Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Book Review: Dog Food Logic

I'm pretty sure that Linda Case wrote Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices for me. I am a skeptic, and I want proof. I don't trust marketing claims, I want studies, and not just any studies. I want peer-reviewed studies published in scientific journals, and then I want meta studies of those studies. I read the SkeptVet blog on a regular basis, and I think I'm the only person I know who doesn't give my dogs joint supplements because there's no compelling evidence that they work and plenty that they don't.

Photo by Erin Koski
I am also absolutely fascinating by marketing, and the human psychology behind it. There's just so many fascinating and just plain weird things to learn about the human mind. Dog Food Logic introduced me to a phenomenon called anchoring, the tendency for the subconscious to remember numbers and silently compare them to subsequent numbers. This sounds completely bizarre and yet appears to be something that people do without ever realizing. Anchoring occurs when a person thinks     about any number for any reason, the brain will then use this number as a starting point when estimating whether other numbers are high or low. A person who works with large numbers all day might find themselves calling a $30 lunch reasonable, while a person teaching basic math to first graders may feel like a $10 lunch is pretty steep. The numbers do not have to be related to each other at all, even a little bit. Studies on anchoring effects include having people spin a number wheel or write the last two digits of their social security number before asking them to guess or estimate something totally random. It's weird, it's real, and everybody does it. 

Other things Dog Food Logic introduced me to are the specific industry-defined terms food companies can use on their packaging, and the reality of co-packing. Many large dog food companies employ other facilities to actually manufacture and package their food, which is why a problem at a single packaging plant can manifest as a recall that hits multiple brands of food. Diamond produces their own food, Diamond Naturals. They also use their dog food factory to make food for Taste of the Wild, Wellness, Apex, Solid Gold, Canidae, Costco's Kirkland brand, and many others. A problem at the Diamond food plant in 2012 really exposed how very intertwined many pet food brands are. 

What's the difference between Beef Dog Food, Beef Recipe Dog Food, and Dog Food with Beef? What does "complete and balanced for all life stages" actually mean? Has anyone actually studied raw diets scientifically? Can dogs digest grain efficiently or not? When I read "chicken" in the ingredients list for my dog's food, does it mean chicken meat like I buy at the store, or some other definition? Dog Food Logic didn't just answer the questions I had about the dog food industry, it raised entirely new questions and then answered those too.

This book does not give concrete answers as to what dog food to feed my dogs, but it does give the colorful history of the dog food industry, definitions for almost everything printed on a bag of dog food, an explanation of the dog food manufacturing industry today, and the science behind dog nutrition. I am perfectly capable of thinking critically, identifying marketing versus fact, and understanding the nature of the dog food industry, and Linda Case has given me the information to do just that.

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