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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Nutrition Mythbusting....Current Pet Food Fads

Every time I write about pet nutrition I get people commenting about how I'm full of crap and obviously don't know a thing about pet foods and what goes into them.  Time to walk that path again.
This post comes from a question sent to me by Sharron....
Hi Dr Bern: lexee is a yorkie/chihuahua 5 yrs old - my problem is i don't what to feed her - she is SO fussy when it comes to dry dog food. Of all the dry foods i have tried i always go back to Royal Canin.
But of course i have gotten raked over the coals because so many people believe it's a horrible food. Today i was asked if i'm trying to kill her by feeding her RC. I try not to get wrapped up in the holistic, organic etc trend. I think RC is fine. Lexee likes it but i still wonder if she should be on grain free - she doesn't have allergies. She also likes Hills Healthy Advantage Small Bites. Can you set me straight on these foods. Are they good foods to feed. Thankyou.
Before I get into the meat of my post, let me first stated that my opinions are formed by listening to and reading articles from board-ceritified nutritional specialists and internal medicine specialists.  My sources are reputable and experts in their field.  Before you disparage and dismiss those folks, remember that these are veterinarians who have studied for 5-6 years after vet school in a very specific field and then have passed rigorous exams where the pass rate is around 40%.  If you ignore their opinions, you are throwing away the views and knowledge of the people doing the reasearch that everyone else follows.

Okay, that's out of the way.  I had to throw that in there because I inevitably get people who think what I say is uninformed hogwash and my sources obviously don't know what they're doing and are shills for the food companies.

Sharron, here's the simple version....the people who are giving you advice don't really understand what they're talking about and you shouldn't listen to them.  Keep doing what you're doing.

Now the long version. 

The whole "grain-free" diet trend we've seen in the last couple of years is purely a fad without any real scientific basis.  It's perpetuated by people who have incomplete understanding of the gentics and digestive physiology of dogs, and often by pet food companies trying to sell food by playing on client fears.  So why is this such a popular trend?  From my personal experience this trend started as a result of two things, both incorrect. 

First, there is a percpetion that because dogs are descended from wolves we need to feed them something similar to the diet of their wild anscestors.  Since wolves don't eat wheat, rice, and corn, we need to be feeding grain-free diets.  The problem with this idea is that it's completely wrong.  Dogs are not wolves.  Yes, they are very similar and have a nearly identical physiology, but there are also significant differences.  Dogs have been domesticated for 10,000-15, 000 years, and in that time have been exposed to diets much higher in grains than what wolves eat.  Scientists have identified differences in several key genes in dogs related to starch digestion and glucose uptake.  This means that dogs have developed so they have a much better ability to handle grain-based diets than do wolves.  It also means that there is no benefit to feeding a grain-free diet over one with grains.

Second, there is a misconception that grains cause food allergies.  This is blatantly untrue.  It's the same as saying that a bee sting causes someone to be allergic to bees.  In any of these allergies the person/animal is already genetically predisposed to the allergy, and exposure to the allergen can trigger the reaction.  The bee didn't cause the person to be allergic; the person was already allergic and the sting simply triggered a genetic tendency.  It's the same way with food allergies.  If a dog has allergies to grains, it means that they had genes already in their body which would trigger a reaction after repeated exposure to the allergen.  Grains will absolutely not cause an allergy in a dog with no genetic predisposition, just like a bee sting wouldn't result in anaphylaxis in a person without an allergy to it.  Additionally, not every food allergy is to grains, and even if it is, it is usually to specific grains.  Wheat is indeed a common allergen, but beef and chicken are even more likely to cause a problem.  A grain-free diet is only of benefit if the dog has an already documented allergy to the grain in question.  For your average dog there is no need to limit this ingredient.

Now let's talk about Royal Canin specifically.  I think it's an excellent food, as does every nutritional specialist with whom I've ever consulted.  It is what I chose to feed my own dogs and cats, and I don't work for the company or get any financial incentives for recommending it.  I just believe in it that much.  When ever I've talked to veterinary nutritionists and asked which foods they recommend. Royal Canin is always near or at the top of the list. 

Royal Canin is a great food for a number of reasons.  They use high quality ingredients and pay particular attention to the needs and eating habits of specific breeds.  They put a lot of attention on palatability, which is why they guarantee a dog or cat will eat it.  They are highly involved with quality control on their foods.  And they are supported by the Waltham Foundation, which has been one of the premiere animal nutrition research facilities in the world for several decades.  Besides being one of the leaders in nutritional research, the Waltham Centre has always impressed me by how they take animal welfare into account when conducting research.  I would really challenge anyone to be intellecually honest and find serious fault with the research and findings of this group.

Yes, I know like I sound like I'm trying to promote Royal Canin and Waltham and that I work for them.  I assure you that I don't, and that it just comes from carefully looking into pet foods and this company in particular for over 10 years.

Sharron, I'm curious as to why some of the people you talk to think that Royal Canin is so horrible and detrimental to dogs.  I can almost guarantee it is because of some passionately held misinformed beliefs.  Personally, I think you're feeding one of the best dog foods on the market, and wouldn't recommend changing anything that you are doing.

Now I wonder how long it will be before someone starts commenting on how horrible and ignorant I am.......