Pet Myths & Facts
Animal digest is a high-quality ingredient that provides an excellent source of protein and enhances the palatability of pet foods
The word "digest" in "animal digest" refers to the digestive process used in production, not the ingredients.
- The process starts with animal protein—such as muscle and soft tissue—supplied by USDA-inspected facilities
- These ingredients are hydrolyzed or "digested" to break down the animal protein into peptides in a manner similar to digestion in the body
- The resulting digest is in a liquid, but can also be made into a paste or powder
- Animal digest provides protein and flavor
- Animal digest is extremely palatable and is an excellent source of high-quality protein
- It's often used in small amounts to enhance the taste of dry pet foods
- Spraying animal digest on kibble or mixing it with the food significantly increases palatability
By-products are an excellent source of protein and other nutrients
A by-product is any ingredient that is produced or left over when some other product or ingredient is made (broth and gelatin are examples of meat by-products in human foods). By-products in pet foods that meet Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines come from clean animal parts other than meat, such as liver, kidneys and other organs.1 Purina® purchases all by-products from USDA-inspected plants. They must meet stringent criteria for nutrient content, production and quality assurance.
By-Products Can Be
By-Products Can't Be
- By-products can be more nutritious than meat alone
o Muscle meat is deficient in many nutrients, including calcium, other minerals and vitamins. Many of these missing nutrients are abundant in meat by-products or poultry by-products
o By-products are also an excellent source of protein and amino acids
o For example, poultry by-product meal contains 60% to 70% protein and can be highly digestible2
- By-products can be an excellent source of protein and amino acids (poultry by-product meal contains 60%–70% protein and can be highly digestible)2
1. Wortinger A. Nutritional myths. J Amer Anim Hosp Assoc. 2005;41(4):273—276.
2. Murray SM, et al. Raw and rendered animal by-products as ingredients in dog diets. J Nutr. 1998;128(12):2812S—2815S.
Cats and Carbs
A feline diet containing high-quality carbohydrates serves as an excellent source of energy
There is a misperception that because cats are carnivores, they should only be fed meat. But like all mammals, cats obtain energy from three macronutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrate.1 In fact, many cells in a cat’s body require glucose (a form of carbohydrate) for energy. And while cats in the wild eat minimal carbohydrates, the domestic cat’s digestive system can readily handle higher carbohydrate levels.
Although cats metabolize carbohydrates differently than dogs and other species, healthy cats can readily digest and metabolize dietary carbohydrates.2
- Carbohydrates in nutritionally complete and balanced diets provide energy, while protein is used for other important functions such as maintenance of tissues and support of the immune system
The intake of excess calories—whether from protein, fat or carbohydrate—contributes to obesity and obesity-related diseases, such as feline diabetes.2
- An inactive lifestyle also can increase the risk for feline obesity and diabetes
- Low-carbohydrate diets are usually higher in fat and calories, which increase the risk for obesity
There are circumstances when a low carbohydrate diet is appropriate:
- For diabetic cats, transitioning to a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet may be beneficial
1. Laflamme DP. Cats and carbohydrates: implications for health and disease. Compend Contin Educ Vet. 2010:E1–E3.
2. de-Oliveira LD, Carciofi AC, Oliveira MCC, et al. Effects of six carbohydrate sources on diet digestibility and postprandial glucose and insulin responses in cats. J Anim Sci. 2008;86:2237–2246.
Corn is an excellent source of many nutrients
It is a myth that plant-based ingredients (like corn) are poorly digested fillers that provide little nutritional value and can cause allergies.
- Corn provides a good source of carbohydrates, protein and essential fatty acids in the diets of dogs and cats
- Corn can be found in many forms, all of which can contribute to nutritious diets. For example, corn gluten meal contains 60% to 70% protein and is an excellent source of essential amino acids. And whole corn or corn meal provides highly digestible carbohydrates as an energy source
- Corn is a good source of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid required by both dogs and cats
- It also contains abundant amounts of antioxidants, such as vitamin E and beta-carotene
- Corn gluten meal is highly digestible
o Corn gluten meal is easy to digest, making its nutrients readily available to your pet
o Corn gluten meal contains many essential amino acids, so when it is properly combined with other protein sources, it can contribute to highly digestible and nutritious diets
- Corn is not a common cause of allergies
o Dogs and cats can develop allergies to any protein, including meats and grains. However, it is estimated that only 10% of allergic skin conditions in dogs and cats are caused by food1
o Corn does not appear on the list of most common food allergies in dogs or cats
o The most common food allergies in dogs are beef, dairy products and wheat, followed by lamb, egg, chicken and soy2
o In cats, the most common food allergies are beef, dairy products and fish
- All Purina® corn is USDA grade 1 or 2, which is traditionally used in human food products
o Purina's standard for all of its pet foods is grades 1 and 2
1. Outerbridge CA. Nutritional management of skin diseases. In: Fascetti AJ, Delaney SJ, eds. Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition. Danvers, MA: Wiley-Blackwell; 2012:157–174.
