Pet Food Debunking the Myths

A little background on pet food myths

There’s a lot of confusion out there regarding what diet is best for our pets. Veterinary endorsements and emotional advertising leads us towards what the so-called-experts say is best.

It would seem, however, that there are a number the misconceptions with feeding commercial dog foods. They have developed as a result of popular opinion and clever advertising rather than any real scientific evidence.

As pets become more and more like members of our family, many pet parents have been led to think the modern dog’s metabolism differs to that of their wild ancestors, when it really doesn’t differ all that much. You only need to look as far as their teeth to know this.

Unfortunately this way of thinking engrained in us by marketing has resulted in a shift away from the simple and appropriate diets Australian dogs enjoyed until the 1960s, which is when commercial pet food became popular. This followed the American trend which started 30 years earlier.

According to Dr Ian Billinghurst, alleged pioneer of BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Feeding) and author of “Give your Dog a Bone”, it is the idea that dogs require a “complete” diet without bones that has supported wide-held belief in the pet food myths listed below.

Debunking common pet food myths

These are some of the most common pet food myths. All of which can be easily debunked, or at the least viewed with common sense. There are, of course, many others surrounding pet food, mostly from pet food marketing.

Pet food myth #1: Do modern domestic pets require different food to their wild ancestors?

FACT: Cats are and always have been obligate carnivores, which means they can and do thrive on a meat-only diet. Dogs are usually referred to as Omnivores or Scavenging Carnivores, which means that, like humans, they will thrive on a varied diet of meat and plant matter. Vets and Scientists confirm that the digestive system, nutrient absorption process, and metabolism of both wild and domestic animals are fundamentally the same, and can therefore thrive on a similar diet – that is a variety of foods including bones, uncooked meats, and little, if any, grains.

Pet food myth #2: Is commercial pet food always best?

FACT: Clever advertising, veterinary endorsements, and paid “consumer testimonials” combine to make a compelling argument for the benefits of commercial pet foods, however the reality may be quite different. The underlying issue is always money, and every pet food manufacturer will do their utmost best to convince you their product is the absolute best. Unfortunately, some of those pet food manufacturers include a set of the wealthiest corporations in the world, and most pet food “science” is instigated by them, for their own purpose.

Pet food myth #3: Should every meal consumed by your pet be “balanced and complete”?

FACT: The idea of a “complete and balanced diet” resonates with the well-meaning pet parent who wants to ensure their pet has the very best nutrition. Because small animal nutrition is still a relatively new specialty, and forms a very small part of broader Veterinary Studies, few pet owners would understand that many of the ingredients contained in commercial foods (such as cereals, grains and other fillers), whilst forming part of a complete human diet, are not appropriate and potentially harmful for pets.

Pet food myth #4: Does kibble keep teeth clean?

FACT: A particularly interesting misconception, and one that appears to be very popular, is that dry food (kibble) prevents dental problems by scraping tartar and preventing build up on pets’ teeth. In reality, feeding dogs a commercial diet and no bones causes significant damage. This is due largely to high levels of calcium present in the food, and the fact that the abrasion has very little real benefit.

The suggestion that kibble will keep your cat’s or dog’s teeth clean is similar to saying eating a healthy portion of crackers every day will be enough to keep your own teeth clean. As much as some people might prefer eating dry crunchy snacks to daily teeth brushing, it just doesn’t work that way!

Why are there so many misconceptions with pet feeding?

In reality, it would seem all of the above myths and misconceptions stem from the marketing by pet food companies. The simple reason is they stand to profit from the use of meat by-products and other refuse from the human food manufacturing industry.

Commercial pet food wasn’t invented for the benefit of the pet, it was a very clever way of turning the huge costs of waste disposal from the human food industry into a very lucrative profit.

A staggering statistic recently published by Inc. Magazine revealed that The Pet Services Industry in the US alone in 2012 was worth $53b, with pet food making up a significant proportion of the market. In Australia, according to the Australian Companion Animal Council, this number is estimated to be closer to $6B – that’s still a lot of pet food being sold!

Convenience is also no doubt another factor why pet owners choose to believe the hype surrounding kibble and canned foods. The idea of opening a can or packet and scooping a complete meal cleanly into your pet’s bowl is an appealing concept for most busy pet owners who may not be inclined to prepare fresh meals daily or handle raw meats and offals.

After all, how many of us really look at an ingredients label? If it’s sold, it must be healthy, right?

Not unlike the human food industry, nutritional claims made by pet foods can be largely unsubstantiated. No laws exist to ensure their veracity.  The “complete and balanced diet claims” made by pet food companies are generally not supported by any real scientific evidence, or at the most a hypothesis, and whilst these foods may meet nutritional profiles established by AAFCO (The Association of American Feed Control Officials), there is no real way of ensuring that the levels of nutrients are appropriate or even safe. They simply meet the minimum AAFCO compliance levels.

Being AAFCO compliant doesn’t mean the ingredients you’re feeding your pet will keep them in good health for the long term. In fact, the lack of variety, extensive amount of grains or starches, or poor quality ingredients, can likely be the cause of a plethora of illnesses.

Australia doesn’t even have an AAFCO equivalent standard, so if your Australian pet food doesn’t adhere to AAFCO (which is not mandatory), then you have absolutely no guarantees. How can you trust the health and wellbeing of your pet on such a product?

At the end of the day, the key to a healthy dog or cat is neither raw nor processed food alone, but an overall diet that meets the individual requirements of the dog or cat in question. In addition to lots of fresh air and sunshine, exercise and plenty of fresh drinking water.

Do you have any pet food myths to contribute? Say so in the comments below!

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