All my clients and anyone who reads my articles know I am a huge proponent of preventative care and I feel diet is an important part of any pet’s health. I try to discuss a pet’s diet at every annual exam. I also try not to have “Soap boxes” but after one of my friends brought her dog to me and later told me she was surprised by how emphatic I became when talking about pet food, I realized I do have a “Pet Food Soap Box.” Let’s face it, there is a huge emotional component attached to feeding your pet and it is a multi-billion dollar industry. There are lots of buzz words advertisers use to play on the emotion of pet owners to encourage you to buy their food. Let’s talk about the dreaded words “by-product.” It has more than 4 letters, but is spoken in pet food circles with the same disdain as another dietary 4 letter word: CORN. I agree, the thought of by-products isn’t pretty. It’s the part of the animal that we don’t want to eat, but still contains nutrients. Now I don’t want to eat a big plate of by-products, but other cultures may routinely eat what our culture thinks of as by-products. When the by-products look like a kibble, I cannot tell the difference between a kibble containing by-product and one without. Now I do have one rule when it comes to by-products, it has to have the name of what animal it came from listed in the ingredients. I don’t want generic “meat” by-product, because I don’t know what kind of animal protein it contains. This is especially important when a pet has allergies, I need to know what protein the pet has been exposed to in order to avoid further exposure in any new diet.
What I find interesting is so many pet stores speak against by-products in food, but sell by-products in their natural form. Hooves, bones, antlers, bully sticks ( a nice word for a part of the male anatomy), pig ears and rawhide. It seems a little contradictory, they tell customers don’t buy food with by-products, but have huge bins of by-products in the form which can cause much more risk to a pet’s health. I routinely see dogs with fractured teeth, intestinal upset and even intestinal obstruction from chewing on hooves, bones and most recently antlers.
One of my favorite sayings I learned from a veterinary dentist was, “Don’t let your dog chew on anything you wouldn’t want to be hit in the knee with.” A good philosophy if you don’t want to pay a big vet bill for a tooth extraction. I have yet to see a dog break his tooth on a dog kibble with or without by-product. When I present my clients with an estimate for extraction of the tooth that was broken from chewing on one of these by-products I often joke that the pet store should tape my card to the hard item, so they can call me when the tooth breaks.
I should come clean, I too contradict myself in a way, I will feed a diet with by-product, but I will not feed hooves, antlers, bones, pig ears or bully sticks to my dogs. But then again, I have extracted enough teeth, removed enough bones and hooves from intestines and dealt with gi upset from pig ears enough to know I don’t want to risk those complications in my pet.
All in all, whether or not you choose a diet that contains by-product or not is a decision you have to be comfortable with and I encourage you to discuss your choices with your pet’s veterinarian to find out what is best for your pets. I do hope this article makes you think a little bit more about reading pet food labels and what you let your dog chew on. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) has comprised a list of approved dental products for pets available at VOHC.org. I also have a link posted from my website.
As usual, please direct questions/comments to [email protected].