With bullshit being one of the few ingredients they’re not actually permitted to use (too much of) in pet food, the industry instead employs it lavishly around the industry to help it grow. Here’s the latest…

The pet food industry has always had the following conundrum – they want to produce an ultra-low-cost product based on cheap plant additions, that is one obscenely high in carbohydrates (cheap) and ultra-low in meat protein (expensive) and they want to sell it to owners of meat-eating pets, that is animals that have ZERO REQUIREMENT of carbohydrates in their diet day to day. So you have to come up with a whole lot of bullshit about the possible carbohydrate need of our pets to keep the bull-ship afloat.

A piece by Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, editor-in-chief of Petfood Industry Magazine, the leading voice of pet food manufacturers worldwide, highlights how your pet can have too much protein (all without the burden of evidence or a single study in support, we wouldn’t want to get bogged down in detail, after all). Entitled “Pet food protein: how much is too much?“, here were the key points of the article:

[Protein is] not an ideal source of energy, unlike the other two macronutrients, carbohydrates and fats. Excess protein is stored in the body as fat, so today’s high-protein, dense pet foods could be contributing to rising pet obesity if pet owners overfeed them.

So, keeping in mind that everyone agrees dogs have ZERO REQUIREMENT OF CARBOHYDRATES IN THEIR DIET (the very definition of a meat eater), we have had five decades of ultra high carbohydrate diets for these meat eaters and during that time obesity in dogs has spiralled, mirroring the obesity epidemic in humans during that time. Approximately 21% of the UK dog population was obese in the 1980s (Edney and Smith 1986). By 2017, the most recent review of the situation revealed that while 65% of UK dogs were at least overweight (body condition scores of 6/9 to 9/9) a shocking 37% of UK juvenile dogs were obese (German et al. 2018).

Something has gone grossly wrong in dogs of late. Looking at humans, the chief suspect is too much carbohydrate (sugar) in the food chain. At the turn of the 21st century, the average American was consuming more than 100 pounds of sugar a year (Flegal et al. 2002). Just ten years later, that figure had surpassed 150 pounds (USDA “Profiling Food Consumption in America”, 2010). Everyone is in agreement, we are eating too much-refined carbohydrate and not enough plant protein.

But now the Petfood Industry Magazine is trying to tell us, contrary to every single bit of nutritional science out there, that the problem is possibly due to the VERY RECENT introduction of higher protein dry and now fresh diets, diets that still feed less than 10% of Western pets?!!!!!

Imagine trying to sell that line to people in the gym!

Needless to say, countless studies show us higher protein (and lower carbohydrate) diets produce better weight loss in dogs whilst, crucially, maintaining lean body mass, the basal driver of your metabolism (Hannah and Laflamme 1998, Hannah 1999, Diez et al. 2002, Blanchard et al. 2004, German et al. 2010). But the Petfood industry ignores this truth. Instead, they compare ten caged dogs fed product X, a high carbohydrate diet, to another ten caged product X with added indigestible plant fibre, the equivalent of a runway model chewing paper tissue to lower the calorie content of her daily rations, and in this way scientifically prove that this diet is an effective way of dieting dogs. This new “low calorie” offering is wrapped up with a fancy label like “metabolic” and sold to you under “prescription” at grossly inflated prices.

The question is not is it possible to lower an animal’s weight in such a manner. It clearly is. The question should be, is it suitable? Is it sustainable? Or, dare we hope, is it ideal?

