One of the greatest challenges I have faced in managing a health food store for pets has got to be the incredible deceptions in the pet manufacturing and marketing industry. I made a personal oath to not form biases and to never stop asking questions, to really listen, and to recognize that our cats and dogs cannot be set in a cookie cutter mold. Every single rep that has walked through my doors (good or bad) will try to tell me that their food is the best. Some trash others, while some only focus on their product as being the best. Make no mistake though... this is where listening skills are important. I have selective hearing when it comes to certain industry tag words (a lot of them make me very skeptical) and I zone in on the ingredient panels. It is very important to me to understand what is in this food, where the manufacturer source the ingredients, and how it is made. This is a very important statement and I will provide clarity if you continue to read.
The other challenge has been my own local veterinarians. I am not against vets at all and when I was on this journey of opening this franchise - I blissfully imagined that I would work closely with our veterinarian community - side by side engaged in the welfare of animals. WRONG! Imagine my utter dismay when I had to deal with many of them actively trying to shut me down! Actually telling their clients that my store needs to shut down and that I have no business in the pet industry because I am not a doctor. Apparently it is ok to be a parent that is responsible for rearing a human life, to feed them, to educate them, to form them into productive members of society (all without a doctorate) but I am a simpleton when it comes to making decision on what to feed my cat and dog? I think it has more to do with my ability to empower pet parents and show them factual truths and it makes them uncomfortable. Regardless of the reasons, I will not stay quiet.
I really did struggle for years to understand how we could be so very different in our nutritional engagement with cats and dogs. This is until I found a training segment that our vets and their staff are using not only educate themselves but you and me! This is the food that is sold and or suggested. It was eye opening indeed and I would like to share this with you.
If you would like to view the video - here it is:
Clearly I need to talk about this because this explains ALOT of what I deal with on a daily basis when I help pet parents to make the best choices available in the market and the anxiety they feel when trying to have communication with either the vet or the techs when the topic of nutrition comes up.
1. "We can BELIEVE in Science." The first thing that struck me as eye opening was how the Royal Canin video opens with how confusing the industry is (yes I agree) with all the terms out there (Healthy, Grain Free, Organic, Gluten Free, Natural) but then retorts, "You don't need to be confused because, "We can believe in Science." I have heard this term over and over again with my own clients that tell me the vets say this to them. They say, "I believe in Science!" when dismissing a pet parents desire to feed whole unprocessed foods. There is a lot of science that supports natural eating and the many benefits of leaving behind heavily processed foods (specifically for disease prevention). The problem seems to be that there is ALOT of science on this subject in the human field but not so much in the companion animal area. Troubling fact is that misleading marketing ploys are using this to their advantage by suggesting that we (as pet parents) are trying to feed our animals like humans if we chose to feed biologically appropriate. Nonsense. I can feed my hamster corn, my birds seeds, my snake rats, my fish algae, my lizards crickets (all biologically appropriate) but I can only feed my dog or cats a science diet food that contain a great deal of human interference and human ingredients by the way... such as wheat, corn, soy, gluten, and rice. Something is not ok here.
2. The video goes on to say, "Science tells us that cats and dogs have very different nutritional needs from humans." Ummmm.... ya? So remember in the statement above, how I have been made to feel like a simpleton by the veterinarian community because I do not have a doctorate? Well, it does not take a doctoral degree to understand that animals and humans eat differently. I do not sit down at my table and rip apart my freshly caught prey with my sharp canines that are designed to tear away flesh, I do not swallow the remnants whole into a large stomach capable of holding a substantial amount of food, and in this stomach, I most certainly don't have a strong enough stomach acid to facilitate the breakdown of proteins (between 1.5 pH and 2.1 pH in dogs). I think I have a good understanding that feeing my dog or cat is a little different then feeding myself and my children, ya think? So, right away my back is up against the wall, because here is a rep who is training the vets basically saying that we (those that chose to feed a biologically appropriate food) are trying to feed our animals like humans (and are made to feel pretty bad about it), but when you start digging around and looking at the ingredients in these science based foods - guess what?? It is these foods that are feeding animals like humans. Keep reading - stay with me please.
