More Nonsense from Holistic Vets about Commercial Therapeutic Diets

One of the subjects that holistic vets and other advocates of alternative practices get really passionate about is the evils of commercial and conventional diets. They promote a laundry list of myths about pet food, many of which I’ve addressed before:

  1. Raw is better than cooked-

Raw Diets for Pets

2.Vets know nothing about nutrition-

This is particularly hypocritical given that the claims made about the evils of commercial food and the virtues of alternative diets are generally made by—yup vets!— and these folks have no more training or expertise than the rest of us. In fact, the most reliable source of expertise on pet food are board-certified veterinary nutritionists, veterinarians with extensive training in nutrition. However, their claims are casually dismissed with innuendos or accusations about financial bias by vets who themselves make their living selling the stuff they advocate for.

What do Vets Know about Nutrition?

3. You can tell the quality of a food from reading the ingredients on the label-

Sorry, you can’t. Partly this is the fault of regulators, who don’t require truly important information to be put on pet food labels in a clear and understandable way. And partly the uselessness of labels as a measure of food quality comes from the meaningless vagueness of the concept of “quality” and all the myths and misconceptions about specific ingredients promoted by these vets.

Pet Food Nutrition Myths
Nutrition Resources for Pet Owners
Dog Food Logic

A recent article from the ever-unreliable Dogs Naturally Magazine gave some alternative vets a platform for repeating some myths and misconceptions about what are often called “prescription diets,” though this is technically incorrect. These are better referred to as “therapeutic diets” because they are intended to be useful in treating or preventing specific medical problems, not simply provide good overall nutrition, but they do not actually require a prescription, merely oversight from a qualified veterinarian.

The evidence for these diets varies from strong (e.g. kidney diets for cats with kidney disease) to weak (e.g. some of the diets for cognitive dysfunction in older dogs), but while there are some good arguments against some of these foods, none of the ones made in this article are worth taking seriously.

The article begins by asking a bunch of holistic vets to rank a few foods based only on the ingredient lists, with one food being a prescription diet. Not surprisingly, the vets tended to rank this diet quite low, based on these sorts of arguments:

Dr Marty Goldstein, author of The Nature of Animal Healing [said] Food #3 ranked last, based on the use of corn for its first ingredient, followed by by-product meal.

Dr Jodie Gruenstern: “This food was the lowest quality in the list. It contains GMO corn, soy (lots of it!), which is a common allergen, synthetic vitamins/minerals, shavings (if you didn’t know, the ingredient cellulose is literally sawdust), natural flavors, which usually mean MSG.”

Dr Jean Dodds: “Poor quality food: the first ingredients are corn, which is often GMO, and chicken by-product meal rather than whole chicken. Flax and soy are phytoestrogens.”

Dr Judy Morgan: “This is a Pet Store Food. Corn is the first ingredient, no muscle meat used, only by-product meal, synthetic vitamin/mineral supplement, corn and soybean are GMO, waste fillers are abundant. Overpriced in my opinion, considering the poor quality, cheap ingredients used).”

Dr Dee Blanco: “This one starts with corn to increase inflammation, then adds lighter fluid to it with soybean products and poor quality protein. Then it tries to make up for the poor quality foundational ingredients by adding synthetic supplements of the poorest quality, such as calcium carbonate, folic acid, ‘generic Vit E supplement’, etc. Looks like they added l-tryptophan to calm the nervous system down after putting the body into overdrive inflammation. Natural flavors?? Could be an entire cadre of carcinogens, allergens and toxins. Argh!”

So we have a long list of villainous ingredients supposed to cause inflammation and other health problems. Any truth in this fear mongering?

Corn and Soy are Evil

Obviously, this sort of simplistic characterization of foods as inherently good or evil is not scientific in tone, and in the case of the particular claims she makes about these ingredients they are not consistent with mainstream opinion or the evidence. Veterinary nutritionists agree that particular sources of protein and carbohydrate in canine diets are not intrinsically harmful or beneficial and that the health effects of diet are a complex set of interactions between many factors. Duck and bison are no more nor less likely to trigger food intolerance than chicken or beef, and tapioca or potatoes or green peas are no better nor no worse than corn and wheat and soy as carbohydrate and protein sources.

GMOs are Evil

This is a hot-button issue these days, and while it is complex, the evidence to date does not support the sort of hysteria about GMOs these vets promote. This is, of course, a topic which deserves multiple posts on its own. Dr. Dodds and others regularly list GMO ingredients as unhealthy, promoting inflammation and food intolerance, and there is no evidence to support this. While there is always the potential that particular modifications of food crops and animals could lead to health risks, the anxiety about genetically modified organisms is generally ideological and based on misconceptions or poor understanding of the relevant science. It is part and parcel of the Appeal to Nature Fallacy, and the existing evidence does not support most of the hysterical fears about GMO. Dr. Dodd’s claims are not based on research from nutrigenomics but are simply part of her own beliefs and prejudices, and she provides no compelling scientific evidence to support her claims. Relevant discussion of this issue and the evidence can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

By-Products are Evil

Here’s what one nutritionist I’ve talked to has say about by-products:

A by-product only means that it was not the intended main product of the industry. It gives no indication on nutrient profile, digestibility and bioavailability, etc. Many people who dislike by-products will happily buy wheat bran (a by-product of the baking industry). Moreover, by-products vary according to country and culture. Liver, an excellent source of nutrition, is considered a by-product in the US because skeletal meat is the primary product of slaughtering an animal and many people do not eat organs any more. By-products can be excellent ingredients in pet food and it would be wasteful (and terribly self-centered) to not use it to nourish humans or animals.

The concept is meaningless, and used to demonize foods that people think of as “icky” without any reference to their real nutritional value.

