What does “Scientifically Proven”mean?

What Does Scientifically Proven Mean?

So, we had quite a heated debate last week on our Facebook page. Debate might be the wrong word mind. It was more of an argument. A scientific debate is where two scientists debate a topic, such as the importance of fresh ingredients or the dangers of a product etc, using peer reviewed, independent studies as a basis for their points. Simply saying a product is great because it is “scientifically proven” is not good enough. You need to display these studies so the opposition can read and digest the message inside. Moreover, these studies need to be published in a journal. This means these studies have been peer reviewed which implies that other scientists have reviewed the work before releasing it. They scrutinise your sampling methods to ensure they are fair, if your method and procedure is correct, if the stats add up and if the conclusions drawn are accurate. This level of scrutiny is vital to filter out the menusha that pours from companies trying to promote a product over something else. It impedes bad drugs getting to market (though clearly is not fool proof) and reduces the likelihood of another infant formula over breast feeding scandal. Nowhere does this apply more than the pet sector.

The Big Tick Project is a Great Example of Dodgy, Corporate Funded “Studies” in the vet Sector…

What does "Scientifically Proven"mean? Dogs First

Take the widely reported “Big Tick Project” last year (check out that pic! These giant ticks are going to kill us alllll…). This study stated that 31% of 15,000 UK dogs have ticks. With just a little digging I quickly discovered that the “study” in question was sponsored by  “MSD Animal Health”. MSD (Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp.), a.k.a. Merck Animal Health, are the makers of the controversial chemical flea, worm and tick prevention product Bravecto®. This is clearly a massive warning bell.

An FDA report Strickland obtained has tallied 355 suspected deaths since the pill’s release in 2014.Pennsylvania veterinarian Elizabeth Carney stated “We’re seeing some of these dogs that just seem to crash for lack of a better word”.

They have since started stating that this work was brought to you by Bravecto underneath. Anyway, I found the study used by the Big Tick Project. It was conducted by Professor Wall, head of Veterinary Parasitology and Ecology, in Bristol University and entitled “Ticks infesting domestic dogs in the UK: a large-scale surveillance programme”. It was published by the University in their own research section. This is instantly disappointing from a research / reliability point of view. It means that the work has not been submitted let alone published by a peer reviewed scientific journal. A second. warning bell.

In their methods they state:

The overall prevalence of tick attachment was 30 % (range 28–32 %). The relatively high prevalence recorded is likely to have been inflated by the method of participant recruitment.

That last line stopped me in my tracks. It is quite literally admitting that the high prevalence note was inflated by the method of sampling. More on the Big Thick Project here.

Dry Pet Food Manufacturers Have Never, Ever Compared Their Products to Fresh Food, Isn’t That Strange?! But Others Have…

If the post last week taught us anything, it is that despite my using peer reviewed, scientific references in defence of my points, when I encountered someone that didn’t like the message, all that could be reported to was angry vitriol. That pet food is scientifically proven when fresh food is not. However, i you go through the hundreds of comments, there is not a single scientific study quoted by the opposition. Not one. Reference is made to pet food being proven but we are not permitted to see these studies.

I have researched the pet food industry intensely. I have never, ever found a single, independent study whereby a dry food product out performed a group of dogs fed a biologically appropriate diet. It has never been required of the industry. Perhaps the the studies have been done but the results, if not in their favour, were never published.

In the past manufacturers have tried stating the source of their various in-house studies but it’s too easily pulled apart.

What does "Scientifically Proven"mean? Dogs First

The incredible science claims of pet food companies are constantly getting them in trouble. For instance, Mars Petcare, Nestle Purina and Hill’s Pet Nutrition are facing a class action lawsuit that alleges those pet food companies were engaged in price fixing of prescription dog and cat food formulations in the US. The claim is that pet food companies are charging consumers more than was justified for certain foods by making those foods available by prescription only and that as these foods contain no drug or active medical ingredients which are not found in conventional foods, they cannot hold the prescription title.

In another matter in 2016, and in relation to the specific “studies” they use to support their points, the Federal Trade Commission forced Eukanuba (Mars) to back track on it’s huge advertising campaign based on the results from one of their “studies”. It stated;

10 years ago, we launched a long life study. What we observed was astonishing. With Eukanuba and proper care, dogs in the study were able to live beyond their typical lifespan…by 30%

That wasn’t true. They didn’t find that at all. It was a bit of a fib.

