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Food and Nutrition

Dog EatingOne of the most important issues I speak about often is food and nutrition. The constant recall of pet foods is one that concerns me wholeheartedly. Most pet parents believe they are providing their pets with a good quality food because that’s what the package tells them. In fact, there are pretty pictures of blueberries, cranberries, eggs, turkey, etc. on the package of food and it states that it is “complete and balanced” for your pooch. What does that mean?

While AAFCO sets certain standards for pet foods and has created the “Nutrient Profile” testing method, the testing does not take into account things such as digestibility or the quality of nutrients in the pet food. In fact, many nutrients are lost during manufacturing and thus companies will add vitamins and minerals to compensate for what is lost. Unfortunately for our pets, some of the “nutrients” added are unchelated which means they do not combine with proteins so they basically just pass right through your pet’s body. Another issue in the pet food industry is that a company can say that the food is “beef flavored” even though there is no beef (only by-products) in the food itself. Labels are misleading whereas the package can state that it contains “real turkey” and only contains 3% of the meat. All the consumer sees is that it contains “real turkey,” not the 3%. Bottom line is that consumers are being misled to believe that the foods on the market are beneficial for their pet. There are some good quality foods out there, but having the knowledge of exactly what can and cannot be placed on the labels is important information in making a sound decision for your fur-family member.

The labeling on these products can be very misleading to the consumer and the process by which the food is prepared is highly questionable. As most know, protein is a key element in our pet’s foods and should always top the list of ingredients. Protein is provided from poultry, cattle, fish, and other animals. The better cuts of meat are put aside for human consumption which leaves approximately 50% of the carcass including the bones, intestines, and lungs to be processed into our pet’s food. Before these portions can leave the slaughterhouse, they have to be “denatured.” What does that mean? “De·na·ture [ dee náychər ] make something unpalatable: to make food or drink, especially alcohol, unsuitable for human consumption, by adding poison, dye, or unpleasant flavors.”

When the meat arrives at the processing plant, it is cooked at extremely high temperatures which not only separates the fat, but removes nutrients and proteins. The meat and bone meal added to our pet’s food is unfortunately made up of much more than just meat and bone. AAFCO has defined meat and bone meal as “the rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.” If our dogs were to live in the wild, they would most certainly eat the whole carcass including stomach contents. And when feeding a home-cooked or raw diet, it is important to provide your canine with the occasional lung or liver. Meat by-products are defined by AAFCO as: “the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone, partially defatted low-temperature fatty tissue and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hooves.” The question we need to ask ourselves is: do we really trust these manufacturing plants to be separating the good from the bad while they’re processing commercial pet food? Perhaps this is the reason why so many brand names have been and are continuing to be recalled. Especially since AAFCO, the organization formed to set standards for the industry, states “except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.” So if the occasional hair, hoof, tooth, and/or manure find their way into your pet’s food, would that be acceptable?

When your pooch hears you open the container of food, does he come running? It’s probably because it really does smell good to him. The odor emanating from that bag of food smells like a great dinner to your dog and he’s ready to dig in. Did you know, however, that the odor is actually stemming from fat that is sprayed on the food to entice your dog to love it like it’s his last meal. And where does this fat come from? Sit down……. The fat that lures your dog into a feeding frenzy is collected from the plant where the meat was processed. I really don’t think I need to say anything further other than it is foul.

Other issues in our pet’s food: grain products. Dogs are considered to be omnivores and thus will eat meat, veggies, and grains when available. So why do the manufacturers of pet food insist on adding so much grain? Cost Effective. Grains are a cheaper source of energy and get added to your pet’s food in order to make the dog feel full. They are a good source of fiber, but as much as 20% of the nutrition of grains can pass through your dog’s body unused. But the companies still list grains as added nutrition to the label. What about additives and preservatives? Artificial colors? Has your dog (or cat) ever gotten ill and when you attempt to clean the carpet, the dye (red dye no. 135) from the food is left behind? Some of the most common preservatives are BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin. Although they are used at low levels, our pets consume them each day. Perhaps you would like to research each of these synthetic additives to find out exactly what your pet is eating. Although natural preservatives are not as effective as synthetic ones, some companies have switched over due to consumer demand. However, as a consumer you should be aware that foods labeled as “all natural,” “preservative free” and the like are really definitions created by the manufacturer itself. There is no legal definition for “all natural,” because what may be all natural to one may not be to another.

So how do you decide which commercial pet food is the one for your dog? With so many negative reports and recalls out there, it’s very concerning to pet parents. We want what’s best for them, to see them thrive, and to provide them with the best care that we possibly can. I feel that if you’re going to continue to feed a commercial pet food, try brands that promote themselves as being natural, but please read the ingredients. As stated previously, “natural” is defined by the manufacturer. If it contains by-products or is described as meat and bone meal, put it back on the shelf. And avoid the specialty foods such as “senior” or “light.” These may contain acidifying agents, excessive fiber or fats that can result in skin reactions. Also make a few alterations to the diet. By this I mean to add a few new flavors and also enhance nutrients as well. If you don’t want to home-cook for your dog completely, throw in a little ground turkey with the kibble adding a few veggies and perhaps a sweet potato. Be aware of all of the ingredients in the commercial food and if you’re unsure of something, contact the company or do a little research yourself.

There have been many changes to the commercial pet food industry, but the fact that we are still dealing with a huge number of recalls is very frightening. And although most companies are now adding more supplements to improve health or prevent illness, one has to wonder whether supplementing a product is the answer. Perhaps the pet food manufacturers should improve the product first with its main ingredients before adding supplements to enhance something that’s deficient to begin with. And by this I mean maybe it would be a good idea for the industry standards to be raised to higher specifications. You as the consumer have a choice and if you choose not to purchase a certain brand because of its inadequate ingredients, you will be sending a much needed message to the manufacturer.

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