Feline Nutrition: Who Bears the Responsibility?

Guest Post by Kymythy R. Schultze

At this point in my investigative journey to decide what to feed my cats, the commercial, processed pet-food products were definitely not coming up roses — or even catnip. But let me state for the record that I don’t think the manufacturers are purposely trying to harm our cats. I don’t think there’s a cigar-smoking executive sitting behind his desk (in a corner office with a big window) doing a Snidely Whiplash impression while chanting: “I’m going to hurt some kitties today,” followed by evil laughter, of course. No, it’s not that personal — it’s just business. It’s like any other industry that makes billions of dollars every year: The bottom line is the top dollar.
 
I’m not faulting these companies for trying to make lots of money, but I don’t have to approve of the way they do it. I’m certainly not a fan of animal testing, low-quality ingredients, components that aren’t even appropriate for felines, too-frequent recalls, and questionable marketing tactics. But hey, when it comes down to it, my cat’s health isn’t really their responsibility.
 
Is my cat’s health my veterinarian’s responsibility? Not really. Yes, I go to vets for their professional opinions, which are very important to me. I respect their experience and education in most areas of animal health. But unless they’ve taken it upon themselves to study animal nutrition in an unbiased forum, they may not be the best source of advice for species-appropriate food for my cats. At veterinary schools, they receive very little education on this subject, and what they do get is mostly taught by employees of the larger pet-food companies. The little time devoted to nutrition usually involves the incomplete research we discussed earlier and heavy product pushing — not information about real food.
 
I have very dear friends who are veterinarians. Through their wisdom and my own experience and research, I’ve come to understand better why vets aren’t always the best source of unbiased nutritional information. You see, when I was studying animal nutrition at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine a few years ago, only a couple of my professors weren’t paid employees of pet-food companies.
 
I’ll never forget one particular lecture where the teacher/veterinarian was discussing the different forms of pet-food products — dry, canned, and so on. While she was talking about the semi-moist products, she mentioned in an offhand way that she would never feed them to her pets. Then she quickly laughed and said, “Oh, my boss would kill me if he heard me say that!”
 
I didn’t find it amusing. It was painfully clear that she was repeating (except for her slip-up) what the pet-food company wanted the students to hear — not unbiased information or her actual opinion.
 
The biggest pet-food companies hire brilliant marketers to sell their products. After all, what could be better than having experts (veterinarians) endorse your product? How did this come about? Well, one of the parent companies that’s become very involved with vets also makes toothpaste. Do you remember the old advertisement that boasted eight out of ten dentists recommend a particular brand? It was a brilliant campaign and put this firm at the top of toothpaste sales.
 
At the time, the company also had a very small pet-food division they were about to sell, but an executive came forward with a great idea: If they could use the same tactic with this branch as they had with their toothpaste, they’d be equally successful. So they used the pharmaceutical industry’s practice of spending tons of money to woo doctors. In fact, a retired sales executive from the pet-food company commented on why this marketing strategy works so well: “It’s just like taking drugs: You go to the doctor, and he prescribes something for you, and you don’t much question what the doctor says. It’s the same with animals.”
 
They know that the trust cat guardians have in vets is so strong that they’ll feed what they’re told without question. So the manufacturer spends a great deal of money enforcing that connection. In fact, other than universities, this company is the country’s largest employer of vets.  They fund research and nutrition courses and professorships at veterinary colleges and offer a formal nutrition-certification program for technicians. They’ve also written a widely used textbook on animal nutrition that’s given free of charge to veterinary students, who also receive stipends and get products at zero or almost-zero charge.
 
This relationship doesn’t end after graduation. The corporation sends veterinarians to seminars on how to better sell their products, provides sales-goal-oriented promotions, gives them lots of promotional tools, and offers big discounts so that vets make more money on product sales.
 
There’s really no point in naming names in this situation because these practices aren’t confined to a single pet-food company. Although one or two used to have a corner on the veterinary market, others have now reaped the rewards of employing similar strategies. It’s genius, really, and I can understand that many veterinarians have busy practices and may feel that they don’t have time to investigate pet-foods more closely. It certainly must be easier and less time-consuming to simply suggest a familiar product and be done with it, but if they’ve got such an extremely close association with a pet-food company, we may reasonably assume that it might be difficult for them to offer an unbiased opinion on nutrition to their clients.
 
Please understand that there are more and more vets today who are taking the time to learn about real-food nutrition. And with their busy schedules, I truly respect the ones who do; and I like to support these independent, open-minded individuals who enjoy continuing their education.
 
The bottom line is that my cat’s health is my responsibility, and your cat’s health is your responsibility. We choose which veterinarian to take our cats to. We choose to follow our vets’ advice or not. We choose which type of food to feed our cats. All the choices are up to us, so choose wisely, grasshopper (my cats love to eat those guys)!
 
Kymythy R. Schultze has been a trailblazer in the field of animal nutrition for nearly two decades. She’s a Clinical Nutritionist, a Certified Nutritional Consultant and one of the world’s leading experts on nutrition and care for cats. Visit her at Kymythy.com.

 

15 Comments on Feline Nutrition: Who Bears the Responsibility?

  1. obsidian kitten
    October 21, 2010 at 7:17 pm (9 years ago)

    Such a great post — thanks, Kymythy!

    Reply
  2. Ingrid
    September 11, 2010 at 7:48 pm (10 years ago)

    Glad you enjoyed the article, Joani. I’m working on getting cats off of kibble one cat at a time 🙂

    Reply
  3. Joani Schofield
    September 11, 2010 at 1:23 pm (10 years ago)

    Fantastic Article! Thank you for being a proponent of proper feline nutrition. And I agree, let’s get all the cats of the world off of dry kibble!

