE animal, using these ingredients are actually more environmentally friendly!
  • When you see ingredients like “chicken by-product meal”, it’s important to understand that this is a highly concentrated source of protein that pets can utilize very efficiently. It’s also important to note that some pet food companies are now proudly proclaiming their use of “lamb lungs” and “beef liver” – ingredients that are formerly known as “by-products”.
  • Marketing buzz words can contribute to myths about pet foods. The term “organic” has a very specific definition from the FDA, but the word “natural” has a much broader scope.  Words like “human-grade”, “premium” and “holistic” are not legally defined and are designed to elicit emotional responses.
  • Studies have repeatedly shown that foods labeled as organic or natural do NOT mean that they are healthier for our pets.
  • Finally, many people will accuse veterinarians of not studying nutrition for our pets. The reality is that veterinarians do all complete animal nutrition courses during their DVM schooling and many had already take nutrition courses during their undergraduate work.   All veterinarians and credentialed veterinary technicians are required to complete continuing education during their professional career and courses on nutrition are always packed with veterinary professionals eager to learn.
  • Likewise, some people complain that veterinarians “profit” off of food sales in their hospitals. The funny thing is, no one ever accuses a pet store or big box store of “profiting” when they sell pet food!!
  • Bottom line, there are a huge number of options out there for feeding your pet. Your veterinarian is the best equipped to understand both the needs of your pet as well as the unique needs of your family.

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