Not a day goes by when I am not being asked this question, and it seems to become more and more an issue as more brands we are adding to our product line-up. The good thing about this increase is that there is indeed still a substantial number of high quality pet food brands out there and we at our store certainly have quite a long way still to go since our goal is to carry them all. The problem is, it too often becomes overwhelming for the consumer. While we are trying to cover every little aspect and every need of the market and every pet owner, it sometimes becomes confusing, like for example the other day this woman e-mailed me: “I found your website during my search and it seems to have much more information about different food choices that I have found elsewhere – however it gets quickly complicated when trying to make a decision.”
Like Dr. R. Wysong, DVM, states: “It is virtually impossible for consumers to know the health value of packaged pet foods by viewing or feeding them. Processing makes products non-descript, and, furthermore, manufacturers can cleverly make about anything look like anything they like, e.g., starch, textured vegetable protein and dyes can look like a pork chop. Additionally, taste enhancers can make non-foods palatable. Short term feeding trial results do not reveal the true health measure of a pet food’s value, which are long term, active, vital life, free from chronic degenerative disease conditions. Such short term tests do not prove what they are intended for, see blog comment 100% Complete & Balanced Pet Food: Difference in opinions. They are performed on caged animals and are generally 26 weeks at most. They deny that nutrition can have effects beyond the few weeks used in a feeding trial. Undetected nutrient imbalance in youth has, for example, been shown to affect both animal and human, adult and latter age susceptibility to many chronic degenerative diseases, and even impact the health of future generations. A feeding trial does not and cannot measure this. Results from a laboratory bred puppy raised on concrete in stainless steel cages, placed under fluorescent lights, breathing conditioned air does not necessarily correlate to real animals in homes and backyards. Further, such tests are found to be ineffective. In an issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. David Dzanis of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine stated, “The formulation method does not account for palatability or availability of nutrients. Yet a feeding trial can miss some chronic deficiencies or toxicities.” Dr. Rogers of the University of California stated, “Some foods that pass the feeding trial still won’t support animals over the long term…The maintenance protocol lasts only 6 months, the effects of an excess might not cause a problem for several years.” In short, feeding trials in no way assure animal owners that optimal pet health¹ will be achieved and maintained if tested products are fed exclusively over a lifetime. More background and documentation on this can be found in philosophical correctness (see The Truth About Pet Foods).
Judging merit by reading advertising, marketing brochures and pet food package labels can also be deceiving. Although it would seem that regulation would not permit false and misleading information in the marketplace, this is simply not the case. So assuming that what is said in advertising is true because it is in a reputable publication, or on a beautifully designed brochure or package is a dangerous mistake.
So if all the commonly used criteria for judging the merit of a pet food are invalid, what is the concerned pet owner to do? As in all other important decisions in life, gathering information and applying reason is the best way to the best answer.This process is even more important in food decisions because health is at issue.
Ultimately a pet food can be no better than the competency and the principles of those producing it. Everything flows from that. If the pet food producer’s main objective is profit, then health will be a secondary consideration. Evaluating manufacturers, therefore, becomes the most critical element in making pet feeding choices. The following criteria will help you in this evaluation.
1. Pet health philosophy: Does the literature and pet health philosophy make sense and clearly put pet health as the number one priority, or is the primary objective marketing and sales?
2. Leader credentials: What are the credentials, experience and accomplishments of the people in charge? Is the leader a marketing person, a board of directors concerned primarily about profits, or someone competent in health and nutrition?
3. Pet health information literature: Read their literature, don’t just test feed the product or read package labels. Is their literature mere marketing claims, or do they educate and provide logical and documented scientific proof for the rationale of their product? Additionally, do they propose that the only way to pet health is through feeding their products? If so, be assured that they are lying...
4. Manufacturing control: Find out if the pet food company marketing the product is also the owner of the company manufacturing it or in close control of formulations and manufacturing parameters. Consider that anyone off the street can go to any number of pet food manufacturers and have them make a food (such contract manufacturers have files full of ready-to-go formulas), add micro amounts of “special” ingredients, create a new label and then make unsubstantiated claims about the superiority of the “revolutionary new” product.
