I know that I will have detractors, especially as I reach more readers, but before getting back to my regularly programmed topic [The Good (and Bad) of Home-Cooked Diets] there are a few things I wanted to clear up.
#1: No One is Paying Me to Recommend Diets
I realize that my moderate, consider-the-facts approach to feeding dogs and cats is less sexy than making inflammatory statements about commercial pet foods. Statements like Big Pet Food are “big money recycling companys [sic] who don’t give a damn about the health of your pet” (real comment I received from a reader) really do catch the eye and imagination. Clickbait headlines like “Low Grain and Carbohydrates Treat ALL Chronic Illness” (Spoiler Alert: they don’t and depending on the disease can actually make your dog or cat much, much worse) are more exciting than an article that advocates for putting the patient first and then finding the diet strategy that fits their needs.
As a practicing Veterinary Nutrition Specialist I have worked with patients that have eaten a variety of different pet food brands as well as home-prepared foods; I have toured pet food manufacturing facilities large and small to see how pet food is made and what kind of safety and quality control standards are (or are not) in place; and have been invited to speak at local, state and national veterinary conferences. Sometimes my speaker’s fees and travel expenses have been sponsored by a pet food company, sometimes it comes from the conference organizers, and sometimes if it is close to home for an organization that I support I’ve paid my own travel expenses and waved a speakers fee. Whichever way, it hasn’t changed my patient-first approach to nutritional therapy. There is there is no one-size-feeds-all diet and to quote one of my favorite movies The Princess Bride: “Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
So for the record, I have never been an employee of anyone other than a veterinary hospital or clinic (or myself) and no one is paying me to promote a particular food or a particular feeding philosophy. I have served as a paid consultant for a few pet food and treat companies, but you won’t find me promoting any one food strategy or brand as better than all others. I did not go into veterinary medicine or Veterinary Nutrition to become wealthy, I chose these fields because I want to help animals and their families. If my primary goal was financial gain, I would have a website selling my own brand of supplements and foods or at the very least I would include a link to an online retailer that sent me a “fee” for funneling sales to them. Instead I have a site dedicated to sharing the knowledge that I’ve accumulated over my years in practice and it is yours to read or dismiss for free. No membership fee required.
#2: No One Else Paid for My Education
There are a few online veterinary “experts” that like to stir up conspiracy theories about Veterinary Nutrition Specialists. They make claims like Big Pet Food “might be encouraging veterinary nutritionists to speak out in defense of mass-marketed commercial pet food formulas” or that there are problems with “veterinary nutritionists and their ties to the pet food industry”. I’ve even heard the accusation that Big Pet Food pays for veterinary education and the education of Veterinary Nutrition Specialist. Unfortunately for me and my personal finances, no one has paid for my veterinary education other than me (and I still have the student loan debt to prove it!) and my residents salary (all $30K a year) was funded by the University of California, Davis.
Everyone loves a good conspiracy. Yes, there are Veterinary Nutrition Specialists that work for pet food companies, but the majority of ACVN members (>60%) are at universities teaching and conducting research that benefits animal health. Some of this research is funded by their individual universities, some by government organizations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and some of this research is funded by pet food or supplement companies. Research funding for animal health and nutrition studies is limited and sometimes beggars can’t be choosers. Outside of industry and academia there are a few ACVN members like me who are scattered in private practice settings (<10%). We work directly with caregivers and primary care veterinarians and our relationships with pet food companies are limited to what we use to treat our patients. No matter where we are, every member of ACVN that I know (and I know all of them) loves animals; we all have our own furry family members large and small; and we all want dogs, cats, horses, etc. to live long happy lives irrespective of what type of food caregivers decide to feed.
# 3: Pet Food Safety is a Priority for Me
I am anti-raw animal products for reasons that have nothing to do with the nutritional aspects of feeding a less processed food and everything to do with the increased health risk to caregivers and other animals in the household. Yes, dry pet foods have been recalled for Salmonella contamination, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 70 people were diagnosed with salmonellosis after coming in contact with contaminated dry pet foods between 2006-2008. The CDC also reports an estimated 1.2 million cases (i.e., people) acquiring Salmonella infections each year associated with eating raw or undercooked meat and eggs, though contaminated fresh fruits and vegetables are a close second. When you compare cases of Salmonella from dry pet foods (70 between 2006-2008, plus an additional 22 from 2011-2012) with exposure from people foods (1.2 million/year), dry food contamination represented 0.0009%-0.003% of all human Salmonella cases during the years of these outbreaks. So yes, I am much more worried about raw meats and other people foods carrying Salmonella than I am about dry pet foods.
In 2008 the Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA-CVM) began routinely testing dry pet foods for Salmonella, while commercial raw pet foods analyses did not begin until the end of 2012. Lack of a recalls for a raw-meat diet before 2012 does not mean that raw meat diets are “safer”, just that no one has been looking at them. You also need to consider market shares. Dry (i.e., kibble) pet foods make up 80% of the pet food and treat market with 6.5 million metric tons of dry food produced each year. I can’t find specific data on the raw commercial market, but all wet foods (canned, pouched, refrigerated, and frozen; cooked and raw) make up only 15% of the total pet food and treat market each year.
#4: Raw Meat Diets are Not Magical
Raw meat fans always like to talk about how their dog or cat’s skin allergies were “cured” when they changed from their dry food to a raw meat diet and that by recommending against raw meat I am “ignoring” the many problems that “disappear when going from ‘dry’ food, to high quality, fresh foods”. What these raw meat advocates fail to recognize is that when they made the diet switch they also changed almost every other aspect of feeding. They also changed the ingredients, the digestibility, and the fat content. Feeding a higher fat, more digestible, limited ingredient diet can absolutely help with many skin conditions. If these same caregivers had cooked the food, they would have seen the same improvements AND they would have reduced their risk of making themselves or their animal sick. I am not opposed to caregivers feeding a fresh, less processed diet to their dogs and cats and I have definitely seen the benefits of this diet type in my patients and my personal animals. But … home-prepared foods don’t work for every dog and cat or even every family.
#5: I Want Caregivers to Be Informed Consumers
I advocate for animal health and wellness. In some cases that means feeding a balanced home-prepared diet and others that means feeding a balanced commercial dry or wet diet. As long as the diet in question provides all of the essential nutrient’s (and even a few non-essentials that may be beneficial) and does not contain anything toxic or harmful and it makes you as a caregiver happy to feed, then feed it. I don’t think there is not one diet strategy that trumps all others as long as it is balanced and safe.
Lisa Weeth, DVM, MRCVS, DACVN