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Pet Food Mythbusters

Pet Food Mythbusters

We all know that today, we as well as our pets live much longer and healthier lives than our parents did. We also can diagnosis diseases more quickly and accurately AND we have better drugs and choices of medications to help cure or stabilize those diseases.

All living things are a product of three things;

1. Genetics: This is an area which we obviously have no control over. We are a genetic complement of our parents and cannot change that today.

2. Environment and Lifestyle: We do have a little control over these factors such as where we live. The degree of pollution that we live with and any smoke exposures (direct or second hand) affect our health. Other factors include if one leads a high stress life versus a lifestyle that includes a healthy exercise routine.

3. Nutrition: The third factor that impacts ones life is the ONLY factor that we do have total control over and THAT factor is our nutrition. The old saying “you are what you eat” is true for ourselves as well as our pets.

We all want to do the right thing for our pets but distinguishing the truth from incorrect myths and misconceptions is very bewildering due to the hype on commercials, the complicated and confusing information on a pet food bags and the difficulty of understanding how pet food labels truly work.

Our goal is to help you make the right decision by becoming more knowledgeable in order to better filter through all the misleading statements that our pet food and advertising industry have fabricated.

The first thing you need to understand however is there is NOT one food that is right for every pet. It varies with the pet’s species, size, age, breed, body weight, activity level, if intact or breeding and their overall health status. What I recommend feeding a Labrador puppy is not the same food as a Chihuahua pup. A senior dog with liver disease should not be fed the same diet as a healthy arthritic geriatric pet. We all know this is true with humans but somehow forget that it carries over for our animals health sake as well.


Many people still believe that these foods are somehow superior. This is ALL FALSE!

These are all great examples of misleading and puzzling marketing terms that have NO legal definition and therefore carry NO true meaning. So let’s discuss these terms one at a time.

A. ORGANIC: Unless the bag has displayed the official USDA organic label, it is NOT organic.

The only official and true USDA organic label is this one shown. All other labels or logos are not regulated and therefore carry absolutely NO meaning in reference to pet food.

Therefore, anyone can falsely make the claim of having an organic product by using deceiving terminology or logos such as “made with organic products” or “organically made”. Since there are NO regulations against making this claim or proving its truth, the public is easily confused and deceived and even if the USDA organic label is present, research has still not even prevailed that organic pet food is really superior over non-organic with regards to pet food.

B. NATURAL: Some pet foods are labeled as All Natural. According to AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials), this term can only be used if NO additives were used in a product. People, due to their lack of understanding; assume that all additives are bad. Untrue! Preservatives can be natural or chemical additives. Examples of natural additives include vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids which are beneficial.

In a quality and balanced diet, additives are necessary for a healthy and balanced diet. Without any preservatives added, the product would spoil too quickly to even market it, making it unsafe on yours or your distributor’s shelf.

C. HOLISTIC: This is a term that we have been programmed to feel good about but since there is NO legal definition of this term and NO regulations regarding its use, any manufacturer can use this term erroneously on the bag with no truth or consequences to their claim. The term holistic really means nothing in this respect but certainly sounds good and has therefore misled the public.

D. HUMAN GRADE: One falsely assumes with this term, that the product contains or is made from ingredients that are human grade or human quality people food. Or they may assume fictitiously that the product has ingredients that you the purchaser would eat thus this term is extremely misleading. In order for Human Grade pet foods to exist, 100% of its food ingredients would have to meet USDA and FDA standards, same as for humans. Since Human Grade or Human Quality terms are NOT defined yet for pet food and no standards are yet in place for this to occur in pet foods, the use of these terms are totally inaccurate and invalid.

For information about AAFCO and its standards about pet food and its labeling, you can visit their website,

Myth #2 CORN is used as a filler, provides no nutrient value and is non-digestible. -- FALSE!

Corn is NOT a filler. A filler refers to an ingredient that provides no nutritional value.

Corn is a superb source of nutrition and is highly digestible once cooked and ground. It contains a great source of protein important for our muscle and tissue growth, has natural antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamin E, essential fatty acids for a healthy skin and coat and highly digestible carbohydrates for energy. Another positive aspect of corn it that it is implicated in fewer allergy cases than any other common protein source including beef, dairy products, wheat, chicken, egg or soy.

