While any nutritionist will say what’s most important are the nutrients in a pet food, pet owners tend to focus on the ingredients because that’s what they’re most familiar with. This focus is often supported by pet retailers, who, like consumers, may tend to believe myths disseminated on the internet and, frankly, perpetuated by some pet food companies.
For example, people believe that a whole meat (such as chicken) should be first in the ingredients list and that named species meals are better than generic meat meals, with both cases meaning more and better protein. In terms of digestibility – the nutrients that the pet’s body actually absorbs and can use – that’s not true for either claim, according to studies conducted in 2016 at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and University of Copenhagen (www.petfoodindustry.com/articles/6097).
Bret Deardorrff, DVM, senior manager of veterinary consumer affairs for Hill’s Pet Nutrition, seeks to educate retailers about pet food myths at pet trade shows like Global Pet Expo. I attended his seminar there, where he deconstructed some ingredients lists, showing how, based on the types of protein ingredients listed and where they fell on the list, you couldn’t tell which formulation had more protein. One listed chicken first, but since most meats are about 70 percent water, that ingredient doesn’t necessarily deliver more protein than, say, chicken by-product meal. “Meat first isn't good or bad, it’s just marketing,” he said.
Deardorff also attempted to bust myths about demonized pet food ingredients, like by-products and corn. It was difficult to tell how receptive the audience was to the information, but it was encouraging that they attended the 9:00 a.m. session. Educating pet retailers, often the front line of communication with pet owners, is a good start to educating them.