Dog owners are inundated by messages from advertisements, commercials, the Federal government and agricultural extension services to “consult your veterinarian” about the nutritional needs of our dogs. But what do veterinarians really know about canine nutrition?
I’ll tell you.
Thanks to the insight from a book, “Not Fit for a Dog: The Truth About Manufactured Dog and Cat Food,” by Michael Fox B.Vet.Med., Ph.D., D.Sc., M.R.C.V.S., Elizabeth Hodgkins, D.V.M. and Marion Smart, D.V.M., Ph.D., I recently learned that during four years at vet school at a grueling rate, around 20 hours or less is devoted to nutrition. And even then, the nutrition information veterinarians receive has more to do with the medical management of diseased and convalescent animals, and nutritional preventative medicine, than it does with feeding healthy dogs for longevity and good health.
So, if we’re only spending 20 hours on nutrition, and the information covered is widely spread and applied to so many types of animals, does vet school really prepare vets to know what dogs should be eating?
It seems that most vets these days are “recommending” the food that large manufacturers educate them about via sales reps. The manufacturers are not in the business of making dogs healthy; they’re in the business of making money. I don’t begrudge them this. I am a business owner, and I do it to make money. However, what makes the most money for pet food manufacturers is a product that is shelf-stable for months or years, is cheap to produce (which means using the cheapest ingredients), and is widely adopted by consumers in the marketplace. Raw beef is none of these things.
Here’s how you convince millions of dog owners to starve their dogs with nutritionally inappropriate food, and get them to keep feeding this food to their dogs even when the dogs become sick with allergies, digestive issues, bone and structural weaknesses, cancers and a whole array of skin and eye conditions:
- Put the phrase “recommended by veterinarians” on your packaging. The phrase is meaningless, does not need to be proved, and even if it was recommended by vets, vets are not canine nutritional experts anyway.
- Use words like “human-grade ingredients” on your packaging. This phrase is equally successful and equally meaningless, since as soon as any ingredient that enters a pet food plant is is considered unfit for human consumption and therefore cannot be called “human-grade.”
- Educate veterinarians. Send out an army of sales reps with slick brochures and lucrative sell-through contracts for your food.
- Tell consumers to “consult with your veterinarian” about what to feed their dogs. Because the veterinarians are selling your food. Do this through government agencies, public awareness campaigns, and “educational” materials pushed out to Federal, state and local agencies.
- Take advantage of consumer messages about what’s “healthy.” Convince humans to apply human dietary recommendations to their dogs. These include the concepts of vegetarian diets being better than meat-based diets, “balanced” ingredients rather than a majority of the diet being meat protein, and the appeal of nutriceuticals (using food as a drug to treat various ailments up to and including old age).
- When dogs come down with a variety of nutritional and immunological conditions, tell vets to recommend different commercial dog foods and supplements, rather than feeding a natural diet.
- Scare consumers about raw diets, raw meat, raw bones, and other foods critically essential to the canine diet. In the age of dental rinse, hand sanitizer and pop-up Lysol wipes, it’s easy to do; more than 700 products enjoy commercial success due to advertising their antimicrobial properties.
- Rename things. Dangerous coloring and flavoring agents sprayed onto grain-based kibble to make them look like “meat” can be called animal “byproducts” or “enhancers.”
As a culture, we have lost confidence in ourselves to make decisions for our healthcare, education, and a host of other areas, including our dogs’ nutrition. We are told at every turn to just do what the experts tell us to do. We relinquish our responsibilities to doctors, professors, veterinarians and others in positions of knowledge authority. However, these “experts” may not know what is best for us. We need to take back authority for making these decisions.
If we like a certain food because it has beef, rice, and broccoli, why not just feed our dogs beef, rice and broccoli? Why are we not questioning why commercial dog food NEEDS so much flavor enhancer, stabilizers, added nutrients, preservatives, antimicrobials, antifungals, emulsifiers, coloring agents … the list goes on. We look for the bag of food (that’s been sitting on the shelf for six months), hoping the first ingredient is beef or chicken. Not once does it occur to us how beef or chicken can sit on the shelf for six months.
So, repeat after me:
I am responsible for my dog’s health and his diet, not my veterinarian. I will find out what my dog needs, what types of foods deliver those nutrients, and how to serve it to him in a way that he gets the nutrition he needs. I will not rely on dog food companies to decide what I should feed my dog by using my vet to pressure me into buying their product.