Dog Food News: AVMA Unmasks 7 Nutrition Myths

by Mary Haight on February 26, 2011

Canoeing Labrador Retriever

Image by Melina. via Flickr

Dog food and new news is alway a topic of interest here at dancingdogblog, and I came across this article in February’s edition of PetAge magazine “Nutrition Myths Busted” on how the AVMA separates canine nutrition fact from fiction. I’m certain this will be a useful reference as the discussion moves forward. Here are the conclusions of researchers who spent 14 years following the progress of 48 pairs of Labrador Retriever littermates. Tell me if you feel adrift: 

l.  Myth: Dogs should only eat meat. Fact: Dogs as they have evolved today need a proportion of grains, vegetables and fruits to fulfil dietary needs.  Granted they say only a small amount of oatmeal, pasta, or rice, etc. should be part of the diet. 

2.  Myth: Raw eggs should never be fed to dogs. Fact: Eggs served on occasion, raw or boiled, are a good source of protein. Salmonella is not something dogs are as susceptible to as humans. 

3.  Myth: No dairy for dogs. Fact: Cottage cheese and yogurt are high in calcium, low in lactose. Some dogs are lactose intolerant, not all. 

4.  Myth: Fat is bad for dogs. Fact: Fat is converted by dogs bodies into energy. Low saturated fats like Omega 6 and 3 are needed in order to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. 

5.  Myth: Dogs are unable to digest grains. Fact: Partially true. While uncooked grains don’t do a dog’s body good, starch grains when cooked can be digested. Rice is a better option than wheat or corn! 

6.  Myth: “All commercial dog foods are bad. Fact: Research has shown that commercial dog foods are more able to meet dogs’ nutritional needs.” 

7.  Myth: A diet must suit a dog’s age and breed.  “Fact: In most cases the same diet can be used throughout a dog’s lifetime.  However puppies need more food than seniors and older dogs may need nutritional supplements.” 

There are many on-going arguments about what we should be feeding our dogs and I just had a conversation about corn with a blogger friend of mine.  I have been known to point out  what I believe to be failings of dog food companies, based on science and not emotions. Well, emotions are there, but so is the science.  Unfortunately this is a one-way conversation as people at these companies are legally enjoined from engaging in a conversation on this topic – or so I’ve been told. 

I do have bones to pick on a couple of these points, especially the one that is an incomplete thought. The article had a quote from Mike Grant, nutritional science director of SeniorPetProducts.com that noted it is just as important to know what to feed and in what amount. 

What I want to know is, what do you think?  Did you believe any of the myths described here? How are you handling all the back and forth about what’s best to feed your dog? Have you made recent changes to your feeding regimen based on new information, or have you chosen what you think is best and plan on sticking with it? 

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32 comments
Dr_Diana
Dr_Diana

Dogs have not evolved into anything.  They are very closely related to their ancestors.  This can be shown by the fact that domesticated dogs can interbreed with wild dogs and produce FERTILE offspring.  So that's some purty darn close DNA matching.  We have inbred the heck out of them.  But basic nutrition requirements are very much the same across breeds.  The biggest myth is about what wild dogs eat.  They are carnivores, but they eat just about anything.  When they kill a deer, it all gets eaten, including the voluminous contents of the gut, which will be grasses and grains.  Wolves eat mice and other rodents a great part of their cycle, again, gut contents and all.  So the meat myth really messes people up.  Alpo, back in the 50s, got on the all-meat bandwagon, and because their product was so high in muscle (and by-product) meat, without the proper balance of minerals, they would actually develop "rubber-jaw", that is, flexible, mandibles.  That's a lot of bone deterioration!  As a retired veterinarian, (who never took any money to promote ANY food, nor was I ever offered any), I go with the evidence-based science, that is, sound nutritional research that has been tested over and over.  NOT advertising or package labeling  It's nice to pamper once in a while with higher protein, higher fat foods--if your dog does not get obese or suffer pancreatitis as a result--but well-tested products are best.  The problem is that the law does not require pet foods to have in them what it says on the side of the package.  They are commodity-driven.  If chicken is cheaper for one batch, there will be more chicken.  If beef is cheaper, the amount of beef will go up  They can't change contents or longer than 6 months without changing the label (not sure about that time range; the memory is a little rusty).  Keep in mind that only a few companies have adequate laboratories to test and assure quality control--that the amount of protein is at the level touted on the package AND that it's bioavailable protein.  These are the ones vets recommend, because when nutritionists test them independently, they have what the package says in them and the quality (bioavailability) is what they say.  Just my two cents after a lifetime of loving and professionally caring for pets.

