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Monday, November 3, 2008

The Best Pet Foods

We're spoiled in Western society. C'mon, you have to admit that. And that's especially obvious when you walk into a pet specialty store like PETsMART or PetCo. There are aisles and aisles of pet foods of every kind and price. Many countries in the world don't have this much variety for the people, let alone the dogs and cats! And while this plethora of food choices allows people to find just the right food, it can also be confusing and intimidating. What food is really best for your pet? Are the expensive foods worth it? Do pets really like having bone- or fish-shaped pieces?

I have to admit that even as a veterinarian this can be a very confusing topic. We get only a little training in pet nutrition during vet school, and it's not easy to piece together the information once we graduate. There really is very little consistently published in the veterinary journals on this subject, so this can be a hard topic for vets to learn about and discuss with clients. For this reason, I've recently tried to get down to the bottom of what the ingredients mean and which ones are good or bad.

I consulted with a board-certified veterinary nutrition specialist. This is a vet who has done specialized training and research purely in animal nutrition. I asked him about the various ingredients, types, and so on. And believe it or not, I can't say that my confusion was dramatically ended. I discovered that much of what I had believed about good pet foods wasn't necessarilly true. And I also discovered that the subject is more complicated than I thought. But I know that clients don't want a long discussion or disertation on the subtleties of pet nutrition. They (and you readers) just want to know which foods to feed, short and simple. So I broke it down and asked this specialist what foods veterinary nutritionists feed their own pets.

Now before I give you the list, remember that all of the food companies are in the business to sell their products. They are going to do everythign they can to promote their food and convince you that it's the best. Everything from the commercials to the packaging, and even color and shape of the food are all directed at the people, not the dogs and cats. There is also a general rule that you get what you pay for. The reason why some foods are cheaper is because they have lower quality ingredients. The converse is true about the premium foods.

Okay, so which ones are the best? The following list is what veterinary nutritional specialists feed their own pets. Remember that these are the doctors that know more about pet nutrition than anyone else, and with that knowledge they have chosen these foods as the best nutritional quality for their own pets. The choices are based on overall quality of the manufacturing and ingredients, as well as knowledge of the companies' quality control.

In no particular order: Science Diet, Iams (especially the Eukanuba line), Royal Canin, Purina (just the ProPlan and ONE lines), and Nutro. Personally I lean towards Royal Canin and Nutro, but do recommend the others based on my discussion with the specialist.

So there you go! Nutrition does matter in your pet's health, and this has been shown in several studies. Choose one of these foods, and you'll be doing the right thing.


  1. "In no particular order: Science Diet, Iams (especially the Eukanuba line), Royal Canin, Purina (just the ProPlan and ONE lines), and Nutro."

    So the 'top nutrition specialists' feed their dogs food full of corn, by-products, fillers, unnatural preservatives, etc.? Great to know that these are the people 'educating' us on pet nutrition.

    I think you should do some more research. It doesn't sound like these 'veterinary nutritionists' were taught anything more than what little the regular vets are taught. It's all still heavily influenced by the very companies they are recommending. After all, Science Diet and the likes are the ones who sponsor/teach those pet nutrition courses. Coincidence? I think not.

    I'll take my all natural, human-grade dog foods (Innova, Wellness, Orijen, etc.) over those 'vet recommended' brands any day.

  2. I would like to see your research and data that (1) show these ingredients to be harmful, and (2) show the "all-natural" foods to be much better. It's easy to say that something is much better, but to be able to have a solid opinion, it should be based on unbiased data. I know that I can get this information. Can you? Peer-reviewed scientific articles are the things I'm looking for.

    The nutritional specialists that I talk about are the ones in the universities who study the ingredients, quality of manufacturing, and their direct effects on pet health. They are not paid or employed by food companies, and have no stake in recommending one food over another.

    It should also be kept in mind that the "quality" of a food goes beyond simply the ingredients. It matters how it's processed, as well as what kind of quality control there is at the manufacturing plant to be certain that the batches remain consistent.

    I'm not discounting the smaller brands, and I know that many of them are extremely good. However, the larger companies should also not be ignored. Many of them have excellent scientific articles on various ingredients that have been reviewed and found sound by many scientists.

  3. Last I checked, corn wasn't a major part of a carnivore's diet. Corn and wheat are two common pet food allergens... also common in low quality pet foods. What about by-products? There is absolutely no guarantee as to what these are. It could something so wonderful as fresh organ meat... or it could be beaks and feet.

