Hey doc, have your veterinary clients been fooled by this doc(umentary)?


Hey doc, have your veterinary clients been fooled by this doc(umentary)?

One colleague's take on the Netflix documentary Pet Fooled, which sets out to "expose" the pet food industry.
Aug 11, 2017

Warning! Your clients might be a little more suspicious of what seems to be a deluge of pet food options, thanks to a new documentary. (Shutterstock)I recently popped open my laptop and settled into my recliner to watch a movie that many of our clients are also watching, even as you read this article.

Pet Fooled, a new documentary on Netflix, features integrative veterinarians Karen Becker and Barbara Royal, Oprah’s veterinarian. The gist of the documentary is this: The bulk of the pet food market is owned by five main companies, yet the pet food consumer is dazzled by an endless array of products to choose from in the pet store. How different are these pet foods, and is what’s inside really as healthy as the shiny outer packaging would have you believe?

What Pet Fooled claims

The documentary rehashes the 2007 melamine recall, complete with some heart-rending personal stories from people who lost pets to the contaminated food. One heartbroken pet owner says, “It has damaged my trust. I don’t trust companies anymore. They don’t care about me. They care about my money.”

Dr. Royal tells the camera that the pet food industry is telling us what to feed our pets based more on what they want to sell us than on what's necessarily good for the pet, and that corn, wheat and soy cause allergies and disease in our pets. Now that corn and wheat are subsidized and cheap to produce, Dr. Royal says, it makes adding those ingredients a super cheap way to make a food for somebody who can’t say no. She says we can abuse dogs and cats nutritionally by feeding them foods that are not biologically appropriate, and they can have overall degenerative changes and decreased vitality due to their diet.

The documentary also slams the pet food industry for using substandard protein sources, such as nefarious byproduct. In the movie, byproduct is defined as what’s left over after an animal has been slaughtered and all the edible parts have been removed. The criticism lies in the mystery of the meats being used. (Mind you—this is narrative dubbed over footage of a dead animal being consumed by maggots. Yes. I just threw up in my mouth.)

The narrator, director Kohl Harrington, says, “Since major pet food companies are involved with and have influence over vet students, lack of education surrounding raw diets exists heavily among traditional vets.” Dr. Becker follows this up by drawing a parallel between the pet food industry today and the tobacco industry in the ’40s and ’50s, when you had medical doctors recommend the use of tobacco—not because it was a conspiracy or because they believed that they were in any way being harmful; they just didn’t know. Dr. Becker says it's very similar to what's happening in the pet food industry today: You have well-meaning, lovely veterinarians recommending foods, not because they have sound nutritional background, but because that’s all  they know.

Do I have your attention? Good.

My reaction

I found most of this shock-you-mentary jaw droppingly inflammatory and inaccurate. You will have to watch it for yourself. As irritated as I was after watching it (which I think was the point), I actually find value in this piece in that if we approach it right, it could open up lines of communication between veterinarians and pet owners. I think the take-home point for us veterinarians is that this is the media that our clients are consuming. It’s out there trending on Netflix, and there's a growing pool of pet owners that are extremely concerned and interested about the food they feed their pets.

A 2017 survey of over 2,000 respondents who are feeding raw animal products (RAP) found that people feeding RAP reported lower levels of trust in veterinary advice both “in general” and “with respect to nutrition” than pet owners not feeding RAP.1 The survey stated that 20% of pet owners feeding RAP relied on online resources to determine what or how much RAP to feed, and only 9% consulted with a veterinarian in making decisions about feeding RAP. Most pet owners, whether they fed commercial diets or RAP, reported that a discussion regarding their pets’ nutrition does not occur at every veterinary appointment. Clearly, there's room for improvement in veterinarian-client communication in regard to nutrition and trust.

My initial thought is if veterinarians approach this right, Pet Fooled could open up new lines of communication with our clients. Because, when it comes down to it, we all want the food we are feeding our pets to be healthy and safe—so we are all on the same team. Clients have more opportunities to self-educate than ever—it’s up to you to curate that information and provide an expert sounding board to help your clients sift through a sea of information, including documentaries. Read this to see what I think are the most likely questions your clients will have after watching the documentary and some ideas from me and Joe Bartges, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN, on how to respond.


