There are a million things you can learn on YouTube and an infinite number of facts to find in a flash on Google, but if you really want to know what’s best for Fido or Garfield, your best bet is still the same source of information your folks and theirs before them sought – a visit with your veterinarian. So says Dr. Andrea Fascetti, Professor of Nutrition in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California Davis. Fascetti recently addressed the 31st Caribbean Veterinary Conference, sponsored in part by the Pet Food Institute (PFI), an initiative to educate pet owners about the importance of proper pet food and nutrition. PFI’s campaign appears to be working with vets in The Bahamas, Jamaica, Turks and Caicos and Trinidad, where this year’s conference was held, reporting an uptick in awareness of the importance of a proper diet and dangers of certain foods, including cooked bones, especially bones that can become brittle and fracture teeth and damage internal organs.
“In many places, we find that people are still home cooking for animals, believing they are doing a good thing,” said Dr. Fascetti, who holds a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biology. “What they do not realize is that what they are preparing may not contain the nutrients that their pet needs. There is a lot of research suggesting that home cooking, using recipes from the internet that have not been formulated by a veterinary nutritionist may not deliver the complete and balanced nutrition that allows pets to lead healthy, full lives. That is why we recommend commercially produced foods unless the pet has an underlying medical condition, in which case we often recommend a veterinary therapeutic diet.” Beyond relying on properly prepared and packaged foods designed specifically for dogs and cats, Dr. Fascetti urges a degree of skepticism about casual “collection” of pet information, including blogger posts and other anecdotal data.
“People will ask their neighbours or the person who sits next to them in the office when they really need to be speaking with their vet who knows them and knows their pet and can make sure they get the best advice for different conditions and stages of life including age, activity level, even any work the pet is expected to do,” said Dr. Fascetti. Vets are also more capable of handling pet weight problems – no light matter given that approximately 56% of dogs and 60% of cats in the U.S. are considered overweight. Her greatest concern, though, is a growing reliance on the internet, with pet owners often accepting opinion as fact.
“They don’t realize that what someone posts may not have been reviewed scientifically and there is no body of evidence supporting the claim. Go on the internet and you can read all kinds of things that have no basis in fact,” she said. “There is this idea, for instance, that grains cause cutaneous adverse food reactions often referred to by owner as food allergies. Corn is heavily maligned and a lot of people are now afraid to give their animals grains of any kind. But if you look at the reports, the research doesn’t support the idea that there is a relationship between corn or other grains and what pet owners call allergies. Most food reactions are the result of animal-based protein.” The 2020 Caribbean Veterinary Conference will be held in St. Kitts and Nevis in November.