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Where did all the food myths come from?

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

The development of myths often has a foundation somewhat loosely on facts which have developed to suit the needs of individuals or groups. In the case of feeding pets the development of these pet food myths appear to be in part, misguided for the good of pets, but mostly for the commercial gain of pet food companies.

When we look back at the advent of commercial pet foods and the evolutionary history of the advertising designed to promote and maximise sales of these products we can see how the unsuspecting pet owner, intent on doing right by their pet, has been led to believe the only way to truly care for their pet is with commercial pet food.

If we start at the beginning when commercial pet foods were new to the market, Pet food companies were battling with the 'do-it-yourself' pet owners who were confident in the knowledge that they could successfully feed their pets themselves without the aid of commercial pet food. With many on tight budgets there were campaigns offering cash incentives such as "cash refund of more than half the price you pay" offered by Milk-Bone dog biscuits (TM) . Then there were the time-poor pet owners juggling the commitments of work and family, promised the added convenience with slogans like "faster, easier mixing" suggesting the commercial food was just like you would make yourself only quicker and easier. With these early campaigns there was an increase in the use of processed foods in place of raw foods and the myths surrounding pet health identified by Dr Billinghurst in his book "give your dog a bone"[1] began to develop.

The first myth identified by Dr Billinghurst was that modern domesticated dogs have a weaker digestive system than their wild counterparts. The belief that the bacteria found on raw meat poses a health risk when fed to our pets much like it would for people and that it can cause gastric upsets and therefore should be avoided. This concept appears to have evolved with no scientific basis but simply with assumptions from the human condition with many sources citing concerns raised by the FDA, for example WebMD [2], an online blog cited "... threats to human and dog health from bacteria in raw meat" as a reason why raw meat should not be fed. Obviously raw meat contains bacteria and hygiene is important regardless of whether it's prepared for pets or people, however, when you go back to the factual source the FDA [3] clearly states the risks to pet owners, and not the pets themselves. An extensive search failed to find any scientific studies identifying the digestive system of the modern dog was any less suited to a raw diet than for their wild ancestors.

The second of Dr Billinghurst’s myths, that dogs should not eat bones makes little sense when you consider the natural instincts to hunt, take down and devour whole prey, bones and all without issue for many modern-day domestic dogs living in rural settings. However, there are some known health risks and many well publicised horror stories related to dogs eating bones such as webmd [2], reporting whole bones can choke an animal or viovet[4] who state the risk for dogs that 'inhale' their food rather than chew it properly with large chunks of bone able to splinter and/or cause blockages in the same way cooked bones are known to do. Understandably these health risks can be of great concern and undoubtedly have led to the mainstream advice recommending dogs should not eat bones. This aversion to feeding bones has of course led to other issues, particularly dental health, which has then led pet food companies to come to the rescue promoting special dental diets and so-called teeth cleaning products such as 'dentastix' paired with advertising slogans such as "4 out of 5 dogs over the age of 3 suffer gum disease". It appears that with every new issue arising from the use of commercial diets another commercial product has been produced to 'fix the problem' and the myths continue to grow, as do the health issues our pets face.

The third myth identified by Dr Billinghurst is perhaps the most prevalent in that it crosses both the commercial processed pet foods and also the at home DIY options. The idea that all pet food should be cooked. A review of literature provides an interesting perspective in that Vets such as L. Freeman[5] outline the destructive effects of heat processing on nutrients casting doubt over the efficacy of commercial foods but then they also suggest that home prepared meals should be cooked. It’s not surprising then that mainstream vet practices and various websites such as which discuss pet food nutrition share the view that all pet food should be cooked.

The fourth myth, that you need a degree in nutrition to feed a dog successfully suggests a complexity in their nutritional requirements well beyond that of any other animal. Historically pets have suffered from diseases caused by nutritional deficiencies in their diets such as calcium deficiency [6], the advertised solution to this was the advent of the 'complete and balanced' commercial food with the missing nutrient added. Over time as new diseases developed new products were developed to combat them bringing us to the current situation with shelves stocked full of ‘complete and balanced diets’, and ‘prescription diets. Many proudly touting ‘recommended by vets’ on the label. This complexity in the commercial pet food arena suggests, by its very existence, that pet nutrition is a very complex topic. The advice available to the pet owner wishing to avoid commercial foods is to seek the advice of a nutritionist. Websites such as vetopia [7] go even further suggesting a diet comprised by a nutritionist should also be approved by a vet, adding yet another level of ‘perceived’ complexity.

These four myths have all worked to reinforce the idea that the best way to feed your pet is with a commercial food, the fifth and final myth identified by Dr Billinghurst. Essentially, you have the processed & therefore safe commercial pet food for the sensitive digestive system of the modern dog, in safe bite sized kibble or soft and easily swallowed format if you prefer. All precooked or heat treated making it super convenient, easy to store whilst also being developed by scientists and vets who understand the complex nutritional needs of the modern dog. This is in comparison to the raw diet, riddled with dangerous bacteria, with bones that can splinter and cause dangerous blockages, that must be carefully prepared and cooked taking valuable time and unless done to a specific recipe created by nutritionists and vets will leave your pet in danger of serious illness.

As a modern pet owner, we rely on the advice of professionals, this advice invariably includes the myths as well as the scientifically sound, the problem arises when we can't distinguish between the two, when fiction becomes the accepted truth. As a professional, we have a responsibility to ensure our advice is scientifically sound, is evidence based, and is appropriate for the situation, pets and owners.


[1] Billinghurst, I. Give your dog a bone, self-published, 1993.

[3] U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Manufacture and Labelling of Raw Meat foods for Companion and Captive Noncompanion Carnivores and Omnivores. November 2004. Viewed 22 March 2020.

[5] Freeman, L., Michel, K.E., 2001, ‘Evaluation of raw food diets for dogs’, Journal of the American veterinary association, Vol. 218, No. 5, pp 705-709.

[6] Syme, B. Vet’s all natural, Scientific Guide to Natural Nutrition. Self-published, 2011.


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