Jane E. Brody interviewed Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University and an author of a book on dog food entitled “Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat":
[Nestle] noted... that the so-called premium pet foods cost three to four times more than supermarket brands. Within the premium brands, there is also a wide price range, yet when the ingredients lists are compared, they are strikingly similar since all have to meet certain nutritional standards. The first five ingredients of nearly every kind of dog and cat food are generally the same, representing protein, fats and carbohydrates
“All pet foods are made from the byproducts of human food production,” Dr. Nestle explained. “No matter what the package says, your dog is not getting whole chicken breasts, but what remains after the breasts have been removed for human food.”
And, indeed, it is primarily human food companies — Nestlé, Purina, Mars and Procter & Gamble — that make the pet foods sold throughout the world. Of course, in much of the world, domestic dogs and cats survive on table and street scraps, not commercially produced pet foods. In seeking evidence for the added value to health and longevity of commercial pet foods, the authors found almost none with any validity.
No agency requires proof of pet food health claims, and no pet food company is willing to invest in decades of research to determine whether its products keep animals healthier and extend their lives, the authors state. Pet food companies say they do research, but it is rarely done in a scientific fashion, with comparable control and experimental groups. There is, however, ample evidence that, despite claims to the contrary, both dogs and cats “are perfectly able to digest grains if they are cooked,” Dr. Nestle said.
None of this should imply that different pet food products make no difference to individual animals. When my friends’ havanese began licking its paws incessantly, the vet suggested they try a corn-free pet food, which stopped the itching. However, they need not spend $31 for a 12.5-pound bag of premium food free of corn; Costco’s Kirkland Super Premium Dog Food, also free of corn, costs about $15 for a 40-pound bag.
Still, Dr. Nestle suggested, “if one or another brand seems to completely change the way a dog behaves or cures an allergy, when you find something that works for you, stay with it.”
While many pay good money for marketing gimmicks, Dr. Nestle also does not object to people paying for attributes they value. If characteristics like natural, organic, holistic, vegetarian or kosher are important to pet owners, it may be worth it to them to pay top dollar for pet foods that claim to provide the desired attribute, even if there is no official or enforced definition of the claim.
Although some owners insist on cooking for their pets, the authors said animals are more likely to get all the nutrients they need, and in the right amounts, from a commercial product.
“Besides, the pet food industry serves an important ecological function by using up food that would otherwise be thrown out,” Dr. Nestle said. “If everyone cooked human food for the 472 million cats and dogs in America, it would be like feeding an additional 42 million people.”
Strip that down, and what does it mean?
- No dog food is proven better than any other.
- Almost all dog food is more-or-less the same with only slightly different proportions of protein, fats and carbohydrates.
- As a rule, dogs do fine on grain-based foods.
- Individual dogs may have allergies to certain foods, but price has little or nothing to do with food quality, and even grain-free foods can be had for very little money.
- Making your own dog food is not the "Green" way to go; it increases waste in the food chain.
Why have pet food company's never published research showing one food is better that another?
The article does not say, and seems to suggest that billion dollar companies like Purina are too lazy or unscientific to care.
The real story is simpler: recipes cannot be patented or copyrighted.
Find a better dog food formula, and everyone will have it and use it.
Of course, the same is true of human food where there is also no scientific evidence to support the notion that one packaged diet is better than another. And yes, there are packaged diets for humans -- ask Jenny Craig!
Which is not to say that a whole lot of food research has not been done.
It has, for both people and dogs.
But what it shows, in both cases, is that what you eat maters a lot less than how much you eat.
Less is more. Run your dog light, and you will run your dog longer. Lean is life.
If a recipe cannot be copyrighted or patented, what's that mean for both human food and dog food?
Simple: in the business of food, minor manufacturing techniques and branding issues matter.
Reese's does not have patent or copyright on the idea of putting peanut butter and chocolate together, but they do have a patent on the machines that make their product, and a copyright on the packaging and even shape of the cup. Ditto for other processed foods.
In fact, one can argue that one reason we eat so much processed food is that food companies stay up all night long trying to think of a patentable or copyrightable food element.
Here, packaging and novelty matters more than content because a package can be copyrighted, and a production machine can be patented, but a recipe is forever unprotected.
What that means for dog food is that what you are mostly getting with higher prices is hype, promotion, nonsense, bunk, novelty and packaging, not nutritionally better food.
Of course, that will not stop some people from spending their money on it, and if that's where you want to do, God bless and God speed. But just be sure to run your dog light. If you cannot easily feel two or three ribs (or see them on a smooth coat after a good run), your dog is too fat. Feed less.
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** No Evidence One Dog Food Is Better Than Another
** Dog Food: Let's Try Science!
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** Get Over It: Bagged Dog Food is Fine for Fido
** Murder by Can Opener: How Pet Owners Kill Dogs
** Why Dogs are in Better Shape Than Their Owners
** Treat Me Like a Human
** Canned Beaver as Dog Food?
** Dog Food Secrets "They" Don't Want You To Know
** Dog Food Blues: A Waive of Pancreatitis Is Next
** A Brief History of Dog Food
** Wysong the Crackpot Dog Food Maker