Pet Food Myths

January 26, 2017

Pet Food Myths

In this month’s post, I wanted to follow up from last month by debunking some common myths about pet food.


First off, I wanted to provide some definitions of different categories of pet foods that can be confusing and possibly misleading to pet owners. Holistic, natural, and organic are common terms that appear on labels in order to imply higher quality of nutrition. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) does not guarantee that organically produced food is of higher safety or quality than common production practices.

Natural is a definition regulated by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). Foods with the label “Natural” contain plant, animal, or mined ingredients not produced by chemicals. They do not contain any chemical additives or processes; however, chemically derived vitamins, trace nutrients, and minerals are allowed. Preservatives within pet food can still appear in natural form as tocopherols (Vitamin E), spice extracts, and citric acid in order to stabilize fats, reduce rancidity, and subsequent loss of nutrition.

Holistic is a term not legally regulated or having a clear definition within any organization. Any pet food manufacturer may print holistic on food bags regardless of ingredients or production practice.

Organic is defined and regulated by the USDA Organic Program and is from food grown on land free from pesticides for three years and livestock fed organic feed, not fed antibiotics or hormones, and given access to outdoors. Within organic, there are 4 levels of organic foods: 100% organic, Organic (95%), made with organic (70-95%), and <70% Organic. If a pet food displays the organic seal it must contain 95-100% organic ingredients.


Many trends within pet feeding have recently popped up, particularly feeding raw or BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods/Bones and Raw Foods). According to researchers at Ohio State University Veterinary School, there has been no objective scientific evidence to prove that feeding raw foods is superior or more beneficial than conventional diets. There is actually more evidence to prove them to be detrimental than beneficial because of the potential for bacterial contamination from bacteria such as SalmonellaListeriaCampylobacterE.coli, parasites, and protozoa which can all cause serious gastrointestinal issues for both pets and owners as well as intestinal obstructions/perforations and fractured teeth from bones. Raw diets also carry the possibility of being unbalanced, leading to deficiencies and possible skeletal malformations. If you do decide to feed your pets a raw food diet, we strongly recommend feeding a diet formulated by a veterinary nutritionist and following protocols for safely handling raw foods. For more information about raw diets and nutrition consults check out Ohio State’s Nutrition website listed below.

Another recent trend is gluten free and grain free foods. Gluten is an easily digestible source of nutrition including fatty acids and protein. True celiac disease (gluten induced gastrointestinal irritation) is very rare in dogs. Protein in food is the most common cause of food allergies, and the most common food allergies in dogs are beef, dairy, wheat, chicken, egg, lamb, and soy. The most common feline food allergies are beef, dairy, and pork. The only true way to diagnose a food allergy is with elimination diets and food trials. Skin reactions due to food allergies can take up to 8-12 weeks to completely resolve and may also be caused by flavoring in your pet’s heartworm or flea and tick products. Food dyes have also been blamed for causing food allergies, but no evidence has proved FDA-approved dyes lead to any health problems or affect quality, digestibility, and nutrition.


Byproducts are a very misunderstood subject within the list of ingredients in a bag of pet food and are often thought to be inferior sources. In reality, byproducts are common in both human and pet food and are simply produced in the making of something else. Examples include Vitamin E as a byproduct of soybean processing and chicken fat as a byproduct of the chicken industry. Examples of other byproducts include liver, kidney, lungs, and spleen and do not include feathers, hair, hide, hooves, or intestinal contents. Muscle is often deficient in calcium and other minerals, and byproducts are an excellent nutritional complement.

Another thing we hear very commonly and see in the media is that dogs are strict carnivores and cats shouldn’t eat carbohydrates because they are carnivores. According to feeding trials done with Hills Science Diet, anatomy, behavior, and feeding preferences of dogs suggest that they are healthy eating both plant and animal sources, suggesting that they are omnivores. Both cats and dogs get energy from protein, fat, and carbohydrates, but an excess of calories from any of these categories can lead to obesity and diabetes. Low carbohydrate diets can be higher in fat and calories, which can also increase the risk of obesity. However, certain medical conditions such as diabetes may be more easily regulated with low carbohydrate diets in cats. Protein requirements also change as animals age. Please ask your veterinarian if you have questions!

Below are some great resources regarding pet food ingredients. As always, don’t hesitate to ask any of our technicians or veterinarians if you have any further questions.


Helpful Definitions. Hills Science Diet.

Dr. Emily Tschida

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