Let’s look at some of the other claims. he idea that corn is a major cause of inflammatory diseases is an unproven hypothesis. The claim that phytoestrogens in soy used in pet foods have negative effects on health is an unproven theory. Both of these are presented as facts when they are just personal beliefs.

“Natural flavors” usually means hydrolyzed animal tissues, not MSG, so this is just false. And “synthetic” vitamins are identical to those extracted from plants, so the idea that they are somehow less useful or more harmful is just the Naturalistic Fallacy in action.

The bit about “sawdust is particularly silly. Cellulose is a natural part of the wall of plant cells. Sure, it is present in wood, but it is also present in all the fruits and vegetables that these vets would laud as healthy for our pets. The usual source of cellulose as a dietary fiber in pet foods is the bran from cereals such as wheat, not “sawdust.” Such hyperbole is clear evidence of a preference for ideology over facts.

The article also uses a bit of drama to suggest that therapeutic diets are poor-quality or identical to over-the-counter diets and the designation only serves to justify charging more.

Now, a 30lb bag of the regular food is $47.99 at Petsmart. The prescription diet dog food can also be purchased at Petsmart for $84.95 for a 27.5lb bag. It’s twice as expensive!

Now, you might be thinking this is because the prescription diet was formulated and tested with a specific condition in mind. This is completely false.

While an over-the-counter food with a health claim (such as controls weight) is subject to FDA regulations and enforcement, the FDA practices “enforcement discretion” when it comes to veterinary diets. Put another way, this means the FDA has not reviewed or verified the health claims on any veterinary diet. Did you catch that? There are very few ingredients in veterinary diets that aren’t also in other regular diets.

In the example above, I’d say the pet store brand is a better quality food, wouldn’t you? The prescription diet contains by-product meal (which comes straight from the rendering plant), lots of soybean and corn products (a cheap replacement for animal protein) while the regular food contains more expensive, higher quality ingredients.

Again, here’s the response of a nutritionist who actually knows something about veterinary diets to this claim:

This is a misrepresentation. Veterinary diet claims do have to be substantiated as well. The FDA did have some leniency regarding veterinary diets regarding the extent of their health claims because they are usually used under the guidance of a veterinarian to improve the life of the pets. However, the FDA is concerned about many so called therapeutic diets now marketed directly to the consumer, so they might start enforcing legislation if they are not used properly, i.e. under veterinary involvement

Regarding price, good companies invest in research, that goes into designing the food, sometimes funding basic research that would further our knowledge on particular diseases (without an immediate product to market and sell) plus trials in healthy and diseased pets, etc. So, I understand why a veterinary diet from a responsible company costs more money, not because the ingredients are more expensive, but due to the knowledge invested behind it.

These holistic vets are so ideologically biased against commercial diets that they even claim that ingredients they routinely recommend as beneficial for many health conditions magically become harmful when included in such foods:

And fish oil is a terrible addition to pet foods. It’s much too fragile to be added to processed foods and as soon as the bag is opened, it will oxidate and cause inflammation in your dog. Ironic isn’t it, when the food is supposed to be treating inflammation in the first place?

Actually, it’s not ironic, it’s just a bit of ignorance and prejudice masquerading as an informed opinion. Fish oils can be added to foods in a manner that has all the same health benefits of giving them separately, if this is done properly by a company with real nutrition experts who know what they are doing.

Bottom Line
I usually write brief summary of my conclusions for these posts, but in this case I could not write anything that makes the point better than the following, again from a nutritionist knowledgeable about these issues:

All these arguments are just guilt trips and not based on reliable science and assume the quality of a final product depends solely on certain random criteria form the individual ingredients rather than in deep knowledge of the current state of nutritional science, excellent quality control during formulation, reception of ingredients, extrusion, and storage conditions.

What we have here is unsubstantiated belief presented as fact. And this kind of fear mongering has real dangers. There is, for example, very good evidence that feeding commercial diets for cats with kidney disease can reduce suffering and prolong life. Yet I have seen clients feeding unbalanced and completely inappropriate homemade concoctions instead because they have been frightened and misled by this kind of propaganda and are unwilling to feed diets with proven benefits.

As I’ve said many times, no one knows the perfect diet for any given patient, and I am open to the possibility that there are benefits to feeding alternatives to the usual canned and dry commercial diets. But these benefits must be proven, not simply invented out of whole cloth or wrung out of twisted misrepresentations of nutrition science.

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178 Responses to More Nonsense from Holistic Vets about Commercial Therapeutic Diets

  1. skeptvet says:

    Sorry, but dismissing the entire domain of clinical nutrition in favor of what seems right to you isn’t a compelling or convincing argument.

  2. BrianWessels says:

    Hello, Dr. Skepvet,

    Here is my personal take with regard to canine and feline nutrition. Here are the questions that I ask myself when trying to find out is a food is good, bad or just plain rubbish.

    Many individuals, including some veterinarians, most probably select a food from the different INGREDIENTS that are listed in the displayed ingredient panel. For those that do their selection in this manner I say the following: “the list of ingredients means NOTHING”!

    To me, what is important is, “What NUTRIENT/S is/are present in each ingredient? and how much of each NUTRIENT is present in each ingredient? That is;

    A. What is the TOTAL QUANTITY of protein (amino acids), in each ingredient. Next, what is the total protein content of the entire formula? Are there sufficient essential AA’s since some non-essentials are made from the essentials?

    B.Are there any “exotic” AA? (i.e. an AA that is not present in either a dog or a cat.)

    C. Are all the different ingredients, that have amino acids in them, are they all digested in the same time frame? This is VIP when it comes to the cellular uptake of different amino acids.

    D. What is the total amount of 3,6 & 9 poly-unsaturated omega fatty acids that are present in each and every ingredient? Additionally, are any of the waxy-OFA present in any of the ingredients? These are very important, especially in those dogs that work during hunting season.