    Reply
  4. Ingrid
    August 31, 2010 at 6:49 am (10 years ago)

    Thanks for your comment, Michael. I’m not a proponent of any dry food for cats, and I’m surprised that the theory that dry food is better for cats’ teeth is dying such a slow death. I also think that cats shouldn’t get any grain in their diets. I do agree that variety is key, regardless of what type of diet is fed.

    My own vet, a feline practitioner, has been out of vet school for about 30 years, and she, too, said she learned hardly anything about nutrition in vet school, and what she did learn, she learned from the large pet food companies. It took her a long time to break from what they advocate as the ulitmate diet for cats. She actually shares some of that on the recording of our “Ask the Vet” teleseminar, you can listen to it by clicking on the link in the sidebar if you’re interested to hear her viewpoint. She also addressed the issue of dry food and dental health.

    Reply
  5. Michael O'Donoghue
    August 31, 2010 at 6:07 am (10 years ago)

    I am one of those vets listed above that have been heavily influnced by large pet food companies. I still believe that the products sold in vet surgeries are much better than those sold at the supermarket. I went to vet school 20 years ago and we learnt very little about small animal nutrition, I learnt alot of small animal nutrition from Hills and Iams. I became so keen I worked for the Iams Comapny for 5 years telling other vets why our products where so good. I still feed my Cat Eukanuba cat food because I believe it is one the best dry formulas on the market. The problem I see with dry biscuits is they that have too much ceral in them, even the best ones do. The problem with most tin food it is too soft for cats teeth. The problem I see with raw food is the most cats then get too much muscle meat and nothing else. I dont think any one approach is perfect. I believe a variety of quailty ingredients is key. Thanks for the article, very well written.

    Reply
  6. Ingrid
    August 30, 2010 at 9:14 pm (10 years ago)

    You’re welcome, Caren!

    Reply
  7. caren gittleman
    August 30, 2010 at 8:22 pm (10 years ago)

    Ingrid I THANK YOU!!!

    This is why you are my “go to” cat expert!!!!

    You made me feel much, much better (as you always do!)
    I will try and check those links out tomorrow…I need to get off of here my eyes are going nuts! 🙂

    Reply
  8. Ingrid
    August 30, 2010 at 8:19 pm (10 years ago)

    Layla, your last point is the most important, I think – advertising can’t replace information and education.

    Caren, yes, this is a guest post. Kymythy’s article so perfectly echoes my own opinions that I didn’t feel it was necessary to reinvent the wheel to convey this information to my readers, so I invited her to guest blog here.

    It sounds like your vet put Cody on the rabbit based diet because one of the theories behyind food allergies is that by feeding a protein that the cat hasn’t previously eaten, food allergies might be cured. And it is certainly possible that this is the solution for Cody. Another theory is that if we were feeding our cats a species-appropriate diet to begin with, they wouldn’t develop food allergies in the first place.

    Don’t let this food talk make you crazy – it’s meant to educate and provide accurate and current information 🙂 There are a lot of resources out there in addition to my site. A really great book to start with is Elizabeth Hodgkins’ “Your Cat – Simple New Secrets to Longer, Stronger Life” – here’s the link: http://consciouscat.net/2010/04/02/book-review-your-cat-simple-new-secrets-to-a-longer-stronger-life-by-elizabeth-m-hodgkins-d-v-m-esq/ I’d also encourage you to visit the Feline Nutrition Education Society’s website – just click on the badge in my sidebar. Kymythy also has some great information on her website.

    Reply
  9. caren gittleman
    August 30, 2010 at 7:41 pm (10 years ago)

    Very good post! Wasn’t this a guest post?
    My question is, if you don’t go to your vet with these questions then who DO you go to???
    Are there such a thing as feline nutritionists? Feline dietitians?
    With the skin lesions that Ingrid knows my cat has my vet did tell me he consulted with a feline dermatologist in reference to what food to change my cat to (to test for food allergies). We have switched to Royal Canin Rabbit diet…grain free, and it is “free” of other things as well etc….but YES a concern I have is that it IS sold at the veterinarian’s location.
    I have to admit over the past few weeks all of this cat food talk has made me crazier than I am already! (which Ingrid is well aware of! lol)

    Reply
  10. Layla Morgan Wilde
    August 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm (10 years ago)

    Ingrid, thanks for this thought provoking post. I see pet parenting no different than two-legged parenting. It means taking responsibility, making informed choices, and not be swayed by advertising.

    Reply
  11. Ingrid
    August 30, 2010 at 1:43 pm (10 years ago)

    Marg, even though raw is probably one of the best options, there are other healthy options. I think the key is that cat parents educate themselves and realize that they, not pet food companies or vets, are the most important advocates for their cats’ health.

    Reply
  12. Marg
    August 30, 2010 at 11:31 am (10 years ago)

    That was a very informative post. I knew that Veterinarians were not the best to get info on what to feed the animals because I have asked them and they all act kind of like they really don’t know. It is very hard to know what to feed the animals although I think the raw food is the best because that is what they would normally eat in the wild. But that is totally fresh when they catch it. And it is very expensive considering you probably need an extra freezer for the foods and I know don’t like frozen food for myself. It just doesn’t taste good. Anyway, I could go on forever.
    Great post.

    Reply

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  1. […] areas of animal health, but unless vets take the time for additional study in an unbiased forum, they may not be the best source of advice on pet nutrition. At veterinary schools, they receive very little education in nutrition, and what little they do […]

  2. […] For a thought-provoking extract from the book, read Feline Nutrition – Who Bears the Responsibilty.  […]

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