Diet Culture Comes for Pets

Woman with DogDisapproval of “diet culture” is quite popular in the media right now. But at the same time, people can’t stop tinkering with their diets. In fact, it seems that diet culture is expanding its circle of influence to engulf our pets.

Now the New York Times reports that people are putting their pets on regimens like paleo, vegan, and gluten-free diets. In the process, they’re fueling a huge pet wellness industry and triggering concerns from pet health advocates.

Sorting Through It All

It is a familiar pattern. Just as faddish diets for humans are prolific, so too are they for our pets. Misinformation and passionate testimonials are everywhere online.

For example, raw food diets are both popular and controversial right now. But they can also lead to issues for the health of a dog. Nutritional deficiencies and microbial contamination can be problematic. But there’s no clear benefit to offset those risks. “There have been no studies that demonstrate any long-term health benefits of raw diets compared to other types of pet food,” says Jennifer Larsen. She is a veterinarian and chief of the nutrition service at UC Davis’ Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital.

Emotional Testimonials Competing with Objective Facts

But still, it seems that emotional testimonials carry the day. Cold, objective facts are a bit less persuasive, which puts vets who feel responsible for a pet’s health in a tough spot. Alex German tells us that he’s very careful. He is a professor of veterinary medicine with particular expertise in the biology of obesity. So he recommends purpose-formulated therapeutic diets when managing obesity. But apart from that, he says:

“I refrain from making specific diet recommendations. Instead, I am happy for owners to to take responsibility for deciding what to feed their dog (be it manufactured or home-prepared, cooked or uncooked). However, I do ask them to follow three rules. Make sure it’s safe, it’s complete and balanced, and you don’t feed too much.”

It’s odd, but not surprising, to see this intrusion of human diet culture taking over some aspects of how we care for our animal companions. But we have learned in so many ways over the past few years that humans can rationalize literally just about anything.

Click here for more on this trend toward human diets for animal companions, here, here, and here for more on potential issues with raw food diets.

Woman with Dog, painting by Pierre Bonnard / WikiArt

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February 26, 2022

One Response to “Diet Culture Comes for Pets”

  1. February 26, 2022 at 3:01 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Of course, just as with humans, what has entered the environment of the pets that disturbs their energy management system.