Pet food misinformation: why you aren’t a bad pet parent

You’re not a bad pet parent. Read that again. You are doing the absolute best you can with the information you have available to you right now. And if you’re making mistakes and you don’t know it yet – that’s okay, that’s how we learn and do better. But you are not a bad owner. You do not need to feel guilty for any of your choices when feeding and caring for your pet.

Why? Because if you feel this way, it’s because a pet food, an influencer, an internet blog, a friend, a breeder, a TikTok…made you feel that way. And that is NOT okay.

I write my blogs to help pet owners understand complex evidence based information in an easy to apply way – not to shame people into my way of thinking. Not to tell them they are stupid or wrong. But to help them help themselves – and their pets.

Today’s blog is all about pet food shaming, understanding sources of misinformation and learning to filter through what is a reputable source of pet nutrition information.

The internet
While you can find some absolutely wonderful information online (see my resources page for some of the places I get my information from), the internet can also be a very negative, opinion based place. Everyone has opinions, but nutrition is a science – sometimes websites and social media can be a haven for misinformation that is shared hundreds and hundreds of times before it reaches you, the pet owner, to try and decipher if it’s true or not, or if there’s any science behind it. Unfortunately, websites that rely heavily on opinion and misinformation tend to be the biggest offenders in shaming and guilting pet owners for their choices in what to feed their pets.

When consuming information online, follow these simple tips to safeguard yourself:
• Use reliable sources of information such as University websites or pages authored by vet professionals or specialists – see my Resources page for sources I use.
• Check the credentials of the person writing the information – do they have qualifications in the topic they are writing about? Where did they get these credentials and is it a reputable educational institution?
• Check the references – Is the information being referenced? Can you access the journals or articles that are referenced in the piece to read for yourself? Sometimes articles will cherry pick information from references so it’s important that you can actually verify the information. If the article is not referencing its claims,  I would safely assume it’s an opinion and can’t be verified as truthful.

As I’ve covered before, there’s a vast array of online courses that will claim to make you a pet nutritionist, a specialist, a dog nutrition expert or some other title that doesn’t actually mean anything. Unfortunately, these titles further confuse pet parents and erode the trust in the true professionals trying to educate pet owners. Often these experts breed mistrust as they preach opinions as facts, or lack the extensive animal health background and study required of true professionals to provide solid evidence based information to the public. So if you spot an expert online, how do you separate the real from the fake?

Follow these simple tips:
• Ask for their credentials – if they are legitimate, they generally will make their credentials available either on their website, or will happily provide you with details of the course they completed.
• Where did they receive their education? Courses provided online are generally not very detailed or requiring in depth study. I look for courses provided through Universities or vocational education and that require significant time and study.
• Legitimate experts have the post-nominals PhD, MSc, DACVN/ECVCN or VTS – these are certified specialists in animal nutrition. Read more in my post here.
• Are they a member of a professional regulatory body? This means they must be held accountable for the information they provide, and can lose their status if they provide misinformation. Usually professionals such as vets, nurses, and registered specialists are part of regulatory bodies.

Having alot of followers doesn’t necessarily qualify you to be an expert in animal nutrition. While influencers aren’t inherently bad, they generally are selling a product or sponsored to recommend something so their reviews and opinions are likely to be biased. I see alot of “petfluencers” who are pet owners recommending products that could potentially be harmful if used inappropriately, or should have a veterinary recommendation to use. Unfortunately these types of influencers often engage in shaming and guilting pet owners to make them feel bad for their choices. Noone should EVER make you feel like a bad pet parent for the way you choose to feed or care for your pet, education is key – if there’s a better way of doing something, explaining why and educating is the way to go about it. It’s also important to remember that if you follow a veterinary influencer and you see them promoting a product, this doesn’t automatically mean it’s a bad product or they only promote it for money – it means they believe in the product and know it has the science and evidence to back it up.

Following a petfluencer? Here’s some tips to avoid misinformation:
• Everyone has an opinion – nutrition is a science, not an opinion so avoid pages that ‘rate’ foods, shame other types of feeding different from their own or cling to marketing and buzzwords to sell a product
• What will they gain from this? If providing a sponsored post or ad, the influencer may receive monetary gain from people purchasing using their discount codes so promoting the product positively (even if it isn’t a good product) serves them.
• As above, do they have any credentials to sell or promote this product? If it’s just a pet parent, then they are only sharing an opinion or a review – not an educational post.
• What’s right for their pet may not be right for yours – nutrition is not one size fits all! What works for their pet may actually make yours very unwell so always ask your vet team or nutritionist before trying a new diet or treat.

If in doubt, ask – the right people
I know it might seem hypocritical to tell people to run far far away from social media coming from someone who spends alot of time on Instagram, but what I’m saying is avoiding people who do not have qualifications to provide information that is unbiased and factual. I find Facebook groups and discussion pages full of misinformation and written by either laypeople or pet nutrition “enthusiasts” who don’t have any formal qualifications in animal nutrition. I find the quickest way to determine if your source of information is reliable is simply asking for credentials – generally people are more than open to tell you where and what they’ve studied. You can use my “everyone’s an expert” post to help you determine what is an appropriate qualification to provide evidence based animal nutrition information.

Still struggling? I offer weekly Q&As to answer questions and debunk myths over on Instagram. If you have a specific question, send me a message via the contact page!