Americans spent $24 billion on pet food last year, and the pet food market continues to grow. The available choices go way beyond aisles of bags of dry food and kibble these days. Pet owners can also find refrigerated food options that typically say things like “frozen fresh” or “grain free” or “no byproducts” on the packaging.
“A lot of pet owners have jumped on the gluten-free, grain-free band wagon,” said veterinarian Mindy Cohan. “This is popular in human diets, there’s more awareness of celiac disease, and pet owners think grains could cause allergies.”
But Cohan says going gluten-free is not a smart choice for most pets.
“Grains really get a bum rep, as do byproducts,” she said.
Cohan says grains provide energy and are easily digested. “The other thing is, grains are not a culprit when it comes to causing allergies in dogs and cats, less than one percent really are intolerant.”
Cohan also said pet owners shouldn’t look down on byproducts – which are leftover ingredients from other food production, for example organ meat.
“They often contain more minerals and protein than the muscle protein that pets eat, so byproducts are nutritionally valid.”
Cohan also has no love for raw diets that have become very popular with pet owners wanting to serve the best possible diet to their cat or dog.
“Raw diets are very controversial,” said Cohan. “Breeders often recommend feeding that, but most vets do not not believe in that.”
Cohan said raw foods can contain microorganisms such as listeria, which can cause problems for the pets. Pet owners are handling the foods, maybe using the same cutting boards or utensils, and could thus put their family at risk for pathogens and parasites.
And, there’s one more reason Cohan will never feed her own dog, Jem, raw food. “The FDA has said ‘if you feed raw food, don’t kiss your dog around its mouth or let it lick your face’ – so, that’s never going to happen.”