2. Roudebush P, et al. Adverse reactions to food. In: Hand MS, et al., eds. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition. 4th ed. Topeka, KS: Mark Morris Institute; 2000:431—453.
Food coloring and dyes in pet food do not cause allergic reactions and gastrointestinal upset in pets
Artificial coloring is used in some pet food to give it a more desirable and consistent appearance or to differentiate between flavors in the same product. The quality, digestibility and nutrition of the product is unaffected by the use of artificial coloring. Some colors are derived from natural sources, such as beet powder and turmeric. Small amounts of dyes are used to produce the color.
The dyes commonly used in Purina® formulas have been recognized as safe by the FDA for use in both human foods and pet foods.1
- All FDA-approved dyes have been thoroughly tested and found to not cause any health problems
- Purina does not use any unapproved dyes in pet foods
Independent reviews and studies show that dyes are not responsible for food allergies in dogs and cats.2,3
- Food allergies are most commonly caused by proteins, and food colorants are not proteins
Purina has a long history of producing high-quality, highly nutritious pet foods that are rigorously tested. While a pet food may contain different colors, the nutrition, quality, safety and palatability of the diet are the standards by which it is measured.
1. Verlinden A, Hesta M, Millet S, Janssens GP. Food allergy in dogs and cats: a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2006;46(e):259–273.
2. Guilford WG, Jones BR, Markwell PJ, et al. Food sensitivity in cats with chronic idiopathic GI problems. J Vet Intern Med. 2001;15(1):7-13.
3. Thompson A. Ingredients: where pet food starts. Top Companion Anim Med. 2008;23(3):127–132.
Gluten-free diets are not healthier than regular diets
Gluten from various grains is a nutritious ingredient that provides a concentrated source of protein in pet foods.
Gastrointestinal problems associated with gluten are rare in dogs.
- Gluten-induced enteropathy (celiac disease) is very rare in dogs and has been reported primarily in Irish Setters1
- Pets with celiac disease react to the proteins (gluten) in wheat, rye and barley
- The protein in corn gluten does not cause GI problems, even in individuals with celiac disease
Gluten is an excellent source of high quality protein.
- Gluten is the concentrated protein from grain after all the starch has been removed
- Corn gluten meal contains approximately 60% to 70% protein
- It provides essential amino acids that form the building blocks for protein
- Gluten is highly digestible2
Gluten provides structure to pet food.
- Just as wheat gluten is added to breads to enhance the texture, a small amount in pet food helps canned formulas, kibbles and treats hold their shape
1. Case LP, et al., eds. Canine and Feline Nutrition. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2011:152.
2. Lawrence KR, et al. Comparison of wheat gluten and spray-dried animal plasma in diets for nursery pigs. J Anim Sci. 2004;82(12):3635—3645.
3. Feed Commodity Bulletin. Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK.
4. Hand MS, et al., eds. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition. 4th ed. Topeka, KS: Mark Morris Institute; 2000:141.
Grain-free diets are not healthier
Many pet owners believe that grain-free pet foods are easier to digest, provide pets with better nutrition, and are less likely to cause allergies than pet foods containing grain. The truth is, properly processed grains provide needed nutrients as part of a nutritionally complete and balanced diet.
Properly processed grains are highly digestible.
- While uncooked grains are poorly digested by dogs and cats, properly cooked grains in pet foods are highly digestible
- Dogs and cats can digest properly processed grains very efficiently of greater than 90%1,2
Diets containing grains provide excellent nutrition.3
- Grains are carbohydrates, which are an important source of energy
- Grains also contain fiber, which supports gastrointestinal health and decreases the total fat and calories in a diet
- Essential fatty acids and other nutrients in grains contribute to a healthy skin and coat
- Concentrated protein sources from grains, such as corn gluten meal, can be highly digestible sources of many essential amino acids
Grains are unlikely to cause allergies.
- Less than 1% of dogs are sensitive to grains
- True food allergies are caused by immune reactions to proteins in the diet
- Allergies to proteins in grains can occur, but are far less common than allergies to other protein sources, such as beef or dairy4
1. Carciofi AC, Takakura FS, de-Oliveira LD, et al. Effects of six carbohydrate sources on dog diet digestibility and postprandial glucose and insulin response. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr. 2008;92:326–336.