I believe that the misconception about corn is a result of its limited digestibility if consumed whole as in corn on the cob. With the outer shell intact on corn, as in corn on the cob, it is often passed through our digestive system almost intact. Corn however once ground and cooked, as utilized in pet food, is extremely digestible with many positive nutritional aspects.

A true and unknown fact is that Hills Science Diet is so careful about the ingredients that it accepts for utilization into its food, that a few years ago, trucks loaded with corn were rejected by Hills for their pet food line, but yet immediately sold to the Doritos company.

Myth #3- BY-PRODUCTS are an inferior meat source & utilizes undesirable animal products.--FALSE!

By-Product is a term that is totally misunderstood and consequently gotten a bad rap. Do not let this term scare you. The term itself simply means something produced in the making of something else. Examples of By-Products that WE routinely eat include peanut butter, cooking oil, broth, jello, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, bologna, ice cream and hot dogs.

Meat By-Products refers to the organs that are left over once the muscles have been removed from the animal. In the example of chicken, this would include the liver, heart, kidneys, bone and gizzard. These products are very important to include in our pets food as they are loaded with vitamins and amino acids PLUS they increase the protein level necessary for our pet’s nutritional requirements. We eat animal By Products everyday but yet people don’t understand or accept it for our pets. I can assure you that By-Products does NOT refer to beak, nails, fur or feathers or any other inappropriate part of a food animal’s anatomy.

There are also vegetable By-Products that are helpful to include. Vitamin E is a by product from soybean production, beet pulp a by product of sugar beet processing, and beef liver is a by product of beef processing.

Myth #4 All PRESERVATIVES are bad.--FALSE!

A preservative is a substance that helps to preserve a foods nutritional value and keeps it from becoming rancid. There are natural preservatives such as vitamin E, spice extracts and Citric acid as well as synthetic antioxidants such as BHA and BHT. All of these are routinely used in very small amounts both in human foods and pet foods.

Without any preservatives added, food spoils very quickly. That is accepted in some foods and refrigeration can prolong a foods life, but many other foods would spoil too quickly to even be marketed, making them unsafe on your or your distributor’s shelves. Foods that are known to routinely contain synthetic antioxidants to prolong their longevity include bread, cheese, frozen and dried fruits, meat and pet foods.

Myth #5 GRAIN FREE FOODS are better.--FALSE!

Don’t let false perceptions and bogus information about the benefits provided in grain free diets fool you. They are not truly grain free but rather simply substitute one carbohydrate source for another.

There is also NO evidence that a Grain Free diet provides any health benefits over a balanced diet with grains. Dogs and cats are NOT true carnivores and thus need a carbohydrate source to maintain a healthy body. People will falsely choose a grain free diet as a goal to decrease the carbohydrate levels within the food but may not understanding the consequences for their pet.

By offering some of the new supposedly grain free diets, we maybe providing a food that is not nutritionally balanced for the particular species or possibly even doing the opposite of what ones goal is. Traditional options of carbohydrate sources include corn, (also called zea mays), rice, wheat, Russet or sweet potatoes. Because people have been misinformed about corn, many grain free choices now include chicory root, carrots or apples. Many of these choices actually contain a higher level of carbohydrates than the traditional choices.

Myth #6 ALL LIFE STAGES FOODS are superior.--FALSE!

The pet food industry has dooped pet owners once again and has based this misconception on how to make our busy lives a little easier. The only selling point of this food is that one can feed the same food to a pet throughout their entire life. The concept behind this food is ridiculous but people are falling for it. Would you think of feeding your baby the same food nutritionally as someone in their geriatric years? Of course not, so why does one do it to their pet.

Foods should be carefully balanced for the particular needs of the pet based on several factors including the pets age or life stage, body weight with respects to their ideal weight, their activity level, their metabolism, spay, neutered or intact status, and any particular health requirements due to underlying diseases &/or allergies.

All Life Stage Foods are harmful as they do not provide proper nutrition during many life stages. In a young or growing animal, it is very important that the pet consumes more dietary fat for energy, more calories, protein and minerals for proper growth and organ development. And an adult is no longer growing therefore their protein needs are less than a younger animal. And since their bones are now fully developed, their phosphorus, sodium, calcium and magnesium needs are less. A senior or geriatric animals needs are so very unique. Their protein levels are reduced even more than as an adult. This is important since over supplement of protein can actually shorten a pets life expectancy by causing unnecessary wear on their liver and kidneys. It is important to remember that over supplementation of nutrients can be as harmful as a deficiency.