    E. Does the formula contain fat from fat or does most of the fat come from “carbohydrate fat”? [Note – carbohydrate fat = “junk fat”].

    E. What is the total quantity of carbohydrates in the formula? (The dog’s and cat’s need for carbohydrates is LOW.)

    F. What are the total quantities of vitamins & minerals, including the trace elements?

    G. For me, this is of particular importance! – What “type” of fiber is included – an ‘expandable or “non-expandable” fiber?

    H. How much fiber – BY VOLUME – is included in the formula of the food? (The company only gives the weight of the fiber. When individuals are feeding a dog/cat it is never how heavy is the food, it is how much SPACE it will occupy in the stomach and small intestine, before the stretch reflexes get into action!. Hence, VOLUME is the important factor when it comes to fiber, NOT WEIGHT.

    Dogs & cats eat ingredients. Next – the ingredients have to be digested and only then can the nutrient/s be “extracted” from the ingredient. Finally, the “extracted” nutrient has to be internalized (absorbed). Thereafter, the nutrients will circulate and will eventually be taken up by the different cells in the different organs and tissues, thereby creating the total biochemistry in each and every organ/tissue. Finally,it is the biochemistry that creates the many different physiological functions.

    Hopefully, this may some show some correct thinking with regard to dietary intake. I await your critical and honest reply.


  3. skeptvet says:

    Nutritional assessment of commercial diets is challenging, and not many people have the information and expertise to do it. In particular, the nutrient content and digestibility is rarely something easy to find from the manufacturer, and it certainly is not on the label. Most of the things you mention are reasonable items to evaluate, though I do wonder how you get the data and whether you use the NRC guidelines or some other resource as a basis for assessing adequacy. The one point I would dispute is that “carbohydrate fat” is an oxymoron since fat and carbohydrates are different macronutrients, so I’m not sure what you mean by this.

  4. BrianWessels says:

    Dear Skeptvet,
    Thanks for the reply -very constructive. I will reply soon and explain .

  5. Brian says:

    (Please do not print my surname – TY. I am a veterinarian with in a little in-depth practical knowledge in functional histology, biochemistry and physiology. I am intimately involved in breeding dogs and hence dietary intake is an important subject for me.]
    This is the way that I “see” fat in both dog and cat.
    Basically, there are two types of fat that are required by the dog and cat for their survival, that is, “visible” and “invisible fats”.
    “Visible” fats can be made by the dog’s and cat’s body from carbohydrates, sugars or amino acids, or ingested as the “visible fat” of other animals. [This fat is required, mainly subcutaneously, as an “insulator” in very cold weather. An excess of this fat can lead to overweight and obese problems. Additionally, dogs have difficulty converting this fat to calories, hence its accumulation.]
    On the other side of the coin “invisible” fats are intracellular and form part of the structural material (eg cell wall) of the cells (check the histology!) in many of the body’s vital organs, especially in the brain, liver, kidneys, heart muscle, testes spleen, pancreas and skin.
    Amazingly, in both dog and cat about 60% of the brain is fat. Furthermore, both the dog and cat can only make 50% of the different fatty components of their brain, the other 50% should be supplied by the dietary intake of ‘good’ fat.(In passing, why do so many veterinarians ‘see’ so many dogs and cats with anxiety and behavioral problem/s, plus those that are very finicky/fussy eaters! It makes one wonder about their dietary intake of good quality fat!)
    Interestingly, just as proteins are built from amino acids and the “essentials” are used to construct the “non-essentials”, something very similar occurs in fats. It is important to note that some fats can be made by both dog and cat but those that are used for cellular construction cannot be made by either the dog or cat, these fats must be eaten.
    A fatty acid is a simple chemical, comprised of a string of carbons, saturated with hydrogen and they have an acid group at one end. Dog and cat can produce saturated acids but only plants can produce the polyunsaturated acids. The carbon atoms in the string are normally joined by single bonds; however, some of the hydrogens can be removed to form double bonds between adjacent carbons. In this manner the acid becomes unsaturated.
    There are two “essential” acids in dog and cat, one with two double bonds (linoleic) and the other with three double bonds (linolenic). The structures in active plant cells use both of these polyunsaturated acids in their construction. When herbivores eat plant matter, they not only incorporate the parent acid directly into their own cell structures, but also build on them.
    Starting with a string of 18 carbon atoms with 2 or 3 double bonds, animals can extend the length of the carbon chain to 20 or 22. Once there are double bonds to work on, then animals can introduce even more, thereby producing the long chains with 4-6 double bonds needed for cellular construction and maintenance of cells. In this way, the “structural”(invisible) fats of animals are more complex than those of plants.
    Although animals can make the parent acids longer and introduce more double bonds, they cannot change the originals (parent). As linolenic acid starts with three double bonds, neither it nor any of its long chain derivatives can be made from linoleic acid with only two double bonds. Consequently, and because of the specific role of this fatty acid in the specialized tissues (e.g., skin), linolenic acid should be considered an essential dietary constituent. When one ‘sees’ the diversity of so called fat in the different commercial diets it is no wonder that veterinarians attend to so many dermatological patients!
    Herbivores and omnivores eat plants and then the carnivorous dog and cat eats these omnivores and/or herbivores.


    Nature knows best! A hungry dog in the woods will hunt flesh and bone and won’t be cooking it over a fire. All the dog’s nutritional needs are in the skin, fur, feathers, flesh, blood, organs and bones. Kibble being an ideal or nutritional healthy food source for dogs is simply a liei, but some are better than others, and super convenient for dog owners. Yes, I feed raw (most of the time), but I keep so called quality kibble for convenience.

