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Sunday, December 18, 2016

When Good Companies Promote Bad Ideas

Recently a reader joined in a discussion from a couple of years ago, and asked a very good question.

As per your responses it makes me think of two additional things. I have read the replies from you and even others that grains are not bad for our dogs and you seem to imply that the brands you mentioned do more research and would be better but have you noticed that even Purina Pro Plan and Iams and Hills Science Diet are getting into the grain free or limited grain dog foods? I do not mean this as a gotcha question but rather it all confuses me.

This very thing is something that has been bothering me lately.  I consider Purina, Iams, Hills, and Royal Canin to be good food companies who have put a lot of money into nutritional research and the development of good quality foods.  So why are we seeing them make diets that nutritional specialists routinely say are unnecessary or misinformed?  Why are they making foods similar to those produced by companies that perpetuate false nutritional information?

I hate to say it, but it comes down to money and market share.

A few years ago somebody started saying that dogs and cats shouldn't have grains in their diets.  The idea started spreading and soon people were thinking that "grains are bad" and we need to eliminate them from pet foods.  Some manufacturers made a big deal about this idea and people on the internet started writing about it and spreading it.  Yet there has never been any legitimate scientific basis for these claims and board-certified specialists and nutritional researchers have disputed the information.  While there is strong evidence that grains are perfectly fine and readily digestible for most dogs and cats, somehow people started buying into the idea that grain-free diets were somehow better.

People mistakenly thought that they were buying good food for their dogs and certain food companies heavily marketed this aspect of their diets, disparaging other brands in the process.  Poorly informed consumers started buying these foods in larger amounts and the companies who promoted grain-free diets prospered and gained larger shares of the market.

Now the following is speculation on my part, but I think I have some very valid points and with some knowledge of the various companies and the real science behind pet foods I think I'm right on the mark.

Even though Purina, Iams, Hills, and Royal Canin are all good companies and produce good foods, they exist to make a profit.  Their boards of directors and presidents were probably looking at the expansion of grain-free foods in the market and seeing their own sales decrease.  So what do you do if you're a large company?  Do you spend time and money to try and correct the misinformation and have campaigns that talk about how ridiculous grain-free diets are?

Well, that would be the right thing to do.  But when do we see companies do this?  And if they do, how successful are they?  

So these companies did what pretty much every company does.  They make products to meet consumer demand.

The same thing has happened with gluten-free foods for humans.  For the vast majority of people there is no problem with gluten in foods.  Even many of the people who think they have a gluten sensitivity really don't.  But we now see a large number of products manufactured "gluten free", and even existing products that have never contained gluten changing their packaging to say "gluten free".

The large companies aren't saying that grain-free diets are better.  If you notice, they're still making plenty of foods that contain grains.  What they're doing is recognizing a demand and interest from pet owners, then making foods that cater to those people.  By doing so they are regaining some market share and selling more foods.

This drives me absolutely crazy because now we have even good companies who are upholding the myth that these kinds of foods are somehow better.  But the only way to fix it is for people to start sharing the correct information and bust those myths.  

As I am trying to do. 

Well informed pet owners will stop buying these foods, which will decrease demand and will result in fewer products and less misinformation.


  1. Well, at least Purina et al aren't demonizing grains, by-products, etc. the way that say, Blue Buffalo and some (many) other smaller companies do. They are simply presenting the newer grain-free products as a choice, which isn't a bad thing. I personally think Purina's Beyond line, which includes both grain inclusive and grain free options, is a pretty good food for the money. It may not be scientifically convincing that they jumped on the no corn, no wheat, no soy, no by products bandwagon but I don't think there's any harm done. And as a Purina fanboy, I'd say an owner is better off feeding almost any Purina product than many of the "holistic" come lately products in the marketplace.

    1. I will 100% agree with you! I won't say that I'm a "fanboy" for Purina, but I really like their nutritional quality and think that overall they are a very good company and have contributed a lot to nutritional research. I understand their reasons for catering to the grain-free desire of some pet owners, but I also hate that they do it as it helps to promote this myth, even if they aren't demonizing trains.

  2. I went and toured the hill's facility and spoke with the people in charge of making pet food a few years ago. There was a very strong disconnect with the idea that a cat is an obligate carnivore and the fact that they were putting plants in the food. It was so interesting to listen to workers talk about how they would grow organic food for themselves and raise chickens and bake bread to sell at the local farmer's market and then turn around and talk about using computer programs to jury-rig a nutritional profile that matched the desired nutritional content they were looking to produce in a food..

    1. Actually, cats do very well on the appropriate types of plant materials used in formulated pet foods. There have been many studies internationally that have shown this. Do a search on this blog on "nutrition" and you'll find that I write a lot about it and have provided numerous sources to back up my information.

    2. Tails from the foster kittens - I know that cats are obligated carnivores, but I have one that elects to eat lettuce routinely. It's the only way I can keep him out of the plants (don't worry, he's 13lbs and NOT going hungry).

  3. I know nobody can really answer this until his skin testing is done, but I'm going to throw it out there anyway... my lab started losing hair in chunks with obviously itchy patches of red everywhere on beneful (which I realize isn't a good food). I switched him to several different brands, same reaction. He went in chicken and rice only and was OK. Then I tried grain free to see what would happen. His coat came back and looked beautiful. Then one day, I couldn't afford the ridiculous price and made him homemade food (with a recipe from the vet, following her instructions and supplements of course) using foods we already had around the house. He did OK until we ran out of rice and moved onto pasta. The worst reaction was whole wheat pasta. He had an unrelated vet appointment the following day and she asked wth I was feeding him because his coat looked terrible! I told her he clearly had issues with wheat, right?? I know chicken is pretty likely, but he eats chicken almost every day and doesn't appear to have a problem with it. Just wheat. I asked about corn, they said its indigestible, so don't bother (makes sense, nobody can really digest corn, right?). I don't know... I just don't know wth to feed this dog anymore... he's a 13 year old pure-bred field lab, a giant (probably by accident, his linage followed breed standard and he weighs 100lbs and is not overweight), and he runs hard (like 1 Mike a day despite mild arthritis and the occasional 5 mile hike). I inherited him in late 2014 when my mother (his second owner to die on him) passed away... no matter what I feed him, it's going to be too expensive because he needs SO MUCH FOOD (when he goes under around 2k calories a day, his weight starts to dip, yet he's healthy. Just very active), but I wasn't him to get the best food possible... after all, he's 13 freakin years old already! Help??


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