The truth about animal nutrition is not cut and dry! Holistic practitioners suggest that many animals do well and thrive on cooked foods very similar to human diets. Also animals do well on raw foods, veggie diets, and finally commercially available foods all of which advertise they are the best. Let’s get a disclaimer out there…there are many animals out there who are extremely sensitive and just looking at a French fry or turkey sends them straight to the vet with vomiting and diarrhoea. For those pets there are strict home cooked, raw or commercially available diets to choose from which can help keep special diet needs pets healthy. The reality is that most animals can tolerate fresh clean human food well, and thrive on it. After all they made it to the 21’st century without pet food companies didn’t they? The beauty of pet food companies is that they provide us with convenient choices. It is really easy to pour out some kibble diet and open up a can of old nasty as our pets jump around the bowl and howl for joy!
Pet foods come in varying qualities from grotesque to gourmet, each claiming that they are the best or special in their own unique way. It is believed that the secret to understanding food tolerance and nutrition for our pets comes from understanding their bacterial gastro intestinal flora and their own body nascence.
There is a delicate balance of bacterial gastro intestinal flora that helps digest food. The interesting thing about these bacteria is that like our pets, they are not created equally. Some of our pet’s bacterial flora are so tough that they can help digest anything and survive…these are the pets that can eat your whole Thanksgiving meal and be fine the next day. For other pets that one dessert can cause a rapid fermentation that decreases gastro intestinal ph which kills off the good bacteria that aid digestion and promote the growth of harmful bacteria that cause vomiting and sometimes bloody diarrhoea. In most of these cases these animals go from eating a stable boring diet to exciting and exotic, all in one day. Too much, too quick! These animals and more importantly their gut flora are not used to rapid changes in diet and get sick easily. For most normal dogs who are fed a varied diet all year long their gut bacterial flora are able to adapt to different kinds of foods with little or no ill effect. The problem is that most dogs and cats are on a plain bland kibbled diet all year long and everyone at the holiday table wants to experiment with giving goodies to the pet on the same day, at the same time usually the result is GI upset. Get some good information on real food for pets. There are many good books on feeding real food to pets safely. If you have the time, patience and life style that allow you to cook and feed your pet’s real food then do so. If you’ve never experimented with real food for your pet’s you may not want to do it on a holiday when most vets are closed, to avoid an expensive trip to the pet ER should Fido get in trouble.
There is a large amount of market driven misinformation out there about pet food. There is nothing wrong with real food. If anything my boneless chicken is fresher than the chicken parts in the bag! The current marketing wants to make you feel bad about feeding natural food…as if you’re doing something wrong if it’s not in a can or bag…LIES, LIES, Great marketing Lies! But they are convenient!
While there is no way to be 100% certain that a pet food is not tainted or will be recalled, there are some red flags to look for when selecting your dog’s or cat’s food. Avoiding these common pet food ingredients can greatly improve your odds in purchasing a healthy, safe pet food.
Judging the safety or the nutritional value of a pet food starts by ignoring the advertising, the price of the pet food, and ignoring the front of the bag. The real signs to the safety of a pet food lie on the back or side of the bag or can in the ‘Ingredient Listing’. Regardless of what marketing terms (‘choice’, ‘premium’, and so on) are on the front of the bag or can of pet food, a pet owner cannot determine the quality or how safe the food is unless they look at the ingredients. With dry foods there can be 90 different ingredients (or more), with canned foods there can be 50 or more different ingredients. But don’t panic…you don’t have to understand hundreds of different pet food ingredients! You just need to be aware of a few key ingredients…pet food ingredients that you do NOT want to see in a pet food (or treats).
‘Wheat Gluten’, ‘Corn Gluten’, or ‘Rice Gluten’. These three ingredients were the bad boy pet food ingredients of recent times. Tainted glutens were found to be the cause of thousands of pets becoming ill and dying. It is not that glutens themselves are toxic to pets – these ingredients have been used in pet foods for years. The problem was the source or manufacturer of the glutens – imported from countries with far less quality standards than in the US. (The majority of glutens used in the US pet foods are from imported sources.) These imported glutens contained added chemicals that caused crystals to form in the kidneys of dogs and cats. they add no real quality nutrition to the food. Glutens are used as a thickener AND as a source of protein in pet food. Adult maintenance dog foods must provide a minimum of 18% protein; adult maintenance cat foods must provide a minimum of 26% protein. If the meat source of the pet food does not provide enough protein, glutens are often added to boost the protein level of the pet food. The best nutrition for your pet comes from a meat protein pet food not from a gluten protein. Avoid dog foods and cat foods (and treats) that contain ‘corn gluten’, ‘wheat gluten’, or ‘soy gluten’.
