By Dr. Becker
In the past few months, I’ve written about what seems to be a concerted effort by some board-certified veterinary nutritionists to talk up the so-called “benefits” of grain-based dog and cat diets and the pet food companies that sell those products. And while I’m certainly curious to know who or what is behind this movement, my real concern is for the animals that get stuck eating processed, biologically inappropriate diets because their owners actually believe they are offering their pets healthy food.
In an article titled Veterinary Nutritionist Speaks Out in Favor of Gluten and Grains in Dog Food, I argued against the notions put forth by nutritionists interviewed for a veterinary news magazine article that 1) ingredients in pet food aren’t important, 2) that dogs require grain-based fiber to be healthy, and 3) that dogs are omnivores (they are scavenging carnivores). I also pointed out that many veterinary nutritionists have financial ties to some of the largest pet food manufacturers in the world.
In a follow-up article last month, I pointed out that pet food companies do not study dogs and cats throughout their lives to collect long-term health data on the animals eating their products. Further, the traditional veterinary community carefully avoids making connections between sick pets and their diets unless the sickness appears immediately following the introduction of a new diet.
Seldom mentioned by the traditional veterinary community (and NEVER mentioned by big pet food companies) is that pet dogs and cats acquire diseases their counterparts in the wild do not. Clearly one of the biggest differences between house pets and wild canines and felines is the food they eat.
Before I leave this subject behind I want to address one more article I came across in which veterinary nutritionists attempt to put to rest the “myth” that grain-based pet food is often the culprit when a dog or cat develops allergies.
“Americans love conspiracy theories.”
According to this most recent article in Veterinary Practice News:
“… vilification of food grains as pet food ingredients may be myths started by small pet food companies as a way to compete with larger, established companies, according to four diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.”
This is another disturbing trend I’ve noticed — vet nutritionists condemning smaller pet food companies for using “myths” and deception in their marketing in order to compete with industry giants.
The fact is there are several excellent small pet food producers in the U.S. providing human grade, balanced, species-appropriate diets for pets. Offering pet owners the opportunity to purchase the kind of nutrition canines and felines evolved to eat — and advertising the differences between your product and others on the market -- is hardly starting “myths.”
“I honestly don’t know where that [“vilification” of food grains] got started. It’s not based on any data, and there are excellent diets that contain one or more of those items,” says Cailin Heinze, diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN).
The reason there is no data is because pet food studies are funded almost exclusively by pet food companies with a vested interest in selling grain-based pet food. It’s cheap to produce, ship and store. It’s convenient for pet owners to serve. And most veterinarians never question whether an animal’s illness is tied to diet. That is the reason there is little evidence suggesting highly processed pet food has the potential to compromise the health of dogs and cats. There are few if any studies of pets fed a lifetime of processed food compared to dogs and cats fed biologically appropriate diets. Hopefully one day that will change.
Does it matter to you whether your pet is suffering from a food allergy or a food intolerance? Of course not. What matters is your pet is suffering.
The article goes on at some length about the difference between a real food allergy and food sensitivities or intolerances, and how true food allergies are actually rare in both people and pets.
The point the nutritionists seem to be making is that small pet food companies are using the term “food allergy” inappropriately to scare consumers away from corn, wheat and soy ingredients in pet food.
I actually think a great many people use "food allergy" to describe any abnormal or unexpected response to a particular food — especially when the response is the same each time the food is eaten. And it happens to be true that many, many pets have intolerances to corn, wheat and soy ingredients in their food.
So whether a pet is suffering from a true food allergy or an intolerance to a certain type of food or ingredient, the point is, the animal is suffering. And lo and behold, when the offending food is removed and replaced with species-appropriate nutrition (often requiring a novel diet in the interim), the animal no longer suffers as a result of his diet.
The “data” on this comes from holistic and integrative vets and pet owners who have watched countless dogs and cats returned to good health when their processed commercial diet is replaced with real food in the form of balanced, species-appropriate nutrition.
Why I feel the need to publicly dispute claims that grain-based diets are nutritious for dogs and cats.
My purpose in writing this article or any article about appropriate nutrition for pets is certainly not to offend my veterinary nutritionist colleagues.
I’ve spent 20 years in a proactive, integrative veterinary practice watching the incredible transformative power of species-appropriate nutrition for dogs and cats, as have virtually all like-minded veterinarians.
We are excited to see the occasional mainstream study now showing the benefits of, for example, moisture-rich diets for cats. We’re encouraged to see pet owners take a more active role in learning about appropriate nutrition for their animals. And we’re delighted to welcome small companies offering excellent quality prepared food for pets into the marketplace.
At long last things seem to be trending a bit in the right direction when it comes to nourishing dogs and cats. So when I come across information that downplays the problems inherent in feeding grain-based diets to carnivores – information that encourages pet owners and vets to stick exclusively with certain types of inferior products sold by giant pet food manufacturers — I feel an obligation to dispute that information.