We love our dogs and cats. We buy them gourmet treats, designer apparel and lavish them with our time, love and attention. They share our lives, our woes and are by our side throughout all of our ups and downs. They are purely and simply an important part of our family. But how many of us stop to think about what we are really feeding them until it becomes a front page headline or a news alert on the web?
Pet nutritional experts believe that our dogs and cats have the genetic potential to live up to 20 years, yet many of our four legged family members are considered long in the tooth if they reach eleven or twelve. The National Institute of Aging (2006) has stated that the average human life expectancy has almost doubled in the last century mostly due to improvements in nutrition and the control of disease. Maybe it is time to expect the same for our pets. As we demand more from our own food source we should be asking the same tough questions about our pet’s food.
Where is our pet food prepared? Is it a USDA certified facility? Are the ingredients cast offs from our food supply chain due to their poor quality or are they human grade quality. Has the food been prepared using chemicals such as BHA and BHT, known carcinogens, and Ethoxyquin, a rubber stabilizer? Last of all, who from the company, we buy our pet food from, can we talk to for advice and honest answers concerning the nutritional welfare of our pets?
Most people are surprised when they learn that the pet food industry, a multi million-dollar industry, came about during World War II. Cereals and grain considered waste from factories was bagged and sold as pet food. The industry then evolved as manufacturers recognized that to ensure animals were not undernourished they would have to incorporate meat into their products; meat that had been rejected from our food supply chain due to its poor nutritional quality, condition or health risk.
Has much changed?
Before we look at what should be in our pets’ food, let us look at what we should not find on the pet food menu.
1. Cereal and Grains such as corn, wheat and soy. Often labeled under several other names. When grouped together they increase the protein allocation in the Guaranteed Analysis. Yet cereals and grains contain allergens. Corn is #3 on the list of allergens affecting pets reported by pet owners and veterinarians
2. By-Products are also indigestible protein sources. Parts of an animal not fit for human consumption such as feet, bones, and hides.
3. Meat and bone meal made from the five D’s, dead, diseased, dying, disabled and drugged animal, a policy still practiced today.
4. Preservatives. Chemical preservatives are used to maintain pet food for extended periods, chemicals that can cause cancer such as BHA and BHT.
Many progressive and forward thinking pet food consumers have educated themselves on the “Guaranteed Analysis” of their pet food. Consumers have been guided to look for certain percentages within three categories, Protein, Fat and Fiber. Some consumers are satisfied with their choice in a product if these three components meet the levels recommended by industry professionals.
Would you be happy with food based on a percentage quota of protein if the protein came from a leather shoe, or the fat from a bowl of cooking oil and the fiber from peanut shells? Is the guaranteed analysis a good enough guide to ensuring our pet’s food is meeting the nutritional requirements of our pets?
So what should be in our Pet’s food?
First our pets’ food should not contain any by-products or inferior grains. Protein should come from a high quality, easily digested protein such as chicken meal. The food should contain fresh vegetables and fruit to provide antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and bioflavonoid to support the immune system.
Fiber and Carbohydrates
Whole brown rice provides an excellent source of highly digestible carbohydrate needed for short-term energy and dietary fiber.
Chicken fat, catfish meal, flaxseed meal and eggs provide a natural balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to promote healthy skin and provide a shiny coat.
There should be no added flavors or coloring. Premium holistic dog foods are made using a method called “Fast Cook”; this ensures all the nutrition from quality ingredients remains in the food. The better pet food manufacturers also make their food in small, frequent batches to avoid using chemical additives or preservatives and to ensure the customer receives the freshest food possible.
Some of the premium pet food manufacturers have also incorporated innovative technology into their food by adding live Probiotics to support the immune system and digestive tract and antioxidants such as grape seed extract, an ingredient sought by many of us for our own consumption.
I buy a product for my pets that not only contains all the above but is also prepared by an APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) certified manufacturer to sell pet food in the European market, a market with more stringent regulations than the U.S for pet food industry.
Does this all make a difference? You bet it does. Remember, your pet eats the same food every day at every meal so what you give them is critical to their health and longevity. Serving your best friend foods full of chemicals, by-products and preservatives would be like letting our children eat at a fast food restaurant 3 times a day 7 days a week. We all know that would be a recipe for nutritional disaster.
Niki Tudge is the owner and founder of The DogSmith, America’s Dog Training, Dog Walking and Pet Care Franchise. Niki achieved her Canine Behaviorist Diploma in England and Dog Obedience Training Diploma in the US. Niki is a Certified Dog Trainer by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and a Endorsed member of the National Association of Dog Obedience Trainers.