There are a lot of people with vested interests out there trying to tell you what to feed your pets. Pet store employees and veterinary staff have opinions. Your friends and family have opinions. People at the dog park have opinions. The Internet is full of opinions. Opinions abound and some of them are wrong. Some are downright dangerous. I would like you all to approach the subject of pet food with the same degree of skepticism and critical thinking that you would take to other important topics in your life. Would you change your kid’s school because some mommy at the playground told you her kid’s school was better? Would you ask advice about buying a car from a kid at his first after-school job at a car wash? So why are you taking the advice of your neighbor the unemployed encyclopedia salesman about what to feed your cat? Ask yourself some questions before you go off half-cocked and change things up. If a person is giving you advice:
- Do you actually need to change your pet’s food? Your dog had diarrhea in the park and someone noticed, and told you that when their dog had diarrhea they changed the food to Poo-Be-Gone Natural and everything was fine. That’s all very well and good, but it may do more harm than good to abruptly change the food in this situation. Check with your vet if the dog has diarrhea beyond a few days.
- Who’s giving you the advice, and how qualified are they? Consider how much nutritional education the sales clerk at Big Box Pet Store has had. Do they really know what’s best for your pet? Maybe they do. Or maybe this is their “fill in” job while they wait for their next semester of Comparative Religions of the World to start.
- Does the person giving you the advice have an agenda or an underlying motive for giving that specific advice? Do you trust that they are giving unbiased advice? I’m not saying that all people who sell things are nefarious money-grubbers twirling their Snidely Whiplash mustaches and chuckling their way to the bank having duped the naïve pet owner. You just need to make sure that they really have your pet’s interest at heart and aren’t just trying to make a sale.
- Do the recommendations fit with your personal circumstances? I am thinking mainly of fresh cooked and raw foods here. I never recommend feeding raw food to dogs when there are children in the home; E. coli and Salmonella make it just too risky. Outside of that situation, can you maintain proper hygiene in the kitchen? Do you have time to prepare or cook the food?
- Does the person seem overly zealous about the subject? Pet nutrition is a science, not a belief system. If the person advising you to feed a certain way makes any implication that you are not a “proper” pet owner for not doing it, or gets aggressive in their assertions, makes you feel guilty, or attempts to emotionally manipulate you, walk away. Get more objective advice.
- Is your pet in need of some kind of specific food for allergies or a specific disease? Will the advice you just received fit well with this?
As far as marketing claims go:
- Is the claim specific enough that it even makes sense? What does it mean, exactly, to “boost the immune system”? What does “natural” mean? Who determines which are “the best ingredients”? If these are not really answerable, the claims probably don’t mean much.
- Are the claims about a product or feeding method credible? No food cures allergies, prevents cancer, causes automatic weight loss, can’t be vomited, stops aggressive behavior, and cures baldness. As with most things, be cautious with these claims.
- Is there a “magic ingredient” in the food? You know that there really is no such thing. It has become common marketing practice for a manufacturer to vilify a food ingredient and declare, without substantiation, that their ingredient is superior. It’s a weird thing, but if someone tells us that something is harmful, we tend to believe them even if they have an ulterior motive…like having us spend money on their food instead.
- Is there anything but anecdotal evidence for the marketing claims? Have there been any studies done that show that the food really does what it is advertised to do? Can the claims even be proven?
There are very few food that are evil, and from a nutritional point of view there is little difference between brands. The best food for your pet is one that fits your lifestyle, that you are comfortable feeding, and that gives your pet nice stools, a healthy coat, and good energy, and that he likes to eat. Ignore 90% of the marketing hype and take the rest with a big grain of salt.