    High quality pet food companies will say flat out, clear and simple 'chicken liver'. What do we get from the lower end companies? Chicken by-products.

    Filler grains are entirely unnecessary, low quality grain (brewers rice will never compete with whole, brown rice on the nutritional scale, for instance) and often lead to nothing but weight gain.

    Many of the unnatural preservatives and dyes (as well as some synthetic vitamins, like the synthetic vitamin K, Menadione) have been linked to health problems.

    The nutritionists you speak of may have done their own 'research', but it looks like they stuck close to what they were 'taught' and based it all off of that.

    I'm content in the fact that there are indeed /some/ vets that have gone beyond what they were 'taught' by those companies and truly done their own research. I'm hoping more vets will begin to do so.

    Science Diet Adult Small Bites (dry)

    Chicken, Ground Whole Grain Corn, Ground Whole Grain Sorghum, Ground Whole Grain Wheat, Chicken By-Product Meal, Soybean Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Animal Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), Brewers Rice, Chicken Liver Flavor, Soybean Oil, Flaxseed, Potassium Chloride, Iodized Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Choline Chloride, Vitamin E Supplement, vitamins (L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), DL-Methionine, preserved with Mixed Tocopherols and Citric Acid, Beta-Carotene, Rosemary Extract

    As we all know, ingredients are listed by weight. Chicken is only listed first because it's not a meal... which means the moisture content is adding weight. Remove that water/moisture content and that leaves us with corn as the primary ingredient. This is followed by two additional grains, including wheat (that's two common pet food allergens right there at the top of the ingredients list).

    Innova Adult Small Bites (dry)

    Turkey, Chicken, Chicken Meal, Barley, Brown Rice, Potatos, White Rice, Chicken Fat, Flaxseed, Herring, Natural Flavors, Apples, Carrots, Pumpkin, Egg, Sunflower Oil, Sea Salt, Potassium Chloride, Herring Oil, Cottage Cheese, Alfalfa Sprouts, Direct-Fed Microbials, Lecithin, Rosemary Extract, Vitamins/Minerals

    We have three meats right there at the beginning (one even being a meal). This is followed by high quality grains.

    I don't know about you, but I'll take a food made up primarily of meat proteins over a food made up primarily of corn any day :)

    I won't argue any further than that. In my honest opinion, when you compare the ingredients and nutritional analysis of these 'high end' vet foods to the more natural pet foods, it's plain as day which is the superior, healthier food. But I'm not so foolish as to think I could convince a vet of this. Not after what they are 'taught' by those pet food companies.

  4. Beef is also a common allergen, as is chicken. In fact, beef is one of the most common food allergens. Does this mean that meat proteins are bad for dogs? Just because something can be an allergen to SOME animals, doesn't mean that it can be bad for ALL animals. You're throwing out the baby with the bath water.

    I also again ask for proof. You state that some of these ingredients have been shown to cause health problems. Can you point to independent, peer-reviewed and published studies? Other than speculation and internet discussions, is there any actual proof of your opinions?

    I also have to take issue with the conspiracy theory you seem to have about pet food companies teaching us in veterinary school. That is completely and utterly untrue. The published texts are also not subsidized by any food company. Yes, food companies do try and talk to us about the benefits of their particular foods. However, they have never been a part of the official curriculum at schools. Nutritional specialists are not puppets of Hill's, Iams, Purina, or any other company. To say that they are is insulting to the intelligence and integrity of these doctors and scientists. Would you be willing to stand in front of one of them and make these same accusations?

    You are basically saying that decades of research that have been poured over by hundreds of specialists and scientists, and have resulted in thousands of pages of well-documented research is really just us being brainwashed by evil food companies who don't have a pet's best interest at heart and are merely trying to make money by deception and fraud. Do you realize how ridiculous this sounds? You are also stating that tens of thousands of veterinarians around the world and in every hemisphere have been duped by a handful of food manufacturers. Veterinary colleges world-wide have been infiltrated to bring about more food sales. Because this data has been studied and published internationally, so you are making statements about non-US data. Are you prepared to subscribe to such a global conspiracy that has gone past the notice of tens of thousands of highly intelligent and critical people?

    Once me studies and evidence. Show me actual proof that veterinary colleges around the world are using information provided only by food manufacturers. Show me actual proof that these food ingredients do more harm than good. You are making wild statements without documentation. That's not the way to win a discussion. If you're going to make such accusations, then you should be able to stand by them. Can you do so?


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