KellyBabbit
KellyBabbit

Exactly what have dogs evolved into? See my Maggie May is a DOG and I was feeding her like a human and like a human who eats too much starches  she got diabetes.. When starches are broken down, they must first be broken into sugars in order to be usable. Primary sources of carbohydrates in most diets are barley, brown rice, oats and rye, cooking of cereal grains is necessary for your animal to properly digest starches. Dogs and cats do not normally produce enzymes in their saliva to actually break-down carbohydrates and starches. Essentially, it’s a no-brainer: dogs and cats can’t digest grains and starches. Their pancreas is forced to produce large amounts of this enzyme to deal with the starches.

BIG AL
BIG AL

"Fact: Dogs as they have evolved today need a proportion of grains, vegetables and fruits to fulfil dietary needs." I prefer the term "adapted" over" evolved" as the dog is still a dog. It's not like they're slowly turning into rabbits or something.

Raw Dog Food
Raw Dog Food

Like your list of facts! Especially #6. It's important that people give balanced information when it comes to feeding their dogs. And being fair towards those who advocate raw and those who believe in commercial food is the right thing to do.

Jasmine
Jasmine

Actually, the thing about raw eggs isn't just salmonella, but also the fact that raw egg white contains enzyme that inhibits absorption of biotin. Some believe that there is enough biotin in the yolk to make up for that, many, however, believe that egg white should be fed only cooked. As for the grains, I don't believe dogs NEED grains. Vegetables and fruits yes. Not saying that some good quality whole grains are not of benefit.

Maria
Maria

Meant to write "not more capable of raw/homecooked diet" but more capable than yearsago.

Maria
Maria

The way I understood myth 6 upon reading was more capable over a home cooked/raw but instead are actually more capable than what they used to be years ago. Myself...I feed raw and sometimes cooked.

Lorie Huston, DVM
Lorie Huston, DVM

When it comes to kibble, I think there is a wide range of quality available, ranging from poor to very high quality. I see nothing wrong with feeding commercial, kibble or canned. However, I don't necessarily support feeding only commercial if you can keep your dog's diet balanced. Having a balanced diet is important though and is much more complicated than just throwing some foods together and feeding it to your dog. As for grain, dogs do not have an absolute requirement for carbohydrates. However, I do think some carbs in the diet can be a healthy thing for most dogs. Carbohydrates can be utilized for energy production, sparing the protein content in the diet for more important functions. However, it is important to watch the calorie count. Too many of our dogs are overweight or even obese and too many carbs can contribute to that also. Great post though, Mary. Interesting list. Controversial for certain.

veryvizsla
veryvizsla

I have been cooking for Jersey since she was a puppy. I boil up whatever meat is on special at the local Asian market, cook some veggies and that's about it. Sometimes I add boiled eggs that are past their due date, sometimes cheese, sometimes leftover pasta. I try to mix it up a bit and not feed her the same food too much. Jersey had bloodwork done this past summer and everything is tip top. Why do I make my own food? Initially I did it because Jersey is a princess a will not eat most commercial dog foods, now I do it for health and budget. There are some really good canned foods available, but at $4 a can, that's way more than I spend on feeding her myself. In my opinion, dogs can digest anything. Grains and veggies are good for dogs, as long as they are cooked and in moderate amounts. When it comes to kibble, of the first three ingredients on the bag, at least two should be meat, and most mid-line priced kibbles do that.

Deborah FLick
Deborah FLick

Oh my. I'll be interviewing a dog food person later this week--not an industry type-- I hope, and I'll run this list by him. I just don't know about the grain thing. I can see that some grains, maybe especially rice, are okay. Still, I don't feed Sadie any grains but she does get fresh veggies and a little fruit. No starch. And, she's healthy. Knock on wood. And for not shying away from opening this can of worms and raising all the other important issues that you do (please don't kill me), you've been awarded the Stylish Blogger Award. http://bit.ly/gyK9Vf

Kathy @YourHolisticDog
Kathy @YourHolisticDog

I too have a problem with point #6. It's a blanket statement which could imply that ALL commercial pet foods are okay. Maybe that's semantics, but I prefer inserting the word "some" in there because, as we know, not all commercial pet foods are created equal (in terms of quality). And whether dogs "need" grains is up for debate as well (in point #1). You always have to wonder who funds these reports and what their hidden agenda is. They really needed to expand on each point with some caveats.

