Debunking 4 dog nutrition myths

Last Fall I worked for a dog food manufacturer for a few months as an event and demo person. My goal was to earn a little change while hanging around dogs. I accomplished both. I also got many interesting insights into how some dog parents pick the brand of food they feed their pup. Below are four of the most common myths I found out there regarding dog nutrition.

Dog Food Waiting Debunking 4 dog nutrition myths

Some dogs are just happy for any food…really, any food.

1.         “If it costs more, it must be good”

Yes, while you often will pay more for higher quality, just because it is expensive, isn’t reason in and of itself that the product is good – or the right choice for your dog. Not all forms of dog nutrion, even if expensive, are created equal.

Because the product I was working with was a higher-end pet food, I had the luxury of working only in higher-end, small, boutique type stores. Originally I made the assumption that if people were buying their dog food at a higher-end store, they must know a ton about pet nutrition. Nope. While this was the case in maybe 1 out of 10 shoppers I came across, the remaining 9 out of 10 people I met were of the mindset “if it costs more, it must be good.” These folks just knew they didn’t want any brand that was considered “cheap” because they associated those brands with recalls.

2.         “Why is there so little protein?”

If the consumer bothered to look at the ingredients, they often stopped after the protein content. Everyone wants high protein, which is good, but I’d come to find out many owners didn’t know what that meant. I often heard people say “why isn’t the protein percentage higher?” or “is there one with 100% protein?”

In fact, according to the FDA, most meat is only about 25% protein, by weight, when you factor in water and fat content. Of course protein sources can vary; steak is about 26% protein, by weight, an egg is about 12% protein by weight. If you see a label with greater than about 25% protein, the product most likely contains a “meal” such as chicken meal or bone meal; and those protein sources have had the water and most of the fat removed, so the protein is more concentrated.

3.         “My vet said to only use…”

Often you’d see pet parents in the store buying their dogs some treats or toys. If you engaged them in a conversation about what they feed their pet, you’d hear “my veterinarian said only to feed my dog ________.” I won’t mention the brands, because most of you know which brands I’m speaking of; the ones highly visible at your vet’s office, the ones that are highly marketed to your vet. These are also the brands you won’t find at a higher-end pet store. You know why? Because for the most part they aren’t healthy for your dog, and are filled with cheap fillers that provide little or no nutritional value. A general statement about veterinarians is that they get very little nutrition training. This is not true of all vets (many pursue nutrition training on their own), but the vets that tell you to only feed your dog the common brands that are heavily marketed to vet’s offices, that vet is not doing your dog any favors. If you only feed your dog those brands, chances are you are going to be seeing more of your vet for your dog’s health ailments that might otherwise be avoided.

dog food measure Debunking 4 dog nutrition myths

photo credit: StarsApart via photopin cc

4. “The store can tell me anything I need to know”

I can’t tell you how many times I saw a consumer enter a pet store and not be sure what kind of dog food they were looking for. They made a bee-line to the largest display, the cutest packaging, the bags with the most key words, the heart-shaped kibble, etc. In other words, marketing works, folks.

Often, a clerk at a small store that is well-educated in dog nutrition can help answer a bunch of your questions, but often you will be steered towards their preferences, or what the store has been encouraged/rewarded to sell that month.

What do I think you should think about or research before you enter the pet store?

  • If you are changing foods, why? What more or less are you looking for? What do you want and/or not want?
  • Does your pet have food allergies? Maybe these haven’t been confirmed, but are there are certain ingredients your dog does better without.
  • Do you know other people that use a certain brand? Is their dog similar to yours? In other words, what your neighbor feeds their Great Dane might not be as appropriate for your Chihuahua.
  • What brands have had recent recalls? What was the recall for? The Dog Food Advisor site is a good site to search for recalls.
  • Find a brand that interests you? Check them out online. See what people are saying about them. Look at their Facebook page, their Twitter feed, etc. Pet food companies have a LOT of media out there on dog nutrition. Often you can get free samples or great coupons from the manufacturer site, as well.
  • Is this a feeding method you can maintain? I can’t tell you how many people I saw try the raw diet for their dog only to learn that they practically dry heave having to watch their dog consume raw meat. Or, they just didn’t have the time to keep fresh meat at home all the time. Pick what you can stick with.

Obviously, these questions are just a starting point, and depending on how finicky your dog is, or any health issues they may have, there may be many, many more questions to ask yourself.

Another item to note about doing your research is that a pet food company can change ingredients in its formulation, and as long as they have the correct ingredients for a product listed on their website, by law they have up to six months to use their stock of pre-printed bags. If your dog has concerns with a specific ingredient, check the food label on the website!

I hope these tips and insights helped. As all dogs are different, so to are their nutritional requirements, preferences, and tolerances. Sometimes finding the perfect food for your dog is an experiment in weeding out what doesn’t work before narrowing in on what works well.

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  • Stylish Canine

    Excellent advice (I especially love seeing #3 on there – lots of misinformation from vets about raw diets as well, thanks to the AVMA’s skew on science due to political/$$ reasons). Another thing to watch out for are smaller pet food companies being bought by big ones, and changing their formulas (and as you say, keep the same bags).

    Looking into local meat buying co-ops, for home-cooking or raw, is another option along with a chat with a holistic vet. We purchase from a local raw-food producer who makes the grind and preps bones, portions it out, and drops on our doorstep each month. I kid you not, it actually saved us money after home-cooking ourselves for years (buying meat from Costco). Not to mention, her ingredients are higher quality than what we got from Costco and we save a heckuva lot of time each week prepping food!

    • Stefanie

      Thanks! Yes, most vets try to scare you about raw food diets, while pushing _______ brand awful food. Drives me nuts! That is a great idea about the local meat buying co-op! I might see if they have that around here (Seattle area). I tried the home cooking route for my dogs, but to be honest, I feel like I’m doing well if I cook for my husband and myself half the time. Thanks for the thoughtful comments!

      • Stylish Canine

        Me too! We would spend nearly an entire day with the giant commercial steamer (to make vegetables more digestible , roasting meat, then food processing it all… then portioning and reserving half of our fridge and freezer for all the parcels. And that was when we only had one dog! I was over the moon to find someone to do it for me, although it almost feels like a guilty luxury 🙂 I’d love to keep in touch with what you discover about Seattle area raw groups, as we hope to move to the area in the next year or two. A few are listed here – Good luck!

        • Stefanie

          Wow, that’s a lot of work. Kudos to you, but yes, awesome that someone else can do it for you! Definitely keep in touch!

  • Kimberly Gauthier

    What sucks is that some pet food companies spend millions on promoting their food; why not take some of that money to make better food? I curious to know what veterinarians get out of promoting certain brands.

    This is a fantastic post. Great job!

    • Stefanie

      Thanks! Yes, I’d rather see the money go to quality ingredients and testing to prevent recalls, than money for huge commercials or glossy magazine ads.

      My take on what vets get from promoting the brands they do, is that there are reps (kind of like pharmaceutical reps) that visit the vets and promote the product heavily. Some of the these brands have different formulas and packaging for different “ailments,” so it makes it easy for the vet to turn around and promote to clients. Also, there’s the profit margin. I was told by a holistic vet that most of those foods have a really low wholesale value (and worth?), so vets are able to make quite a profit, after their markup.

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