I am a firm believer in responsible pet ownership. I think anyone who decides to become the caregiver of an animal companion has a moral obligation to do everything they can to keep their pet safe, healthy and happy. A major component of that is becoming well versed on what constitutes a proper diet for your pet, and what doesn’t. Just as it is with people, good nutrition is the cornerstone of good health for pets. Many ailments can be prevented simply by feeding a high quality pet food. Moreover, food can have positive or negative effects on pets that do get sick. Given all that, it may surprise you to learn that most veterinary schools devote very little time to the study of nutrition.
In an article titled, “What Do Vets Learn About Nutrition,” holistic veterinarian Shawn Messonnier said, “How much do veterinarians learn about nutrition? The sad answer is not a lot, and often our information is biased.” I also recently listened to a podcast with Amy Cheung, a fourth year vet student in Canada, who said she had 50 hours of course time on pet nutrition. In four years, that’s little more than a week devoted to one of the most important considerations of an animal’s wellbeing.
One has to wonder, if good food is the foundation for health, why isn’t nutrition a priority for vet schools? I don’t really know, but I suppose it can be likened to the study of medicine, wherein most prospective doctors learn little about nutrition unless they plan to specialize in it. Regardless of the reason why so little time is devoted to nutrition in veterinary school, what pet owners need to realize is that they need to learn everything they can about pet food themselves. When it comes to pet nutrition, you can’t assume your vet knows best, yet that’s exactly what many pet owners do. We’re taught that doctors and vets have all the answers to what ails us. In reality, sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Some vets, particularly those that are holistic minded, do take it upon themselves to further their studies in pet nutrition, but you won’t know unless you ask. You can’t assume that the food your vet recommends and sells is the best option for your pet, because it may or may not be.
What pet owners also need to realize is that even those paltry hours devoted to the study of nutrition may be biased, because they were sponsored by a big-name pet food manufacturer. The research, textbooks, study aids and course materials may have all been provided by the pet food company. Further, students are often offered the pet food products for free or a greatly discounted price. Once they graduate, many vets are given a financial incentive to endorse and stock that very same product. It’s not hard to see how this might create a biased viewpoint on pet food, is it?
I personally have taken it upon myself to study the subject of pet food intensively, and I am 100% certain that I know more about it than some of the vets I’ve taken my cats to. Several years ago, after thoroughly researching the benefits and risks of a raw meat diet, and learning how to properly prepare it, I began making my own cat food. During a routine annual check-up, my vet asked me what I was feeding my cat. When I told him, he looked at me like I was positively insane. He wanted me to believe that the bag of commercial dry food on his shelf was far superior to the food I was preparing for my cats. When I pointed out that his “food of choice” contained by-products, fillers, chemical preservatives and other unsavory things that no pet should eat, I was greeted with a blank stare. This vet didn’t “get it,” and I knew right then I was going to find a new vet.
I don’t mean to suggest that there aren’t vets who are well-informed on the subject of pet nutrition. There are, but it’s up to you to educate yourself on what constitutes good pet food, so you will know whether the food they recommend is healthy for your pet, or not. Read up on pet nutrition, and if possible, find a holistic minded vet who can help you choose the right food for your four-legged companion. After all, you want your pet to live a long and healthy life, and good food is one of the best ways to ensure that they do.