10 things I want my clients to know about Pet Food

Nutrition has become somewhat of an obsession. Because nutrition is such a hot button issue right now, I was writing a post that I had been referring to as my "nutrition manifesto." It was going to be a monster of a post addressing all of the myths and misconceptions that I discuss with clients on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. However, now there so many good articles out there outlining the facts better than I could, I decided instead to make a top ten list of what I want all my clients to know about feeding pets. 

1. Grain-free is a marketing ploy and a fad. Grain free diets are no more nutritious than other diets including grains, but they can cost an owner up to twice as much. This is purely profit. Eventually grain free foods will fall out of favor as new trends emerge. Also, grain free does NOT mean low carb. 

2. Raw food has no benefit (none), and can make your pet sick or even die.  Feeding raw does not cure allergies, does not provide superior nutrition, is often not balanced, and does not make your cat or dog like their "wild" ancestors or counterparts.

3. Your dog is not allergic to corn. At least, it is extremely unlikely. Food allergies are much less common than the general public is led to believe by certain companies. Of all allergic dogs, the majority are flea allergic, many are environmentally allergic, and less than 5% are food allergic. And most food allergies are to the animal protein in the food (beef, chicken, etc). That means that a minute percentage of dogs are truly allergic to corn or wheat, so small it is difficult to compute. Corn is an excellent source of energy and essential fatty acids. It is not evil.

4. By-products are perfectly acceptable ingredients in pet food. The term "by-product" refers to parts of a carcass not used by the human food chain (read: Americans). This does not mean by-products are bad. By-products include highly nutritious organ meats like liver and spleen. By-products do NOT mean feathers, hooves, etc. 

5. Only three companies (out of the seemingly thousands that make pet foods now) employ board certified veterinary nutritionists. These companies are Hill's, Purina, and Waltham (Royal Canin & others). Because the company employs a person who is trained to formulate balanced foods, I know that these companies want their foods to be complete and balanced for the animals they feed. In other words, they actually care about nutrition, and not just profits. 

6. Pet store employees are not trained in nutrition. They are trained in sales. The foods they push are the ones with the highest profit margins. Don't spend hundreds of dollars a year on pet food and forego flea treatment or wellness care.

7. Picky eaters are made, not born! It is important to choose one food and stick with it. Changing a dog's food every day, week or even just buying whatever bag is on sale can be very detrimental to the health of the dogs gastrointestinal tract by causing diarrhea and gassiness due to bacterial population changes. It is also the best way to create picky eaters. Dogs are smart and they recognize patterns. If you give in to a begging dog, he will beg again.

8. Dogs are omnivores, not carnivores. Dogs are not wolves. Dogs were domesticated between 15 and 30 thousand years ago. They evolved eating the scraps of humans, which included just about anything. If your dog was "wild," it would not be chasing down an elk with it's packmates. It would be rooting through the trash to find food. If your dog is a brachycephalic breed (smush face), it would die rather quickly in the "wild."

9. Cats are obligate carnivores. Cats need animal protein in their diets to survive. (This does not mean that your cat cannot eat some grains). Please do not try to make your cat a vegetarian, or worse, a vegan. It WILL die.

10. Your veterinarian is the best source for information about your pet's diet. Not Dr. Google. Contrary to the belief of some "online experts," vets are not 'bought out' or bribed by certain food manufacturers. We just recommend the foods we see actually benefitting pets. Most vets are Type A, detail-oriented, results-driven people. We want to see our patients live long, healthy lives, and that includes having good, balanced nutrition. Some veterinarians may be more interested in nutrition than others, and can at least get to you a legitimate resource to answer your questions.

I have added a new Nutrition Resources Page at the top of the blog. I will continue to update this page with links to studies, articles, and informative resources.

(Also, I invite other opinions and experiences but because nutrition is so emotional, I reserve the right to close comments on this post and/or block users as necessary. You have been warned.)


  1. Thanks for the great information. Even though I 'know' this stuff and have fed the same food to my dogs for years with great results, it's still hard for me to not question myself when hearing all the VERY persuasive dog food advertising on TV.

    1. Exactly, VetVoyeur. And if its hard for US, I can't even imagine how hard it is for the average pet owner.

  2. I have tried to explain the "dogs are omnivores" fact so many times. Dogs are not wolves! This is a great list.

  3. A WONDERFUL and INFORMATIVE blog that I just love! We can be so silly about our animals sometimes! They are domesticated, I believe we can't throw them a raw squirrel now and then and think they'll be healthy! (I'm being a bit facetious!) I've never heard of trying to make a cat a vegan, and if anyone tries they should have their pet taken away, then they (the owners) should be beaten with a stick! We are so trendy lately, but can do so much harm when we try to extend that to our poor pets! Thanks, Shel, for being a voice of reason!

    1. Every now and then I will see some idiotic comment on the internet from a vegetarian who wants their cat to be vegetarian as well. And I know one person who did try to make their cat a vegan. It's dead.


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