The Pet Food Dilemma

Dog-FoodA lot of confusion and conflicting information exists out there about dog and cat diets. (Actually, the same is true for human diets, with different experts singing the praises of completely different regimens.) So who do you believe, and how do you decide what to feed your pet? That depends not only on whose advice you trust, but also on the way you make decisions for your pet, as well as your own health.

For example, let’s say your cat has a urinary tract problem, and your neighborhood vet recommends a prescription diet. When you go to your local pet store, however, the store owner tells you that the vet’s prescribed diet is poor quality, and recommends a different diet altogether. What do you do?

Veterinarians, like their MD counterparts, receive very little nutrition training in professional school. On the other hand, when I was in vet school, I remember the frequent dinners and “mixers” that were sponsored by various large pet food companies. It’s really no different from the way MDs are lobbied by pharmaceutical companies. When I started studying animal nutrition on my years later, I discovered that much of what I was “fed” about dog and cat diets has turned out to be completely untrue. This is not to suggest that a pet store employee can take the place of a good veterinarian; however, most people I know who own or work in smaller, independently owned pet stores know considerably more about commercial pet diets than your local vet does.

Take, for example, Hill’s Prescription C/D, a dry cat food that many vets would prescribe for a cat with bladder problems. The first three ingredients are brewer’s rice, corn gluten meal and chicken by­product meal. Seriously? Do those sound like healthy and appropriate things to feed a cat? The first two ingredients are highly processed carbohydrates that have a very high glycemic index ­­ meaning they turn to sugar in the body very rapidly. Persistently elevated levels of sugar in the bloodstream leads to a condition called insulin resistance. This is the same problem in humans that leads to Type 2 diabetes, and also creates a pattern of chronic systemic inflammation in the body. It’s ironic to think that this state of long­standing inflammation from high carbohydrate diets, such as the C/D diet, could be the underlying factor in the cat’s bladder problem in the first place. And chicken by­product meal? Not something you would want to feed a beloved family member, I guarantee you. Compare that to Orijen cat kibble, which has free­range boneless chicken, chicken meal and chicken liver as the first three ingredients. Quite a difference.

Nutrition is the one of the most fundamental aspects of health for animals and humans

alike. I find that most of the cases of chronic, long­standing health issues in both dogs and cats have a significant dietary component. I can’t tell you how many animals I’ve treated in the last 15 years that had severe health problems ­­ diabetes, skin allergies, arthritis… you name it ­­ completely resolve by switching to a more biologically species­appropriate diet.

And by all means, do educate yourself. I recommend the book “Foods Pets Die For” by Ann Martin for a startling look into the pet food industry. Another great resource is Dr. Karen Becker’s website, where you can find extensive information on the most up to date pet nutrition topics.

Published in LocalsGuide and The Jacksonville Review.

There are 2 comments left Go To Comment

  1. Liz Schmidt /

    Do you have any guidance about the sodium content of dog food? One we were considering had salt very high on the ingredient list, and when I contacted the manufacturer to find out about the sodium content they said it was .3 percent sodium or 296 mg/cup.

    I also found the following recommendations online. Would you agree?

    1) Healthy dogs weighing 33 pounds should consume no more than 100 mg of sodium a day, according to the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, a division of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council.

    2) According to The Association of American Feed Control Officials, dry dog food should contain at least .3 percent sodium, but most healthy dogs can have more and they’ll still be fine.

    Thank you!

    1. Dr J / Post Author

      .3 -.5 % is also what I found as a recommended sodium content for dog diets. I don’t see any problems with too much sodium in dog foods except for cases of severe heart failure.

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