  7. skeptvet says:

    “Natural” means being infested with parasites, suffering from malnutrition and dying young. What is “natural” is not necessarily good. You are mythologizing a life you and your dog have never had to endure. This is called the Appeal to Nature Fallacy, and it is a common misconception now that most of us are so unfamiliar with what life without modern science and technology is actually like.

  8. L says:

    A hungry dog in the woods is lucky if it lives a year, at the most. It will most likely suffer a slow painful death.

    That is the reality.

  9. mark hoy says:

    This is SO SIMPLE:

    BUY SOME CANNED DOGFOOD & some dry treats — AND GIVE YOUR DOG A LITTLE –once in awhile —
    for the organ meats etc.

    it’s so easy.

  10. skeptvet says:

    This is a completely unbalanced and inappropriate diet, and it is likely to raise the risk of nutrition-associated disease The fact that you don’t see instant problems when feeding a dog this kind of tbhing is a testament to how resilient they are in the face of poor nutrition, not to the quality of such a diet.

  11. Gitte says:

    My contribution to “nature knows best”: sure, nature will unsentimentally eliminate all genetic material which cannot thrive to a minimum extent under the prevailing conditions. So if you feed your dog as nature intended you might find that the genetic material of your dog might not be up to scratch and you might have to find a new dog which is.

    Which would be good for dogs as a species, but not all that helpful if you happen to be inordinately attached to a particular individual of the species with all its genetic baggage. If you want to argue that commercial dog food is a problem it could be that it allows dogs to survive and procreate which nature otherwise would have eliminated. Nature did not intend for every single dog to be saved. Since I am too attached to my particular genetic messes of dogs to want to test them with nature, I try to feed them food which is better than what nature intended and if possible free of parasites and pathogenic bacteria.

    Now if breeders would consistently select dogs for their capabilities of thriving with food as nature intended, we might not have that much discussion about dog food. I could be wrong, but I haven’t gotten the impression that they do.

  12. ingrid aquino gomez says:

    Everything gets really complicated because there so many dog food out there. I hope I am doing ok as a dog owner. My oldest lived till he was 18 years old. He ate everything I gave him lol which including vegetable and fruit.In his old age he was on a low protein diet and but in his last 2 weeks, I gave him whatever he wanted and tolerate to eat .
    My other more mature dogs does not like to eat the raw mixture and so I have to cook them a little but they eat kibbles for senior in between and all have maintained a steady weight and energy.

  13. Donald says:

    I just watched Marty Goldstein’s pitch on the internet and stated polyethylene glycol Is an ingredient in antifreeze. He’s not smart. Ethylene glycol is in ingredient in antifreeze. That tells me he is full of it.

  14. Bea says:

    The FDA resource you linked in the comments section basically said they don’t verify the claims in vet prescription diet. My new shelter cat was prescribed royal canin’s “calm”. Both her vet and I think she clearly has an anxiety issue. Where can I find evidence that the diet works? As a scientist, I have journal access, but am not quite sure where to begin looking for veterinary outcomes.

  15. skeptvet says:

    Some diets have been the subject of published clinical trials, such as some of the kidney and joint diets. These are sometimes independent, but they are usually funded and/or conducted by the company making the diet, which adds some potential for funding bias, though good methodology can often overcome that. I have found a couple of studies for this diet, and thee is some research on the purported therapeutic ingredients, but overall the evidence is tenuous.

    Kato M, Miyaji K, Ohtani N, Ohta M. Effects of prescription diet on dealing with stressful situations
    and performance of anxiety-related behaviors in privately owned anxious dogs. Journal of Veterinary
    Behavior. (2012), 7, 21-26

    Gary Landsberg, Bill Milgram, Isabelle Mougeot, Stephanie Kelly, and Christina de RiveraTherapeutic effects of an alpha-casozepine and L-tryptophan supplemented diet on fear and anxiety in the cat. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery Vol 19, Issue 6, pp. 594 – 602

  16. Donna Givens says:

    Thank you for this information. Is the “Blue” brand of dog food a good product or “Natural Balance”? If not, could you name a brand? I have a 1 year old shelter dog that looks like a Jack Russel gone awry mixture, 15 lbs.

  17. skeptvet says:

    There’s no evidence comparing brands in terms of any objective health outcomes, so there’s really no way to say if one is “good” or not. I would recommend the book Dog Food Logic to learn more about the dog food market and how to evaluate foods.

  18. Pam says:

    Brian, would you tell me what you feed your dogs? Thank you!

  19. incog99 says:

    My cat, Nehemiah, will not eat those fancy freeze dried foods. He sticks his nose up at them, much to my chagrin after spending 100 dollars on them. He likes cat junk food like Temptations and Fancy Feast. I feed him what he likes. What good is trying to feed an animal food he hates? Since he broke his arm, I add supplements that my vet suggests like Glucosamine with MSM. I trust my vet and do not necessarily trust sales guys on the internet hawking the latest cat food fad.

  20. Jack Spence says:

    Since there isn’t any effective regulation in the pet food industry, many of the comments her are meaningless. How honest will a company remain if there is no verification of their claims? Profit motives can be a very powerful reason to take short cuts.
    I suggest that you look at your amimal’s teeth (or even your own) if you want to get any idea of a proper diet. Most pets have only sharp teeth. They need a good deal meat, preferably processed with low heat or even uncooked.

    I don’t recommend formulating your pet’s food on your own. You can cause more problems than you solve. Do your research on the internet. Be wary of headlines like “The Ten Best Dog Foods” or something similar. They are usually paid articles, with the #1 recommendation brand, being the company that sponsors it. Find independent research that doesn’t supply a link to Amazon, or other stores.

    Spending a little extra money for better pet food will save you a ton of money on vet bills, in the future. If you’re constantly running your pet in to the vet’s office, then you may want examine the diet.