Well no, it’s not. If we ignore that studies show fat dogs do better on high protein diets, with better retention of lean body mass and more appropriate weight loss, studies show dogs on these “light” diets struggle to absorb what little protein and nutrients remain in there. Burkholder, who has written articles on canine nutrition for journals such as Veterinary Internal Medicine, Preventative Veterinary Medicine, Veterinary Dermatology and American Journal of Veterinary Research, found dogs on reduced energy intake dry diets had a suboptimal intake of essential nutrients, especially protein (Burkholder and Bauer 1998). In real life, out of the cage and in your kitchen, these diets will produce miserable, unhealthy and VERY hungry dogs. Weight-loss programs in dogs based on food restriction increases begging and scavenging behaviour (Weber et al. 2007). Moreover, hunger can fuel aggression, from a dog protecting his food or something as mundane as a meaty bone from an unwitting toddler. In fact, the whole idea of using dry diets in weight loss is nutritional idiocy. Cats allowed to feed ad libitum on a 40% hydrated diet compared to a dry diet with 12% moisture following resulted in the former eating less, gaining less body weight and significantly increasing their activity levels (Cameron et al. 2011).

Excess protein…is excreted as nitrogen, which can be harmful to the environment. Not to mention your lawn.

Yes, this was their second main point. Your lawn. Dog wee (particularly girls) has ALWAYS stained lawns and they are largely dry fed! Are they suggesting that dry fed dogs don’t stain the grass?!!! Or that raw fed stains more than dry fed? A study or little comparison would have been great here. Then, when it is done and IF what they say is true (it’s highly unlikely to be so) those with lovely lawns can decide if they want to decimate their pet’s health so their neighbours think they’re outstanding citizens with perfect gardens.

As the global population of people and pets continues to increase, along with rising incomes that allow more people to eat meat-based proteins and, often, also feed them to their pets, some of those proteins may become scarce. And producing more livestock animals can lead to additional environmental problems.

This is true. Like a fat kid to cake, the industry here are leaping on the recent debate that if all dogs were to be fed meat it would be an extra burden on the planet in terms of carbon dioxide and global warming. This is true, it will be and might well be a problem in the future which we need to address. But what they are trying to say here is that the reason the industry has been using ultra-high doses of cheap carbohydrates to bulk their products since 1920 has been mother earth, they just haven’t mentioned it until now. They love the earth and have merely been trying to protect you, at great cost to your pet and to their own credibility, it seems.

Adolphe and Shoveller both stressed that we don’t know the optimal level of protein for dogs or cats. We do have minimum requirements, based on the National Research Council’s (NRC) nutrition requirements for dogs and cats, but today’s pet foods often far exceed those.

Correct. We don’t know the optimum protein content for the dog or cat. Until now, the industry that brought us these disgusting products has only been obsessed with the minimum protein requirements of your pet, for some strange reason, never the optimum. Isn’t that a bit questionable for a company producing a product with lifetime feeding claims?! You think this would be the absolute opposite but not in pet food land where everything is upside down (except their cash flow charts). But NOW it’s a problem you see, and until they do this relatively simple but very revealing experiment, something independent canine nutritionists have been crying out for for decades, something that would take them a couple of years to get some good indicators, we are advised to employ the MINIMUM amount of protein in meat eaters, animals that have ZERO REQUIREMENT of carbohydrates, animals that would normally consume diets high in meat protein! Make sense of that one.

More research is sorely needed.

We agree there. So who do we count on to do that?

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If you want to know more about the excess protein myth, including studies that show higher protein diets are not linked to growth deformities (another common, completely unsupported myth), in fact they reduce injuries in working dogs and that they are not only of zero harm to their kidneys (another common, completely unsupported myth) but actually recommended for dogs with kidney disease, please check out our original article on the too-much protein myth in dogs.

More about the CORRECT way to tackle obesity in dogs here.

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References not linked out:

Hannah, S. S. and Laflamme, D. P. (1998). Increased Dietary Protein Spares Lean Body Mass during Weight Loss in Dogs. Journal of Veterinary International Medicine, 12: 224

By |July 9th, 2018|Dog Health|

About the Author:

After a doctorate studying the effects of nutrition on the behaviour and gut morphology of animals, five years with Guide Dogs as a trainer and supervisor, some success on Dragons Den with the finest raw dog food company and the last few years both writing and speaking on canine nutrition and health, I can say with some confidence that the pet food and drug industry cares not a jot for the health of your pet.