The body has special nutritional needs through each of its life stages so you can see that an All Life Stages food is nutritionally deleterious for your pet through most of their life.

Myth #7-All WEIGHT LOSS DIETS are formulated with fewer calories &/or higher fiber.--FALSE!

For deception purposes, terminology is unfortunately confusing. When it comes to a weight loss diet, only the terms LIGHT, LITE AND LOW CALORIE are regulated by AAFCO and therefore guarantee that these products contain fewer calories. Unfortunately, many other terms that we associate with this include WEIGHT REDUCTION, FOR WEIGHT LOSS or CONTAINS REDUCED CALORIES. These terms are NOT regulated by AAFCO.

Why is regulation important to you? Regulated terms make the food industry accountable for their products and ingredients. Since confusing terms, are not regulated, we can make false assumptions about their meanings. For example, if the product contains the non regulated terms REDUCED CALORIES, the calories in those diets do NOT have to be reduced. These diets may have a high calorie count with no consequences for their misleading and false advertising. No wonder some dogs gain weight on what an owner thinks is a low fat/low calorie food.

Look at a bag of Hills Science Diet and you will fortunately see the calorie (kcal) statistics given even though this information is not required for the pet food industry to post.

Myth #8- RAW or BARF diets are better as they mimic what a wild wolf would eat. -- FALSE!

There are numerous problems with this assumption;

How many humans do you know that eat only raw meat? Hopefully none. It is proven that most dogs that eat a raw food diet carry Salmonella, Listeria and Campylobacter bacteria which can cause chronic diarrhea and many health problems. This food poisoning can be a safety concern for the animal as well as their owner preparing a raw food diet.

Also, the average life expectancy of a wolf or wild dog is only about 8 years old therefore much shorter than our present pets life expectancy when fed a properly balanced diet. A dog is not a true carnivore but instead is an omnivore and therefore needs to consume both animal and plant foods to stay healthy. A wild dog will eat its prey whole therefore consuming not only the muscle from its prey but also the contents of its prey’s intestinal tract, its bones and it’s by products such as the heart, liver and kidneys.

Owners have turned to the RAW diets for a variety of reasons including distrust for the commercial pet food industry due to past recalls, listening to misleading advertisements about By Products, preservatives and fillers and not truly understanding their importance and due to false information about RAW diets curing everything from various diseases to cancer.

I think owners often have the false perception that because it is raw, it’s going to be healthier. There is no literature documenting this fact but much showing nutritional imbalances that may result. If someone still chooses to feed a raw diet, I feel it is my responsibility to have informed them of the potential risks for their pet and themselves.


I know that people have the best intentions and want to do what is best for their beloved pet family member. I believe that making a homemade diet is more beneficial than purchasing something off of a shelf. It sounds better as one is using fresh ingredients versus feeding their pet a dried kibble or canned food but it is not. What they don't truly realize is the potential harm that they are actually causing to their pets through this choice.

The key to a proper diet is obviously the nutrients. Most homemade diets consist of a protein and a carbohydrate source such as Lamb and Rice or Duck and Potato. A proper nutrition requires the perfect balance of protein and carbohydrates but also vitamins, fat, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and water. This balance is almost impossible for most people to achieve on a routine basis. This is especially true as the nutritionally requirements of our pets are always changing due to their age or their health status.

We all understand that a deficiency of vitamins or minerals can cause severe developmental problems but people often do not think about the opposite also being true. Over supplementation of products can be just as deleterious as deficiencies.

Statistics show that over 95% of all homemade diets cause long term and potentially irreversible nutritional imbalances as they can either contain a deficiency and/or excess of necessary ingredients.

Myth #10- Our pets, like us, want a variety of different flavors of food.--FALSE!

Although we tend to get bored with eating the same foods on a routine basis, it is proven that this is NOT true of our pets. In fact, by constantly changing their foods, we cause more gastrointestinal problems, make them pickier eaters and increase the chances of food allergies. We recommend simply finding the right food for your pet based on their age, species, body weight and any health considerations and stick to it until their body dictates a necessary change.


AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) is the organization that sets the nutritional standards for pet foods within the United States. There are two methods that a pet food company can choose between in order to fulfill the necessary nutritional requirements for production and its release.