  21. skeptvet says:

    Unfortunately, there’s not much evidence to support your ideas that dentition dictates nutritional requirements or that what you consider “better pet food” will have any health benefits. You are right, though, that the regulation of marketing claims in the pet food industry is less than optimal. Of course, there is zero regulation or quality control for homemade diets.

  22. emeraldgirl says:

    In response to incog99, cats love the cheap cat foods because they are formulated to be tasty, not healthy. They typically contain more salt, fat and other flavor-enhancers than the more high quality food formulations.
    Transitioning your pet away from those can take time. Try mixing the new food in with the prior food, slowly increasing the percentage. At first they may pick out the old food, leaving the new. This behavior seems to diminish over time. I went through this for a diabetic cat with kidney disease. In his case. wet was mixed with dry to support better hydration.

  23. Pamela Kirkpatrick says:

    Polyethylene glycol is more commonly known as “Miralax”. As a pediatric nurse and as a parent, I’ve given a lot of it over the years.

  24. Elishea says:

    Susan Thixton
    Everything you will ever need to know about pet food, regulations & the lack thereof, what the FDA states can go in your dog food (diseased cow brain anyone?) and the documentation to back it up.
    No, she does not have her own pet food line, nor toys, cat litter or anything else to sell. Just her time fighting for all of our rights as pet parents to do our utmost best to be as educated as possible in what we give our kids.
    For the record, I hand cook for my dogs, supplemented by Open Farm food which is humanely raised and nothing in it is sourced from China, made in its own factories cutting down on cross contamination. At the time of this post, no recalls either.

  25. skeptvet says:

    A radical activist with no training or credentials in animal nutrition who makes wild, implausible claims and accusations without evidence. Completely unreliable and untrustworthy source of information.

  26. Dr. I Absolutely Want the Best for My Pet and Yours, DVM says:

    As a veterinarian, I am beyond pleased to see the tenacity of a fellow vet in defending the science that gives our pets a chance to live long, healthy lives, be it through nutrition, medicine, vaccination, supportive care, and typically, all of the above. I absolutely understand the fear of science. I don’t have it, but I’ve practiced over 20 years and had to deal with this fear my entire career. The basis of this fear seem to come from a lack of understanding of the scientific process (the same process that gives us cars, ICU, surgery, smartphones, WiFi, cable, the ability to support life in space, and the millions of other things we use on a daily basis, most of them, like your dishwasher, without fear.)

    The fact of the matter is animals did survive in the past. However, when they died of “old age” or “natural causes” as my clients often like to argue, the true story is they don’t know why they died. They don’t know if it was nutritional, bacterial, contagious, or truly old age. They got along “fine” without arthritis medicine in the old days, no one needed heartworm prevention “back then” and no one really worried about what they fed their dogs back then.

    Sorry, folks, but ignorance is not proof. Just because your dog died while you slept doesn’t mean he died peacefully in his sleep. Just because you had a dog live to be 15 when you were a kid without the benefit of good nutrition or heartworm prevention doesn’t mean a thing about this discussion, perhaps had you taken even better care of him, he would have lived to be older, like most of my dogs have done. This discussion is about using large populations to study to adjust our approach to taking the very best care we can of our beloved pets. Unfortunately, if you weren’t raised or trained as a scientist, and you watch the news, you may get frustrated when new information comes to light and we must change our approach. This is where the mistrust for science comes from. And, even more unfortunate, the news sometimes likes to take a dramatic approach like “New Evidence Supports You’ve Been Doing it All Wrong!” Dang, news, I guess my vet is an idiot, stupid vet! (No, it’s just new data, and new data takes time and studies and should be challenged when it is released by multiple entities before it is incorporated.)

    SkeptVet is doing a huge service for the people willing to listen, giving them many choices for approaching their pets’ nutrition, and using the latest scientific evidence and research to support those recommendations. It’s a gift, folks. If you are not a vet, you have no idea how much we have to learn to earn our degrees. You also don’t know what we have to do to maintain our degrees over the years. But you do know we are human, and each of us veterinarians can either rise with the times and how we stay current on new information, including vaccination practices, nutrition, the judicious use of antibiotics, advanced diagnostic technology (and the list goes on and on.)

    Or, as vets, we can just cop out and go with the flow and just do what our clients randomly ask us to do because they read some article by someone who has a lot of dogs and is, therefore, an expert and we could simply give up on teaching our clients what we know to be true. Unfortunately for the average consumer, those vets are out there too.

    When I practice, I treat the mind, the body and the disease. I give patients who are in for procedures medicine in advance to help them with being afraid, they warm up in heated towels and never shiver when they wake up from surgery. They get the best pain medicine before they even get to experience pain. They are fed excellent foods, there is no one particular food choice during a medical situation, it is a case-by-case basis. They have quality time with staff if needed, or quiet time by themselves in a darkened room if that is what is needed for them. They go home as soon as is reasonable and safe, because at home they are not afraid and their immune system is stronger. It’s about treating the mind, the body and the problem, not just the problem. It’s about supporting all of their needs.

    I hope you all see that there is no right way to approach all pets. I personally have one medium-sized dog. I fed him a top-shelf commercial dog food (from a grocery story) for the first 1.5 years of his life, but now I have time to prepare his food. I am not affiliated with the service UC Davis provides, but I use their calculator to make his food, along with supplements. I use different ingredients (each time using their calculator) and it tells me how much supplement to use. He loves it, I love doing it, it costs the same, and I feel good that a certified veterinary nutritionist is helping me to be sure he gets a good balance. If we miss a day of supplement, he’s not going to die. That’s not how this stuff works! He doesn’t have any particular food allergies, so I don’t have any restrictions there. But it is a LOT of work to do this for him, and my husband jokes ” leave it to you to make something so simple so darn complicated!” The food is cooked in advance and frozen in individual proportions, but still it does take time.

