Feeding the whole family

Veterinary staff have long known that pets are considered part of clients’ families; a claim that is validated by data. A September 2016 survey by the Human–Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation (HABRI) found that 98 percent of pet owners consider their pet to be an important member of their family.1 This reflects a 10 percent increase over a similar survey conducted by PetSmart in 2007. In fact, 71 percent of survey respondents let their pet sleep in the bed with them, and nearly half bought their dog or cat a birthday present.

Given our strengthening relationship and awareness of the benefits of our bond with pets, it is no surprise that pet owners are investing more money in their pet’s nutrition. The Pet Food Institute (PFI), whose members make 98 percent of all U.S. pet food and treats, is seeing more pet lovers put careful thought into what to feed their pet. Unfortunately, this can result in more myths about pet food and animal nutrition that may impact their pet’s well-being.

Veterinary practices play a leading role in promoting and supporting pet health, including helping clients understand their pet’s nutritional needs. PFI is committed to providing factual information about pet food and treats to help consumers make informed decisions when purchasing food for their dog or cat. Myths about pet food and pet nutrition spread through social media and can end up in the examination room. Whether or not veterinarians or veterinary technicians have expertise in animal nutrition, they are instrumental in helping clients provide the best nutrition for their pet.

PFI is available as a resource to help address concerns about information that may unduly alarm clients. Below, we review some of the top myths around pet food that clients may raise.

Myth: Carbohydrates are bad for dogs and cats.

Fact: Carbohydrates are beneficial, despite the bad rap. Carbohydrates provide a cat or dog with quick energy that can help spare protein for use in supporting other bodily functions. They can also be a good source of fiber, which promotes gut health and motility. Certain sources of carbohydrates, such as corn, also provide essential nutrients, such as protein, fat, fiber, and vitamins.2

Myth: Feeding dry pet food will dehydrate a pet.

Fact: Dehydration is a serious issue, but dry pet food is not the leading culprit. Dry pet food is among many varieties that are often formulated to be “complete and balanced,” meaning they provide total nutrition for the life stage of a pet, containing more than 40 different nutrients in all. Each of these recipes contains protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids. A maximum moisture level is included in the Guaranteed Analysis required for all pet food labels.

Pets need plenty of fresh drinking water, and clients can review feeding guidelines on the pet food package for additional hydration guidelines. Proper hydration helps a pet’s body function normally and allows it to better absorb and digest the nutrients provided in pet food. 

Myth: Commercial pet food is the cause of the rising prevalence of pet obesity.

Fact: Weight gain is typically the result of too many calories consumed and too few calories burned—no matter what food is consumed. Just like people, it’s easy for pets to consume more calories than they need. Clients should closely monitor their pet’s food intake and offer sufficient exercise. For this reason, pet food packages include feeding guidelines to help veterinarians and clients work together to determine the appropriate amount of food to provide based on their pet’s life-stage, activity level, and other factors.

Myth: Commercial pet food causes allergies and seizures.

Fact: Just as some people are predisposed to food allergies or develop an allergy later in life, so are some pets. Less than 10 percent of pets are diagnosed with food allergy.3 If clients believe their pet is suffering from food allergy, their veterinarian can discuss and review the environmental factors that may be bothering the patient and provide guidelines for an elimination diet to identify the ingredient causing an adverse reaction.

Myth: Homemade diets offer more complete nutrition.

Fact: If clients are considering preparing a homemade diet, they may be surprised to learn that it may not meet their pet’s full nutritional needs. A 2013 study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine found that a vast majority of homemade recipes are lacking in nutrition.

Researchers analyzed 200 different recipes for home-prepared dog foods, using recipes from different websites and pet care books. The results showed that 95 percent of the recipes were deficient in at least one essential nutrient, and 84 percent were lacking in multiple required nutrients.4

Symptoms of an inadequate diet can impact a pet’s health fairly quickly, particularly with regard to diets deficient in water-soluble vitamins, such as certain B vitamins, which are not stored in the body. But if the deficient vitamin is fat-soluble, such as vitamin A or vitamin D, the patient’s health problems may not present for weeks or even months. Depending on the stage of life of the animal, the consequences of the nutrient deficiency may be more severe, especially for growing puppies and pregnant dogs.

Supporting pet health together

Misinformation can dissuade clients from providing their pets with the complete nutrition or science-based veterinary care they require. As clients come prepared with more questions around pet food, veterinary practices can be leaders in dispelling these often dangerous myths. The Pet Food Institute offers additional materials and references on our website that can help promote a patient’s long and healthy life.

Cathleen Enright, PhD, is the president and CEO of The Pet Food Institute, whose members make 98 percent of all U.S. pet food and treat products. She is the past executive vice president of the food and agriculture section in the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Enright earned a doctorate in biochemistry from the State University of New York and completed her post-doctoral training at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue of Trends magazine.

2. Thompson, A. (2008). Ingredients: Where Pet Food Starts. Topics in Companion Animal Medicine, 23(3). 127-132. http://dx.doi.org/10.1053/j.tcam.2008.04.004

3. Outerbridge, CA (2012). Nutritional Management of Skin Diseases. In A.J. Fascetti & S.J. Delaney (Eds.) Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition (pp. 157-174). Danvers, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.