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Food for Thought

Busting Pet Food Myths: Part 1

Do you read your pet’s food bag? Is grain-free better? Did I buy a good food or a great food?

With more than 6000 recipes of dog food and more than 2,500 for cats, it’s a huge market for pet foods and they are all vying for your dollar – many with huge marketing campaigns. We pet owners spent more than $69 billion on our pets in 2017 and more than $30 billion was spent on food – mostly dog food.

Know what else increased since 2015? The recall, mandatory or voluntarily, of lots of pet food products and edible treats. A few things foods earning recalls are contaminants (metal, drugs, bacteria), packaging problems, spoilage and more.

Now having a food recall does not inherently mean that these companies make bad dog food; it just means that we as consumers need to be aware and monitor. The Food and Drug Administration oversees a list of all recalled food issues that can easily be found by simply searching FDA Pet Food Recalls.

Now, let’s look at some myths. But first know, there are plenty of high-quality pet foods to choose from in all price points. Remember pet foods are made up of ingredients that in combination provide at a minimum baseline nutrition. The majority of cat and dogs foods are not evaluated in feeding trials, but rather through chemistry assays that identify levels of protein, fat, carbohydrates, etc. So, read the label, including the list of ingredients and the AAFCO statement of what life stage/s the food is meant for being the most important.

And, as consumers, we also really need to know the source of the myths, as well as reliable nutrition information. Breeders, pet store clerks and many others promoting nutritional myths have little to no training in nutrition and often have very strong personal biases that color their recommendations. Veterinarians are trained in nutrition and also have access to boarded veterinary nutritionists who are even greater experts. Use your veterinarian to vet your pet’s food – take an empty bag or photo of labels to them for evaluation.

Myth Number 1: Grains Are Bad in Pet Food

Not true. The grain-free appellation is a marketing tool, not a nutritional recommendation or need. There are no scientific studies showing grain-free diets to be better for pets. Rather how grains are processed for pet foods releases the many vital and easily digested nutrients they contain while keeping the cost of the food reasonable.

Myth Number 2: Grains Cause Food Allergies

Not true. When we have food allergies in our cat and dog patients, it is based on ingredients – most commonly the protein (beef, chicken, milk, egg) and not the grains. We do not have evidence for celiac or gluten intolerance in dogs and cats; in the human population, celiac disease is found in less than 2 percent of the general population.

Next month – more on pet food myths, especially raw food diets.

Dr. Margot can be reached at

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