We are so excited that you want to discuss and learn about nutrition. It is such an integral part of every day life and can impact health in such dramatic ways. It’s extremely difficult being the consumer, trying to make an educated decision and wondering where to turn. We are honored that you trust us to help in your education. Being in the profession and certified in Nutrition for canines and felines, we know we can help to give you the facts and choose the best diet possible for your pet.
There are a TON of different types of pet food available in the market today. That market can be broken down to: Grocery and Large Bulk stores (ex. Zehrs, No Frills, Costco), Pet Specialty stores (ex. Pet Value, Global Pet Food, Pet Smart etc) and Veterinary Clinics. Within these purchasing areas, many of the larger pet food companies (Royal Canin, Purina, Iams etc) also have different types of food in each of these types of stores, in order to reach the maximum amount of consumers possible.
These three different store categories reflect different “levels” of nutrition. One way you see this, is in the amount of diet and nutritional education of the stores staff. For example; a Costco employee will have significantly less pet health education than one from Global Pet Food Stores, who in turn has limited information provided to them from their suppliers. As well, you don’t see the grocery store brands marketed in commercials or on signs because they are the company’s final attempt to make revenue. There is no research, nutrition or backing to these brands- but they are cheap, and easy to get.
Then, you have the stand alone companies such as Blue Buffalo and Acana, who only target a certain type of market – pet specialty stores. As with any business, the name of the game for the food companies is to make money, and they have one hell of a marketing team to create this revenue.
Pet Specialty stores are the next level up for nutrition – here is where the discussion can get a little heated. We see many patients who eat the claimed “High quality, expensive diet” and have been extremely healthy their whole life; however, there are many concerns surrounding these diets. A few of these are; the lack of truth behind their marketing schemes (which wrongly informs the consumer), the lack of veterinary staff available to test the diets, and those company’s negligence to use sustainable and quality ingredients. This is part of what makes us uncomfortable recommending them.
Lets talk facts. Marketing in the pet world is remarkable. The fact that they have been able to convince so many consumers with wrong facts using fancy lingo, is truly amazing. Here are a few of the most common “Myths” that are out there:
“Corn is just a filler and is not digestible”: False. Fillers have no nutritional value; however, corn does. When the hull (protective outer layer) is broken down by grinding (prior to going into the food) it allows the digestive enzymes in your pet to help break down the fat, carbohydrates and protein. Corn is packed full of valuable nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamins A and B, selenium and zinc, and amino acids.
“My food needs to be Grain-free or Gluten free to help with allergies or too monitor carbohydrate levels”: False. A grain-free diet does not mean it is starch free, or more nutritionally sound to help your pet. Many of the grain free diets use ingredients like sweet potato or tapioca which are high in starch, often higher than a grain. Allergies in pets are most commonly caused by a protein source, not a grain source. The statistics state that less than 1% of all dermatological cases are caused by a food never mind specifically grain. As well, dogs and cats also do not get ‘Celiac’s disease’ like people do. Our human bodies break down the components of Gluten very differently than our pets. People react to the “Gliadin” which is a glyco-protein found in most wheats, rye, barley and oats. Dogs and cats very rarely have a reaction to this gluten protein. Wheat gluten is actually highly digestible and is a wonderful source of protein, while still being low in cholesterol, sodium and saturated fats. In fact, 99% of wheat gluten is digested in the small intestine, which means that less protein is being delivered to the large intestine (colon) and producing the lovely flatulence all pet owners have been subjected too! You cannot medically treat a cat the same as you would a horse, so try not to compare the human body to your dog or cat.
“The first ingredient needs to be meat”: False. The ingredient list on a bag of food has to be listed by weight. The heaviest ingredient that is in that diet’s formulation will be first. Not the most prominent in the diet. If you were to have meat as the first ingredient, it would be due to the water that is in the meat, rather than its nutritional composition. Remember this: the food that is eaten needs to be full of nutrition, not ingredients. Ingredients are just the “carrier” of the nutrition. This is why understanding and choosing a company (and therefore diet) that harvests the nutrition properly from the ingredients is important.
