There are many myths about pet food swirling about the Internet and the media. Here are a few that we've busted. If you would like to submit another myth for consideration, please write to PFI at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Myth: It's OK to feed my dog table scraps
The reality: Since pet food is designed to be the sole source of nutrition for a healthy dog or cat, supplementing a pet's diet with leftovers or with other foods for people is not necessary and may cause health problems. Many leftovers contain too much sugar, salt, fat or other ingredients that are not good for pets. Some foods, like chocolate for dogs and onions for cats, can actually make a pet very sick. Furthermore, feeding pets table scraps promotes begging and other undesirable behaviors in pets.
Myth: I can feed dog food to my cat
The reality: Dogs and cats each have special dietary needs and should be fed the appropriate pet food. Cats should not eat dog food because it does not provide all the essential nutrients a healthy cat needs. As their names suggest, dog food is designed to meet the nutritional needs of dogs and cat food is designed to meet the needs of cats. Pet food products are required under state law to identify the species they were designed for (cat or dog).
Myth: Homemade pet food is better for my pet than the food I can buy at the store
The reality: The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) does not recommend homemade meals for pets, due in large part to pets' hard-to-manage dietary needs. Pets have different needs from people, and dogs and cats have distinct needs from one another. That is why it is difficult for even the best-intentioned pet owner to meet the nutritional requirements of their pet by feeding food made at home. Many basic human foods like onions and chocolate are unsafe for pets, and the chance for bacterial contamination from microorganisms like Salmonella and E. coli, which can be spread to people, is high in raw or incorrectly cooked homemade foods.
According to the American College of Veterinary Nutritionists, "Many recipes found on the web or elsewhere, even from well-meaning sources, may not be complete and balanced, creating the possibility of significant long-term harm to animals fed diets based on these recipes." Veterinary nutritionists have identified different nutritional needs for pets at various life stages. Commercial pet food products are designed to meet those nutritional needs at specific life stages or all life stages, and have been tested to verify the appropriate nutritional balance, in contrast with recipes for homemade food.
The balance of nutrients in food is critical to the health of pets. If the appropriate balance of nutrients is not achieved, specific health problems can occur, such as when:
- Calcium levels are off - too much calcium can result in growth problems, particularly for puppies and kittens, and too little calcium can cause weak bones that are susceptible to breaks.
- Fat intake is too high - often a result of feeding pets the same poultry skins and meats common in human foods, too high a fat intake level can result in pancreatic problems.
Myth: The pet food industry is self-regulated
The reality: In the United States, pet food is the most highly regulated of all food products, with the possible exception of infant formula. Pet food is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the states through their feed laws and the regulations developed by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This multi-layered regulation and the industry's commitment to research and education help ensure that pet food products continue to be safe and nutritious for pet dogs and cats.
Myth: I don't need to follow the feeding directions on a pet food package
The reality: The feeding directions on pet foods have been developed specifically for a particular product, taking into consideration a pet's life stage, breed, age and activity level. Feeding more or less based on experience with other products may not provide proper nutrition for your pet.
Pets, like some people, may eat too much if given the opportunity. Pet food feeding amounts are designed to prevent a pet dog or cat from eating too much food. Over consumption, like in people, can make a pet overweight and lead to health problems. Generally the recommended feeding amount is in a range based upon the size of the pet. It is important to know the ideal body condition for your pet. If you notice your pet is gaining weight, then the amount fed should be reduced. If the pet is becoming too skinny, then feeding more food generally is appropriate.
Myth: Some ingredients in my pet's food are fillers
The reality: Every ingredient used in pet food is there for a reason. Decades of research have gone into making pet foods that meet the nutritional needs of dogs and cats. Some ingredients serve multiple functions (they may provide nutrients as well as create a pleasant "mouth feel"). The makers of pet food do not put in anything that's not needed.
Myth: Pet food companies "split" ingredients to hide the amount in a product
The reality: Some people incorrectly believe pet food makers split up ingredients to give the illusion that some ingredients are at higher concentrations than others. Pet food makers are required to carefully label their products according to stringent government regulations. Just as the case with food for people, pet foods must clearly state what ingredients are included in the product. Each ingredient in pet food is there for a reason and to serve a specific purpose.
Myth: By-products are yucky stuff
The reality: By-products, simply put, are the parts of animals or grains that Americans generally do not eat. For example, if a chicken were raised for its white meat then the remaining meat would be considered a by-product. By-products are cultural by their very definition. In some regions of the United States and in certain cultures, animal portions many Americans consider to be by-products are viewed as delicacies (e.g., sweetbreads, tripe, chitterlings, etc.).
The by-products used in pet food are an important source of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids. Like all pet food ingredients, by-products from animals or grains are safe, nutritious and approved for use in pet food by federal and state government agencies.
For more information on by-products, read our page "Eating High Off the Hog".
Myth: Rendered meals aren't good for my pet
The Reality: As with all ingredients in pet food, rendered meals are safe and are approved for use in pet food. Rendering is a process used to reclaim proteins and fats. The rendering process involves cooking ingredients at very high temperatures. At the end of the process a fine, protein and mineral rich "meal" is made. This meal is an important source of nutrition for use in pet food.
Myth: There might be rendered cats and dogs in my pet food
The reality: Absolutely not. PFI members find the idea of including ingredients in pet food sourced from cats and dogs to be repugnant, just like pet owners. Pet food companies take great care to formulate products that meet the needs of dogs and cats. PFI members understand the great affection we have for our pets and have gone to extreme measures to make sure no ingredients from dogs and cats go into their products.
Pet food companies have exacting specifications and work closely with their suppliers to make sure they receive only the ingredients they specifically request.
Myth: Calcium carbonate is dangerous for dogs
The reality: Calcium carbonate is a common pet food ingredient that is an important source of calcium and is completely safe. Calcium carbonate was defined as an ingredient by AAFCO in 1945 and has been used safely for many years. To learn more about AAFCO, visit our "About AAFCO" page.