About Pet Food Reviews (Australia)
Hello, and welcome to Pet Food Reviews (Australia).
People ask how this website came about, who I am, and what are my qualifications to review pet food.
We can start at the top, but if all you care about is whether I’m qualified – yes, I’m a qualified pet nutritionist.
I have a CPD accredited Diploma in Pet Nutrition. But truth be told, I have learned far more about pet food from experience and dealing with many in the pet food industry, than I did in the short time it took to undertake the diploma.
I also hold a Diploma as a Veterinary Support Assistant, covering aspects of animal care, nutrition, disease, anatomy, physiology, and preventative care.
After all, we feed our obligate carnivore cats bags of kibble-fied artificially-coloured grains, and the same can be argued for our dogs as facultative carnivores from the order carnivora.
So what’s the lowdown with Pet Food Reviews (Australia)? Read on.
How Pet Food Reviews came about
Pet Food Reviews started a long time before this website was created and the first review was written. As with many personal interests it started with a small piece of experience. I can attribute that first piece of experience to the death of my cat Rodney circa 2005, but even more so to what I subsequently learned in retrospect about his latter years of ill health.
A few years after Rodney passed, during the melamine pet food recalls of 2007, I was given a great deal of research on the American pet food industry and asked to publish it on a website to inform others. I read every word, and it began to open my eyes.
Prior to 2007 there was little public awareness of pet food, pet nutrition, or any understanding of what pet food really was. The melamine recalls were widely publicised and a huge eye opener to consumers, but over the last decade social media has played a key part in raising awareness.
A simple fact resonated, and has resonated ever since – cats are obligate carnivores, yet most commercial cat foods are made from grains.
Even the cat foods that aren’t made from grains (namely grain-free) are still made from high carbohydrate starchy substitutes which likely aren’t any better than their grain counterparts.
Having read the research, three years after the passing of my cat, so many answers fell into place. I’ll write about Rodney later, but in short he was fed a commercial kibble formulated from grains, was diagnosed with renal failure, and prescribed by my vet (who I trusted) a prescription kibble made predominantly from cereal grains.
For the sake of transparency, that kibble was Hill’s Prescription Diet k/d for Kidney Care, a product of toothpaste/shampoo company Colgate-Palmolive. Back then, almost two decades ago, that product was formulated with cereal grains, and still is to this day, heavily endorsed by vets, for carnivores.
Further research on feline renal failure left me dumbfounded. Not only was the cereal-based prescription diet not in the slightest appropriate for an obligate carnivore, it was also devoid of moisture. Moisture is absolutely key in renal failure diets, yet kibble is practically devoid of moisture.
None of it made sense.
I published the research and it gained a great deal of traction in the US. It also put me on a journey which I’m still on today. 14 years on, and despite seeing a few improvements in commercial pet food, it is still led by clever marketing, skewed research, and veterinary training led by the same corporate bodies who sell pet food.
Question this – when some of the most powerful conglomerates in the world, who sell most pet food worldwide, have the power to influence and train vets, own veterinary practices, provide University courses with study material and sponsorship, and even have their own pet care university, isn’t that a conflict of interest?
Pet food is a multi-billion dollar industry, and for the likes of Mars, Nestle, and Colgate-Palmolive it’s their most lucrative sector.
I moved to Australia in 2009, and a few years later began a separate journey into the Australian pet food industry. This, combined with my previous knowledge, paved the way to the first review on Pet Food Reviews (Australia).
Who am I?
You may be aware of the 2018 Senate Inquiry into the Safety of Pet Food? This was instigated by a number of bodies, and a tragic megaoesophagus outbreak which led to the sad deaths and illnesses of many dogs, forced a gruelling investigation.
A set of reports were launched prior to the investigation by ABC 7.30 and Channel 9. Most of the information in those reports were provided by Pet Food Reviews. ABC 7.30 were then able to find enough correspondents and whistle-blowers to make it stick.
Plastic in pet food, metal, glass, poor quality control, no recall system, voluntary regulations – the 2018 inquiry gave rise to more public awareness than ever before in Australia.
Many parties were key in instigating that inquiry, and key in continuing to push for better regulation and better health.
I like to think I played a crucial, yet discreet part – after all, it took a great deal of effort.
So who am I?
I’d love to say I’m the Clark Kent of Pet Superheroes. After all I have a fairly mundane desk job in my real world.
But I’m not a superhero, I don’t wear that much hair gel, and I don’t wear a cape.
Truth is I’m just someone like you, trying to do the best for the pets I love. I learned the hard way with my first cat, and ever since I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I put another pet through the same.
These days I have a beautiful super-active, super-healthy Border Collie, and an ageing fluffy boof of a tabby cat. Both are going strong, and I hope that continues to be the case for many more years.
“But wait, you haven’t said who you are”
If you want to put a name to the reviews, my name is David. But as a private person I prefer anonymity, and I trust you can respect that.
What are my qualifications to review pet food?
This is a question I get asked often – What are my qualifications to review pet food?
To offer a short answer – there are no qualifications to review pet food.
It’s not something you can take a course on and get a certificate for, and even if there were what would it actually mean? If I went to Mars Petcare University to take a course on reviewing pet foods, would it make me qualified to review pet foods in an unbiased fashion, or would it make me just another marketing tool?
Besides, Mars Petcare University teaches us dogs are omnivores and cats are carnivores who can eat grains. Common sense tells me dogs are more carnivore than pet food manufacturers would like us to believe, and cats are factually carnivores who don’t require grains in their diet.
