Common Pet Food Myths and Misconceptions

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These days, we want to be more informed about ingredients in pet foods. There is a lot of misinformation out there about protein sources, grains, by-products and raw food diets. These are some of the common myths about pet food:

1. By-products are bad

  • By-products are generally the parts of the animals that are not preferred by consumers. In many regions of the world, these parts are eaten regularly, and may even be considered delicacies.
  • By definition, a meat by-product is the “non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone and stomachs and intestine cleaned of their contents. It does NOT include hair, hooves, teeth and horns.”
  • Chicken by-product is defined as “ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and cleaned intestines, not including feathers.”
  • Many of the items included in by-products may actually be higher in essential nutrients, as well as more palatable to pets, than meat.
  • Items often classified as by-product are fed as treats ex. Bully sticks, lung, liver, ears, tendons .

2. Grain-free diets are better

  • Dogs and cats can utilize and digest grains as well as other sources of carbohydrate. Grains can be important sources of fibre, essential fatty acids, vitamins and other nutrients, and also serve an important purpose by decreasing the total fat and calories in a diet.
  • Contrary to popular belief, grains are uncommon causes of food allergies. True food allergies are rare; however, when we see food allergies, animal-based protein sources are more common culprits.
  • Feeding grains is NOT associated with obesity. Any diet, especially if high in calories, can contribute to obesity if over fed. Many popular grain-free diets are actually higher in calories than diets containing grains. Some popular grain-free foods contain as much as 500-600 calories per cup!

3. Corn is bad

  • In fact, properly processed corn contains far more nutrients than ingredients commonly used as replacements for it in grain-free diets. When properly prepared, corn is highly digestible by both dog and cats.
  • Corn contributes protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and highly digestible carbohydrates to pet diets. Corn is one of the richest sources of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid.
  • Corn is a RARE cause of food allergies In fact, beef, chicken and dairy are much more common causes of food allergies when they do occur.

4. Raw meat diets are healthier

  • There are no published scientific studies demonstrating health benefits from raw meat diets.
  • Most home made and many commercially available raw diets are not nutritionally balanced. Health problems can develop as a result of deficient or excessive intake of nutrients in these diets, for example due to phosphorus and calcium imbalances.
  • Almost all raw meat diets are contaminated with bacteria. Although some of these bacteria are of little consequence, others can produce serious disease in pets and people. These may include Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria, E.coli, Clostridium and also parasites such as Toxoplasma or Echinococcus and others.

5. Natural or Holistic Diets Are Better

  • The terms “natural” or “holistic” give little information about ingredient or product quality. These ingredients can be anything from extremely nutritious to poor quality to toxic.
  • “Natural” foods or ingredients have a precise definition. However, “holistic” and “organic” in regards to pet foods have no regulatory definitions. Therefore, there may be no difference between a pet food labelled “holistic” and one that is not. There is no regulation guaranteeing that “organic” pet foods or ingredients were actually produced organically as we expect for human foods.
  • Some commercial diets attempt to provide for all required nutrients using only whole foods. These diets typically contain a large number of ingredients obtained from many sources, which can vary greatly even from one batch to another. As a result, different batches of foods may end up being extremely inconsistent.
  • Synthetic vitamins and minerals are not a problem. In fact, including them helps to ensure a more consistent, nutritionally adequate diet.

Purchasing your pet food from a reputable manufacturer will help avoid health problems in your pet due to poor quality ingredients or improper formulation. Reputable pet food manufacturers are very selective about their sources and employ full time qualified nutritionists. They perform scientific testing and strict quality control to ensure that each ingredient and the finished pet food meets exact nutrient specifications.

Always remember that the ingredient list and the nutritional analysis printed on the label do not provide an accurate picture of that diet.

Fancy marketing which caters to fads such as “grain-free” and “holistic, all-natural” may lure many pet owners into believing the company with the best marketing tactics. Being armed with the right knowledge about pet food facts and myths will help prepare you for making the best choice for your pet.

Please ask us at the Peterborough West Animal Hospital about our pet food recommendation for your pet!

Excerpts for this article were taken from the published series “Deciphering Fact From Fiction” by Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN and Cailin R. Heinze, VMD, MS, DACVN.


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