This is obviously a contentious topic, but I was curious if you could shed some light on some of the comments I have heard over the years. My vet has always recommended the big 5 brands for the reasons mentioned in your other comments. I have heard opinions, particularly in the rescue community, that these brands are junk, filler, and low quality. Specifically I have been alerted to concerns that there is nothing preventing these companies from using road kill, diseased animals, or euthanized animals in their kibble.
Any thoughts on this particular claim or why these brands have been labeled poor quality outside of veterinary community? Do you think it is because these brands typically offer foods at all price points and those formulas vary in ingredients and quality?
I am always sad to hear criticism of potential adopters for feeding one of the big 5 brands. These people are likely just following their vet’s recommendation, which to me is a hallmark of responsible pet ownership.
There’s so much going on here with these claims, it’s hard to parse all of the countervailing trends that led to this. But truly, this is primarily feelings based propaganda spread by boutique brands and holistic vets who spurn anything that wasn’t invented before 1950.
Blue Buffalo was among the first big brands to start marketing “whole ingredients, real meat, no fillers” but others followed suit pretty quickly. They did a whole bunch of targeted marketing around “feeding dogs like wolves” and “natural diets” and “biologically appropriate ingredients” none of which are based in science, but FEEL logical and true.
And at the same time humans were starting to hear really bad things about HUMAN health about sugar (high fructose corn syrup has been pushed by the corn industry! It’s totally making us fat!), and gluten free diets were becoming a trend rather than a medical necessity for people with specific diseases. So when dog diets were being marketed as “no corn or wheat!” it triggered a “hell yeah, that’s healthier!” reaction in a ton of people. Even though there’s nothing wrong with gluten, and the corn in dog food is not remotely the same as high fructose corn syrup.
The term fillers is undoubtedly from boutique brands too. Fillers are ingredients that serve no nutritional value, but bulk up volume. Stuff like corn and wheat are packed with critical nutrients, and science-backed brands know how to use them in a balanced formula so that dogs are getting a wide range of digestible nutrients. Nobody can ever name what a filler is beyond a few grains they decide are bad.
I think it would be remiss to not mention the melamine scandal too, which happened in the late aughts 2007ish. It hit tons of dog food companies, baby formula, and human food so it was hardly just Purina’s fault or something. But stuff being shipped in from China was being cut with melamine for a bunch of complex sociopolitical reasons (little quality regulation coupled with state pressure to maximize profits and growth and several unscrupulous manufacturers).
It was a wake up call for pretty much the entire food industry that not all countries are going to have the same regulations and that can cause consequences. There have also been MASSIVE overhauls in testing, import due dilgence, and general quality control since that time. But “Big Kibble” took a big hit.
Mostly misinformation perpetuated by boutique brands, combined with human wellness trends that largely were also not based in science or evidence. And alllll of this started happening pretty soon after it become normal to do “internet research” and a a huge variety of blogs and social media groups and dog discussion boards showed up. That just set fire to how quickly some of this misinformation could spread.
One thing I’ve noticed also is this wider societal trend to believe everything is “rigged” and to spurn expertise. I am not one to deny that capitalism sucks and we should be careful where we get our info from, and the biases that go into it. But that doesn’t mean spurning vet consensus and reams of scientific information writ large just because we can more openly acknowledge corporations are probably bad as a society.
This kind of thinking FEELS like critical thinking too. You’re “digging deeper” than the “narrative” and it makes sense to people that corporations might be screwing them. Largely because in a lot of other arenas, corporations are screwing them. The obvious difference to me, is that any food you feed your dog in most places is going to come from a corporation. Boutique brands aren’t exempt from that profit motive. Chicken manufacturers if you feed raw still suck.
I just think this righteous skepticism of corporations is unduly placed on the only corporations that are bothering to demonstrate some due diligence. I don’t think Purina or Hills or whoever are flawless, I just think they’re, on balance, the safest option for the vast majority of people.