Countering Pet Food Fiction with Facts

Today, more than ever before, we can access huge amounts of information about pet nutrition and pet foods. But with this wealth of information typically comes a mix of fact and fiction. Complicating matters is that pet food labels can be challenging to read and understand. The result is pet owners sometimes make poorly informed decisions about what to feed their animal companions. Since understanding what to feed our pets is vital to their health, let’s check out four common pet food myths. The facts just may hold a pleasant surprise.

Myth 1

Corn is “filler” that is poorly digested and causes allergies.

Fact: Fillers are food ingredients containing no nutrients and having no nutritional purpose. That certainly doesn’t describe corn, which is actually a nutritious, affordable source of:

  • Carbohydrates for energy
  • Essential amino acids and fatty acids for healthy skin, coat and immune system function
  • Soluble and insoluble fiber for digestive system health
  • Antioxidants such as vitamin E and beta-carotene to help reduce cell damage

Corn is the only grain commonly used in pet food that contains linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid required by both dogs and cats.

Corn and corn-based ingredients are hardly indigestible. Processing during food manufacturing makes these nutrients readily available for absorption and use by a pet’s body.

While cats and dogs can develop allergies to any meat or grain protein, the most common food allergies in dogs are to beef, dairy products and wheat, followed by lamb, chicken eggs, chicken and soy. In cats, beef, dairy products and fish are the ingredients that most commonly cause food reactions.

Common food allergens for pets

Myth 2

Homemade diets are nutritionally better and healthier than commercially prepared foods.

Fact: Homemade pet food can provide the same complete and balanced nutrition as a commercial pet food — if the recipe is properly formulated and prepared exactly as written. It also depends on the nutrient content of the ingredients used.

Unfortunately, given the number of essential nutrients required to support a dog or cat’s health, homemade food may not measure up. Researchers at the University of California–Davis School of Veterinary Medicine found that the vast majority of recipes for home-prepared dog food did not provide all of the essential nutrients in adequate amounts. Researchers analyzed 200 recipes from 34 different sources, including websites, veterinary textbooks and pet care books. Only nine of 200 recipes provided all essential nutrients at levels to meet the minimum standards for adult dogs established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). In other words, 95 percent of the analyzed recipes were deficient in at least one essential nutrient, and more than 83 percent of recipes were deficient for multiple nutrients.

While homemade food can be an option for some pets, UC­–Davis researchers recommend owners avoid general recipes from books and the Internet and instead consult with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to formulate custom, nutritionally appropriate recipes.

Myth 3

Meat “byproducts” contain hair, feathers, teeth and hooves.

Many pet owners believe the meat byproducts used in pet food are inferior to whole-muscle meats because they contain hair, feathers, teeth and hooves. However, that simply is not true.

First, the ingredient definitions established by AAFCO and adopted by most states explicitly do not permit those body parts to be used in a byproduct ingredient for dog or cat food. Meat byproducts are those parts of an animal — cattle, pig, sheep and goat — other than its muscle tissue. So meat byproducts may include liver, kidneys and tripe (which some Americans eat), along with brain, spleen, lungs and other organ systems. Similar to meat byproducts, poultry byproducts are those bird parts that are not part of a raw, dressed, whole bird and may include the giblets, head and feet.

Second, byproducts are simply things produced during the making of something else. In addition to the examples given above, vitamin E — valued for its antioxidant properties and used as a natural preservative — is a byproduct of the vegetable oil refining industry.

The fact is, byproducts are common in human and pet food products. And in some cases, byproducts provide greater nutritional value to dogs and cats than the product from which they were made.

Myth 4

Dry foods prevent dental disease better than canned or semi-moist foods.

Overall, pets exclusively fed a canned food are more likely to have gingivitis, calculus or periodontal disease than those fed only a dry food. Dry food may clean the sides of pets’ teeth better than canned or semi-moist food, but by itself, dry food cannot prevent dental disease. In studies evaluating the contributing role of food formulation on oral health, pets fed only dry food still developed gingivitis and periodontal disease.

Nutrient composition and food texture are important food-related factors in managing dental disease. The size, shape and density of kibble, moisture level and modification of certain nutrients such as fiber are believed to help with mechanical teeth cleaning. Specially formulated oral care pet foods are available and have the kibble size, shape and texture to promote chewing and provide the “brushing” action needed to remove plaque. When choosing a food to help your pet’s dental health, choose one that carries the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of acceptance. The seal means the product has met standards for controlling plaque, calculus (tartar) or both conditions in dogs and cats.

Choosing a pet food today is more confusing than ever before. Your veterinary health care team is a great source of information about what to feed your canine and feline companions. For individualized food recommendations that take your pets’ life stage, lifestyle and current health into consideration, talk with your veterinarian. And for more information about Diamond and Diamond Naturals pet foods, please check out the formula finder.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.

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