Who Do You Turn to for Pet Food Advice You Can Trust?

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance -

  • CANWI is a non-profit organization I co-founded with Dr. Donna Raditic; our mission is to conduct independent, unbiased pet food research and share our findings with every interested pet food company, veterinary school, pet parent and veterinary staff member
  • The focus of this year’s fundraising efforts is our latest endeavor, the SPAN (Student Partnerships in Animal Nutrition) program, which will bring unbiased small animal nutrition education to veterinary students and veterinary technicians across North America
  • The ultimate goal of SPAN is to facilitate open, productive communication between pet parents and veterinary staffs about nutrition and the full range of available dog and cat diets
  • When we reach that goal, big pet food companies can assume their proper role as sellers of products, and get out of the business of “educating” all of us about pet food through the use of marketing and advertising strategies

Welcome to day 1 of Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute's (CANWI) annual fundraising week here at Mercola Healthy Pets!

Today I'm chatting with my CANWI co-founder, Dr. Donna Raditic, about the progress of studies we have underway, and a new program we're both very excited about. It's called SPAN (Student Partnerships in Animal Nutrition), and we created it to fill a tremendous need for unbiased small animal nutrition education in veterinary schools across North America.

Below are some of the highlights of our discussion, which you can view in its entirety in the video above, or by reviewing the downloadable transcript linked above.

Current CANWI Projects

Currently CANWI is conducting studies on the effect on dogs and cats of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in processed pet food. Most dogs and cats today eat commercial diets containing proteins and carbs that have been heat-processed. There have been studies that suggest pets may consume up to 100 times more AGEs on a per weight basis than humans eating a conventional Western diet.

If you know and understand the power of nutrition in your own life, or if you've improved your dog or cat's nutrition, you know your pet feels and looks better and seems healthier. But anecdotal evidence from our individual experiences doesn't translate into better food science being taught in veterinary schools.

To make the kind of research impact necessary for veterinary students to be taught about whole food nutrition, studies like CANWI's are imperative, and we're the only organization doing them. Our goal is to start publishing the results of our research within the next few months.

Our New Project: Student Partnerships in Animal Nutrition (SPAN)

Our new CANWI Student Partnerships in Animal Nutrition (SPAN) program is designed to address a widening gap between veterinarians — including recent vet school graduates — and pet parents around non-processed pet food (e.g., raw, dehydrated, freeze-dried and homemade diets.

Pet parents are looking to their veterinarians for guidance on these "alternative" types of pet food, and the truth is vet schools don't do a good job educating students about small animal nutrition, and especially non-processed, fresh food nutrition. Veterinarians who are newly in practice tell us all the time that they didn't receive the training they need to answer their clients' nutrition questions.

"I've been doing a series of lectures for veterinarians," says Dr. Raditic, "and I include information about raw and fresh food diets. I discuss the questions more and more pet parents are asking about these emerging diets, and I've been really surprised by the number of new veterinarians and veterinary technicians who attend my lectures.

"They tell me they have no clue about these diets and aren't prepared for the questions they get from clients. They ask if they can get copies of my notes and PowerPoints. 'We need to know this,' they say. 'We get asked this all the time'."

Dr. Raditic and I believe the SPAN program will be a very important part of CANWI's mission.

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Veterinarians — Not Pet Food Companies — Should Be the Nutrition Experts Pet Parents Turn to for Information and Advice

Most of the nutrition information provided to veterinary students is delivered by representatives of the major processed pet food companies, so once they're in practice, processed diets are all they recommend. And they don't recommend them because they've studied them carefully and are confident of their benefits, but because it's the only type of pet food they've been exposed to.

Dr. Raditic makes the point that big pet food companies have controlled what dogs and cats eat by conducting their own research, by their constant presence in veterinary schools, and through marketing and advertising to veterinarians and consumers. She believes control should instead be in the hands of small animal nutritionists and unbiased experts who understand there is no one perfect diet for every pet. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of them.

"Our veterinary students and vet techs need that information," says Dr. Raditic. "As it stands, pet parents are taking matters into their own hands. If veterinarians can't talk about all the different diets, their positives and negatives — if they can't have those conversations, today's pet parents have nowhere to turn."

So, they look to pet food store employees for advice, or a neighbor, or a family member, or Facebook, and veterinarians get angry about that, because they feel they should be the experts pet parents come to.

"And they're right," says Dr. Raditic. "Veterinarians should be experts on small animal nutrition. But the way to become an expert is to learn all the different types of diets out there and everything we know and don't know about those diets that requires the type of research CANWI is doing.

Our research will give veterinarians the additional tools they need to say to clients, 'Come ask me questions. I want to talk to you about your dog and cat's nutrition and how we can do it the best'."

The purpose of the SPAN program is to bridge the gap between veterinarians and pet parents to enable them to have open conversations about nutrition and all the various types of pet diets available. We can do that by first building education programs for veterinary students and veterinary technicians.

After we've accomplished that, we need to insist that pet food companies get out of the education business and stick to product sales. As it stands, they are the only real "educators" on pet nutrition out there, and they do most of their "educating" of both veterinarians and consumers using marketing and advertising devices.

Dr. Raditic and I invite you to join us in supporting this important work with a donation to CANWI, either online through PayPal or via the mail. We can't do it without you. Thank you!

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