The Myth of 100% Complete Pet Food

Every day, people by the millions pour food from a package into their pet’s bowl. Day in and day out, meal after meal, pets get the same fare. This strange phenomenon is widely practiced by loving pet owners who believe they are doing the right thing.

Why? Certainly because it is convenient, but also because the labels state that such foods are “complete and balanced,” “100% complete,” or that they have passed various analytical and feeding test standards. Furthermore, manufacturers, and even veterinarians, counsel pet owners about not feeding other foods, such as table scraps, because of the danger of unbalancing these modern processed nutritional marvels. The power of the message is so great that pet owners en masse do every day to their pets what they would never do to themselves or their children – force-feed the same processed food at every meal.

Think about it. Our world is complex beyond comprehension. It is not only largely unknown, it is unknowable in the “complete” sense. In order for nutritionists and manufacturers to produce a “100% complete and balanced” pet food, they must first know 100% about nutrition. However, nutrition is not a completed science. It is, in fact, an aggregate science, which is based upon other sciences, such as chemistry, physics, and biology. But since no scientist would argue that everything is known in chemistry, or physics, or biology, how can nutritionists claim to know everything there is to know about nutrition, which is based upon these sciences? This is the logical absurdity of the “100% complete and balanced” diet claim. It is the reason a similar venture to feed babies a “100% complete” formula turned out to be a health disaster.

In that instance, after sufficient disease and death resulted from attempting to retire the human breast to a mere appendage of adornment, government stepped in and controlled the commercial hype. Now doctors, nurses and purveyors of baby formulas cannot say these products are complete or that they are equal to or superior to breast-feeding. Good for the regulators. (Although they should have been proactive and prevented the disaster before it ever took root, not have merely stepped in after enough deaths accrued.)

Even with that lesson as a dire warning, pet food regulators turn a blind eye. Instead of preventing pet food producers from claiming a processed food concoction is 100% complete, they in effect promote the death and disease-dealing specious claim by setting bogus standards that supposedly justify and authenticate the claim. They legitimize sloppy science in order to win consumer confidence. All a manufacturer has to do is guarantee that their percentage of protein, fat and the like meets National Research Council standards. In the alternative, manufacturers can do feeding trials on caged laboratory animals for a few weeks, measure cursory blood parameters, and monitor growth and weight – as if survival after a few weeks on a food has anything to do with achieving optimal health and long life!

Down the primrose path millions of trusting pet owners go while at the same time unknowingly condemning their pets to terrible degenerative diseases. Pet food regulators then spend the majority of their time harassing pet food companies with picayune requirements about terminology on packaging and where certain words must be placed on labels. In this regard manufacturers must contend with the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), FDA (Food and Drug Administration), AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials), and 50 State feed regulatory agencies. All for naught. It’s like the entire police force busying themselves ticketing people for jaywalking while turning a blind eye to the murder and rape going on in the alleys.

Claiming that anything is 100% is like claiming perfection, total knowledge, and absolute truth. Has pet nutrition really advanced that far? Does a chemist make such a claim? A physicist? Doctor? Professor? Did Einstein, Bohr, Pasteur, Aristotle, Plato, or any of the greatest minds in human history make such claims? No. Has the science of pet nutrition advanced to the point where everything is known about the physiology, digestion and biochemistry of animals, or that everything is known about their food? Certainly not.

The fact of the matter is that the “100% complete” claim is actually “100% complete” guesswork. At best, one could say that such a claim is the firm possibility of a definite maybe.

Each time regulatory agencies convene to decide how much of which nutrients comprise “100% completeness,” debate always ensues and standards usually change. This not only proves that what they claimed before was not “100% complete,” but this should also make us highly suspicious about what they now claim to be “100% complete.”

Moreover, consider that in order to determine the minimum requirement for a certain nutrient – say protein – all other nutrients used in the feeding trials must be adequate and standardized. Otherwise, if vitamin E, for example, is in excess or is deficient in the basal diet, how would one know if the results of the study were because of the effects of protein or due to something amiss with the level of vitamin E?

If the minimum requirements for all 26+ essential nutrients were all set and absolutely etched in stone, that would be one thing. But they aren’t. They are constantly changing. This means each time any nutrient requirement is changed, all test results for all other nutrients using the wrong minimum for this nutrient would then be invalid. Most nutritionists simply ignore this conundrum, feeling like cowboys trying to lasso an octopus – there are just too many loose ends. But they continue to perpetuate the “100% complete” myth, and excuse themselves by saying they make adjustments when necessary. An apology of “I’m sorry,” when the false premise of “100% completeness” is still retained, deserves no forgiveness.