1. Morgan SK, Willis S, Shepherd ML. Survey of owner motivations and veterinary input of owners feeding diets containing raw animal products. PeerJ 2017 Mar 2;5:e3031.

Like many other dog owners, I

Like many other dog owners, I recently became interested in learning more about the food I feed my dogs. As a human physician, I have spent time learning the best way to understand scientific studies and extract take home points from otherwise confusing articles. I found the documentary as a whole to offer some interesting insight although it left me with a lot of unanswered questions as well. I think my biggest frustration with the documentary is that it offered zero evidence that a raw based diet is healthier for pets. They kept alluding to people claiming their pet is healthier and happier etc but without any data to support this. I soon realized that is because there isn't any data to support this. I'm not suggesting a raw diet might not be healthier, but at this time there haven't been studies to show it. Essentially it is saying that I should take these people's word that since they feed their pets a raw diet and their pets are healthy, a raw diet is better. (Correlation does not equal causation. Anecdotal evidence). The lack of evidence to show benefit with the known possibilities of increased risk of GI pathogens (whether symptomatic or not can be argued but in several studies showed increased prevalence of pathogens) is concerning enough that it's not enough to say benefits > risks of switching. What I did find very interesting and helpful personally was that I need to take a much closer look at the ingredient label and I can certainly make better decisions with the types of ingredients I purchase. There is no doubt that the bottom line for the pet food companies is to maximize profit. The only reason there are even companies out there that have started making healthier pet food is because they found through marketing research that some owners are willing to pay more for a better product. Hopefully over time the consumers as a whole will force all of the pet food companies to improve their brand. I will now take a much closer look at the ingredients and get the healthiest ingredients I can find in my next purchase.

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Who exactly is getting Fooled?

In a stab at veterinarians Dr. Karen Becker and Dr. Barbara Royal who are featured in the film, DVM360’s Dr. Wooten titled her post “Hey doc, have your veterinary clients been fooled by this doc(umentary)?“ No need to be rude Dr. Wooten.

Dr. Wooten’s review of the film stated she “found most of this shock-you-mentary jaw droppingly inflammatory and inaccurate.” Let’s look at a couple of things she calls ‘inaccurate’.

On a Q&A page Dr. Wooten provides for veterinarians when consumers ask questions about the film, she provides this possible question from a consumer and suggests veterinarians provide this answer…

“The movie showed that they put roadkill, euthanized animals and diseased animals in my pet’s food! Is that TRUE?”

That is false. It is not legal for a pet food company to do so.

Oh, Dr. Wooten…now who is being inaccurate?

Did you miss the 3 pet food recalls this year (2017) for presence of pentobarbital in dog food and an FDA report confirming pentobarbital euthanized animal meat was in the pet food? Perhaps you didn’t take the time out of your busy day bashing colleagues to confirm with Wisconsin Department of Agriculture that the meat supplier to the recalled pet food was actually a licensed dead animal processor – a company that removes dead animal carcasses including euthanized animals from farms and processes that material into pet food (but a ‘foolish’ consumer did).

You must have missed the FDA Compliance policies during your pet food research. There is a complete Compliance Policy section titled “Veterinary Medicine” on the FDA website that many of us ‘foolish’ consumers have read; maybe you should be so foolish to read them too. Specific to your inaccuracy, directly from the FDA website: “Pet food consisting of material from diseased animals or animals which have died otherwise than by slaughter, which is in violation of 402(a)(5) will not ordinarily be actionable, if it is not otherwise in violation of the law. It will be considered fit for animal consumption.”

You are correct it is illegal. You are VERY wrong that it isn’t allowed and happens consistently in pet food.

Dr. Wooten also provides this question and answer for veterinarians to give to consumers…

“The movie said that chicken byproduct meal is totally rendered and inappropriate nutrition for dogs and cats. What do you think?”

This is not true. Byproduct meal is actually very nutritious and a good protein source. People even eat byproducts, such as kidney pie, hot dogs, brats and haggas.

