Joe Inglis BVSc MRCVS is the vet for the One Show, This Morning and BBC Breakfast. He runs his own line of natural pet food called Pet’s Kitchen
As you may have seen there was an article in The Daily Mail recently about pet food and the dangers some processed foods can potentially pose to pets’ health. I was interviewed briefly for this and I’m quoted talking about the problems that artificial additives can cause.
The rest of the article is not so great though, pedalling many of the myths and un-scientific arguments that are put forward by people who believe that all commercial pet foods are terrible and the cause of all ill health in pets. In particular the arguments that feeding foods containing carbohydrate is responsible for urinary and renal disease in cats, something which has been clearly shown not to be true, and the claim that the only healthy way to feed a pet is on raw chicken wings.
To set the record straight, here are a couple of paragraphs from my forthcoming book ‘Your dog and You’, which is due to be published this summer, which deal with these issues:
“There have been many scare stories about this subject and the internet is awash with unfounded allegations claiming that the feeding of carbohydrate to cats and dogs is responsible for all manner of diseases, including urinary diseases, diabetes, cancer and many others. However, none of these issues are backed up with any credible evidence, and a recent meta-analysis of all the data surrounding the issue of feeding carbohydrate to pets by Dr Buffington of Ohio State University Hospital concluded that, and I quote, “Current published evidence thus does not support a direct role for diet in general, and carbohydrates in particular, on disease risk in domestic cats.” Dr Buffington goes on to explain how genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors (such as indoor-only housing of cats) play a far more significant role in many of the diseases in which effects are attributed to carbohydrate-rich diets.
So I am happy that the scientific evidence strongly refutes any link between the feeding of carbohydrate to pets and health problems and would recommend that this is not an issue that you should be worried about – far better to make sure the food you feed your dog is made with good quality ingredients, including good quality carbohydrates such as rice and oats, and is free from artificial additives which we know can cause harm.”
There are many people who advocate feeding dogs on a diet that replicates as closely as possible their ‘ancestral diet’ – primarily raw meaty bones and scavenged scraps. There is logic in this argument, as evolution has worked over many hundreds of thousands of years to perfect the canine digestive tract to suit this kind of diet, so one could therefore easily assume that a raw diet based on this evolutionary history would be the best possible. But there’re also flaws in the argument, and one of the main ones is the assumption that just because a dog evolved to eat a raw diet scavenged from left over carcasses that this is the best diet it could possibly eat. The only reason dogs ate raw scraps was because that was all there was available and they developed their niche role as scavengers – but that does not mean that their digestive tracts have evolved in such as way that other foods might not be even better than scraps. It’s a bit like saying that our eyes evolved to spot predators and find food and therefore that is the best way to do those things – whereas most people would agree that modern technological advances such as binoculars or cameras or computers can help us to do these things better by working with our naturally evolved attributes.
I believe that while our dogs undoubtedly evolved to eat raw scraps scavenged from carcasses, we as their modern human companions can do an awful lot better than simply feed them the same subsistence diet they would get in the wild. To put it in other terms, would you prefer a modern cooked diet prepared using all the nutritional knowledge we’ve gained as an advanced society, or the same diet your stone-age ancestors used to eat? Assuming the answer is a modern diet, then I hope you can see the parallel for our dogs and the reason why we should not be persuaded by emotive arguments from the often passionate raw feeding lobby that only an ancestral diet will do.
I hope these articles help counter some of the bad science put forward in the article in the Mail!
For advice on appropriate diets for your dog or cat, please visit our Dog Diet and Cat Diet pages. If you are worried about your pet’s health, use our Interactive Symptom Guide to help decide what to do next.