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Review: Feed Your Pet Right, Marion Nestle

(Occasionally I do book reviews which start out as a paragraph, but turn out to be longer than expected. I think I will start doing more in-depth book reviews. I usually do a lot of book reviews and movie reviews on my Reading/Writing Section on the navigation bar (2010, 2009, etc).

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This is an excellent book, but not at all what I expected. What I wanted was a practical guide about how to read labels and how to decide which dog food to buy for my dog (as well as a discussion of diet-related health issues). What I got instead was an academic study about the pet food industry (with the history of tainted food, etc), common industry practices and a discussion about the regulatory framework for pet food and labeling. These are all worthy subjects, but not particularly relevant to the questions I face: am I feeding the right dog food to my dog? The good news is that Chapter 26 does summarize the most important points of the book: that most commercial pet foods are adequate and appropriate, and they are pretty much alike (nutritionally speaking). Nestle’s final conclusion is that the diet you provide for your pet should depend more on your own values than on nutritional needs (because most commercial pet food is adequate).  I  got more out of that chapter than the rest of the book. That said, I appreciate Nestle’s description of ingredients and food labeling requirements. But I was surprised that Ms. Nestle does not talk about climate change in this discussion. (There is a spurious meme going that pet ownership leaves a carbon footprint equivalent to owning an SUV; I’ve seen it debunked several times — most recently by Clark Williams-Derry on the Grist website). If the authors were going to talk about pet food production, wouldn’t it have a good idea to address the climate change issue more directly?

As a reference guide, this book is very useful — especially Appendix 1 which gives facts and figures about the pet food industry. Chapter 3 gives a discussion of which nutrients are needed by animals (Omega 3s, vitamins, etc?). I am satisfied with Nestle’s conclusion that a vegetarian diet is not harmful for your pet. I would have liked more practical advice about pet behavior– i.e., is it stressful for a pet to switch pet foods? Under what circumstances should you switch  pet food for pets? Nestle went out of her way to state that her credentials are in nutrition and industrial science rather than being a pet expert. That’s unfortunate, because I suspect that an animal expert might have shed more insight into the behavioral problems associated with diet.

By the way, I read this as an ebook on my ipad. The formatting for all the tables was completely messed up! (annoying, but not terrible).

IN SUMMARY, an in-depth academic treatment of the pet food industry. This may give more detail than most pet owners will want to read. But as a reference guide, it’s excellent, and Chapter 26 is a must-read chapter.

See also: Jane Brody’s discussion of pet food and Nestle’s book.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Vincent L 7/2/2010, 8:59 pm

    Thanks for this insightful review. I just read an article in my local coop news mag and the author sited this book stating that too much protein for dogs is harmful. How absurd I thought since dogs are carnivores and before commercial pet foods were invented they ate what was caught in the wild, i.e., rabbit, chicken, rodents….all live protein, same as wolves. I have had my dog on a raw food diet for as long as he is old (almost two years), and this article made me alarmed. So I researched this book. May I ask, do you recall this book making such a stupid claim?

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