    To summarize, please get advice. I’ve seen too many clients feed their pets incorrectly causing me to do surgery, or even watch them die because of fear of science. It’s sad to see someone bury their head in fear just because a friend told them to feed raw or grain-free or whatever the latest fad is this week, and then accidentally kill or injure their pet. It’s even sadder watching them beat themselves up once they realize that listening to Dr. Neighbor instead of their vet is what caused it.

    Keep up the good work, @skeptvet! I support your endeavor!

    p.s. Yes, I am a practicing vet in the United States, in good standing. However, for the first time in 20 years I have given up being my own boss in my own practice and now work for an organization. I have remained anonymous in this post in order to protect my employer, and for that matter, myself against the dogmatic raw/grain free/whatever groups out there who would inundate me or my employer with hate mail or venom or whatever new ways there are to bully people in this day and age.

    for those interested, here is the UC Davis site:
    takes you straight to the recipe generator to the home page. The service is free, the supplement costs money should you need it. It was recommended to me from a board certified veterinary nutritionist who works in an independent private practice.

  27. Alan says:

    I watched part of Dr. Marty Goldstein’s video, and the Shakespearean quote from Hamlet ‘The lady doth protest too much’ comes to mind. It seems Goldstein believes that by speaking quickly and including a high percentage of specialized vocabulary in his ‘lecture’ listeners will be impressed by him. I found a news article about Goldstein from 2001, in which he is quoted as saying that holistic pet diets are beginning to catch on. I guess not quickly enough considering that was 18 years ago. My cat recently died. She was 23 years old, and was never sick a single day until two days before she died. She was so healthy one vet said she should make a video for senior cats on staying young. I fed her commercial cat food. She loved corn muffins and was able to grab one in her mouth and run away with it. She was seven pounds her entire adult life. I got her when she was six weeks old from the SPCA. I’ve read that cats tend to live longer if they are small in stature and female. She was both. Goldstein seems to provide anecdotal evidence. There are too many variables he doesn’t include to take him seriously.

  28. Laura Chapman says:

    Aha!! Thanks fir pointing that out

  29. Althea Donovan says:

    Everyone talks about a raw diet, that dogs should eat what wolves eat. Dogs evolved from a proto wolf/ dog ancestor that scavenged village garbage dumps and for 40 000 yrs. ate what we ate, some raw but mostly cooked meats, vegetables and fruits as well as breads( age of bread just discovered to be much further in past) and cheese. I would say a safe kibble not prone to recall supplemented by sensible leftovers( would not give my dog corn or onions or raisins) would be the safest diet. Or feeding a dog a portion of what you are eating if its not fried or salted . I fed my dog 3 meals a day because he had a big chest and the breed is prone to bloat.

  30. Robert Wood says:

    For those of you referencing Polyethylene glycol…this is NOT what Dr. Marty stated. He said to stay away from Propylene glycol…HUGE difference.

  31. Viola says:

    Thanks for this excellent article. It confirms what my vet told me and what common sense tells me. Compare what good veterinary colleges say about pet nutrition to what the wild-eyed salesmen day. I’m glad to have Skeptvet as another reliable resource for pet information. Thanks for taking the time to help those of us who have to rely on experts to help us make vital decisions for our loved pets.

  32. Kim Perron says:

    Love reading the article and comments. Please can you at least give a top 3 dog food suggestion for a healthy young dog. Thank you

  33. Rosie Wilson says:

    My dog is on a grain free, gluten free diet. Someone in the house has been careless with their garbage or has been feeding him wheat products, because he is now covered in hives, again. They had gone away after he went on the grain and gluten free diet. I found a great kibble that the dogs really like, I tried several, one brand uses Canola Meal, the by product of Canola Oil, it makes the food very bitter, for all livestock. Some of the other foods are very high priced but not palatable to the dogs. I recommend that you get small bags to see if they like the food, if they do, keep feeding it. I would stay away from artificial anything.

  34. Noel says:

    Hi Brian, I would also be curious as to what you feed your fur babies!

  35. Sonjia Febrey says:

    I am intrigued after hearing about Dr. Marty’s Pro-Power Plus. My rat terrier usually does well with: NaturVet’s Digestive Enzymes (Pre and Pro-biotic), NutriSource canned and dry, real chicken thighs, occasional apple or veg, and a teaspoon of plain yogurt for dessert. I am irritated with her eating deer poop at certain times of the year, which upsets her gut. Should I try to supplement her diet with: 1) raw diet 2) Dr. Marty’s digestive enzymes 3) Or just find Champex mushroom and Kelp (Dr. Marty’s other ingredients) . Thanks, Sonjia

  36. skeptvet says:

    You should do none these things as threes no evidence for any benefit and significant risks with raw diets. Eating deer poop is not a sign of a dietary deficiency you can “fix,” it is just normal exploratory behavior you have to manage behaviorally.

  37. Ray Welsh says:

    Hi Skepvet,

    I have a 13 year old Tabby who was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. I’ve been feeding him Wellness Core turkey/chicken kibble and Crave Turkey wet food. He is also on the methimazole liquid twice per day 0.1 ml. Please give me your thoughts and recommendations, thank you.

  38. Kathryn says:

    We must be doing something wrong in feeding our dogs because cancer is an epidemic among them. You have got to admit that diet plays a big role in that.

    How come you don’t say what you feed your pet dogs/cats?

  39. skeptvet says:

    I’m not sure what your question is. If you are treating with methimazole in an appropriate way (administration, dosing, recheck lab work, etc.), then you are doing the right thing for that condition. Apart from an uncommonly-used low-iodine diet, there are no specific dietary recommendations for hyperthyroid cats. The evidence suggesting a role for diet (especially canned food) in causing hyperthyroidism is very weak, and not enough to justify particular feeding practices.

