By Cheryl Lock
Take a second to think about what’s important to you when it comes to the food you feed yourself and your family. Are you big on organic food? Or locally grown?
Whatever your food standards are for yourself and your family, it’s equally as important to feed your dog foods that are healthy and wholesome as well. However, with so many marketing terms appearing on pet food labels, it can be hard to tell which options are really best for our furry friends.
Pet nutritionist and Chief Science Officer Martin J. Glinksy, Ph.D., of PetMatrix, LLC, helps to sort the fact from the fiction.
We often see labels on both human and pet products that say “clinically proven.” Does that really mean anything important?
Terms such as these, as well as phraseology like “Doctor/Veterinarian recommended,” are very important and have specific rules about their use, controlled by the FDA and the FTC. Whenever you see claims that a pet food has specific health-related benefits or will improve the pet’s physical condition or appearance, you want to be sure you also see that those claims have been “clinically proven.” That’s your guarantee that the claim is not just marketing hype, but a real benefit from a quality product you can have confidence in.
What is the difference between “clinically tested” and “clinically proven” pet foods?
While these terms are often used interchangeably (and inaccurately), “clinically proven” is a stronger statement. It implies that the product being identified has undergone scientific testing and review and can prove the claims of the company. A pet food product labeled as “clinically proven,” must undergo two scientific studies showing the claim to be accurate. “Clinically-tested" simply implies that the product was used on patients, and doesn’t necessarily meet the requirements of sound, scientific experimentation.
Why is it advantageous for pet food manufacturers to conduct scientifically rigorous clinical trials, particularly for pet foods that promise health improvements?
The most important reason to test therapeutic and wellness pet foods through feeding trials with real pets (under the supervision of a veterinarian) is to ensure that the food is safe (i.e., that it does not cause adverse reactions in pets). However, it is also essential that there is scientific evidence that the food delivers the health benefits it promises. If a pet owner believes that they are addressing a pet’s particular health need by feeding a food that claims a particular benefit, they may not look for other effective remedies. This can lead to the health issue being left untreated if the pet food health claim is false. It is wrong for companies to make any benefit claim on their label that is not thoroughly tested and clinically proven; this type of misleading marketing practice should be eradicated.
How can you determine if a pet food product really is “clinically proven”?
While it is always a good idea to feed your dog a food with general benefits like “clinically proven” antioxidants which benefit the dog’s immune system, for specific health issues it is important that you consult your veterinarian, who is both familiar with your dog’s specific health needs and can determine which food is best for your dog's situation. Always ask your veterinarian for advice about the various nutritional health options that exist. Once you have more information related to the health needs of your pet, good decisions can be made.
Dr. Glinsky also advises pet owners to challenge some of the health statements they see on packaging or on printed advertising materials for pet food. If you are unsure what the statements actually mean or have other questions about the health benefits of a food, don’t just assume it’s right for your dog. “Contact the company and ask them to document and explain the claims they’re making,” said Dr. Glinsky. “A reputable enterprise should have no problem doing this.”