2. de-Oliveira LD, Carciofi AC, Oliveira MC, et al. Effects of six carbohydrate sources on diet digestibility and postprandial glucose and insulin responses in cats. J Anim Sci. 2008;86:2237–2246.
3. Carbohydrates. In: Case LP, Carey DP, Hirakawa DA, eds. Canine and Feline Nutrition. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 1995:17–20.
4. Verlinden A, Hesta M, Millet S, Janssens GP. Food allergy in dogs and cats: a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2006;46:259–273.
“Natural” and “organic” do not mean the same thing
In grocery stores and pet stores, the terms “natural,” “organic,” and “holistic” are frequently and freely used on packages to imply that foods with these labels are healthier than those without. Natural and organic foods are not necessarily healthier than conventional foods. The USDA makes no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food. Organic food differs from conventionally produced food in the way it is grown, handled and processed. Although pet foods labeled as natural, organic and/or holistic are increasingly popular, the use of these terms can be misleading or confusing when trying to choose the best food for your pet. These terms do not guarantee better nutrition for your pet.
- The Association of American Feed Control Officials defines and regulates “natural” for pet food and animal feed
- It means that the feed or ingredient is derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources that have not been produced by a chemically synthetic process
- Natural feed and ingredients do not contain any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic
- However, chemically synthesized vitamins, minerals and other trace nutrients are acceptable
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program defines and regulates “organic” for pet food and human food
- “Organic” refers to the way a crop or animal is grown, raised and handled
o Organic crops must be grown on land free from pesticides for three years
o Organic livestock is fed organic feed, is not given antibiotics or hormones and has access to the outdoors
- Not all foods labeled organic contain only organic ingredients. There are four levels of organic foods:
1. 100% organic
2. Organic (95%)
3. Made with organic (70%–95%)
4. <70% organic
- The USDA organic seal shows that the pet food is certified, pet foods with that seal must contain 95%–100% organic ingredients.
- It is a vague term that can have many meanings
- As it refers to pet food, “holistic” is not defined or regulated by any organization
Preservatives are added to ensure pet food remains wholesome and nutritious during distribution and storage1
Preservatives called antioxidants are added to commercially prepared dry foods to help prevent spoilage and breakdown of nutrients. Preservatives used in Purina® pet foods are the same ones approved by the FDA for human foods. Fats, proteins and vitamins are the critical nutrients that require preservation during storage. Fats may break down during storage if not properly preserved. Antioxidants guard against oxidative destruction of fat and other nutrients to help preserve the nutritional quality of the food.
Preservatives or antioxidants can be categorized into two basic types:
- Natural antioxidants2
- Found in certain grains, vegetable oils, herbs and spices
- The most effective and commonly used natural antioxidants are mixed tocopherols (vitamin E compounds) that are primarily obtained from soybean oil or other vegetable oils
- Synthetic antioxidants2,3
- They’re 5–10 times more effective than natural antioxidants
- They are more stable and better able to withstand the heat, pressure and moisture used during cooking
- Because higher levels of natural antioxidants are needed, they are sometimes used in combination with synthetic antioxidants to provide an adequate level of protection
- Some of the FDA-approved synthetic antioxidants used in human and pet foods include BHA, BHT and TBHQ; they’re proven safe for use in the approved amounts
1. Case LM, Daristotle L, Hayek MG, Raasch MF. Nutrient content of pet foods. In: Case LM, Daristotle L, Hayek MG, Raasch MF, eds. Canine and Feline Nutrition. 3rd ed. Maryland Heights, MO: Mosby Elsevier; 2011:141–162.
2. Wortinger A. Nutritional myths. J Amer Anim Hosp Assoc. 2005;41:273–276.
3. Aldrich G. Ingredient Myths That Have Altered the Course of Pet Food: Byproducts, Synthetic Preservative and Grains. Nestlé Purina Companion Animal Nutrition Summit; 2013;10–19.
A raw food diet might not be the right diet
Feeding pets food a raw diet can expose your pet and your family to harmful microorganisms, physically injure your pet and lead to nutritional imbalances. Raw meat and poultry may be contaminated with harmful microorganisms, such as salmonella.1
- Feeding raw meat to pets can expose them to bacteria, parasites and protozoa
- Preparing and feeding a raw diet can expose you, your pet and your family to the same bacteria, protozoa and parasites when you feed a diet containing raw meat to a cat or dog
- These microorganisms pose greater risk to the young, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems
- Salmonella was found in raw diets and fecal samples from dogs fed raw diets, posing a threat to members of the household2
Bones can be hazardous to your pet’s health.