The first ingredient is not the most prominent, but rather the heaviest in the formula. This includes water weight.
“A by-product is low quality and not safe to eat”: False. A by- product is a term used to classify an ingredient, not speak of the nutritional value. By-products could be more accurately named co-products as they are materials that are co -produced during manufacturing, they are not the primary material being produced ergo, a by – product. For example, if your ingredient list had chicken, this could literally be the whole chicken, feathers, feet, breast- the good and the bad- this also includes the water weight which holds no value. A chicken by-product could represent the liver, breast, heart, etc. the nutritionally dense portions of the chicken. However, in saying that, when choosing the right diet, you need to make sure the company uses healthy, high quality by-products.
“My dog is a carnivore and needs to eat like its descendant, the wolf.”: False. Your dog is an omnivore. Period. There are no ifs, ands or buts about that. With the way breeding is going now, I can tell you that your Morki-poo “purebred” is not a cousin to the wolf. And unless you saw your dog get bred to a wolf or coyote, it is likely not half- wolf or half- coyote either.
Now that you have the facts, you can see where our hesitancy of pet store foods comes from. An honest company that is trying to sell the best food possible is not going to market those misconceptions at the expense of the consumers knowledge and their pet’s health. Non-regulated companies (i.e not veterinary exclusive diets) are smart in the sense that they will bring in high revenue by appealing to the mass population (via TV and social media) and they will gladly spend a ton of money on those marketing genius’s rather than research, trials and quality nutrition. Their goals are revenue first, quality last. Our preference for a company is one whose marketing tactics are “word of mouth”. A company that spends it money on research, extensive food trials, sustainable ingredients, top level (and environmentally friendly) factories to produce and keep a high level of nutrition during production. Our preference for a company is one that is recommended and supported by professionals (DVM’s and RVT’s) due to the results of their diets where time and research have been proven effective. These diets are the Veterinary Exclusive diets.
In Canada, there is no regulation on pet food. A company can follow a few guidelines but they do not have to regulate their food or ingredients. This puts up big red flags for us- we do not want to be eating food that we do not know what is in it, or where it comes from. We do not want to support a company that changes their ingredients because of market fluctuations, or compromises the quality of their ingredients due to the seasons. We do not want to support a company that does not do research or have standards on the care that their main sources of protein comes from. So, how do you govern a company that doesn’t have to answer to national standards? The answer is simple, you go through a license of a professional that has the main focus of their careers to embody the health of our pets. Our Veterinarians. The only pet food I would ever recommend would be a diet that is a Veterinary Exclusive diet. These diets MUST go through the standards of care that veterinarians uphold, as a large portion of these companies are comprised of Veterinary Professionals. The Veterinarians and Registered Veterinary Technicians see the results of these diets, and have put the time into ensuring that every possible molecule of effort that goes into these diets right from the farms that harvest the ingredients, to the bag sealants, to the shelf at all clinics and into your pets every day lifestyle, so they can provide you with an educated and measured product that they know is the best for your pet.
“But all veterinary exclusive diets are expensive” False. Veterinary Exclusive diets have different lines of food. The life stage diets, which are your puppy/kitten, adult and senior diets are extremely competitive and often times actually less of a sticker price than the pet store foods. The quality of these diets blow all competition away. The initial price of the food is often lower, and if not, the amount to feed per day (because it is packed with the most awesome nutrients) will almost always be a lower cost per day to feed your lovely pet. When you start purchasing a medically related diet aka therapeutic diet, this is when prices can change. But now you are into a specific problem, and food is a type of medicine. Hopefully with the foundation of great nutrition, you can avoid a therapeutic diet, or many related disease processes. “So, why haven’t I heard of these before?” Veterinary Exclusive diets do not have any markeing to the consumer. All the money that would be spent to market these amazing diets are instead going towards the research and innovation to continually maintain and improve nutrition.
As you can see, the bottom line is, you need to choose a company and a line of food that is best for your individual pet’s needs. This company should be responsible, economically friendly, and have the best interest of your pet as their number one priority. There is only one “level” of pet food that achieves all of this: the Veterinary Exclusive Line.
Learn more about the Facts on Nutrition (PDF).