Pet Food Nutrition: Myths and Truths About What We Should Feed Our Pets

One of our goals at Badger Veterinary Hospital is to help you better understand pet food nutrition and help you weed through the flood of information out there about pet foods.

Most of us understand good nutrition for humans. We understand that an apple is healthier than a donut and that a salad is healthier than a slice of pizza. But when it comes to pet food, understanding nutrition can be a challenge. You can’t really see what you are feeding your pet. You don’t see the meat source. You can’t see the fiber source. You can read the pet food ingredient list on the back of a bag, but do you understand the ingredients you are reading about? Or are you making assumptions about certain ingredients by the way they sound or by what you have heard?

True or False: CORN IS BAD! It's just a filler.

FALSE. Corn is actually a very nutritionally dense food, packed with essential protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. The biggest factor in the nutritional value of corn is how finely ground it is. High-quality manufacturers grind their corn extremely fine; poor quality manufacturers grind their corn minimally.

What about allergies? Corn is rarely the cause of allergies, and there is no scientific evidence to support claims that grains like corn cause health problems aside from in pets with a true grain allergy (very rare).

True or False: By-products are bad! If I wouldn’t eat it, why should my pet?

FALSE. By-products provide valuable nutrients for your pet. Yes, they contain things like the liver and heart. BUT if your dog were out in the wild and caught an animal, guess what they would eat first? The liver and heart, because animals instinctively know that organ meat has the highest concentration of nutrients. These products aren't used in the human market because most of us choose not to eat them, but it does not mean that they are unsafe or unclean. They are safe, they are clean, and they are packed with quality nutrition.

It's important to note that by-product does NOT mean the protein came from a dead, down, or dying animal. Protein by-products go through the same quality control standards as other ingredients. If you feed a high-quality diet, you can count on the ingredients being high quality, too.

True or False: Meat meals (chicken meal, fish meal, etc.) are bad for your pet.

FALSE. Similar to by-products, meat meals such as chicken meal are excellent sources of protein for your pet. Fat and water content are removed to leave only 10% water and mostly vitamins and minerals. Think dehydrated beef, aka beef jerky, only it's dehydrated further into a powder form that can be added to pet food kibble.

True or False: I should feed my pet a “grain free” diet, because it's what he or she would eat in the wild.

FALSE. If your pet were out in the wild and not eating grains, his or her life expectancy would be less than half of what it presently is!

Grains are an excellent source of carbohydrates, essential amino acids, minerals, and vitamins. When prepared properly (i.e. the grains are finely ground), grains are highly digestible. Many “grain free” diets substitute potato or tapioca for the grains, which provide minimal nutrition.

The increase in marketing around people eating grain-free has carried over to the pet food industry. However, remember that human and pet nutrition are VERY different. Need examples? We can eat chocolate, grapes, and avocado. For our pets, these are all extremely toxic and can be fatal.

True or False: I should consider placing my pet on a raw food diet.

FALSE. Feeding a raw meat diet carries with it significant issues and concerns, the greatest concern being bacterial contamination. Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter are some of the harmful bacteria that can be found in raw diets. These bacteria can cause kidney failure, meningitis, hemorrhagic bowel syndrome, or even death.

The health risks of bacterial contamination are not just restricted to your pet but are a concern for the humans in your household as well. You can clean the bowl thoroughly before and after feeding. You can be meticulous with food preparation. What you cannot do is sterilize your pet's mouth after every meal, and this could be the source of your pet’s illness transferring from your pet to you. Even the FDA cautions against feeding a raw pet food diet, stating that "Because raw pet food is more likely than other types of pet food to contain Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes, the single best thing you can do to prevent infection is to not feed your pet a raw diet."

True or False: All pet food manufacturers are created equal.

FALSE. Pet food manufacturers are no different than other manufacturers -- They are not all created equal. After taking the time to research other pet food manufacturers, and even visiting one of their state of the art facilities, I believe Royal Canin represents the very best in pet food nutrition.

"Cat and dog first" is Royal Canin's philosophy and it drives the science-based approach to their formulation processes. The ingredients they use in their pet foods are selected to optimize the nutritional content of the food. Royal Canin also holds themselves to impressively high standards for ingredient quality and selection.

If at any time you would like to discuss what you have read about pet food, have pet nutrition questions, or would like for us to make a nutritional recommendation based upon your pet’s needs (size, age, breed, medical history, etc), let us know and we would be more than happy to do so.