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Risks of Designer Pet Foods

By
Timm Otterson, DVM, PEF President

The
choice of pet foods in America has grown exponentially in the last decade to
where it is now a multi-billion dollar industry.  Pet owners are faced with a myriad of choices including the
established brands, discount brands, organic diets, ones with human grade
meats, grain-free cat foods, raw meat diets and just about any other style
consumers are willing to pay for. The foods people eat are a huge part of our
identity, and, for many pet owners, the choice of pet food can be equally
important.          

A
full analysis of pet diets is beyond the scope of this forum, but I do want to
address a troubling trend in the diets I see fed – with particular attention to
cats.  Over the last couple years I
have seen a rise in expensive, “designer” foods that can actually cause medical
problems.  The primary challenge in
pet food choice is being an informed consumer so that you choose a diet that
meets your pet’s nutritional needs, while being a diet you are comfortable
with.  Many pet people (breeders,
pet shop owners, health advocates, and more) have strong feelings about the
ingredients that go into pet foods and are especially critical of the grains that
go into cat foods. They tend to be very vocal with their opinions and advice. People
often rightly point out that cats in the wild would not be eating the rice,
corn, barley and other grains often included in the major brands. Among
veterinarians, the carbohydrate content of cat foods is a hot topic with the
primary concern being the rise in domestic feline obesity, with its associated diseases
including diabetes mellitus, arthritis, and skin problems.  However, recent scientific articles
have refuted the carbohydrate theory of obesity and suggested that the
sedentary lifestyle of housecats is more to blame for the rise in obesity than is
diet.           

My
primary concern is that, in my opinion, many diets on the market do not meet
the lifelong nutritional needs of pets and can even result in the formation of
urinary crystals that can be life-threatening in young male cats.

To
fully cover this topic, we must discuss Association of American Feed Control
Officials (AAFCO) standards. These guidelines were
established decades ago to ensure that pet foods meet a minimum standard of
nutrients, and the AAFCO label is often present on pet food bags and cans.
Unfortunately, a particular food can meet the AAFCO nutrient requirements
without ever having been tested in a food trial and, if it did undergo an AAFCO
food trial, the standards of their food trials are not that rigorous.  Since meaningful food trials are
expensive and take away from a diet’s profitability, many of these pricey diets
are not even fed to cats and dogs to ensure long-term safety. When you consider
that your pets will eat a diet almost exclusively for a lifetime, it is crucial
to feed a food that is thoroughly researched for safety and long-term
nutritional value.  

In
our practice, we have seen so many young male cats on these designer diets with
urinary crystals that we have started collecting routine urine samples from
them as a way to screen for problems. I am much more comfortable advising pet
owners to feed the major brands as these diets are well-researched, have been
tested in feeding trials, and, in some cases, have been fed to millions of pets.  Pet owners are understandably shocked
when their cat is diagnosed with a preventable medical condition that their “boutique”
diet likely caused. Please take the time to research the diets that you feed
your pets, and be sure they have been properly tested with adequate feeding
trials. If you have questions, consult your veterinarian regarding their
experiences with particular diets. Considerable information about diets is
available online, but online dietary research can be a little overwhelming
(even for veterinarians). I urge you not to choose a pet food simply because it
is endorsed by a celebrity chef, a holistic MD, a recently deceased actor, the publisher
of collection of short stories by celebrities about their pets…and the list
goes on and on.

Choose
wisely and, in case you are wondering, I do not and have never worked for any
pet food company.

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

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