Food for thought: Examining some common misconceptions about pet foods

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher / Photo

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

Clients always ask me on their first exam or new-pet exams, “what is the best food?” The truth is that there are a million best foods. Pet food companies, pet food stores and the ever-expanding world of advertising works very hard to make us think that one food or another is superior. That is true, but only to a degree.

The truth is that most pet foods are created equally. There are certain things that are important, and certain things that aren’t, though advertising may tell you otherwise. Cats and dogs have different metabolisms and need different things. Your dog isn’t a wolf and your cat isn’t bringing you home a gazelle, so while these make fun commercials, it is not the final word.

I’ll go over some pet food basics. All animals differ, however, and specific diet plans should always be discussed with your veterinarian. Some animals need special diets, but for the majority of pets and foods the following are myths.

Grain free is always best.

This is usually true for cat foods, but not for dog foods. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they are built to only metabolize protein. Cats turn carbohydrates into fat and are more likely to be overweight when they eat high-carbohydrate diets. Dogs are omnivores, just like humans (sort of!) Their bodies metabolize protein and carbohydrates efficiently. They still need a balanced diet that isn’t heavy on the carbs, but that doesn’t mean that all carbs are bad.

All of that means that dogs can digest grains. Very few have gluten allergies (over 90 percent of food allergies are to a meat.) Grains should never be used as a calorie filler or in place of protein, but are an acceptable supplement source of some calories and nutrients. The key to this, and all diets, is balance. The calories and nutrients are similar if you are using potatoes for a starch or corn.

If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, it shouldn’t be in pet food.

This is unfortunately something that only holds true for scientists and possibly Latin language enthusiasts. For example, taurine is an amino acid that is necessary for cat heart health. Tocopherols is another word for types of vitamin E. Each vitamin has a “scientific” name. These are all very necessary in pet foods, but can make the list of ingredients difficult to read and understand. If you see a weird word, Google it! Vitamins and minerals are important, preservatives and dyes are most certainly not.

Dry food is better for their teeth than canned.

This makes sense intuitively, but isn’t true! The reason is that most dogs and basically every cat don’t chew kibbles. Special food that is designed for teeth (you will get this from your veterinarian and it will have a name like dental or tooth diet) does make a difference. These kibbles are enormous and designed with a special matrix so that not only do pets need to bite them, as they bite them the kibble essentially brushes their teeth.

Unless you are feeding these special dental diets, canned or dry food are both fine. This is especially true when it comes to cats. Most canned cat foods are higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than dry, so are ideal for their metabolism. One of our first steps for overweight or diabetic cats is switching them to mainly canned food. Brushing their teeth remains the best way to keep their teeth clean.

While picking a food for your pet may seem like a difficult task, most commercial diets are good for the majority of pets. If your pet has special needs, your veterinarian can help guide you. When feeding a veterinary diet it is always best to look for foods that have been tested and are recommended by veterinarians. Look for high-protein food for cats, and always avoid artificial colors and flavors for all pets. Our pets can’t see vibrant colors, so those are included just for us. Animal parts taste great to our pets, so artificial flavors aren’t needed. The most important thing is to feed a diet that works for your animal, supplementing fresh vegetables for treats and making sure they are eating the proper amount. A pet with an ideal body weight eating a bad food will do better than a pet that is overweight on a high-end food.

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher is a veterinarian at All Points Animal Care in Rutland. Have a question on this or any animal health topic? E-MAIL:

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