Dog Food Logic

Case - Dog Food LogicPUBLISHING YEAR: 2014

SUMMARY: Review of the relevant scientific research and industry facts about dog food.

AUDIENCE: This book is accessible to science-curious owners – you don’t need a degree in biochemistry to follow it. And it should be compulsory reading for any dog professional before they venture an opinion about owners’ food choices.

01 OwnerAuthor
Linda Case, whom I had interviewed years ago, is a successful science writer, author, and companion animal nutrition consultant. She has a MSc in animal nutrition and used to be an animal science and behaviour lecturer at the University of Illinois and at the College of Veterinary Medicine. Linda Case also has had her own dog training school for over twenty five years.

Style and contents

At over 200 (wide) pages and with a small font, this book is a sizable read. You will need to invest quite a bit of time to get through it.

It aims to educate you on the finer points of dog nutrition – and it does a great job of it.

  • It gives you the facts on the fad diets: raw food, vegetarianism, GMO-free, gluten-free, “natural”, etc.
  • It also explains what ingredients are more or less likely to induce or reduce health problems.
  • The book also teaches you how to read the labels on dog food packaging so you do not fall prey to unfounded claims.
  • It teaches you the distinctions that really matter: food that is appropriate to your dog’s size (small/huge); age (pup/not/senior); and activity level (champion/not) so you can discard the ridiculously specialized labels.
  • It tells you what ‘organic’ and other label claims really means (or do not mean)

In terms of style, Linda Case has made the leap from academic text to popular science: it is breezy and accessible whilst staying rigorous and not stooping to patronising levels. Warning: Some sections are fact-dense and will require a bit of work to stay with it. After all, complicated concepts like the intricate network of regulatory organisations and policies and the finer points of nutrient metabolization are tackled.

The book was full of humour bombs and human moments. None of that ivory tower writing to be found here. Linda Case knows how to bring the points she makes back to real-life so you vividly understand their relevance in how you feed your dog.

The gems

One of the main reasons this book struck such a chord with me is its unapologetic anti-pseudoscience stance. As a well-known proponent of an evidence-based approach to dogs, Linda Case rams into wild marketing claims, speculation-made-fact and emotional appeal with verve. And rightly so. Let’s see some of the pithiest examples:

  • “… it is popular for proponents of complementary and alternative medicine to quip ‘The plural of anecdote is data.” This is an untrue and quite misleading statement. The plural of anecdote is anecdotes. Simply having more unreliable evidence does not add up to reliable evidence.” (p. 34)
  • “So, even if the image of their Toy Poodle as an efficient, pack-hunting predator feasting on the raw flesh of a recently killed caribou appeals to a certain type of dog owner, that image is a fiction that is not supported by scientific evidence.” (p. 125)
  • “The next time that you find yourself standing in the pet food aisle, staring wistfully at the bag of food that shows (put  your dog’s breed here) running happily through a field, ears flapping, face smiling, tells you that it is “veterinarian recommended,” has the word “natural” any place on the label, … put down the biscuit box, step away and look for the nutritional science information. … If on the other hand, you come across a biscuit box that includes a photograph of Johnny Depp plus a smiling Toller, please buy a case and send it to me.” (p. 168)
  • “…. the word natural … is meaningless at best and misleading at worst” (p. 176)
  • The table mocking wild claims (p.182) is hilarious.
    • About the claim to contain natural chicken: “… is there such a thing as unnatural chicken?”
    • About the claim to be accented with vitamin-rich vegetables: “Accented? Really now.”
    • About the claim to contain active nutrients: “It is unclear how exactly a nutrient can be active.
    • About the Protein-focused formula claim “As opposed to protein-ignoring?”
    • About the Life Source Bits label: “Life Source Bits? Really?”
    • About Farm-raised fruits and vegetables: “All fruits and vegetables are “raised” on farms.”

I lurve, lurve, luuuurve it when a book cites the source of the statements it makes. So kudos for Linda Case for being a good evidence crusader and adding clear references to the relevant passages.

Finally! A book that suggests the % of each nutrient group for pups, middle age, athlete and senior dogs. I had been looking for a decent source of this information for ages. There is also a handy calorie table with the same categories.

The chapter on recalls sent shivers down my spine. As much as I hate the idea that I need a PhD in nutrition to be an appropriate advocate for my dog, it looks like A LOT of research is needed before you can make the responsible choice, as the manufacturers are anything but transparent.

I was also scandalized by the chapter on health claims. Apparently, it is not illegal to make health claims on dog food packaging without a shred of evidence as long as they refer to form or function rather than make specific disease-related outcomes. So you may claim – without a shred of evidence to back it up – that your food helps control plaque but you may not say that it prevents gingivitis (that would be a drug claim).

I liked the tid-bits and did-you-knows that were scattered throughout the book, like the fact that there is little evidence to substantiate the common wisdom that dry food helps reduce the build-up of plaque.

Possible points for optimization

Some passages were overly detailed considering the target audience, in my opinion. Future editions of the book might not be that negatively affected even if many passages were slashed or drastically reduced.

Whilst the reader needs to understand basic logical fallacies, cognitive biases and research design to be on-board with the evidence-based message, this was not supposed to be a book about scientific skepticism. I will never tire of anti-pseudoscience crusades, but many other science-educated readers (likely the bulk of the readership for this book) might find these passages bulky.

As a European reader, it was hard for me to extrapolate the chapters on US laws and regulations to my situation.

A glossary would have been a really nice touch.

The verdict 

I’d never been a dog foodie. I’d always thought of people who researched their dog food choices to be a little precious. The book changed my mind. I realized that my dogs derives 99.9999% of his food from one source. Sure my choice of spaghetti for myself isn’t critical, but if spaghetti was the only thing I ate, I would be a lot more diligent about it. Having read the book, not only do I feel like I can take more informed decisions about my dog’s nutrition, but I have also become a more effective advocate for my client’s dogs when their owners wax lyrical about the latest food fad.

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Author: Case Linda P
Genre: pop science
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