3. It gets worse. The video goes on to say, "If we feed our pets as though they were humans, serious health problems can develop!" I need this to sink in for a moment. Reread this statement! My blood is boiling a little here I will not lie. Why? Because this scientific formulation (or so it is called) is actually feeding our animals as though they were humans. There is nothing species appropriate at all with how this food is made that is based on the biology of animals. They do not call the food human grade (they call it Scientific) however it certainly is prepared with humans in mind (Wheat, Corn, Gluten, Soy, White Rice, Brown Rice) and heavily processed and cooked. Come on now!!!
4. "To know what's best for our pets, we need to focus on the nutrients our pets need for optimal health - not on the ingredients!" I kid you not - this is word for word the training our vets are receiving. I heard this the first time several months ago and I thought surely I misunderstood. This cannot be correct. Our vets (through their training) are ARE telling people that ingredients DO NOT MATTER? Yes, this is happening. The determination that the food is of highest quality and standards is because of the end result of Protein, Carbs, fat, and vitamin and minerals (no matter how it got there or what was used via ingredients)? Ok, I do not have a doctorate but I know this is deadly wrong (vets will say this is me being anecdotal) . We need to focus on ingredients to obtain optimal health! This is part of the parcel. WOW! Just WOW! I can't let this point end here - I got more to say:
To put this into perspective, this would be like if you went to see your Doctor or health practitioner and this Doctor has been sponsored all of his educational life by lets say, Ensure. You walk into the clinic and there are shelves of Ensure products. All kinds of clean looking products that read Scientific Food for your Health. Only Ensure products are being sold here and nothing else. No other training - just Ensure. Get the picture? So, you are in for the results of your complete physical and the doctor gives you an A+ for being in such great shape. Your blood panel comes back beautifully, you are at your ideal weight, you skin is glowing, you have no ailments (A+)! Then, the doctor says, "Hey Shirley, what are you doing and what are you eating to obtain such incredible results?" Shirley responds, "I am happy to report for the last 6 months I have been eating farm to table. I have eliminated all processed foods. I have done a lot of research and am pleased to say that my focus on the right daily balance of protein, vegetables, fruit, nuts and water intake. It has clearly paid off. I feel like a million bucks. I have never felt better." The Doctor looks at you in complete exasperation and says, "This needs to STOP! Science has proven that you need to focus on the proper nutrients for optimal health and not ingredients. You are wasting your time. I would like to write you a prescription for Ensure. Please use that moving forward. I believe in SCIENCE!"
Would you stand for that? I highly doubt it. This is not about feeding your beloved dog or cat like a human. Rather, it is about appreciating and understanding the Science behind heavily processed foods and the impact it has on your companion animals life. It is about feeding them the way they are biologically intended to be fed.
5. Benefits of Real Meat. This one made me laugh out loud. Kind of a crazy laugh out loud but a laugh none the less. Royal Canine is communicating that real meat vs meat meal is no different. They are communicating that Chicken Meal is Chicken with just water removed. Ya - its not that simple. Here is the definition of Chicken Meal:
Chicken meal is ground up chicken meat that has been carefully dried to a moisture level of 10%. The protein content is 65% and the fat level is 12%. Regular chicken contains about 70% water with 18% protein and 5% fat. To create chicken meal, ingredients are placed into large vats and cooked. This rendering process not only separates fat and removes water to create a concentrated protein product, it also kills bacteria, viruses, parasites and other organisms. Because meat can be rid of infectious agents through the rendering process, “4D” animals (dead, dying, diseased or disabled) are allowable chicken meal ingredients. While not always present, the possible inclusion of these ingredients makes chicken meal always considered unfit for human consumption.
