Myths and Misconceptions Surrounding Pet Foods

Free, Natural, Holistic, Organic, Raw

  • Holistic- The
    dictionary defines holistic as “relating to or concerned with
    wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts”. Essentially, it means considering the needs of
    the whole animal, not just certain systems or particular aspects of nutritional
    needs. However, no definition of
    the term has been generally accepted by the pet food industry, and there
    currently are no regulations or legal definitions for labeling a food
    “holistic”, allowing for misrepresentation of the term and its implications of
    benefit. Moreover, based on the
    dictionary definition, all satisfactory pet foods are holistic.
  • Organic- This
    refers to the way ingredients are grown, harvested, and processed. The USDA has yet to define “organic” as it
    applies to pet foods. In the interim,
    pet foods meeting the human standard may display the organic seal with the
    following restrictions:
    • “Organic” - If 100% organic, may display the
      organic seal.
    • “Organic” - If at least 95% of the content is
      organic by weight (excluding salt and water), it may display the organic seal.
    • “Made with Organic” - If at least 70% of the
      content is organic. Can cite up to three
      specific ingredients or classes of ingredients on the front panel. Cannot use the USDA official organic seal.
    • If less than 70% of the content is organic only those organic
      ingredients may be listed and only on the ingredients panel with no mention of
      ‘organic’ elsewhere on the product. These foods cannot display the USDA official
      organic seal.
  • Raw /
    .( Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods / Bones And Raw Foods)- These diets are produced to
    provide a diet thought to mimic what cats and dogs eat “in the wild”. These diets generally consist of variable
    combinations of raw meats, grains, vegetables, and bones. Like grain-free diets, there is no scientific
    evidence that feeding a raw vs. a conventional diet is any more beneficial to
    an animal’s health. However there is ample evidence that it is not. Moreover, these diets also have generated controversy
    due to their increased risk for microbial contamination. Exposure of pets and their owners to
    dangerous bacteria have the potential to cause serious illness. Careful cleaning of all food handling surfaces
    must be practiced to prevent microbes from contaminated foods to humans and
    pets. There is also risk of
    gastrointestinal problems and/or injury from bones in the diet, and the
    possibility of an unbalanced raw diet causing nutritional deficiencies and
    directly resulting in illness. We recommend
    that these diets be carefully selected and researched before use, and then only
    by owners comfortable with safe
    handling procedures
    for raw foods.

It also bears mentioning that no objective
scientific evidence has yet demonstrated that feeding Grain
Free, Natural, Holistic, Organic, or Raw diets to otherwise healthy pets, when
compared to conventional
diets, leads to a better outcome for the pet. And one can easily test this for oneself by
trying to guess what a random sample of people feed their pet just by looking
at the pet, before asking the owner.


vs. Meal

Many pet owners are overwhelmed with conflicting information from
varying sources regarding protein sources in pet foods. Many people have been led to believe that
whole meat is better than meat meal, just based on the name. This is simply not true. As with all ingredients, the origin determines
the quality. Meat meal is just like
whole meat in that when it comes from a well-known provider and is of good
quality, it can be an excellent source of protein. Meat meal is actually a more concentrated
source of protein due to the fact that it does not contain the water content of
whole meat, and therefore can be added in greater quantities to dry foods to
achieve a higher protein content than whole meat because of the limitations of
manufacturing machinery in their ability to include water beyond certain
amounts. Depending on personal preference
as to the type of diet fed (raw, homemade, canned vs. dry,) meat meal can
provide a very economical source of high quality protein.

The AAFCO definitions of what
constitutes “meats” and “meals” are:

Meat - "Meat is the clean flesh derived from slaughtered mammals and
is limited to that part of the striate muscle which is skeletal or that which
is found in the tongue, in the diaphragm, in the heart, or in the esophagus;
with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and the portions of the
skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh. It shall be suitable for use in animal food.
If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto."

Meat Meal - "Meat meal is the rendered product from
mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings,
manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur
unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain added extraneous materials
not provided for by this definition…. If
the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, composition or origin, it
must correspond thereto."

Poultry - "Poultry is the clean combination of flesh and skin with or
without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of poultry
or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails. It
shall be suitable for use in animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it
must correspond thereto. If the bone has
been removed, the process may be so designated by use of the appropriate feed

Poultry Meal - "Poultry meal is the dry rendered product from a combination
of clean flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the
parts of whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof, exclusive of
feathers, heads, feet, and entrails. It shall be suitable for use in animal
food. If it bears a name descriptive of
its kind, it must correspond thereto." (“By-products” meals are those that include
offal, bones, undeveloped eggs in the case of poultry, etc.)

Fish - There is no AAFCO definition for fish,
either generic or by species.

Fish Meal - "Fish meal is the clean, dried, ground tissue of undecomposed
whole fish or fish cuttings, either or both, with or without the extraction of
part of the oil. If it contains more than 3% salt (NaCl), the amount of salt
must constitute a part of the product name, provided that in no case must the
salt content of this product exceed 7%. The label shall include guarantees for
minimum crude protein, minimum crude fat, maximum crude fiber, minimum phosphorus
(p) and minimum and maximum calcium (Ca). If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it
must correspond thereto."

Because of the variation in meal content, and in
meat and meal quality, purchasing a food from a well-known company who stands
behind their product and has the feeding trials and evidence to support its
quality is best. Consulting a
veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist is always helpful. In some aspects of
pet food, a little research is worth the time to avoid manufacturer marketing
and cultural hype

Corn (and other grains)

In recent years
corn has been described as a low quality “filler” in pet foods, and implicated
as the culprit in pets with food allergies (typically by competitor food
companies). In reality, corn provides a nutritious,
affordable source of carbohydrate for energy, essential amino and fatty acids
for healthy skin, coat and immune system function, and a variety of other
nutrients. These nutrients are released
during the manufacturing process, and are easily absorbed and utilized when
included in complete diets.

With regard to corn as an allergen, few
veterinarians or veterinary nutritionists believe that corn is a highly
allergic food. They often cite the fact
that other common ingredients, like wheat, dairy, soy, and beef, are much more
frequently associated with food allergies.
Moreover, we must remember that the problem in patients with allergies
is with the immune system of the individual rather than with any external
substance, which has no effect on those with healthy immune systems. For those pets that are proven to be sensitive
to ingredients in foods through feeding elimination trails, the ingredient
should obviously be avoided, but otherwise it remains a cost-efficient, quality
nutrient source for pet foods.