“The most important decision
I make for my pet every day is ….what I put in the bowl” – Dr. Ernie Ward
I recently had the opportunity to attend a lecture on pet nutrition by Dr. Bob Clement, Scientific Communication Specialist at Royal Canin pet food. Once again, I was both amazed and impressed by the global scientific research and unyielding levels of quality control that go into making a bag of a Royal Canin Veterinary diet! During the talk, Dr. Clement quoted Dr. Ernie Ward saying “The most important decision I make for my pet every day is ….what I put in the bowl” I couldn’t agree more!! The combination of the quality of the food and the amount that we feed has the potential to be the single biggest factor affecting our pet’s overall health and quality of life.
At Sault Ste. Marie Animal Clinic we carry and prescribe Royal Canin Veterinary Diets (along with a couple of other equally credible brands) for pets for two basic purposes. First, some diets are formulated to treat and or manage specific medical issues such as urinary tract, skin, joint, kidney and digestive disorders as well as conditions such as obesity and dental disease. For example, if we diagnose kidney disease in a pet, feeding them a diet specifically formulated for pets with kidney disease will be the cornerstone in managing the condition, improving quality of life and hopefully slowing the progression of the disease. Equally important however, we also carry and prescribe foods for so called healthy or normal pets that provide optimum levels of nutrition for their particular stage of life i.e. growth, adulthood and the senior years. These diets will usually also incorporate factors to reduce the risk of pets developing issues such as dental disease, obesity, urinary tract disease and or joint disease. We strongly believe that the single biggest thing a pet owner can do to impact their pet’s long term health is to feed them an appropriate premium pet food. In our opinion, the veterinary diets by a company such as Royal Canin are the best of the premium diets available and it is what we feed our pets.
As both a veterinarian and a pet owner, I understand there is a lot confusion and misinformation about pet food and I sympathize with pet owners trying to navigate the overwhelming and often conflicting sources of information they are bombarded with. Everyone from the breeder, to the clerk at the pet store to well-meaning friends and family will have an opinion about what you should or shouldn’t feed your pet. Reading the guaranteed analysis and ingredient list is challenging and to be frank, many of the claims made on bags of pet food are at best irrelevant and at worst misleading. Many pet food companies market to the pet owner’s desire to treat their pet as a family member by making claims that follow trends in human nutrition…..think blueberries and gluten free. For me, the decision about what diet to feed ultimately boils down to trust.
It is important for the consumer to realize that there is a huge variation in the quality of pet foods available. Price alone is not a reliable indicator of the quality of a pet food although your ‘bargain brands’ tend to be made with lower quality, less digestible ingredients. On the other hand, buying the most expensive brand is not necessarily a guarantee you are getting the most nutritional value. In general, ‘premium foods’ will be of a better quality and more consistent in their content since the companies tend to make decisions based on the quality of the ingredients over the price of the raw ingredients. Most of the veterinary prescribed diets we carry in our clinic are very price competitive with the ‘premium’ foods sold in pet stores.
Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a bias against larger pet food companies often portraying them as being greedy and more concerned with profits than the best interests of your pet. It is with the premium foods however, that I think size matters the most. In my opinion there are three areas where a larger pet food company such as Royal Canin may have some advantages over a smaller or even ‘boutique’ style pet food company.
First, relatively large companies like Royal Canin have world class research and development facilities for their veterinary diets. Their research is done at a global level by the leading world experts in pet nutrition in state of the art facilities. The diets are then fed to live animals (in deluxe accommodations complete with environmental enrichment activities) to ensure that the diets do what they are supposed to. Do smaller, independent companies have access to that kind of brain power, knowledge base and research facilities? Are their diets tested in living animals on an “as fed basis” to ensure that they do what they are supposed to and that the ingredients are present in a form that is actually digestible and biologically available to the pet? In other words does the diet you are feeding your pet have the science to back up some of the fantastic claims that might be on the label?
Secondly, at a company like Royal Canin, once a new formulation has been thoroughly researched and tested it is then produced in their own state of the art production and packaging facilities using ultra strict quality control and sanitation measures. For example, before trucks carrying raw ingredients are allowed to offload at Royal Canin’s Guelph processing plant, core samples are taken and tested for the presence of certain toxins or moulds. If any are found the entire truck is sent away (to unload at another pet food processing facility?). This facility also uses ultra-high tech equipment to ensure proper mixing of the food and techniques like nitrogen flushes to remove all the air before sealing a package so that it stays ultra-fresh. Smaller companies in particular might not have the state of the art processing capabilities and in many cases may contract out the processing to another facility thus losing some control over quality control measures – such as the sanitation of equipment between batches.
Finally, a company like Royal Canin has the resources to back up their food. Any diet that a pet won’t eat or is not doing well on can be returned for a full refund but Royal Canin’s support goes way beyond a money back guarantee. As a veterinarian, I can call them anytime to get advice from nutritional experts and internal medicine specialists on diagnosing and managing complex cases. If that person does not have an immediate answer for me, they will research it on their own and get back to me with helpful advice. If nutrition plays a key role in the case, they will not be satisfied until they have helped us come up with the best diet recommendations for that particular pet.
All of this is not to say that there might not be some very good quality foods produced by smaller, more exclusive companies targeting the premium pet food market. The point is the consumer needs to ask themselves if that company really has the resources to research, test and provide quality control measures that can back up their claims. They also need to ask themselves if the claims made by the diet are true nutritional concerns or if they are marketing to fads and trends often originating from human nutritional fads and trends. As a veterinarian, I know that a company like Royal Canin can and will back up the claims they make for their premium veterinary product lines so I can recommend and feed them with confidence.
So is what you put in the bowl, both in terms of quality and amount of food, THE most important decision you make for your pet? I think so! As a both a pet parent and the mother of two daughters, I actually think my pet’s nutritional needs are probably better met than my daughters. Imagine if we could fine tune human nutrition to the same degree as a pet fed controlled amounts of a premium veterinary diet – we could make huge strides against diseases such as diabetes, obesity, arthritis to name a few! Not that I am suggesting that- I love pizza and chocolate far too much – but it is food for thought and an advantage that we have in veterinary medicine and should make the most of it.