Nutrition And Diet / By Dana Scott
Let’s play a little game. Let’s find out if you’re among the 60% of smart dog owners or among the 40% who really, really need to read the rest of this article.
Veterinarians reportedly place between 35% to 45% of their patients on prescription diet dog food. And dog owners apparently seem willing to follow these directions.
A 2011 Pet Food Industry survey shows 83% of dog owners believed their vet was the most important source of information when it comes to nutrition. This is surprising, because there’s certainly no evidence of this.
“Most US veterinarians would admit their formal education on companion animal nutrition consisted of one basic course that, in some cases, had to be taught by a professor from another program because no veterinary faculty had the knowledge or expertise to teach it.” Says veterinarian Debbie Phillips-Donaldson.
“Any information on nutrition received after veterinary school usually comes via a handful of petfood manufacturers that sell through the veterinary channel. That information is by its very nature prone to be limited and biased.”
Today I’m going to show you why DNM isn’t the only one calling Bull$hit on prescription diets.
What Our Vets Say About Prescription Diet Dog Food
I spoke about prescription diets with pet food guru Marion Smart PhD recently and she said something that I thought would be fun to follow through with. She said, “How do you think vets would evaluate prescription diets if we just showed them the ingredients? Would they be able to tell if they were prescription diets?”
So I called up some of our veterinary friends and gave them four pet food ingredient labels, one of which was a veterinary diet. I then asked them to list which food or foods they thought was a grocery store food and which food or foods they thought was a premium food.
Want to play the game with us?
Here are the four ingredient labels I asked the vets to rank. Can you guess which one is the prescription diet?
The Answer: Prescription Diets Revealed
Now, if there’s one thing I can say about my veterinary friends, its that they don’t follow direction very well! Only one of the vets actually ranked the foods as asked. But the rest had some very interesting things to say about the prescription diet.
So to start, here are the rankings in order from best to worst from Dr Marty Goldstein, author of The Nature of Animal Healing:
Food #2 ranked first because it contains all whole foods
Food #4 ranked second because it contains meal but otherwise contains whole foods
Food #1 ranked third, thanks to the by-product rice, by-product meal and overall low quality ingredients
Food #3 ranked last, based on the use of corn for its first ingredient, followed by by-product meal.
And if you haven’t guessed already, the prescription diet in that list is Food #3.
Want to hear what some of the other vets had to say about the prescription diet?
Dr Jodie Gruenstern: This food was the lowest quality in the list. It contains GMO corn, soy (lots of it!), which is a common allergen, synthetic vitamins/minerals, shavings (if you didn’t know, the ingredient cellulose is literally sawdust), natural flavors, which usually mean MSG.
Dr Jean Dodds: Poor quality food: the first ingredients are corn, which is often GMO, and chicken by-product meal rather than whole chicken. Flax and soy are phytoestrogens.
Dr Judy Morgan: This is a Pet Store Food. Corn is the first ingredient, no muscle meat used, only by-product meal, synthetic vitamin/mineral supplement, corn and soybean are GMO, waste fillers are abundant. Overpriced in my opinion, considering the poor quality, cheap ingredients used).
Dr Dee Blanco: This one starts with corn to increase inflammation, then adds lighter fluid to it with soybean products and poor quality protein. Then it tries to make up for the poor quality foundational ingredients by adding synthetic supplements of the poorest quality, such as calcium carbonate, folic acid, ‘generic Vit E supplement’, etc. Looks like they added l-tryptophan to calm the nervous system down after putting the body into overdrive inflammation. Natural flavors?? Could be an entire cadre of carcinogens, allergens and toxins. Argh!
So, as you can see, our vets didn’t exactly think the ingredients in the prescription diet were high quality. In fact, they thought many of them would be harmful.
So why exactly do we trust our vets to prescribe diets when this is the best they can offer?
And, more importantly, why are vets gullible enough to think these foods can do anything to change chronic health issues in dogs, such as allergies, kidney disease, or in the case of this particular food, joint disease?
If we really want to look at the quality of these diets, I think the first place to start is who’s making them?
The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree
The major players in the prescription diet category are the major players in the regular pet food category:
- Hill’s Science Diet
- Royal Canin
These companies are hardly renowned for quality ingredients. In fact, most veterinary diets are manufactured by companies that predominantly manufacture lower quality grocery store foods. The same company that makes lower quality foods like Alpo and Beneful is also making prescription diets. How much better do you think the veterinary food would be?
Let’s compare two Hill’s foods: a regular food (Natural Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Adult) and a prescription food (j/d Canine Joint Care).
The regular pet store brand:
And the prescription food:
Now, a 30lb bag of the regular food is $47.99 at Petsmart. The prescription diet dog food can also be purchased at Petsmart for $84.95 for a 27.5lb bag. It’s twice as expensive!
Now, you might be thinking this is because the prescription diet was formulated and tested with a specific condition in mind.
This is completely false.
While an over-the-counter food with a health claim (such as controls weight) is subject to FDA regulations and enforcement, the FDA practices “enforcement discretion” when it comes to veterinary diets.
Put another way, this means the FDA has not reviewed or verified the health claims on any veterinary diet.
Did you catch that? There are very few ingredients in veterinary diets that aren’t also in other regular diets. In the example above, I’d say the pet store brand is a better quality food, wouldn’t you? The prescription diet contains by-product meal (which comes straight from the rendering plant), lots of soybean and corn products (a cheap replacement for animal protein) while the regular food contains more expensive, higher quality ingredients.
Apart from fish oil, what food ingredients exactly would help dogs with joint pain? As Dr Dee Blanco stated, this food would actually cause inflammation.
And fish oil is a terrible addition to pet foods. It’s much too fragile to be added to processed foods and as soon as the bag is opened, it will oxidate and cause inflammation in your dog.
Ironic isn’t it, when the food is supposed to be treating inflammation in the first place?
Consider The Source
Those two diets are made in the exact same plant. The manufacturer uses the same suppliers.
Doesn’t it stand to reason that the quality of ingredients will be the same?
I challenge the pet food industry to prove that chicken by-product meal, soybeans, brewers rice and powdered cellulose have been extensively researched and proven better than the higher quality foods used in most regular pet foods.
So if your vet ever says your dog needs to be eating a prescription diet, ask him to review the ingredient list. Then ask him for hard evidence that the foods in the prescription diet are any better than those in regular diets.
I think we know what the answer will be.
And if you’re one of the smart 60%, then I know you already know the answer!
It’s nothing but Bull$hit.