There’s a popular myth that’s been circulating for at least the last 15 years, and probably more. The myth is this : veterinarians don’t know anything about nutrition because veterinary schools don’t teach nutrition. While there may be veterinarians that don’t have much interest in nutrition topics, and there may be veterinarians that paid little attention during their nutrition classes, I’d be shocked to hear of a veterinarian that has graduated in the last 15-20 years that did not receive thorough training in nutrition. I don’t just mean training in how the various animal species utilize food, but at least a cursory understanding of what makes for healthy food across a number of species.
Speaking from personal experience, I would be the last person you’d want to ask about feeding your cow, horse, pig, or chickens. That’s not because I didn’t learn it in school, it’s because I’ve since forgotten! My practice is limited to dogs and cats, and without regular use of knowledge, that knowledge will fade. However, any small animal veterinarian worth his or her salt will have a very good grasp of the good, better, and best foods for your dog or cat.
Why do I bring this up? Because, there seems to be a misinformation campaign being waged by retailers of pet foods, bloggers, and other self-appointed experts, suggesting that the veterinarian is at best less knowledgeable than the employees at these stores or the writer of a blog, and at worst conspiring with pet food manufacturers to poison the nation’s pet population.
Think about that for a minute. I regularly hear pet owners tell me, after asking my opinion on what food to feed their pet, that they are going to take the advice of the pet store worker over mine. Why? “Because he or she works at a pet store and they really knows a lot about animals, pet food, and nutrition”. I don’t mean to suggest that these folks are not extremely well-meaning, or even knowledgable. They most certainly are in my cases. But, I’ve yet to find a follower of these pet store experts that could give me the first idea of the employee’s educational background, or length of time spent in the pet industry. My educational credentials are posted on the wall in my office. From this “lamb skin”, anyone can discover that I have a doctorate degree in veterinary medicine (4 years of schooling after undergraduate college) and that I have been in the veterinary profession for 17 years (assuming some simple math skills – it is 2014 as I write this).
To be sure, the retail employee has had some training and possibly some encouragement from a supervisor regarding the most appropriate foods to recommend. But to suggest that the 19 year old working at the local big box pet store is more knowledgeable, or has a more unbiased opinion with respect to your pet’s nutritional needs than your veterinarian, is laughable. Am I stating that every veterinarian knows what’s best for your dog or cat, or that opinions are universal and settled? Absolutely not. What I am suggesting is that after visiting the pet food retailer of your choice, ask you veterinarian for his or her diet recommendation. And then take it to heart. It is infinitely more in her or his best interest for your pet to be healthy and not nutritionally challenged (after all, your vet is licensed by your state veterinary medical board, and somewhat responsive and subject to a code of ethics and professional standards). What benefit accrues to the store employee if you pick a good food versus a bad food? Will he or she receive a raise, or be reprimanded by the boss based on the food you select? I don’t know. Is she going to explain her choice or recommendation to you after your pet develops gastrointestinal issues, a skin condition, or just doesn’t thrive on a particular food choice? It’s doubtful. Will you feel you have the right to question her recommendation? You shouldn’t. No more than you should ask your local grocer (as opposed to your pediatrician) what is the most nutritious food for your children, neither should you rely on the opinion of a retail employee when deciding the best food to provide for your beloved family pet. Think about where your information is coming from, and don’t just do what “that guy” said…
Todd Worrell, DVM