I often get asked why the foods I recommend rate so low on pet food rating websites – let’s take a step back and look at why I don’t use pet food rating websites, and where owners can go for reliable and evidence based information on pet nutrition. Nutrition is nuanced and not one size fits all, which I why I have a problem with “ranking” pet foods. It implies that some foods are better than others, in a completely un-scientific way, which leaves out a huge amount of vital information that pet owners need to make educated and informed choices about pet foods.
Every author will write from their perspective and have a bias. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s vitally important that it is taken into consideration when consuming any information – an author’s bias may colour their recommendations and “ratings”. For example, an author who sells a specific type of food will naturally rate these foods as very good on their website because they believe what they are doing is best and right, therefore any food in the same category or following the same specifications will be rated highly. This is the exact reason that when scientific papers or research is being presented, the authors must declare any conflicts of interest or any sponsorships they’ve received that could be perceived as a bias. Of course, on your own website or opinion pieces, you don’t need to declare these which is why it’s so difficult to get unbiased, scientific information online as so much of what is written is an opinion rather than fact.
2. Author Qualifications
What qualifications does the author have to be writing about pet food? One of the most popular pet food ratings websites actually is written by a human dentist – with no qualifications in veterinary medicine. This breeds misinformation as without a scientific background, pet food can only be rated and discussed on opinions or anecdotes, neither of which provide any information a pet owner can use to make an educated decision on choosing a diet for their pet.
3. Ratings rationale
I take a closer look at how the authors form their ratings. Nine times out of ten there’s nothing scientific about it – rating pet food based on its ingredients, cost, type, what trends it subscribes to and what percentage of carbs it contains really tells you nothing about the quality of the pet food. It also completely ignores what is most important about diets – the safety, trials, research and again, science.
I find most ratings websites are troves of misinformation. Rarely are claims made by the author are backed by evidence or research, and generally the ratings are based on opinions that have been formed through exposure to marketing rather than hard evidence or even anecdotal evidence. As discussed above, the rationale and categories used to grade pet foods are usually informed by marketing and misinformation – while this can very attractive to clients, it contributes to the wider issues that create fear and distrust around pet food and veterinary professionals.
5. Every pet is an individual:
What works for one pet isn’t a blanket, one size fits all – even if pets have similar lifestyles, needs and age, I’ll rarely recommend the same diet to both pets. Nutrition is always an individual thing; while similar diets may provide similar results, every pet will have their own specific requirements and respond differently to a diet. So, when ratings websites mark all foods that have similarities to each other the same, this doesn’t take into account the individual variation in animals and doesn’t provide any indication as to how the diet will work for the pet. This again plays into author bias, when all diets of a similar profile are rated one way or another to try and persuade owners to follow their specific bias.
What do I use instead?
For solid, evidence based comparisons, I look at the Pet Nutrition Alliance’s Dare To Ask tool. This lists and compares pet food companies and manufacturers based on their answers to the WSAVA guideline questions. The Alliance is chaired by Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionists, Manufacturing Associations, Veterinary Technician Specialists in Nutrition and Veterinary Associations, Researchers and Vets representing associations such as WSAVA, AVMA, AAHA, CVMA and ACVN. The website is a treasure trove of information and tools for both owners and professionals. The Dare to Ask tool is currently in the process of collecting updated information and will hopefully add some new manufacturers to the list.
Alternative sources of good, reliable information can be found on the resources page on my website.
The simple answer as to why I don’t use rating websites, is they lack both substance and science. The diets I recommend are based on my knowledge and education in veterinary medicine and pet food, along with ten years of industry experience – not marketing, feelings or opinions. The diets I recommend to clients don’t usually have wolves running through the woods on the front of the bag, or contain fancy buzzwords and emotive language to encourage owners to buy, buy, buy, because what is most important is your pet thriving on a diet that is personalised and individualised to their needs, and is prepared for the upmost safety with evidence to support its claims. And no, I don’t receive kickbacks or monetary gain from recommending any specific brand – but I do get the satisfaction of pets making dramatic improvements in their health when pet owners follow my nutritional advice.
Pet Nutrition Alliance. (2021) About PNA. Available at: http://www.petnutritionalliance.org/site/about-pna
WSAVA Global Nutrition Committee (2021) Selecting a Pet Food. Available at: http://www.wsava.org/global-nutrition-guidelines/global-nutrition-guidelines/
WSAVA Global Nutrition Committee (2021) Savvy Cat Owner’s Guide to Nutrition on the Internet. Available at: http://www.wsava.org/global-nutrition-guidelines/global-nutrition-guidelines/
WSAVA Global Nutrition Committee (2021) Savvy Dog Owner’s Guide to Nutrition on the Internet. Available at: http://www.wsava.org/global-nutrition-guidelines/global-nutrition-guidelines/