OK, I don’t know if they are myths so much as long-held veterinary standard talking points, but it was a lot easier to type “myths” than “standard procedures and protocols with which I disagree.”
1. Feed your pet the same food every day or they will get sick.
This is true in some cases, namely if you have a pet on a prescription diet or a pet with dietary sensitivities, but for most healthy pets, there’s no reason not to switch it up. You have to be careful if you are watching your pet’s caloric intake- the calories per cup can vary very widely from food to food- but the vast majority of pets do just fine on a rotating diet. And let’s be honest- the recent pet food debacles have made many of us more leery than ever of quality control issues, so switching it up may dilute the risk of having a problem with any one batch of food.
2. My pet needs to be on dry food because of her teeth.
Dry food is good for a pet’s teeth, don’t get me wrong. There are prescription dental diets that are clinically proven to reduce tartar, and hooray for that. That being said, there are plenty of other reasons wet food should be a part of your pet’s diet (and particularly if you have a cat, I think it should be the majority of their diet!)
Having moisture content as a part of your pet’s diet is a good thing. Food in its natural state is not dessicated. We all need water to digest our food. Dry food is convenient, and less expensive than canned food, and does play a role in keeping teeth clean. But there’s no reason you can’t rotate canned food in there as well.
3. The more expensive the food, the better.
The only way to know if you are feeding your pet a good food is to become proficient at reading pet food labels. (I did a blog series on this complicated topic here.) Generally speaking, the more expensive foods do tend to have better quality ingredients, but you’d be surprised at some of the things found in “premium” foods. When ownership of pet food companies changes hands, it is often accompanied by a change in formulation, so read often.
One of my employees is always telling budget-minded people to buy Kirkland dog food- you know, the Costco brand? When I overheard this, I asked her what the heck she was doing. She showed me the label, and I’ll be darned- they have a very decent ingredient list, far better than many other foods in that price category. So now, when people are reluctant to go for the super-premium stuff due to price, I often tell them get Kirkland.
I know most people probably know this, but I’m astounded by the people who pull out those little plastic trays of food and tell me how great it is. Behold the mighty power of marketing. That food is the exact same food you find in cans, except it’s processed one step further to force it into meat-shaped spam-like chunks meant to fool you into thinking it arrived straight off the cow there in its natural state. They then float it in some chemical laden sludge, slap on a label of a cute poufy dog in a fancy looking plastic tray, and charge you a huge markup for the privilege.
4. My dog is spoiled rotten. He only gets chicken and rice. Isn’t he lucky?
No. No more lucky than the cat fed only tuna. Nutritional hyperparathyroidism, taurine deficiency cardiomyopathy…there are lots of nasty things that can happen to a pet on an unbalanced diet. I have no problem with people who really want to cook for their pets- I think it’s wonderful, actually, to devote that time to your pet.
But if you’re going to spend the time and money to do so, invest in some research to do it correctly. There are some great- and some not so great- resources available online. I have used Balance It, one of several online services; many veterinary schools also offer services with veterinary nutritionists available to create recipes tailor made to any pet, with any health condition.
5. I don’t need to put my dog on a special diet for a food allergy trial. I tried the “sensitive skin” diet/ lamb formula/ coat formula from the store and it didn’t work.
I can’t say this enough: There is no reliable test for diagnosing food allergies. The *only* way to diagnose food allergies is to put your pet on a lengthy and regimented food trial for 8-12 weeks, and see how they do. No treats, no flavored Heartguard, no rawhides.
The diets used by veterinarians to diagnose food allergies have one solitary protein source and one carbohydrate source. The protein is something unusual- venison, hydrolyzed soy broken down enough that the body doesn’t recognize it as an antigen; as is the carbohydrate.
“Sensitive skin” diets are not appropriate for food allergies because they usually have the exact same ingredients found in most other pet foods. “Lamb and rice” formulas often have chicken in them as well- if you review the pet food labelling rules you’ll see why. I am only aware of one over the counter commercial diet appropriate for a food trial. The other options are prescription diets or home cooked diets.
*I will, as I always do, add in the disclaimer that this post is skipping entirely the topic of raw foods, which I remain neutral on. Those who have gone down that road often have devoted many hours of research into nutritional topics and don’t need to be told any of the things in this post anyway. 🙂