5. The “100% complete & balanced pet food” myth: Does the company promote the claim of “100% complete and balanced?” This claim is a myth and is directly responsible for far-reaching nutritional diseases in pets. Use of the claim proves a manufacturer does not properly understand animal nutrition and pet health and is under the mistaken (but profitable, since it misleads consumers into thinking they should feed only their processed food) view that manufactured foods can be perfect.” Note: See also blog article 100% Complete & Balanced Pet Food: Difference in opinions
“6. Fads over facts: Does the company follow fads or does it lead with solid responsible information? Fads include high fiber, low cholesterol, low fat, “natural,” no preservatives, four food groups, high protein and the like. Such singular focus on faddish pet food fallacies demonstrates either an incomplete understanding of nutrition or a motive to profit from misinformed consumers.
7. Ingredient boogeymen: Does the company incite fear mongering about “boogeyman” ingredients? Current examples of such nutritional boogiemen include: soy, corn, wheat², fat, “by-products,” seaweed, ash, meat meal, yeast and magnesium. Popular misconceptions, dubious field reports and poorly conducted science lie at the base of such beliefs. If a pet food company uses such fallacies to promote their products, they either do not understand pet nutrition or desire to play on popular ignorance for financial gain.
8. Foods as drugs: Since the body can only experience health and healing from natural foods and a natural environmental context, it is presumptuous to claim a processed, manipulated, fraction-based food can do it better. In fact, such fabricated foods may create serious side effects and are far inferior to whole natural nutrition. Pet food producers who create and promote such foods attempt to capitalize on the awe of supposed advanced manufacturing technology and medicine. The illusion is created that a processed pet food, just because it is promoted like a prescription drug, is somehow high-tech and scientific, when in fact it may be no more so than most other processed pet foods.
9. Cosmetics over pet nutrition: Most pet food producers target food cosmetics rather than real nutrition. Flavors, shapes, packaging, bonuses, discounts, coupons, pricing, guarantees and the like are essentially unrelated to health and nutrition. Emphasis on such features should alert the consumer that the producer may be interested primarily in mass marketing, not serious pet health and nutrition.
10. Innovation: Since nutritional science is a rapidly growing and expanding field of knowledge, a producer truly interested in pet health should be highly innovative. Adapting new knowledge to formulations, processing, packaging and storage should be ongoing and these innovations should be clearly communicated to consumers. Most pet food companies don’t lead, they follow. Consumers would be wise to follow leaders, not followers. “
What I like the most about the Dr.’s writings and opinion is the fact that, while he frequently attacks his competitors by simply speaking out about the truth, he also is a manufacturer who consistently claims about his own products that they have many positive characteristics but they too are falling short in many areas and are indeed, while coming close, not the most “perfect nutrition”. There are not too many manufacturers out there making that claim about their own products. Everybody seems to look just at his own products and provide an opinionated view. While this problem mostly exists among the mass producing/mass marketing pet food manufacturers/grocery/merchandise market brands, it does unfortunately also apply to many of the smaller, non-Wallstreet oriented family owned manufacturers. Nobody really attacks the problem at the roots like Dr. Wysong does: The fact that (over-)processed food comes with many disadvantages and shortfalls and to make up for those, manufacturers too often are implementing substitutions, which rather than helping the cause make it even worst. But like I said, not all of the manufacturers are the same and I am glad to report that most of the ones we are dealing with fall more into the category of “Wysong alikes”, if there is such a thing to begin with. In my opinion the Wysong line is an entirely different ball game to begin with. Everybody has his niche, so does Wysong and for a matter of fact every other manufacturer represented at our store. Yet many products are overlapping in many areas, which is where it becomes confusing, or better said, overwhelming.
Contribution in large by Dr. R. Wysong, DVM, founder of Wysong, in business since 1979. Visit our or the Wysong website for additional info and to read in their entirety the articles quoted in part:
¹Optimal pet health
²No corn, soy, or wheat
Dr. R.Wysong, DVM “The Truth about Pet Food”