Are vets nutritionists?
We trust our vets as professionals, and trust the diets they recommend for the optimum health of our pets. So why, you may ask, do I rate the foods commonly recommended by vets so poorly?
I’ll be specific and refer you to my reviews of Advance, Hills Science Diet and Prescription Diet, Royal Canin, Eukanuba, and lastly Optimum (as recommended by Bondi Vet Dr Chris Brown), all rated 2 stars out of 5.
My reviews are based on ingredients and guaranteed analysis. Cats are obligate carnivores. Dogs are carnivores too (not omnivores like you’re led to believe). Due to that simple fact my Rule #1 is a pet food should primarily consist of meat. At least 2 of the 5 foods listed above do not conform to that rule, instead having the primary ingredient being a much cheaper selection of grain – corn in one, and brewers rice in another. It doesn’t take much investigation to discover these aren’t decent ingredients, with the latter being a by-product of the beer brewing industry sold off dirt cheap as a waste product.
All the above “premium diets” have a number of ominous ingredients and “fillers”. Many use scientific wording aimed to trick you (you often hear “corn” is a filler, so listing it as “maize” is a way for manufacturers to conceal the use of corn). Labeling tricks are used such as “splitting” to make the ingredients appear better than they are (when the first ingredient is meat, and the next two are a combination of corn and corn flour – what we really have is a corn-based food). We find marketing words and phrases which in truth are meaningless, such as the word “premium” which says nothing about the quality of a food.
Ingredients and guaranteed analysis can tell a vastly different story to what the packaging tells us, and you’ll find the spiel on manufacturer websites is designed to tell you what they want you to believe. Have a read yourself, and consider the real reason for the wording they use.
Vets, in general, aren’t aware of the plethora of factors and marketing tricks used by pet food manufacturers. Why would they be? There’s a vast difference between your GP and Dietitians – they’re two different jobs entirely. Vets are trained to advise a diet based on a medical condition, such as a cat suffering kidney dysfunction should be fed a diet low in protein and low in phosphorous. Enter our offerings of Hills k/d, Royal Canin Renal, and so forth. Yes, they tick the boxes as far as low protein and low phosphorous go, but lets consider this a little further. Protein (read this as high quality meat protein) is an essential lifeblood for cats. They need this to maintain health, organ function, and muscle mass. But if you investigate these prescription diets we find a worrying opposite – they actually cut down on quality meat proteins and substitute them with poor quality grain proteins which do little for your pet’s health but do wonders for the manufacturer’s profit margin. You’ll also find advisories on some of these diets stating they should only be fed for a period of weeks, the reason being they’re not healthy or balanced.
Here’s an excerpt from an email I received from a veterinary professional with almost 20 years experience having graduated with a BVSc in 1997:
Vets are not nutritionists on the whole. We don’t have (well I didn’t anyway, all those years ago) a large number of lectures devoted to nutrition, not in excruciating detail at any rate. I do recall the excursion we had to Mars in Wodonga to see where their range of pet foods is made.
That statement tells us two things. The first is that pet nutrition isn’t studied in depth on veterinary courses, and secondly we see the involvement of Mars, one of the largest manufacturers of pet care products worldwide, and the company behind Advance, Iams, Eukanuba, Optimum, Royal Canin, Pedigree, Whiskas, and others.
University courses across the world (including Australia) are influenced by major manufacturers who produce the foods our vets recommend, the likes of Mars, Nestle, Proctor & Gamble, and Colgate-Palmolive. These companies, with a huge marketing budget and reams of clout, actually fund and provide study material to veterinary students teaching them what diets they should recommend. I’m sure you can see the problem with those facts. It’s pure marketing genius, training the people who tell you, the consumer, what you should be paying $$$s for to maintain the health of the pet you love.
Vets have an important role in ensuring our much-loved pets remain healthy, but it’s always worth considering the foods they recommend are very cleverly marketed with an inflated price tag aimed at you, as a consumer, willing to pay a premium price to ensure your pet has the best diet possible. Whether the diet really is the best diet possible is a different question entirely, and one us pet parents should thoroughly consider.