When we read a litany of unfamiliar ingredients on a food label at the grocery store, we’re likely to set it back on the shelf. That might be a sound strategy for people food, but pet parents should adopt a different perspective for their four-legged friends. Dogs and cats require more than 40 nutrients—including vitamins and minerals—as part of a complete and balanced diet.
The confusion around pet food doesn’t end there. Find out if you’ve fallen victim to any of these common pet food myths.
MYTH: Pet Parents Should Steer Clear of Foods with Meat By-Products and Meat Meals
Meat by-products include organs and parts such as hearts, lungs, stomachs, livers, bones and meat trimmings. In the wild, these are usually the first things eaten by animals; these tissues provide vitamins and minerals like calcium and vitamin A. Another frequently used by-product, “meat meals” are created by rendering meat products to create a mixture that is then dried and ground into a protein-rich powder. Meals are highly digestible and an excellent source of protein and essential amino acids for your pets—far from the filler you might have imagined.
MYTH: Grains are Bad for Dogs
Blame it on trendy low-carb diets, but in the past few years more pet parents are reconsidering feeding their dogs grains. Common fears about grains include that they are low-quality fillers devoid of nutritional value. However, grains provide starch and other digestible carbohydrates and are an important source of essential nutrients. High-quality pet foods often use grain that exceeds U.S. Grain Standards requirements, which translates to a healthy and safe product for your pet.
As with any protein, there’s always a chance pets can develop an allergy to grains, but this is rare.
MYTH: Raw Food Diets Are More Nutritious for Dogs
In the wild, animals obviously don’t cook their food before chowing down. The popular thought behind feeding dogs raw food diets—uncooked meat, fruits, and vegetables—is that cooking food reduces nutritional value in two ways. First, some pet parents believe that cooking meat decreases the protein digestibility of meat, and second, that heating ingredients destroys the natural enzymes in food. In truth, cooking food greatly enhances its nutritional value. Raw food diets present more risks than rewards, so be sure to consult a vet before feeding your pup uncooked food.
MYTH: Home-Cooked Meals Are Always Healthier for Pets Than Store-Bought
Home-cooked meals for your pet come with pros (you can prepare whatever your four-legged friend prefers to eat) and cons (potential vitamin and mineral deficiencies without the proper supplements). Despite the potential positives, an exclusively home-cooked diet can lead to health problems, so you should consult your vet for more information.
MYTH: All-Natural Pet Food Contains Only the Highest Quality Ingredients
There is no legal definition for “all-natural” pet food, so to be sure that you’re buying more than a buzzword, read the label carefully. True natural food contains only ingredients derived from plant, animal, or mineral sources, either in unprocessed states or that have been subject to physical processing. For this reason, many all-natural foods include added vitamins to supplement natural ingredients. Although these foods are typically free of fillers, there’s no guarantee of the quality of the ingredients used.
With so many options for what to feed your pup, it’s important to also be educated on what to look for on pet food ingredient lists. The Association of American Feed Control Officials offers extensive information on healthy and safe ingredients in pet food, as well as a thorough explanation of labeling practices.
Before making any changes to your pet’s food, be sure to take into account his or her age, as dietary needs change with age. And if you’re unsure of what path is best for your pet, consult a veterinarian.