The first and more common method is;

1. Formulation Method- This method is an inexpensive process used by most pet food companies in order to achieve the AAFCO stamp. This method does NOT require any actual feeding of the food to animals or any digestibility trials. There is consequently no guarantee of your pet’s acceptance, utilization or absorption of the nutrients or potential deleterious health consequences before the food is packaged and released for sale.

The other method is;

2. Feeding Trial Method- This method is known as the "Gold Standard" for determining the quality of the food based on the pet’s health, their physical and mental performance, utilization/absorption and acceptance of the diet.

Hills Science Diet utilizes ONLY the superior method of Feeding Trials to achieve the AAFCO stamp. They also continuously evaluate the animals during these Feeding Trials and monitor the pets carefully in numerous ways.

This monitoring includes extensive evaluation of the pet’s organ functions through blood and urine plus monitoring of their body weight, hair coat quality, DEXA Radiology scans noting any bone density changes plus any changes in their mental and/or physical status.


Pet food labels are meant to be confusing making understanding difficult. Unfortunately companies manipulate the ingredients position on the label based on the order that they want the products to be ranked or displayed. Most people falsely think that the ingredients are listed in descending order based on the quantity of the product present. This is not true but instead they are listed in descending order based on their weight. Because of this, ingredient splitting is routinely done so certain ingredients will be displayed lower or higher on the label ranking. A prime example in the human market is breakfast cereal. Since the manufacturer does not want sugar to be a prime ingredient, it will be broken down on the label and displayed as sucrose, dextrose, maltose, glucose etc therefore ranking it much farther down on the ingredient list.

Another marketing trick is including a product before it has been processed. What most people don’t understand is that pre processing weight can be substantially higher since it includes water weight therefore changing its position on the food label. An example is with chicken. If its weight before processing was 15 oz., the weight after processing would be approximately 4.5 oz. obviously changing its ranking position on the label. People often try to buy a pet food with a meat listed first on the label but don’t understanding that after processing, its ranking maybe very low.

Here is a link to a website that gives you insight into how to read a pet food label; (


Hills Science diet is the ONLY pet food company that routinely uses a Fixed Nutrient Formula assuring you that the same nutrient profile/recipe is consistent within all bags and cans of the product. This fact is extremely important as other companies can routinely change the products, ingredients or recipe based on their food purchases. A change in the recipe can cause intestinal problems plus increase the chances of allergy problems leaving the owner confused as they have not changed the product they purchased, not realizing it is the product itself that may have changed.


Hills Science Diet always guarantees any purchase with a money back guarantee. If you or your pet is not satisfied with the product, Science Diet will refund 100% of your purchase price. It doesn’t make any difference how much product is left in the can or bag, this guarantee still exists by simply returning it to the store where you purchased it from. What other companies do that?


On the surface this sounds great, but this information is not as helpful as one would think. Labels show only the maximum and minimums of the contained ingredients. This leaves you wondering what percentage is truly present. In order to get these true values, you would have to consult directly with the Pet Food Manufacturer. My recommendation therefore is to always purchase your pets food through a company that you trust. With all the pet food recalls that we have heard about, it is important to note that NONE of Hills Science Diets foods have ever been involved in a mandatory recall.


If a company believes in their product and will stand behind it, I believe the consumer affairs phone number and website information should be readily displayed on all pet food labels. This will allow you as a consumer direct access to a veterinarian nutritionist for advice or to answer any questions you may have. If you are still confused by this, we would be happy to do a nutritional consult with you and for you to help your pet nutritional needs.


We know how important nutrition is and a great, balanced pet food is a logical investment in our pet’s health. Not only will a quality diet help you and your pet to live a healthier, happier and longer life but a great investment for you financially as fewer costly medical issues will typically develop.

At Everett Veterinary Hospital & Boarding House, our doctors and team members have all chosen to feed Hills Science Diet to our own pets and those of the hospital patients and boarders (unless otherwise directed). We have made this choice based on the many positive changes we have witnessed personally in our pets through the years. And since we do believe in it, we have also chosen to sell Hills Science Diet.

Our goal is always to help educate you and hopefully this has helped you to sort through some of the misconceptions about pet food and labels. We are NOT advocating that all pets need to be on Hills Science Diet but rather to give you criteria in order to evaluate the right pet food choice for your pet.

Please contact us if we can help you in anyway.

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