Superfood or superhype?

The internet has revolutionised how we access information and the speed at which we do so. Never has it been easier to get tips and recommendations on what you should be feeding your dog and what you should avoid.

But as with most things, the internet has its downside too. Namely, that people can and do post any information they want – even if it’s not accurate or it is misleading. So, when surfing the web for information on nutrition for your dog, here are some tips to help you become a more objective web user:

1. Who has written the article?

While a lot of people consider themselves experts in the field of dog nutrition, few is. That’s why when reading any articles on this matter, it’s important that you look at who is presenting the information and consider:

  • What are their credentials / qualifications?
  • How much experience do they have in the field?
  • Have they provided references to support what they’re saying?
  • Are they biased towards a particular product / method, likely because they’re trying to sell it to you?

If you struggle to find answers to any of these questions, or if they answers aren’t what they should be (e.g. yes they are trying to sell you something; no they don’t provide references), move on. It’s also worth checking if the article is financed by an organisation that will profit off the back of it.

2. What information is the article presenting?

If an article is referencing a study, don’t just assume the information in the article is correct. Always ask: Is the study relevant to a real-world situation? For example, a chemical can’t simply be classified as ‘bad’ or ‘good’, it always depends on the amount, or dose, received e.g, a little aspirin is good for us, whereas 50 tablets could kill you.

Any article that’s worth reading will present you with all the facts before drawing any conclusions or making recommendations. That is, it will tell you both the good things about a particular food type, feeding method or research study, as well as its limitations. And, as well as providing the sources that support its claims, it will also direct you to information and studies that don’t. In essence, a good article will be balanced and draw its recommendations and conclusions from the whole picture, not just part of it.

You should also look at what the article is offering you. If it claims to have a miracle, quick-fix solution to loads of problems and looks too good to be true – then it probably is. These articles that big something up as the be all and end all are usually more hype than helpful.

3. Where are you getting the information from?

When searching for information, it’s important to consider the site(s) you’re getting it from. That is, is it from a company that might profit from people reading the article? Is it from a site that’s biased towards a certain way of thinking?

And are you being open minded about where you’re looking for information? That is, are you making sure you’re not just seeking out sites and articles that confirm or support an idea or belief you already have? That you’re not ignoring or discarding information but instead are looking at all of it before making any decisions or drawing conclusions.

You should also steer clear of anecdotal information and stories about ‘miracle’ treatments or findings based on hearsay and people’s word, rather than science.

4. When was the information last updated?

While we know a lot about dog nutrition, and some practices are reasonably set in stone, it’s also an area where a lot of research is being done. And as with all thing’s science, this research is ongoing and so advice can change over time.

For this reason, when reading an article, it’s worth noting when it was last reviewed and updated. A good, reputable source will indicate this and also make it clear if any progress, updates or changes have happened in this area since the article was originally written. In doing this, they are showing that they are balanced, transparent and open.

5. How was the study carried out?

When reading articles about dog nutrition that quote and pull information from research articles, it’s important to look in to how this research was done. Some research, namely early-stage research, is carried out in cells in a lab. Research of this kind is important, but conclusions can’t be drawn from it that is directly transferable to dogs. Similarly, research done in mice or rats, or even humans, can be presumed to be relevant to dogs.

The ORAC database of antioxidant activity in foods is a very good example of how research data can be misused and misrepresented.

Likewise, it’s important to note if the article is drawing its conclusions from just one study. If it is, be wary. With research, a single study is not enough to base a conclusion on, unless it’s a large-scale clinical trial. Instead, a good article will quote a number of studies that support its conclusion and recommendations, thus adding weight to them.

6. Conversations are important

If you read something on the internet that makes you think you would like to make changes to your dog’s diet, you should discuss this with your vet or an expert in dog nutrition.

Because, while the internet is a great source of information which can allow us to feel more informed and in control of our dog’s diet, it’s still important to remember one thing – the vast majority of people are not experts in dog nutrition and may spread misleading information, even if inadvertently.

So before making any dramatic changes to your dog’s diet, run your ideas by a professional. It can’t hurt to do so.