I would say that there is a HUGE difference between real Chicken meat going into pet food as opposed to food being made up of primarily chicken meal? Where is the transparency here? To casually communicate that real meat is no different then meal is an outright lie and this is part of the education our vets are receiving. Not at all acceptable to me.
The rendering part will have to be a whole other blog. Another time I promise. :)
6. Inferior By-Products. Royal Canin is trying to say that the heavy use of byproducts in their formulations are not an inferior product compared to the use of real meat as the first ingredients found in other pet food brands. They are training our vets that the term byproducts include ingredients such as: liver, organ meats, and other internal organs which are important nutrient dense ingredients. What??? I thought that ingredients did not matter? But, now all of a sudden it seems to matter. How confusing Science is becoming? What they are NOT saying is more frustrating. There is a Good, Bad, and downright UGLY to the term By-Product and here is why:
Meat by-products are the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low temperature fatty tissue, as well as, stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hoofs. Use of this ingredient from mammalian origins is restricted to non-ruminant (cud chewing) feeds. (AAFCO, 2003) Meat by-products are not meat. They can include almost any part of the animal other than meat. Because any mammal can be used, cheaper meats like horse, pig, or goat are often included.
The description from AAFCO for Chicken by-product is:
Chicken by-product meal, brewers rice, wheat, brown rice, chicken fat, corn gluten meal, natural flavors, dried plain beet pulp, fish oil, calcium carbonate, monocalcium phosphate, salt, potassium chloride, sodium silico aluminate, choline chloride, L-lysine, vitamins [DL-alpha tocopherol acetate (source of vitamin E), L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), biotin, D-calcium pantothenate, vitamin A acetate, niacin supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), vitamin B12 supplement, riboflavin supplement, vitamin D3 supplement, folic acid], trace minerals [zinc proteinate, zinc oxide, ferrous sulfate, manganese proteinate, manganous oxide, copper sulfate, calcium iodate, sodium selenite, copper proteinate], glucosamine hydrochloride, DL-methionine, chondroitin sulfate, rosemary extract, preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid
This diet contains 3755 kilocalories of metabolizable energy (ME) per kilogram or 360 kilocalories ME per cup on an as fed basis (calculated).
Crude Protein (min)24.0%Crude Fat (min)15.0%Crude Fiber (max)3.3%Moisture (max)10.0%Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) (min)0.17%Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) (min)0.07%Omega-3 fatty acids* (min)0.46%Glucosamine* (min)371 mg/kgChondroitin sulfate* (min)4 mg/kg.
Brewers rice, chicken by-product meal, wheat, corn, corn gluten meal, chicken fat, pea fiber, natural flavors, powdered cellulose, dried plain beet pulp, wheat gluten, fish oil, dried tomato pomace, vegetable oil, potassium chloride, calcium carbonate, psyllium seed husk, sodium silico aluminate, taurine, fructooligosaccharides, sodium tripolyphosphate, L-arginine, vitamins [DL-alpha tocopherol acetate (source of vitamin E), niacin supplement, L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), D-calcium pantothenate, biotin, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin supplement, thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), vitamin A acetate, folic acid, vitamin B12 supplement, vitamin D3 supplement], L-tyrosine, choline chloride, DL-methionine, L-tryptophan, glucosamine hydrochloride, L-carnitine, trace minerals [zinc proteinate, zinc oxide, ferrous sulfate, manganese proteinate, manganous oxide, copper sulfate, calcium iodate, sodium selenite, copper proteinate], lecithin, GLA safflower oil, L-lysine, marigold extract (Tagetes erecta L.), green tea extract, chondroitin sulfate, rosemary extract, preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid.
This diet contains 3448 kilocalories of metabolizable energy (ME) per kilogram or 314 kilocalories ME per cup on an as fed basis (calculated).
Crude Protein (min)21.0%Crude Fat (min)12.0%Crude Fiber (max)8.6 %Moisture (max)10.0%