By Lyn Lewis, DVM
Wayside Animal Clinic
Is it just me or is there a new food product coming out every day? There are so many out there now. Truth be told that we can attribute a lot of our pet’s longevity to the evolution of pet foods. But there are still a lot of products that are not what they appear; others even can be dangerous for your pet depending on its age or health risks.
Ever since the big food scare about 3 years ago when melamine from China appeared in a few major brands, new boutique brands have been popping up. It is mind numbing all the different foods I am asked about daily. People ask me about wheat free, gluten free, bi-product free or preservative free foods all the time. The truth is there is no law that says a dog food needs to have balanced nutrition. That means that there are potentially many different foods that can be dangerous to our pets over time because they may lack vitamins or even some minerals that are important for our pet. To me that is just as scary as toxins in the food, both lead to diseases eventually.
Basically different foods have merit for different diseases definitely, but some can also be dangerous. Did you know there are some brands of food that claim to help joints and arthritis? While this is true, many of them contain glucosamine and condroitin, which are important for joints, they also contain high amounts of fat. Fat contains Omega 6 and 9 fatty acids but also a lot of calories. When this is fed to your pet over time, yes, they gain some protection and pain relief from arthritis. But, they have also gained significant amounts of weight which is infinitely worse for their joints. So, in the overall sense, these foods are the worst thing you can feed for joint health. Other diets that claim to be helpful for bladder stone or kidney disease actually are only higher in sodium making them drink more thus leading to more urine. It really did nothing more than give the appearance of better health.
On the other side of the coin, there are many great foods out there. Many companies have foods that are very balanced for young animals, adult animals and seniors. There are good foods for animals with sensitive stomachs and other common conditions. On the veterinary side,companies like Purina, Science Diet and Royal Canin make great specialty diets that can be wonderful for many diseases. In some cases they are even better than drug therapies. Diseases such as kidney failure, liver failure, bladder stones and heart disease I usually treat with special diets first before going on with medications.
I guess the main point for this article is to not put too much stock in many of the over the counter foods. There is no governing body in our country to make sure label claims are accurate or that foods are balanced with the daily requirement of vitamins and minerals, let alone the quality of the ingredients. A final example of this is one of my favorite foods to talk to clients about, Ol’Roy. There was an interesting study a few years ago that compared Ol’Roy to Purina Puppy Chow, both products are over the counter. They tested both foods on how much the puppies gained over their first 6 months. The conclusion of the study showed it took 2.5 times more Ol’Roy to match the weight gain of the Purina. So to get the same results, people had to feed 2.5 times more food. That actually made Ol’Roy more expensive than Purina. I could go on and on about examples. I really am not trying to pick on any one food.
In the end, it is all about the AAFCO statement on the bag. AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials. They are an organization that can certify that a food is balanced in its nutritional content. A certification body to guarantee a foods nutritional content is what’s important. When people ask for my recommendation or ask if the food they found out from a friend or on the internet is good I simply ask back if it is AAFCO certified. Usually they have to go back and check but I trust all AAFCO foods for balanced nutrition. If you stick with companies that adhere to AAFCO standards you can never go wrong. If you have any other questions about food. Especially foods used to treat various conditions in your pets it may pay to go see your veterinarian first. They can help guide you in the right direction.