I view vets as a powerful potential ally in this David versus Goliath-esque effort to shift the status quo on how we feed our cats. But for that shift to happen means vets must start asking some hard, potentially game-changing questions about their own profession’s relationship with the pet food industry. And seek out informed and unbiased information on nutrition. They don’t have to seek me out – I’m just a hopefully decent lay person translator of the science to other non-vets. They’ve got their own game and work to do. I’ve got mine. And I’d like to think we’re all on the same page – desiring what’s best for the critters.
The information vets need to become savvy guides for their clients is not readily available or conspicuous in veterinary education, near as I can conclude. If it were, then there would be many fewer bags of dry food in vet clinics. The shift also requires demand from the ground up — from the consumers of information those paying for cat food who can encourage, if not demand, sane choices.
I understand and am extremely sympathetic to how much harder a vet has it than a human physician – a veterinarian is expected to know how to treat all kinds of species and handle clients who can barely be bothered filling up a gravity feeder with Crappy Meat Flavored Cereal Mix, never mind paying attention to why canned is better than dry.
But the fact is that vets are on the front line. They are the first line of defense against the dominant paradigm that implies, “Dry food is fine, it’s nutritionally complete, and it’s a perfectly fine diet for cats.” While, it may be a lot of work and very overwhelming to make education on nutrition a part of a short veterinary appointment, being overwhelmed doesn’t justify practicing substandard medicine.
Diet is a very big thing to get wrong, after all.
Vets are who people turn to first when they’re looking for guidance on how to feed their animals. And it’s exasperating for me and so many others to see that despite the overwhelming data to the contrary about dry food, most vet clinics are still selling and therefore implicitly endorsing dry food. That’s an awfully strong message that’s being sent. And it harms cats.
There is a spectrum out there and indeed, I talk about that same spectrum on my site. But dry food is clearly at the lowest end of the spectrum and I cannot and won’t ever say it’s okay to exclusively feed dry food to cats. There is at least one grain-free dry food out there now, but that still doesn’t take care of the other key issue for these carnivores, which is that they need to get their moisture with their food since their low thirst drive means that even with supplemental water drinking, a dry-fed cat has about half the moisture intake overall as a cat on canned (or raw) food. The downstream consequences for that in a cat are well known.
Until dry food stops being an acceptable choice to endorse in a vet clinic, the people who look to the veterinary community won’t start getting the message and making healthier choices.
I think that caring vets really want to do what’s best. I also think the odds are stacked against them right now. So my “job,” as I see it, is to join the chorus of voices that can give their clients as much information as possible so that they can ask the hard questions and press the outer edges of the envelope.
Until vets disentangle the knot between financial health of their practice from dependence on the sale of dry food, this problem will remain with us.
If you’re a vet? Thank you being here – you can’t possibly know how happy I am that you’re here. I’d be honored if you would read my open letter and have a look at the sample client handout I’ve prepared. And I’d be happy to hear from you too.