‘By Products’. By-products have never been the cause of a pet food recall, but they are definitely ingredients you want to avoid feeding your pet. To give you an understanding of by-products, comparing this pet food ingredient to pies – you know the dessert! How many different types of pies you can think of? There are apple pies, cherry pies, chocolate pies, meringue pies, meat pies, mud pies, pie in math, cow pies (yuck!) – hope you get the point. Now imagine if you purchased yourself a prepared ravioli dinner at the grocery and you looked at the ingredients and you see ‘pie’ listed as the first ingredient in your dinner. Hmmm, pie in ravioli – what kind of pie? You wouldn’t know if it was apple pie or mud pie or even cow pie. All you would know is that your dinner contained ‘pie’.
‘Meat Meal’, ‘Meat and Bone Meal’, or ‘Animal Digest’. These three ingredients are similar to by-products. AAFCO defines Meat and Bone Meal as “the rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, and stomach and rumen contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably to good processing practices.” Again, a catch all ingredient names for the left-over parts of animals used for human food. No consistency to what is contained in these ingredients (all three of these pet food ingredient definitions are similar) – no way of knowing what is actually in your pet’s food. Avoid dog foods, cat foods, and dog and cat treats that contain ‘meat meal’, ‘meat and bone meal’, or ‘animal digest’.
‘Animal Fat’. In 2002 the FDA tested many different brands of dog food (cat food was not tested) for the presence of the drug pentobarbital. Many brands of dog food tested positive to contain the drug. Pentobarbital is the drug used to euthanize dogs, cats, cattle, and horses.
How can the drug that is used to euthanize animals be found in pet food? The answer – euthanized animals are rendered (cooked) and the end ingredients are placed in pet food. It has long been rumoured that euthanized dogs and cats (from animal shelters and veterinarian offices) is the major source of the pentobarbital in pet food. However no one has been able to prove or disprove this rumour to date. The CVM (Centre for Veterinary Management) developed testing methods on two separate occasions to determine the species source of the drug. No results have ever been determined. The pet food manufacturers adamantly deny they use rendered dogs or cats – but NO clinical evidence has ever been released to confirm the pentobarbital is from euthanized cattle and horses in pet food as they claim.
However, the one thing the CVM has determined through their testing is the pet food ingredient ‘animal fat’ is the most common ingredient to contain pentobarbital. In other words, if you are feeding a dog food or cat food (or treats) with the ingredient ‘animal fat’ in the ingredient listing – you are (more than likely) feeding your pet euthanized animals. Not every batch of pet food tested that contained the ingredient ‘animal fat’ has proved to contain pentobarbital – but why would any pet owner want to take the chance? Avoid dog foods, cat foods, and dog and cat treats that contain the ingredient ‘animal fat’.
‘BHA’, ‘BHT’, ‘TBHQ’, and ‘Ethoxyquin’. These pet food ingredients are chemical preservatives and you might have to look through the entire ingredient list to find them. It is worth the look because there is plenty of clinical evidence to associate all four of these chemical preservatives with cancer and tumours (simply do a Google search on any one of these chemicals). All four of these chemical preservatives are rarely used to preserve human food and if so, are used in quantities far less than what is allowed in pet food. Avoid any dog food, cat food, or dog and cat treat that contains ‘BHA’, ‘BHT’, ‘TBHQ’, and ‘Ethoxyquin’ on the label.
There is more to selecting a true healthy pet food for your dog or cat than avoiding the above mentioned ingredients. This is just a start – based on pet food history, AAFCO ingredient definitions, science and opinion of many pet food experts including myself. There are many quality pet foods available that do NOT use the above ingredients and that add health promoting ingredients to their foods and treats. Continue to learn as much as you can about what you are feeding your pet and ALWAYS read the labels!