Also consider that virtually all so-called complete pet foods are vigorously heat processed to gelatinize the unnatural starch components (making them “digestible” – meaning more easily converted to glucose) and to extend shelf-life by sterilization. Dry foods are extruded at hundreds of degrees and hundreds of pounds of pressure. Canned foods are retorted. Commercial pet foods also contain a mix of ingredients including meats, fats, starches (a variety of label dressing “natural” ingredient buzzwords) and vitamin/mineral “fortifiers.” Although the ingredient label is evocative and beguiling, what is in the final product is another matter. Essential fatty acids are oxidized and isomerized. Cytotoxic, mutagenic and carcinogenic cholesterol oxidation products (COP) are formed, including C-7 derivatives, 5,6-epoxides, triols, 25-OHs and 3,5-dienes – the real culprits in human atherogenesis, incidently. The cooked meats form heterocyclic amines, proteins are degraded and amino acids destroyed or racemized. Carbohydrates are glycated, acrylamides are formed, vitamins destroyed, oxidized and racemized and minerals are complexed into unavailable matrices. The end result is a potpourri of imbalance, unavailability and toxicity – not “100% completeness.”

Yes, pets can survive for a time on such fare, but that is simply a testament to their physiological capacity to adapt. They seek equilibrium at higher and higher levels of toxicity until adaptive reserve is exhausted. Chronic degenerative diseases and immune failure is the end result.

The point is, don’t believe the claim on any commercially prepared pet (or human) food that it is “100% complete and balanced.” It is a spurious unsupported boast, intended to build consumer trust and dependence on commercial products – not create optimal health.

Unfortunately, most people think animal feeding is a mystery. It is not. Animal nutrition is not a special nutritional science to which common sense human nutrition principles cannot be applied. Use the same reasoning in feeding your pets that you use for feeding your family. Nutrition is also not about some special ingredient, the absence of some boogeyman ingredient, or claims such as “natural,” “organic,” or the like.

If you feed processed foods, use discernment since just about anyone can create a commercial pet food. The pet food industry has hundreds of brands. Business profiteers and the occasional movie star are the most common forces behind the labels. All one needs is a little money and they can go to any number of toll manufacturers and have them slightly modify a shelf formula. Then all that is needed is to dress it all up with a fancy package, a clever brochure, and some advertising. Voila! Another brand is added to the 20-billion-dollar pet food industry heyday.

Nutrition is a serious health business, not a mere opportunity to turn dollars. Check the credentials of the decision maker at the head of the company you are entrusting your pet’s health to and examine closely its operating philosophy. Health competence and principle should come before pretty packaging and beguiling hoopla. The public is not well served by exclusively feeding products from companies without any real commitment to health… or knowledge of how to even achieve it.

For the past 25 years, I have been a lonely voice in the wilderness trying to get people to understand the deadly health consequences of feeding processed pet foods exclusively. People want convenience in a bag and the industry wants the flow of billions of dollars to continue uninterrupted. In the meantime, the scientific literature offers compelling proof that millions of animals have been maimed and killed as a result of feeding thoroughly tested “100% complete” foods… with the full imprimatur of government regulation. (Exactly the same thing that abounds in the FDA-pharmaceutical industry.)

Examples of pet food disasters include dilated cardiomyopathy from taurine deficiency, potassium imbalances, fatty acid and carnitine deficiencies and numerous other problems that would be expected on a steady diet of dead, devitalized, carbohydrate-based processed foods. Moreover, the whole panoply of human chronic degenerative diseases such as cancer, obesity, arthritis, autoimmunities, dental deterioration and organ failure are at epidemic levels in the pet population… as should be expected on such a diet.

“Thousands of pet cats die each year with dilated cardiomyopathy… observed in… cats fed commercial cat food…” (Science, Volume 237, pages 764-8)

Not only is feeding the same processed food day in and day out a formula for disease, it is a cruelty to pets. It is one thing to take them from their interesting and active wild setting and confine them, but to not even offer them interesting natural meal variety is really quite inexcusable. The answer, like everything else good in life, is a little attention and common sense. Knowledge is the best beginning point.

Further reading and resources of scientific references:
Wysong, R. L. (2002). The Truth About Pet Foods. Midland, MI: Inquiry Press.
Science, Volume 237, pages 764-8
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Volume 199, pages 731-4
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Volume 201, pages 267-74
Feline Practice, Volume 20, Number 1, page 30
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Volume 202, pages 744-51
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Volume 191, pages 1563-8
Journal of Nutrition, Volume 129, pages 1909-14
Journal of Nutrition, Volume 126, pages 984-8
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Volume 203, pages 1395-1400
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Volume 198, pages 647-50
Veterinary Clinics of North America Small Animal Practice, Volume 19, pages 527-37
Veterinary Forum, Volume 9, pages 34-5
Veterinary Forum, Volume 9, pages 26-8
American Journal of Veterinary Research, Volume 62, pages 1616-23
Petfood Industry, May/June 1998, pages 4-14
Journal of Animal Science, Volume 75, pages 2980-5
Veterinary Business, Volume 2, page 1
Waltham International Focus, Volume 3, Number 1, page 9