    Now many older cats also have some degree of kidney dysfunction, and diet can be an important tool in addressing this, so make sure you talk to your vet about the overall picture as well ass the specific treatment of thyroid disease.

    Good luck!

  40. skeptvet says:

    Actually, there is absolutely no evidence that “cancer is an epidemic” in our pets, so the question is based on an assumption that may not be true. In humans, it is clear that cancer rates are decreasing, despite the same kinds of hysteria used to promote alternative diets, and there is no reason to believe the situation is different for our pets.

    As for what I feed, I don’t believe anyone asked, and I don’t see why it matters. I have fed a variety of dry commercial diets to my dogs over the years based on availability and factors like the size of the dog, consistency of the stool, etc. So far, all have lived long and healthy lives.

  41. Vicky says:

    I just watched Dr. Marty’s video on his cat food and was all prepared to order some UNTIL I saw the price. Good Lord that’s outragous!! With that being said, even though I live on only SS I am willing to spend whatever it takes to feed my cat what is best for him. However, I also want to be sure I am bot getting ripped off, at the same time. So I have been doing Google research all day, which has only made me more confused. As did this article. Sorry, maybe I’m just not very bright.

    I would like to address skeptvet and the other vets I have seen post here. My cat is almost 5 years old. I have been feeding him commercial wet and dry cat food all his life. All of a sudden he started throwing up after every meal he eats. It seems to happen more after eating dry food then when he eats wet. I have taken him to three different vets now, who all have run tests and can find nothing wrong with him. These tests cost me two months of my SS income that myself and my cat live on, and he is STILL throwing up, and I have no answers. It makes it very hard to trust ANY veterinarian after an experience like this. Meanwhile I have to live on beans and rice for the next 6 months to pay these vets bills and my poor cat is STILL throwing up after he eats. I have switched his food MANY times from cheap to expensive in the hope that I can find something to keep him from throwing up. Also, he is eating three times more then he used to eat before he started throwing up. I’m assuming that’s because he is emptying his stomach of everything he eats when he throws it all up. I would even pay the outrageous price Dr. Marty is asking for his cat food, if I knew it would help. But after researching the internet and reading this article even, I still have no idea if he’s just sone kind of a ripoff artist, OR if his food is actually healthy???

    A friend has suggested taking him to a nutritionist specialist. I would if I could afford it, but I can’t even pay off the three outrageous vet bills I JUST received which didn’t help him in the least bit. ANY advice at all would be greatly appreciated. I am desperate at this point.

  42. L says:

    Update: Federal Judge in Wisconsin Sides with Champion Petfoods® by Rejecting Claim that the ORIJEN Brand Dog Foods are Unsafe Judge Dismisses the Lawsuit with Prejudice

  43. skeptvet says:

    There are many causes of vomiting in cats, and the frustrating reality is that you can’t always find a definitive diagnosis, and when you can, the tests and treatment will cost money. This is not a reflection of the fact that vets are incompetent or greedy but that medicine is complicated. We don’t have all the answers, and the ones we do have aren’t always easy to come by or ones you will like.

    That said, some random person on the internet, vet or not, isn’t likely to have discovered the magic cure for your pet’s problems that they can sell to you without even evaluating your cat. I would be VERY suspicious of simply miracles, cheap or expensive.

    Most of the time, when a cat is vomiting, the problem is not the food. You can test for feed sensitivities with special diet trials if no other cause is found on blood tests and ultrasound, but it may or may not work even if done properly. And sometimes, invasive testing is needed (biopsies), though even this doesn’t always get you an answer. That’s how life is.

    You can certainly contact a nutrition specialist, but their job is to formulate an appropriate diet once we know what the problem is, not to diagnose the problem. An internal medicine specialist would probably be more appropriate, but that will be expensive. There just aren’t any shortcuts or guarantees, no matter what folks like Dr. Marty say.

    Good luck!

  44. v.t. says:

    Vicky, while skeptvet is right about diet maybe not being the cause to your kitty’s vomiting, have you at least tried a trial of a hypoallergenic or limited-ingredient diet? (would recommend an Rx diet, since commercial diets often contain more of the ingredients kitty may need to avoid). Such a trial diet also can take up to 6 weeks to determine if effective (usually, it is a specific protein type or source that needs to be changed).

    Stress can cause frequent vomiting as well (environment).

    Changing foods too often WILL likely cause vomiting, especially if the ingredients or protein are the same or similar between types of food you’re feeding. A trial Rx diet might at least be helpful to determine if this is an ingredient or protein sensitivity. Feeding smaller meals more often is sometimes helpful for kitties who tend to regurgitate their food if they are “gulpers” or stressed, etc.

    Beyond the diet, assuming your vets ruled out inflammation (i.e, IBD), mild/chronic pancreatitis, etc – even parasites?

    Perhaps another opinion from a feline-only vet.

    (I’m not a vet)

  45. Rye says:

    Ran across Skepvet by accident, and love this site. I am a foster mom with a 501(C)(3) rescue group. Unless a dog comes to me with acute digestive issues, which a vet is monitoring, I feed the same diet to all my fosters, lamb and brown rice. Blue Buffalo Adult Lamb and Brown Rice, Kibble. Purina ONE Lamb and Long Grain Rice entree, Canned. Neither is expensive, many pet owners cannot afford dog food at $3.00 a can! Watching the stool consistency and formation is a good clue to the dog’s health, and this diet produces excellent results, no matter the breed I am fostering. Two personal dogs have had stool softness with chicken protein commercial products, so I do avoid those, which probably makes no scientific sense. Thank you for pointing out the hysteria that currently permeates the pet food industry. And it’s tiring to have to suffer the slings and arrows of acquaintances and family members who tilt their noses up, and say, “I cook for my dog.” Sigh…

  46. Vicky Adair says:

    Thank you skepvet and v.t. for your replies. I was afraid the answer would most likely be very complicated, as well as expensive.

