Clearing Up Nutritional Confusions
There is no more fertile ground for confusing pet owners than the subject of how and what to feed pets. I counsel people on these subjects constantly and hopefully they leave my office with a clear understanding of fact vs. fiddle faddle. What I base my advice on is basic nutrition and feed composition courses (12 credit hours in college), being the Hills student liaison at Kansas State University, breeding Pembrook Welsh Corgi’s and cockatiels plus having plenty of dogs, cats, birds, and reptiles to wait upon. I also grew up on a farm where we produced wheat, corn, and grain sorghum which are common pet food ingredients.
I was surprised to learn that nutrition classes were largely removed from the veterinary school curricula years ago. Newer graduates may not be comfortable with nutritional advice and refer a pet owner to a veterinary nutritionist. (Yes, we even have them in Orange County!) I will cover the topics that seem to have the most controversy among pet owners over the next few weeks but for now I will leave you with a few rules that will help keep you out of trouble:
1. Do not get nutritional advice from pet food advertisements. Marketing departments are supposed to sell food, not give useful nutritional advice! Keep in mind that even the best manufacturers must compete to get your attention in the market so they are there to motivate sales more than inform customers. Your dog and cats don’t need to eat a deer, trout, or blueberries to stay healthy, but these ingredients are perfectly good to feed.
2. Be suspicious of advertisements that criticize other brands. Most pet foods are adequate for most pets. Some are better than others but few are actually “bad”.
3. Pet food quality can’t be determined by reading the label alone. Having an animal protein in the first 3 ingredients is generally a good sign that the protein quality is adequate but not a guarantee that the diet is good overall. Conversely, if the right ingredients are used, the top 3 ingredients could contain no “meat” and be better than the one which features chicken as the main ingredient.
4. The quality (digestibility) of a pet food has nothing to do with food allergy management.
5. 80% of food allergy trials are done wrong on the first attempt.
6. Not all diet related skin problems are allergies. Some are nutrient deficiencies.
* I will expand on these concepts in subsequent articles.
Written by William I. Wiatt D.V.M.