Monday, April 8, 2019

Why kibble is still the best choice for dog & cat food

With more than two decades of experience in the pet food industry, I consider myself reasonably well informed when it comes to dog food and cat food. The internet is full of all sorts of misleading and inaccurate information as it relates to pet food. I would like to share my point of view with you. So why is my opinion worth reading? Well, you can decide for yourself.

My professional background and experience is in pet nutrition marketing. I am not a nutritionist. I do work intimately with the process of developing and manufacturing pet foods. I have developed numerous dog and cat foods (dry, wet and treats) that have been marketing around the world. I work closely with some of the top nutritionists and researchers at major US Universities. I have served on the board of a major pet food manufacturer, and currently serve on a nutrition innovation team with a major global ingredient supplier to the pet industry. I also work for Lucy Pet, a California based family-owned pet health company. We make dog and cat food and we are committed to truth, transparency and honesty in pet food.

Throughout my career I have visited nearly every major pet food manufacturing facilities, and numerous small ones too. I regularly attend professional conferences such as the Pet Food Forum, the annual meetings of AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials), and stay current with official publications and pet food conference calls by the FDA, FEDIAF (the European Pet Food Industry body) and of course the National Research Council (NRC), the body that actually sets the nutritional requirements for animals. I have also spent extensive amounts of time on farms, fisheries and ranches where various ingredients are grown, raised or procured. Over the past two decades I have seen all sorts of things that have given me an education as to what can improve or diminish the quality of a pet food.

I am a fact based person, and leery of fads and trend diets (human or animal). I always prefer science over emotion, and look for long term feeding trials before judging a new food or ingredient. Last year I wrote an article here entitled: A Quick Lesson On Pet Food. Feel free check that out later.

What drove me to write this post is the latest trend of alternate forms of pet foods that have no proven science behind them. I welcome new innovation to the marketplace, provided it is proven as safe and made by experienced nutritionists. What alarms me is that trends such as "fresh pet foods" and "raw dog foods" are misleading consumers to think they are properly balanced. Many of these new companies are attempting to gain popularity and market share by making patently false and misleading claims about dog kibble and cat kibble foods. In order to scare consumers, they claim that dry kibble is cooked at such high temperatures, it "cooks out all the nutrients". This is false. Then they extol the virtues of gently cooked, or slow cooked, or raw diets as better. These statements are not only inaccurate but they are misleading. When a nutritionist designs a kibble diet, they take into account cooking temperatures, storage conditions and shelf-life timelines of the pet food and calculate the ingredients accordingly. The pet food formulation and the cooking anticipates how all the raw ingredients, when blended and cooked will react to ensure that your dog or cat has the proper levels of nutrition they require.  The bottom line is that when made properly, by an experienced team of nutritionists, dog kibble and cat kibble offer consistent nutrition in every bite. Kibble is not deficient of nutrients, and in fact, some ingredients actually become more bio-available when cooked. So don't let anyone try to fool you into thinking that all the nutrients cooked out of kibble dog food.

Some of these fad diet companies hire a veterinarian who puts on their white coat, wears a stethoscope and pretends to understand nutrition. I am here to tell you that the overwhelming majority of veterinarians have little to no training and education in nutrition science. The next time a veterinarian tries to tell you what to feed your pet, ask them how many years of education in nutrition they have. Most will admit they had none, or maybe had an hour during one course of their degree.  So just because a pet food brand has a vet talking about the food, that alone does not mean they understand nutrition and can vouch for the diet as properly balanced.

One major issue I have with these trendy "fresh" pet foods, or human-food looking pet foods, or raw pet foods is that they often times are not properly balanced, even when they claim to be "complete and balanced". The concern I have with these fad diets is that the people making them are not experienced nutritionists who understand the complex nature of food ingredients. For example, there are multiple amino acids that animals require at certain levels. In order to formulate correctly, it requires a thorough understanding of the natural chemical composition and functionality of proteins, amino acids, and all sorts of compounds with how they react when ingested and digested by the animal. There are considerable consequences to animal health and well being just when basic ingredient formulas are not balanced properly. Remember that your pet is depending on that meal for all of its nutrition, so feeding a diet that does not take into account the complexity of nutrition science can have an adverse effect on vital organ functionality and life span of the animal. The digestive system plays a very important role in animal health, therefore ingredients and the formulation really matter.

Many of these diets promote the fact that they include fresh vegetables or fruits, but this is merely for label appeal to the consumer. Consider that fruits and veggies are mainly water, so in order to derive the amount of vitamins and minerals the dog or cat requires, you would need to feed many times higher levels of those veggies to meet the requirements of the animal. Also consider that after veggies and fruits are picked, and as the age, they gradually begin to loose freshness and the nutrients degrade. So those foods made with fruits and veggies could have older, wilted veggies that are not as potent as when they were fresh. That variability in freshness and their potency, coupled with the fact that you would still need many times more than they are using, makes this aspect of fresh or raw less than desirable as a complete and balanced source of nutrients. I imagine that it is possible some of these new, small fresh made pet food brands are trying to do something better, but the problem is they don't know what they don't know. They created a pet food on a formulated basis only and not tested it or understand how that diet performs over time when digested, and how the vital organs are affected.

Raw pet food is even riskier because in addition to being imbalanced, they present significant health and safety issues to the pet and the consumer. Aside from the risks of  Salmonella, and E. Coli, there are documented studies showing that the gut of the dog or cat has dangerous bacteria that continues to grow and build over time. This has a negative effect on the animals' gut health and ph levels. 

Despite what companies are trying to tell you in their marketing, your dog is not a wolf. Just as we as humans are not caveman anymore, we have evolved, over tens of thousands of years. And as a result our DNA has changed. Just look to science, yes science, not emotion for the facts. Science has documented that there are over three dozen different strands of DNA that are different between the dog and the wolf. Those DNA genome differences are significant because they relate to digestion. So while it may seem fun to think you should feed your dog the same way they would "eat in the wild" and therefore mimic a wolf's diet, the fact is your dog is NOT A WOLF. Keep in mind that that message has been perpetuated by pet food companies trying to sell you something. Personally I would never feed a raw pet food diet, ever.

The tough part for consumers is to figure out which brand of kibble is the best. There are so many brands of dog and cat food now, it can be overwhelming. Of course I have my opinion and preference. Go to a pet specialty store to do research, but don't just go with what the store employee or demo person says. They are paid or commissioned in some way sell a particular brand. My advice is buy the best you can afford, but read up on the brand. Look closely at the brand website, what are they emphasizing? What are they not talking about? Are they trying to fool you by only talking about the first few ingredients on the label, or do they talk openly about the entire formula? Do they share details about their nutritionist? Do they talk about the science behind their food? If they are mostly marketing "feel good" traits, and nothing else, then move on. Just because a food is organic, or natural, or humane, does not necessarily mean it is the best. Our pets only live a short time relative to human lifespan. Don't we owe it to feed them the best possible, so they can be healthy?  I get frustrated by companies, large and small who literally lie and mislead consumers. I am merely advocating FACT and SCIENCE when it comes to nutrition. The point of this article is to assure you that kibble is still the best choice for dog and cat food.

In full disclosure I mentioned previously that I work with Lucy Pet, and we have a kibble dog food. However, even if I did not work for Lucy Pet, I would still be sharing the same information because what I am writing about is rooted in science and facts. I added a few links within this article to things we wrote about on the Lucy Pet Products website. I hope this helps shed some insights into what I have learned over my 23+ years in pet food. If you want to see my other article on A Quick Lesson on Pet Food, click here
Thanks for reading.

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