Pet Food Myths

There are many people on the internet with wild and wacky views about feeding pets, most with no scientific training at all.  Here are some myths debunked.

Myth 1: Commercial pet food is made up of meat which is unsuitable for human consumption.

Fact: All meat used in commercial pet food in Europe comes from abattoirs where only animals which are deemed healthy are slaughtered for human consumption.  Bits of the animal used may be those not deemed acceptable for general consumption by people (e.g. offal meat) but this is a cultural, not a health, matter and ensures that as much of the carcass is used as possible.  This is good for the environment, good for the animal being slaughtered and good for your pet as this meat is no less good quality.

Myth 2: Dog and cat food is full of dangerous preservatives and colourants.

Fact: Preservatives are needed to stop your pet food going bad.  Many preservatives are based on natural nutrients such as vitamin E.  Any preservatives or colourants in your pet’s food are the same as those used in human food so have passed strict safety tests.

Myth 3: Dogs and cats need a grain-free diet.

Fact: Dogs and cats can digest carbohydrates.  Grain or wheat intolerance is not seen in cats and extremely rarely in dogs – some Border Terriers have a condition called epileptoid cramping syndrome which can respond to a gluten-free diet and there used to be a condition in some Irish Setters similar to celiac disease in people which seems to have been bred out of the breed now.  Grain-free diets have actually been associated with heart disease in some dogs in the USA.

Myth 4: Raw food is more natural

Fact:  Proponents of raw feeding argue that because dogs are descended from wolves, they should be fed like wolves.  There are many arguments against this:

  • recent studies have shown that dogs are not directly descended from wolves, rather they share a common ancestor
  • dogs have been domesticated for many thousands of years and this has altered their genetic make-up, including their ability to digest foods
  • selective breeding has made many of our breeds exceedingly ‘unnatural’ (consider the dentition of a pug versus a wolf) – they may have the same number of teeth but they are definitely not in the same position.
  • a wild animal’s aim in life is to breed, not to survive long into old age.  Our aim for our pets is to keep them happy and healthy for as long as possible.
  • most raw food recipes are deficient in many vital nutrients
  • raw food is often contaminated with dangerous bacteria which are a human health risk, as well as a risk to our pets.

Myth 5: Raw bones help keep pets’ teeth healthy.

Fact: Although chewing on bones may help to reduce tartar or calculus (the thick brown material on teeth), they do not help to reduce plaque and gingivitis which is the cause of dental disease.  So while your pet’s teeth might look nicer, they are not actually any healthier.  Also, bones can cause tooth fractures, as well as risking getting stuck in the oesophagus or intestines if they are swallowed.

So what should I feed my pet?

  1. Look for a good quality commercial pet food which is a member of the Pet Food Manufacturing Association.  This means that their diets are balanced, at least based on a computer analysis.
  2. Look for a company who have tested their diet with extensive feeding trials.  This shows that the diet is good in the long-term.
  3. Look for a company who have a qualified veterinary nutritionist on their team (unfortunately this title is not protected so you need to check the qualifications they have, rather than just accept the ‘nutritionist’ term).
  4. Ask your vet what diet they would recommend.
  5. If you insist on feeding your pet a raw diet despite the many risks, make sure you choose a commercial one that is balanced, not a home-prepared one.

A good quality balanced diet is important for all animals, but especially so for the following:

  • growing puppies and kittens (particularly large breed puppies)
  • working dogs
  • animals with health conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease
  • obese pets
  • geriatric animals

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