However, in their 2003 report for the Prince Laurent Foundation Price, entitled”Relation between the domestic dogs’ well-being and life expectancy“, indicate the exact opposite is the case. Lippert and Sapy (2003), studies 500 dogs and found

…our study shows that animals fed with home made food (based on similar food as the family) reach an average of 13.1 years… the animals fed with canned industrial food reach an average of 10.4 years. The animals fed with mixed food (home made plus canned food) reach an average of 11.4 years”

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Physiology, shows us an all-meat diet has been found to improve kidney function in dogs, with vast improvements in the glomerular filtration rate (GFR is the best test of kidney function, O’Connor and Summerill 1976).

Also, a study published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice, found aggressive Golden Retrievers changed from commercial to home-prepared food showed dramatic improvements in behaviour (Mugford 1987).

Finally, a large survey of American and Australian raw-fed dog owners, published in the International Journal of Applied Research in Veterinary Medicine, reported that 98.7% of dog owners and 98.5% of cat owners deemed their pet healthy on a raw food diet (La Flamme et al. 2008).

It’s not a whole lot, but it’s a whole lot more than nothing.

How Pet Food Manufacturers get Away With Saying Scientifically Proven…

So, when they (pet food manufacturers and supporters of dry food diets) state “scientifically proven”, what do they mean? The thing is, you can scientifically prove anything. For example, I can feed one group of 20 dogs a poor quality dry food. To another group of 20 dogs I can feed the same diet but with added omega 3. If, after 6 mths, the second group can see better, solve problems better or have less pruritus, all the things you would expect from having better fats in the diet, then that second diet has been scientifically proven to better for your dog’s vision, brain or skin. This “new” dry food can now become a “prescription diet”, recommended for dogs with those skin conditions.

That’s the trick. They say “scientifically proven”, and in a way it stands, as long as you are comparing one group of dry fed dogs to another. It says nothing of the quality of the product or, dare we wish, the benefit of this magic skin diet over a fresh diet full of fresh fats, it’s just better than the product they compared it to.

Take for example the recent conclusions of scientists for Hills Pet Food;

Large breed puppies fed the test food with a nutritional profile of Science Diet® Puppy Large Breed formula had significantly higher blood concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and taurine when compared with another commercially available food as administered by the owner.

While this in-house study was self-published, and it’s great that this food is better for dogs, it’s says nothing of a head to head, the only true test of your product’s powers, with a fresh diet full of these vital ingredients in their natural form.

Hill’s new slogon is now “Hill’s evidence-based clinical nutrition™”. Sounds great doesn’t it?! Say something enough times and everyone will believe you.

When you add in the fact that the pet food guard dog is not only asleep but is toothless and has been deballed, you have a recipe for a heap of poor information hitting our vets daily.

Studies Show In-House Studies Will Report a Positive Outcome 96-100% of the Time…

It’s patently obvious why scientists thus do not use in-house studies in debate. Like using Wikipedia to support your point, you would be laughed out of the room. But just to put the matter to bed completely, studies show that in-house studies (which are better termed trials) by drug companies, are heavily biased.

In this sample of registered drug trials, those funded by industry were more likely to report positive outcomes than were trials funded by other sources.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20679560

..head-to-head comparisons of statins with other drugs are more likely to report results and conclusions favoring the sponsor’s product compared to the comparator drug

http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0040184

Approximately one fourth of investigators have industry affiliations, and roughly two thirds of academic institutions hold equity in start-ups that sponsor research performed at the same institutions. Eight articles, which together evaluated 1140 original studies, assessed the relation between industry sponsorship and outcome in original research. Aggregating the results of these articles showed a statistically significant association between industry sponsorship and pro-industry conclusions

http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/195843

So, What’s the Best Advice?

Take people’s advice, listen to their opinion, check their sources. If you’re happy that where they are coming from seems to a place of truth, then put their ideas to the test. Try it.

More on how to feed a dog a fresh diet here.

Dr. Conor Brady

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.
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