On April 11, 2014

Dog food logic

Insightful advice for consumers (and industry!)

Those who know me are aware that I am rarely inclined toward the use of superlatives. On this occasion, however, I will definitively opine that Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices by Linda P. Case, MS (Dogwise Publishing, 2014) is the most compelling book I have ever read on the subject. In fact, I am jealous, in that I wish that I had written it!

Dog Food Logic is not  your typical book on canine nutrition (although, by the way, the author has also contributed to such endeavors in the past). As such, it is not intended as a thoroughly cited reference source for professionals to look up specific facts about the nutritional needs of dogs. It also is not your run-of-the-mill “nutrition” book geared towards the average consumer, which more often than not is replete with off-handed opinions about what foods or ingredients are good and what are bad, and makes promises of your dog’s continued health and vitality as long as you follow its precise instructions.

It does not provide a neatly-packed answer to the question, “what should I feed my dog?” Rather, this book takes a decidedly different tack: Given the plethora of choices on the market, how should the reader evaluate dog foods and decide what is best to feed in his/her situation?

You know the book is different in its first chapters. Specifics about nutrition are not even addressed until almost a quarter of the way into the book. Instead, it leads with discussion of the decision-making process, how emotions are actually important, not a detriment, to the process, but also how lack of critical thinking can lead to mistakes in reaching conclusions. I found myself relating with many of the illustrations provided; for example, how faults in logical thinking can make a change in diet appear to remedy an illness or condition, even when it is simply coincidence, or how a food or ingredient becomes blamed for adverse effects despite the lack of scientific evidence to support that assertion.

Eventually, though, the book does delve into nutrition subjects, particularly in how they relate to commercial dog food products on the market today. It challenges some of the misleading notions perpetuated by both self-proclaimed experts/advocates and the petfood industry itself. It is not afraid to name companies and products as examples in discussing particular concepts. It makes some well-deserved digs at many current marketing strategies (e.g., the value of celebrity endorsements, as well as “veterinarian recommended” and “natural” claims) and covers controversial topics such as raw foods, by-products and food safety issues. Regulatory bodies and their oversight of labeling and claims are not immune to criticism, either.

When I said I wished I’d written the book myself, does that mean I agree with it in its entirety? Frankly, I do not. I did spot some factual errors. Just a minor point, but as an example, “brewers rice” is actually a synonym of “chipped rice” as per AAFCO #75.4, not a variant of “brewers grains” (AAFCO #15.1) as implied by its description in the book (in fact, these are two very different ingredients). There is discussion of some issues that I felt deserved further explanation or qualification.

Also, I respectfully disagree with some of the conclusions presented. For example, in my perspective and experience there is a lot more regulatory scrutiny of label claims (nutrient content, structure/function, “organic,” etc.) than for which the book gives credit. However, these discrepancies in no way diminish the utility of the book in helping dog food purchasers in critically evaluating products and claims, hopefully leading to sound buying decisions.

Obviously, Dog Food Logic is written for the intended benefit of the dog food purchaser. To that end, the book goes far, and is much better than the fodder I typically see in book stores or on the web today. Personally, I can think of a number of so-called experts similar to the author’s “Joe next door (who happens to know a lot about dogs)” for whom this book could be an eye-opener. Whether those people would be able to see themselves in the book and adjust their thinking patterns accordingly is another question.

Regardless, I would recommend all in the petfood industry to take a good look at it as well. You might just learn something about your marketing and claim strategies and whether they address the needs of the truly critical thinker!

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