Mel
Mel

Wow. Interesting and thought-provoking topic and information. Everyone's comments left me thinking - some really great comments by the way. I definitely have doubts about #1 and #6. I actually care for 3 show dogs who have only ever been fed a raw food diet. Guess what? They are some of the most healthy, fit and beautiful dogs I have seen. Their coats are lush, their teeth are in excellent health and they are a great weight - even though all 3 of them are over the age of 7. So the carbs argument doesn't seem all that clear cut. And, #6 seems to be a nod to the commercial dog food industry. I have decided to stick with The Honest Kitchen because I trust them and their ingredients are phenomenal. I am in agreement with Amy - my decisions will be based on my dogs' health.

Amy@GoPetFriendly
Amy@GoPetFriendly

More information comes out and I slip further into feeling it's impossible to know what's "right" in the dog food arena. With so much contradictory information out there, who do you believe? Luckily, we've found a dog food that our boys like and do well on. I won't be changing based on these reports. My decisions will be based on observing my own dogs' health.

Edie
Edie

Ah, Mary, you've opened up a can of worms -- as it were. Dr. Pitcairn recommends grains, raw feeders do not. Never the twain shall meet. There are a limited number of veterinary nutritionists -- less then 75 diplomates -- and the American College of Veterinary Nutritionists was only established in 1988. Item #6 could be way more qualified; I definitely don't think that all commercial products are more nutritionally balanced. But put into the context of the rest of the list, overall you've got pretty good guidelines for buying high quality commercial products that are convenient for many of us.

Lori @ According to Gus
Lori @ According to Gus

Another list to confuse me even more. ;) We fed Gus a homemade diet for years until he developed food allergies. Without being able to identify the cause, we switched to commercial dog food. Our vet, who we actually really like, suggested a prescription dog food with a horrendous ingredient list. Luckily for Gus, we found a brand that he likes and all of his issues disappeared. We felt guilty at first, but he's healthy and happy and that's all that matters!

Jim
Jim

Just more of the status quo. "Dogs as they have evolved today need a proportion of grains, vegetables and fruits to fulfil dietary needs." This is completely false. Dogs DO NOT require ANY carbohydrates! Presumably my dogs would be included in the category of "dogs as they have evolved today", yet neither of my dogs (a 5 year old Pit Bull & 15 1/2 year old Border Collie) get any carbohydrates. Not to plug my Facebook page (http://facebook.com/doggybytes), but I just posted a video of my 15 1/2 year old dining on raw stewing hen. If you watch the video, you'll see she's in exceptional shape, yet she eats no carbohydrates that the AVMA and so many others say she needs. The AVMA says that dogs can't digest uncooked grains, but they can digest cooked grains. So if grains (carbohydrates) are required for dogs to maintain good health and they're only made digestible by human intervention (cooking), how do any raw fed or non-domestic dogs survive? Lots of holes in this philosophy. Around and around we go.

Peggy @Peggy's Pet Place
Peggy @Peggy's Pet Place

I appreciate your list and it makes sense to me. I think some dog food manufacturers are sitting up and taking note of recent studies and offering more wholesome options. I have been educating myself on what to feed my dog. This is what I find most frustrating: It is difficult/impossible to feed my dog what many tout as "the best" diet, and keep within my budget. One interesting point: I used to feed my dogs a popular but less expensive brand because I had coupons. Kelly's bloodwork would always show up with a few areas of concern. The past year or so I've switched to premium brands for Kelly. Her current bloodwork is excellent. Maybe other factors contribute, but I do try to feed her the best quality I can afford.

Pamela
Pamela

In my first pass, I read the list thinking of the homemade diets I've prepared and what I read in that context. I didn't have major disagreements until I came to "fact #6" stating that "commercial dog foods are more able to meet dogs' nutritional needs." That may be true when people are haphazardly assembling a diet for their dogs but I don't think my diets based on Dr. Pitcairn's recipes and supplements were less nutritionally complete than commercial foods. Anyway, it's such a bizarre blanket statement that I went back to the top to reread where the list came from. And that's what made me reconsider the list. The AVMA receives lots of support from commercial pet food companies. I'm sure the research out there is paid by them. According to Marion Nestle, most of the nutrition education in vet schools is funded by dog food companies. Now I see the list being used as propaganda to convince people that all commercial dog foods are the best you can provide. The list provides good discussion points for people interested in figuring out the best options for feeding their animals. But in the hands of the animal food PR machine, I could see it being used to promote bagged dog food as the best option. I guess that's the way of the world. And why we need to bring a little healthy skepticism to everything we read.

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