Every year I post the top most relevant goals pet owners should strive for in the coming new year. Below is my 2019 wish list for pets:
1.) Stop insisting on grain free diets.
In the past few years, there has been a massive trend toward feeding pets grain free diets, now representing greater than 46% of pet food market share. Given the hindsight of many years of pet owners feeding these types of diets, there still remains zero evidence that these diets improve the overall quality of pet health. In fact, there is mounting evidence that quite the opposite is true.
Grains contain many key nutrients that include essential amino acids. When grains are eliminated and replaced with peas, chick peas, and tapioca, this may lead to nutrient deficiencies.
A group of cardiologists out of the Baltimore area alerted the FDA that they have been seeing a major increase in the deadly heart disease, dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). DCM was previously known only to be a strictly genetic disease seen only in very specific breeds of dogs (Great Danes, Dobermans, and occasionally German Shepherds). The cardiologists are particularly troubled that the new rash of DCM cases are being seen in breeds that the disease is not typically seen in, such as Shih Tzus and Schnauzers. Upon retrospective case analysis, it was discovered that the common link between these unusual cases of DCM was the feeding of boutique style, grain free diets.
As a proactive measure, the cardiology group petitioned the FDA to look into the matter and earlier this year who then launched an official investigation into the link between grain free diets and heart disease in pets.
Interestingly, the main selling point of these diets is that the ancient wild evolutionary ancestors of dogs and cats did not eat grains, so it is more natural to feed grain free. I would ask anyone who buys this promotion, did those ancient ancestors eat chick peas, peas, tapioca, and beet pulp instead?
The saddest part about the grain free trends is that the the main driving force behind their popularity are breeders, groomers, and pet store personnel that have probably zero formal science training and certainly not any formal veterinary training; not on the advice of licensed veterinarians. Even more disturbing, these companies do no perform feeding trials to support their health claims, nor do they have veterinary clinical nutritionists on staff. One exception, Blue Buffalo, just hired their first veterinary clinical nutritionist but it is not clear if they are yet performing feeding trials.
Up until this year, the only pet food companies that have veterinary clinical nutritionists on staff and perform feeding trials are Royal Canin, Hills, and Purina. For the rare case of grain sensitive health conditions, both Royal Canin and Hills offer well balanced grain free foods for both dogs and cats.
2.) Stop favoring your breeder’s medical advice over your veterinarian!
It is okay if you do not necessarily have 100% faith in your veterinarian’s opinion. If you have doubts, get a second opinion…from another veterinarian, not a breeder! I once saw a meme on Facebook stating that going to your breeder for veterinary medical advice is like going to a pimp for gynecological advice. While is a bit over the top, as I would consider only about 95% of breeders pimps, it is not too far off the mark.
Some of the advice I have heard breeders giving their customers has made me cringe. Worse than the cringe factor, however, is watching a client have doubts as I explain medically and physiologically why the breeder’s advise is wrong and my advice is correct. I stand there inwardly thinking what a colossal waste of my time it is that I must convince a pet owner of my expertise gained from over 16 years in clinical practice over some breeder whose main expertise is having the ability to get two horny animals together to mate.
3.) Stop overfeeding your pet.
Overfeeding pets and making them subsequently obese is misguided love! Obesity shortens lives and predisposes to all manner of diseases including cancer that will shorten your pet’s life. The obesity epidemic in pets rivals that of people with > 50% of pets presenting obese and it is so unnecessary. No matter how much you feed your pet they will want more! They do not understand moderation nor do they want it. It is up to the owner to gauge the portions and types of foods pets eat.
So many people look at me dumbfounded as I tell them that their pet is obese, claiming that they cannot possibly know why because no one overfeeds the pet in the home. This commonly leads to medical testing for diseases that can cause obesity that far more often than not come back negative and a client’s denial of the truth not only puts the pet’s health at risk but also wastes their money.
4.) Get good quality pet insurance.
Veterinary health costs increase by 4% – 6 % each year. This is not due to veterinarian greed, but instead due to the cost of vendors, reference laboratories, and network contractors raising their prices each year. While our economy is good, wages for the average middle class worker unfortunately have not kept pace with the vibrant economy. And if 2008 taught us anything, no good economy lasts forever and can even get downright frightening. Prevent the possibility that you may have to choose one day between the life of your pet and the financial stability of your family. Get pet insurance!
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a globally recognized expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.