This is a very complicated, controversial topic, and many of you reading this article will disagree with it. Folks have very strong opinions about feeding their pets. That’s one of the biggest problems in pet nutrition: There’s a lot of opinions swirling around out there, and few actual facts. All of the information presented here is from board-certified veterinary nutritionists, which means that after going through four years of veterinary school, they did another two years of school just on nutrition, and are members of ACVN, the American College of Veterinary Nutritionists. None of the ones I checked with work for pet food companies. They all teach in vet schools. They are, hands down, the best source of unbiased information on nutrition for your pet.
First: The best food for your pet is the one that they do best on. This might sound like an idiotic thing to say, but it’s true: Even the best quality foods out there will disagree with some pets, leading to an upset stomach, poor coat or low energy levels. And I have some patients that I see that do very well on foods that I consider very poor quality. There is no one-size-fits-all food.
Second: Be careful where you get your information. The Internet is almost useless. The first Google hit on pet food information is a site run by a dentist who has no training in veterinary nutrition, but boy does he have a lot of opinions, most of them wrong. The folks at the pet store are very nice, but are usually just repeating what they have been told by the pet food companies that stock their shelves: Not exactly an unbiased source. Check out the ACVN website (www.ACVN.org), staffed by those board-certified vets I mentioned before, for reliable advice in picking a food for your pet.
Third: In general, the big pet food companies (such as Science Diet, Eukanuba, Iams, Wellness, Royal Canin, Purina, Wysong, Canidae) put out the best, most consistent quality foods, with recipes from nutritionists and overseen by food safety inspectors all through the process.
Fourth: Avoid hype. Companies spend millions of dollars trying to convince you that they make the best food you can buy. If companies spent as half as much on making a quality food as they did on marketing, we would all be better off. The best example of this is the massive hype for “grain free” dog food. The argument that dogs cannot digest corn and wheat, because ancestral dogs did not eat grains, is total nonsense: There is a ton of evidence proving ancestral dogs did eat grains. Dogs are omnivores, just like us: They have been able to digest, absorb, and metabolize both plants and meat for thousands of years. Grain free is not necessarily better, just more expensive. Other hype to avoid: Raw food, “all life stages” foods, celebrity pet foods, and meaningless labelling buzz words like “holistic”, “premium”, “gourmet”, or “human grade”.
Mark Mills is a veterinarian at North Deering Veterinarian Hospital and lives in Windham.