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A Complete & Balanced Lie

Before you read.....This is an essay submitted for studies so excuse the formality of the language!


When we look at the myths surrounding canine nutrition there are many common beliefs that have been successfully perpetuated by commercial dog food companies over many decades. Commercial dog foods popularity in the 1960s was the beginning of an almost worldwide clever marketing campaign that fooled pet owners into believing that commercial dog food is the only and best thing to feed your dog. I believe the main reason this misconception was so easily and readily consumed by pet owners was not only because commercial pet food offered a "complete and balanced meal" but also the fact that it is just so convenient, not to mention cheap.  If you give the average pet owner a good reason to feed their pet a certain food, then make it affordable, readily available and easy- there is really no question in the consumers mind why this isn't a perfect solution to taking care of pet nutrition. Add to this the years and years of the idea being passed on from pet owner to pet owner, and the recommendation of such practices by high profile individuals, the average pet owner can hardly be blamed for believing the hype in the first place.

The fabrication that commercial dog food is best for your pet has been developed by the marketing power of the large major pet food companies. This insidious myth started back in the 1950's when dry dog biscuits began to surge in popularity. When viewing pet food advertisements from the 1960's, claims such as "With total nutrition meat alone cannot give", or "Delicious? Of course! But it nourishes completely too!". With ads like these, over the years the pet food companies have successfully managed to make consumers believe that feeding "people food" is dangerous and detrimental, and planted the question why would one bother with a home prepared meal when they can offer a complete and balanced diet in a convenient dry biscuit?

In more modern times, the endorsement of these foods by trusted celebrity vets have created a deep-rooted trust in the industry that most people would never think to question. As Patrick (2006, p. 61) states ""consumers must navigate a fog of misinformation to seek the truth about pet nutrition".  I know that poor nutrition is the reason behind many health problems the dogs of today face but how can pet owners seek the truth to a lie they don't even know exists?

                                                                     (Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash)

"With Global pet food sales expected to top US$75 billion dollars when 2016 is all wrapped up, according to Euromonitor International" (Phillips-Donaldson D 2017) the major players such as Nestle Purina Pet Care, Mars Pet Care and Hills Pet Nutrition have an endless marketing budget that successfully guilts pet owners into believing that what’s in their bags is best. This use of guilt and the creation of fear that feeding anything else is of detriment to our beloved pets is the main reason why this myth has been so well accepted and continues to flourish in society.

The over use of the term "complete and balanced diet" has created doubt in pet owner minds and made a comfortable basis for which multi-nationals could continue to spread deceit. Confused consumers are led to believe that feeding dogs correctly is a difficult science they can't manage. Even just the title of Hills "Science" Diet is enough to make a pet parent assume that it must be good, because it’s based on science. The introduction of veterinary "prescription" diets has only confounded pet owners more. If you are told by a vet that you pet requires a specific food manufactured for a specific condition that your pet suffers then you believe that this is so.

I believe the current situation is comparable to the perception of smoking in the 1950's; despite Richard Dolls findings on the adverse effects of smoking publicized in 1949, it wasn't until the 1970's that the public started to changed their smoking habits. The key change in the turning point for this is cited as "the medias reporting of the dangers of smoking as proven, rather than "controversial" (Patrick 2006). The denial of the adverse effects of smoking from tobacco companies for many years is much like the denial we are seeing from pet food companies of today, insinuating that their offerings of "complete and balanced" meals in a highly processed and cooked dry biscuit is the best we can do for our pets nutritionally.

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Owners spending more on "premium" and "veterinary grade" diets believe that they are doing better for their pets than the sub-standard dry food available at supermarkets. This is due to the trust people place in their veterinarians, and the fact that most advice on canine and feline nutrition is to speak to a vet. Whilst yes, veterinarians are highly skilled and educated individuals on pet medicine, most are only educated on few and specific ways of feeding- commercial diets produced by the largest pet food companies Hills and Royal Canin. The Hills Veterinary Nutritional Advocate Course states misinformation such as “Still, it is BEST to advise clients not to feed any form of people food."  (Veterinary Nutritional Advocate, 2017).

The third main reason I think the misconceptions have advanced is that most of the problems caused are "invisible to the owners’ eye" (Patrick, 2006, p 13). Yes, we are now very aware that processed food is bad for humans and fresh is best, but pet owners have not yet put together the pieces of the poor nutrition puzzle- kibble is causing sicknesses in pets like ongoing allergy problems, obesity, cancer and a plethora of other ailments.

It is only a matter of time before consumers apply the same logic of our own nutrition to our pets- we know that cheap and convenient is generally bad for us.  I think it is difficult for many consumers to stomach that what we have been doing for so long is inherently wrong and has been making our pets sick. No pet owner would knowingly do something every day so harmful to their pets. It is the invisibility of the problem that has allowed it to persist.  Whilst yes "the pricing logic alone should persuade that the animal receives less than adequate nutrition" (Patrick, 2006, p. 60), but while consumers continue being lied to by handsome vets on shiny ads, convenience for perceived value will reign supreme.

                                                  (Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash)

A combination of several damaging factors is what has allowed myths and misconceptions about the way we feed our pets to develop and flourish. By educating consumers we can only hope to unravel the ways in which large pet food companies have twisted the truth of what really is a "complete and balanced diet" for all our furry family members.

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