In any case, why would I get a qualification from a pet food manufacturer which sells cat and dog foods made mostly of grains?
Even veterinary studies cover very little on pet nutrition, so even with a BVSc I would be no more qualified to review pet foods.
So what are my qualifications to review pet food?
Let’s start with credibility. I’ve reviewed pet food for almost a decade and a half (at the time of writing). Some of my early reviews were hounded by a particular individual. I never knew his identity, but it became apparent he worked in the pet food industry. He would often comment on aspects of the reviews and say “you don’t know what you’re talking about”, but at no time would he elaborate for the greater good.
In hindsight I know he was right. I’ve learned so much over the years through various means and various sources. That didn’t give me a certificate to hang on my wall, it gave me something much more valuable – experience. Those in any industry will know experience is far more valuable than any certificate.
For those who believe a certificate offers credibility, then I am a qualified pet nutritionist. I have a piece of paper to hang on my wall as a reminder of my pet nutrition studies which recommended Mars brand Greenies for dental health and Colgate Palmolive’s Hill’s Science Diet for optimum nutrition without even skirting over what they’re made from or why.
Through this journey I have worked with veterinary professionals, University lecturers, nutritionists, media, prominent pet health advocates, manufacturers, directors, staff and ex-staff of manufacturers, retailers, retail staff, and thousands upon thousands of pet owners. I’ve had information published in veterinary and industry journals, on television and radio, visited pet food factories, and seen first hand in veterinary surgeries the real damage commercial pet foods can do.
So when I’m not Average Joe Clark Kent doing my routine day job, I’m researching, learning, and writing reviews to help other pet owners understand what they’re feeding their pets in the hope those pets lead a longer, happier life than my cat Rodney.
I want our pets to be healthy, and this website is my part in pushing for better pet health. How you use the information in these review is up to you – if it pushes you towards a better brand of commercial pet food, then great, or if it pushes you into the realms of raw feeding, fresh feeding, or raw meaty bones then credit to you as your pet will likely have a far healthier existence.
Oh, and it’s not just me either. I’ll take this opportunity to thank the regular contributors who have fleshed out the reviews with excellent and insightful comments for so many years – you know who you are.
Rodney was already an old cat when we took him in, and it wasn’t long until we became inseparable – buddies of man and beast. At 13 he sadly developed problems with his kidneys and was given 6 months to live, so we began feeding him an expensive prescription kibble recommended by our vets – Hill’s Prescription Diet k/d Kidney Care dry food. He lived to the ripe old age of 21, which reinforced my opinion of the food we’d fed him.
It was only in later years that I reconsidered. Yes, he lived to an old age, but after we made the transition to the prescription food he was never the same cat. He became very frail, docile, and not the cheerful fella he was before. He developed other ailments and we lovingly helped him through those too.
We did our best, but his quality of life was never as good as it was before.
So did the food help?
I’ll never know the answer, but will continue to wonder. The quality of the food we fed was far from what you would expect to feed a carnivorous animal, and the “scientific” factor touted by the brand was not as scientific as I originally believed.
As dry food, and given the importance of moisture in a renal diet, there’s such a huge discord. Feeding grains to a carnivorous animal to promote health fundamentally doesn’t sit right.
Would he have done better on a different food?
Would he have lived longer or lived less, or would his last years have been more buoyant?
The reviews on Pet Food Reviews (Australia) are designed primarily to get you as a pet owner to think and assess those products for yourself. We all have some understanding of nutrition, if not pet nutrition but what is good or bad for us in general, and we’ve all heard the term “you are what you eat”.
The backbone of all reviews is (most of the time) common sense. It doesn’t take much to say “This food says chicken on the front, but cereal grains on the back”.
Many reviews simply tell you what the ingredients actually are. Nothing scientific, just all the stuff the front of the bag doesn’t tell you.
But that’s not all of it.
Pet food standards such as AAFCO and the Australian standard AS5812 play a part in all reviews as they’re what give pet food manufacturers the ability to spin a list of ingredients to appear completely different on the packaging. Those standards offer guidelines, and pet food manufacturers develop all manner of cunning tricks to twist those guidelines. These factors are often accounted for in the reviews so that you as a consumer can understand what is really meant by “Chicken flavour“, “With chicken”, “must not be fed to cats”, and all manner of other terminology.
“Premium” – yep, utterly meaningless marketing word.
Many pet foods in Australia come from the same handful of manufacturers. In many cases a supermarket home brand comes from the same factory as the glossy premium-looking brand right next to it. When one brand falls foul to negative press and consumer awareness, it will subsequently disappear and be replaced by a fresh new brand. But yes, you’ve guessed it, from the exact same factory, using the same ingredients as the tainted brand.
Some manufacturers have better trends with consumer feedback than others, and all these factors are taking into account in the reviews.
Another important factor in the reviews are you as the reader. We’re in this together, so if you have any information – share it. All reviews allow comments, or you can contact me directly through the Facebook page.
Pet food is continuously changing, with new brands and formulas appearing all the time. Over the years I’ve seen ingredients researched and their nutritional value proved and disproved. As much as I try to follow such information, it’s not possible to maintain so many reviews in an ever changing industry.
Your contributions are appreciated, thanks.
Oh, and if you’ve read this far, then I have a small favour. This website also depends largely on word of mouth, so if the reviews have helped you then please help me by spreading the word. Thank you.