Pet Food Myths and Information

posted: by: Dawn, RVT Tags: "Clinic Specials" "News" 

When it comes to pet food, there are so many choices…where do you start?

There are many myths when it comes to pet food, so let’s start with some definitions that address common myths.

Organic: refers to the way ingredients are grown, harvested, and processed. The USDA has yet to define “organic” as it applies to pet foods, but pet foods can use the human standard with labeling.  If the food is at least 95% organic by weight, it can display the organic seal.  If at least 70% of the food is organic, it can say Made with Organic. 

Holistic: defined as “relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts”. Essentially, it means considering the needs of the whole animal, not just certain systems or particular aspects of nutritional needs. However, no definition of the term has been generally accepted by the pet food industry, and there currently are no regulations or legal definitions for labeling a food “holistic.”

Natural: Produced or existing in nature; not artificial or manufactured.  Natural pet foods are required to consist only of natural ingredients without chemical alterations.

By Product: Animal by-products are the co-products of food ingredients, including parts of an animal not usually used in the U.S. human food chain, such as the heart, kidneys, liver, tissue and bone, but which can provide important nutritional benefits.  By-products are not hooves, hair, horns, feathers, beaks, etc. 

Meal: Means the product has been ground to form uniform-sized particles.

Corn: An excellent source of protein, antioxidants, fatty acids and carbohydrates.  Corn is safe and easily digestible, and animals are rarely allergic to corn.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is the organization that sets the nutritional standards for pet foods in the US.  Nutritional adequacy is determined by either formulation or feeding trials.

Feeding trials are the gold standard method for determining if the food is truly nutritional adequate for an animal.  Feeding trials involve feeding a dog or cat that specific food, and only that specific food, for a certain time period to evaluate how the animal does on the food.

Formulating a pet food is less expensive, but also has no guarantee that the food will be accepted by the pet or do as it says nutritionally.  It is simply following a formula and ending there.  This doesn’t mean the food is a bad food, it’s just not gold standard.

Pet foods are formulated for different life stages-puppy/kitten, adult, or senior.  The nutritional needs of animals changes as they age, same as with people.  It is near impossible to have a pet food that is nutritionally perfect for all ages.

Some pet foods are labeled as lite, low calorie, or reduced calorie.  This means they must be fewer calories than the standard product of that company.  There’s not a limit on calories for these foods.  Foods labeled as lean, low fat, or reduced fat have a fat content that is lower than that company’s standard product.


Finally, let’s look at grains.  Grains are actually a good source of essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats and antioxidants that help with the immune system, skin and coat, and provide energy.  Commonly used grains in pet foods include rice, barely, wheat, sorghum, rye, oats, and corn.


Many people feel their pet should not eat grains.  However, there is no data to support that dogs and cats are allergic to grains.  Grain free also does not mean carbohydrate free. 


Recently, there have been many reports of heart disease in pets eating grain free foods.  Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is being reported in higher numbers and in dog breeds that it is not normally seen in.  A common link with many of these cases is that they were all eating a grain free food.  It is not 100% known what about grain free foods is causing the problem, but many brands of grain free foods have been listed (see Facebook post with graphic).


So where should you go for nutritional advice for your pet?  The answer is your veterinarian.  Veterinarians learn about proper nutrition in school and through continuing education seminars.  They learn about nutrition for various life stages, body conditions, and health issues.


The veterinarians of Suburban Animal Clinic recommend Purina One/Purina ProPlan, Hill’s Science Diet, Iams, and Royal Canin pet foods.  All have done much research into good nutrition for dogs and cats and choose high quality ingredients.  Purina, Hill’s and Royal Canin also have a complete line of prescription diets for various health conditions should the need arise.


Did you know anybody can put ingredients together, formulate it to be nutritionally adequate, and market a pet food?  It doesn’t mean they have done research into what makes a good pet food or that it is a good pet food just because it has someone’s name on it.


Please be careful in choosing a food for your pet.  Of course you want to feed your pet the best, and it’s sometimes hard to know what is best.  Please don’t hesitate to ask us questions about your pet’s nutrition, as veterinarians are the experts when it comes to pet nutrition.  There are even veterinary nutritionists we can refer you to should you want to speak with one.

Information compiled from multiple sources.