- Raw (and cooked) bones can fracture teeth
- Jagged or sharp points can tear the esophagus, stomach or intestines
- Fragments of bone may become lodged in gastrointestinal tract
Raw diets may not be nutritionally balanced or complete.
- Diets made of mostly meat or poultry and bones may lack important nutrients
- Calcium deficiency is a common problem, which can lead to impaired growth, spontaneous fractures and loose teeth
- Vitamin A toxicity can occur if large amounts of raw liver are fed
1. Schlesinger DP, Joffe DJ. Raw food diets in companion animals: A critical review. Can Vet J. 2011;52(1):50—54.
2. Joffe DJ, Schlesinger DP. Preliminary assessment of the risk of Salmonella infection in dogs fed raw chicken diets. Can Vet J. 2002;43:441—442.
Senior pets don’t need a low protein diet to protect against kidney disease
Years ago, lower protein levels for senior pet diets were recommended as a way to avoid potential kidney damage. Recent studies that have looked dietary protein in healthy older dogs and dogs with kidney failure have shown that protein does not adversely affect the kidneys.1,2 Protein levels in complete, balanced diets do not adversely affect the kidney function of healthy older pets.3 Phosphorus restriction, rather than protein restriction, is important once dogs or cats develop kidney disease.
Senior dogs and cats have a greater need for protein than young adult pets4,5
- Protein requirements actually increase by about 50% in older dogs, while their caloric needs tend to decrease
- Older cats need more protein than younger cats
- Older pets metabolize protein less efficiently; they can benefit from a diet with ample high-quality protein
- Increased protein can actually help slow age-related loss of lean body mass and support a healthy immune system
1. Finco DR, Brown SA, Crowell WA, et al. Effects of aging and dietary protein intake on uninephrectomized geriatric dogs. Am J Vet Res. 1994;55(9):1282–1290.
2. Laflamme DP. Pet food safety: dietary protein. Topics Comp Anim Med. 2008;23(3):154–157.
3. Kealy RD. Factors influencing lean body mass in aging dogs. Proceedings, 1998 Purina Nutrition Forum. Comp Cont Educ Pract Vet 1999;21(11 suppl):34–37.
4. Wannemacher RW Jr, McCoy JR. Determination of optimal dietary protein requirements of young and old dogs. J Nutr. 1966;88(1):66–74.
5. Peterson ME. Optimal protein requirements of older cats and cats with hyperthyroidism. November 7, 2011. http://endocrinevet.blogspot.com/2011/11/optimal-proteinrequirements-for-older.html. Accessed May 1, 2013.
Wheat is a valuable pet food ingredient and not a common cause of pet allergies
Wheat is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates for energy, as well as a source of protein. Including wheat in a pet food as an energy source preserves the animal proteins in the diet for building and maintaining a pet's muscle and tissue. There is a widespread misperception that wheat causes food allergies:
Food allergies are uncommon in dogs and cats.
- Food allergies constitute only a small percentage of allergy problems in pets. While the exact incidence is unknown, it is estimated that only 10% of allergic skin conditions are caused by food1
- Flea bites and environmental allergens, such as pollens, mold and dust mites, are more common triggers of allergic symptoms than food2
Any ingredient can cause an allergy.
- An allergy is an abnormal reaction by the body's immune system to normal substances in the environment, including foods
- Allergies can form to almost any food or ingredient, but the more animals are exposed to a food or ingredient, including wheat, the more likely it is that allergies will develop
- Proteins, especially beef and dairy products, are the most common food allergens in dogs and cats
- Genetics is also a factor in the development of allergies. Certain individuals are predisposed to becoming allergic to something, but no single food is more likely to cause allergies than another
- An elimination diet trial is the only true way to detect an allergy; your veterinarian can prescribe it
- Unless it's been proven to be the culprit through appropriate testing, arbitrarily avoiding a single ingredient, such as wheat, won't prevent allergies from developing
Wheat is a valuable pet food ingredient.
- Wheat is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates for energy, as well as a source of protein
- Including wheat in a pet food as an energy source preserves the animal proteins in the diet for building and maintaining a pet's muscle and tissue
1. Outerbridge CA. Nutritional management of skin diseases. In: Fascetti AJ, Delaney SJ, eds. Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition. Danvers, MA: Wiley-Blackwell; 2012:157–174.
2. Busting the allergy myth. PR Monitor. Spring 2011:15—16.