    The vets have ruled out pancreates, and other things they tested for, with the blood tests. Unfortunately, I can’t afford an MRI at this time. ?

    My cat is kind of finicky, in that, just about anything I buy, he gobbles up for the first 3 or 4 weeks, but then he refuses to touch it anymore. So I am always changing what I feed him, every month. So, I have been wondering if it is maybe the constant changing of his food that is causing him to vomit? Because, I have read that cats should be kept on a constant diet. The only thing is, that has been how I have been feeding him for the 4 and a half years I have had him. And the vomiting has only been happening for just the last 3 or 4 months.

    He also is a gulper. Gobbles up his food as though he is starving. Again, I’m assuming this might be because he is emptying his stomach every time he vomits his food, so he was always hungry.

    The good news is, before I checked back for your reply, I HAVE been feeding him lesser amounts throughout the day, since he has been eating so much. Also, I have switched from Nutrish to Blue Buffalo, for the dry food, and also to Blue Buffalo wet food, as well. Both are more expensive then the other types I usually buy, but the ingredients seem to look healthier to me, and he has only vomited two or three times since I have made these changes. Now, I just don’t know if it was the smaller portions of food, or the type of food that have helped. I’m just happy that he’s not vomiting after every meal now.

    Also, I am still so concerned if it might be a medical issue, because if it is, I sure would hate to leave it untreated. With that being said, unfortunately I still can’t afford any additional vet bills at this time. ? So, for now, I will just pray that one or both of these changes were the answer, and that he’ll stop vomiting completely, soon.

    Also, I am going to TRY my best to keep him on this same cat food, even if he starts thumbing his nose to it, like he usually does with his other foods after a month. The reason I say try, is because I really don’t know what other choice I have, when he refuses to eat what I feed him.

  47. v.t. says:

    Vicky, thanks for the update!

    Feeding smaller portions more often can certainly be helpful for a vomiting kitty (if it’s solely a food issue). This could also help narrow down potential causes (to some degree). For example, if he is overweight, he may not be getting enough activity, eating out of boredom. If he’s losing weight, and vomiting, he could be chronically dehydrated (which is another reason one shouldn’t mix/change foods too often, this can also cause digestion problems, bowel problems, not to mention the various fiber content in various foods, etc) – obviously your vet(s) would know his optimal weight, hydration level, etc and should advise you accordingly.

    If kitty is allowed outdoors, please rule out parasites.

    If he is long-haired, rule out hairballs. Sometimes these can impact with food and if serious enough, can cause delayed digestion, or partial obstruction and even chronic constipation (which can cause regurgitation or vomiting). Monitor the litter box for signs of diarrhea or very hard stools or infrequent stools.

    You could try dry food (if that is his preference) with shapes to encourage him to chew rather than gulp. Also, pet stores sell food dishes with a raised center to prevent pets from gulping their food. (or you could put a clean, larger toy ball in the dish so that he has to eat around it, therefore he has to work around for his food, decreasing the urge to gulp – keep the toy clean, and provide fresh water at all times)

    When changing foods, here is a good method to transition (hopefully you won’t be changing often anymore):

    Day 1: 100% of his current food
    Day 2: 3/4 current food + 1/4 new food
    Day 5: 1/2 current food + 1/2 new food
    Day 8: 3/4 new food + 1/4 current food
    Day 11 and onward: 100% new food

    I recommended a trial Rx diet because the ingredients are already limited, the protein source is known (and consistent), most are easily digestible (another benefit of course to reduce vomiting), and if successful, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the ingredients/protein source you/your vet need to try to match with a commercial diet if you can’t afford the Rx diet long-term.

    Lastly, make sure there’s no stress in the environment (competing for food with another pet, stress in a multi-cat home, other stressors you’ll have to determine) – a stressed cat is an unhealthy and unhappy cat, so anything you can do to enrich his environment and create his ‘happy place’ will also be of benefit.

    These are only tips, and not to take place of your vet’s advice – you might want to start a daily log of kitty’s food given (type, amount, and if vomiting, what is he vomiting, what if anything occurred beforehand, etc) – and if the new food you’ve started him on does not resolve the vomiting, please talk with your vet, because if it is not a food issue, you’ll want to rule out something else and discuss your options, next step with your vet.

  48. Lois says:

    Thank you skepvet! I am an MD, and I wish humans (and human doctors) would realize that this applies to them as well. Thanks also to “Dr. I Absolutely Want the Best for My Pet and Yours, DVM”

  49. Darrell Miklos says:

    I had a Pitbull that only lived 9 yrs, I killed her! Not by choice,I was completely ignorant of her dietary needs,I thought that I was “mistreating” her when she begged for food from me ie: (steak,chicken,pork chops,treats,table scraps) I gave her anything she wanted, but I thought that if they “ate it in the wild” it was ok ! WRONG !! Domestic dogs haven’t been wild in 10 thousand years ! There dietary needs have changed once humans domesticated them ! There not the same animal anymore . The only choice We have is to be informed and use your brain, dogs never ate corn,or polyunsaturated fats, they’ll eat what’s available or what there given by humans to eat. Buy the best food available ,read ingredient labels ,and put forth a little effort in researching the company’s products, or don’t get a dog! it’s Your Responsibility as a owner to give them the best life possible

  50. Michael says:

    Sir you need to check your sources. I work in the cryogenic industry and we us massive amounts of polyethylene Glycol (antifreeze) on a daily basis.
    Propylene Glycol on the other hand IS a food additive as well as many other chemical uses for medicines, makeups and the like.

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