This is a partnered post.
It’s the holiday season, which means that many people will spend the next three months thinking a lot about food. From cooking up the perfect Thanksgiving feast and Christmas treats to bemoaning extra pounds and working off the holiday weight as a New Year’s Resolution, sometimes it feels like this time of year totally revolves around what we do or don’t eat. And it’s not just the human members of the family – what our pets are eating weighs on us, too. Did you know that surveys have shown that more than half of American dog owners believe their dog’s nutrition is more confusing than their own?
To help shed some light on this topic, I had the opportunity to attend a YouTube Live session with Dr. Evan Antin, a veterinarian at Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital. Dr. Antin has traveled the world working with exotic animals and is currently People Magazine’s resident Pet Vet, as well as being named their “Sexiest Veterinarian Alive”! He is extremely knowledgeable about pet nutrition, and was able to demystify the topic a great deal during our chat.
Thanksgiving Scraps? No, Thanks!
Grandma likes to say that our family dog, Bob, “Thinks he’s a human!”. We do, too, so it’s natural to be tempted to share our holiday treats with him. However, Dr. Antin recommends that you keep your scraps on the table. Human food often contains oils and fats that can cause issues like diarrhea, vomiting or even pancreatitis. And food items that we love, such as onions and garlic, are highly toxic in dogs. For this reason, he advises that pet lovers stick to food and treats that are made specifically for pets, not people.
The other hazard in wanting to constantly give your dog scraps and extra food is the same one we humans face: Weight gain. Bob has to watch his weight, but Grandma always feels bad reducing his food: “The vet told me to put him on a diet, but he’s hungry all the time! I can’t starve him!” I asked Dr. Antin this, and what he told me is fascinating: Recent research indicates that labradors are prone to a genetic variation that essentially makes some labs incapable of realizing when they’re full. That sure explains a lot about why Bob is so obsessed with food!
One good way to treat your pet and fill them up in a healthy way is by including vegetables with their food, Dr. Antin told us. Baby carrots in particular are great, he said, because chewing on them helps to clean a dog’s teeth as well as provide a snack.
Fad Diets Aren’t Just For Humans Anymore
It seems like every time I turn around, there’s a new diet craze that is billed as the cure for any problem. And nowadays, this trend has expanded into pet food, with many of the same gimmicks being used to sell special diets to our pets as well as ourselves. For example, Dr. Antin mentioned the recent trend towards grain-free pet food, and told us that research has shown that grains deliver more complete nutrition for dogs than the ingredients typically substituted for grains. I found this really interesting, because as I’ve talked about on here several times, Bob’s vet recommended a grain-free diet for him several years back. I asked Dr. Antin why a vet might suggest that, and he explained that dogs can have allergies to grains just as humans do. So in other words, this mirrors the popularity of gluten-free food for humans: Some people have celiac disease and cannot eat gluten, but that does not mean that things like bread are “Bad” – just that some people are allergic to it. In the same vein, most dogs have no issue with grains, so you don’t have to worry about it unless your vet has specifically diagnosed your dog as having this allergy. I found this to be so clarifying and helpful!
Your Pet’s Needs Are Different Than Yours
Bob may think he’s a human, but the biggest takeaway from my chat with Dr. Antin is that he definitely should not eat like a human! Dogs have very different dietary needs from us, so we have to think about their nutrition differently than we do with our own. He explained that many people get disturbed by terms in pet food like “By-products”, since they’re looking at it from a human perspective. This makes the context very important! High-quality by-products are things like heart, liver, kidney, spleen, and lungs. Dr. Antin told us that in the wild, dogs and cats go for the stomach of a dead animal first to get the organs as they are nutrient-dense. So these “By-products” are actually desirable for pets to eat, and also reduces waste since all parts of the meat can be used.
“By-products” are just one of the confusing terms for pet owners when they check a label. Surveys indicate that 81% of pet owners either have reached out or want to reach out to a source of information about their pet’s food, but 41% of them don’t know where to look for this information. So if you don’t have Dr. Antin on speed-dial, how do you know if the food you are buying is safe? What do all these terms mean? A great place to start is by visiting Purina.com/Nutrition, where you can learn more about pet food nutrition, ingredients, safety and quality.
What’s your biggest question about pet food?