Dr. Wooten, do you own a recent copy of the AAFCO Official Publication? Have you ever attended an AAFCO meeting? This consumer has a current copy of the AAFCO Official Publication and has attended AAFCO meetings (on behalf of other consumers) for the past 8 years. Please know that the word “meal” means rendered. Every single AAFCO defined ingredient that includes the word ‘meal’ includes the word ‘rendered’ in the legal definition. If you bothered to be involved in the regulatory process of pet food you’d know that.

If you bothered to be involved, you would know that the legal definitions of rendered by-product ingredients in pet food are not required to be sourced from human edible sources the same way as “kidney pie, hot dogs, brats and haggas” is. If you were informed, you’d know that each and every pet food ingredient has it’s own legal definition that is very different than the counterpart ingredient in human food. Most pet foods are not food, most pet foods do not meet the legal requirements of food – most pet foods are feed.

And that’s the thing…why aren’t you involved? Why don’t you know these things? Why don’t you read the FDA Compliance Policies and stand along side of Dr. Karen Becker and Dr. Barbara Royal and millions of consumers advocating for enforcement of law? Why bash them directly to their colleagues when it is you yourself that is “jaw droppingly inflammatory and inaccurate”?

Dr. Wooten also states (in the first of her two posts bashing Pet Fooled and her colleagues)…

My initial thought is if veterinarians approach this right, Pet Fooled could open up new lines of communication with our clients. Because, when it comes down to it, we all want the food we are feeding our pets to be healthy and safe—so we are all on the same team.

You should be aware – all veterinarians should be aware – that consumers don’t believe you when you say ‘we are on the same team’. Not when you don’t know the laws that govern pet food, not when you don’t know what regulatory authorities allow in pet ‘feed’, not when you as individuals and your veterinarian associations don’t stand with us to fight the many wrongs allowed in pet feed. Instead, we feel you are choosing your allegiance to Big Pet Feed over us.

Here’s a conversation that millions of consumers would like to have with you Dr. Wooten…Do you think it is acceptable for pet feed (labeled as food) to include “diseased animals and animals that have died otherwise than by slaughter”? If you do…we truly have nothing to talk about (didn’t you take an oath?). If not…then why aren’t you actively fighting against this? Why are you not at AAFCO meetings and meeting with FDA to speak publicly against these allowed, commonly used, yet illegal ingredients? Why aren’t you educating veterinarians to these ingredients and the illegal use of them in pet feed (including prescription pet feed) on DVM360?

Unless you are willing to learn what really is in pet food/feed, what every regulatory authority allows…then it is you that has been fooled. Not us. Not consumers.

Just in case Dr. Wooten wants to learn more:

FDA Compliance Policies

FDA Warning Letter to Evanger’s Pet Food

FDA Recall Notices

AAFCO Official Publication order form and Meeting information


Thank goodness two

Thank goodness two highly-respected integrative veterinarians had the guts to create this documentary. They've stepped outside the box and have spent countless years researching "biologically appropriate" diets for our animals. I have been in veterinary practice for 23 years; just ten years ago I devoted my practice to holistic medicine after my own serious health challenges popped up and I resorted to natural healing vs. conventional therapies. In the early years, I was also "duped' into believing that the major pet food manufacturers (also the ones that funded a lot of our CE classes, go figure) had the animals' best interests in mind. Biologically appropriate diets (i.e. raw or lightly cooked) is critical, in my mind, for overall health and vitality. We all know cats are strict carnivores, yet every kibble of food has to contact a significant amount of starch (grain or potato) to hold it together. What cat has ever begged for corn, wheat, or potatoes? Allergies to grains are a very real problem - especially since 90% of corn has been genetically modified - the animal (or human) body cannot recognize it. Feeding animals what nature intended (raw meat protein, non-processed products) is the only thing that makes sense, at least in my opinion.

Love this article

A few months ago I had a client ask me questions about food because of this show so I took the time to watch it myself. I too was irritated by it. One thing that I found interesting is that none of the doctors in this documentary are specialists in veterinary nutrition. I do like your take though that it could open up lines of communication.