Pet Corner: Pet Food Fallacies
Introducing a new feature that will be updated periodically. “Pet Corner” will feature useful and informative topics about pets that should inspire further discussion.
Today’s inaugural piece was submitted by Jeff from Cornerstone Pets. Any other contributors that would like to provide helpful (or even controversial) articles are more than welcome to do so. Hoboken is peppered with animals, and here’s where you can get the “411”.
Read and enjoy!
Pet Food Fallacies
Having studied both human and companion animal nutrition, I have come to the conclusion that the facts behind what creates a well balanced diet for people or pets are basically the same. Obviously, we must take into consideration that dogs and cats have different nutritional needs than a person, but the basis for a healthy diet is still similar. Dogs and cats are carnivores. In nature, grains, vegetables and fruits would only make up 5%, at most, of a dog’s diet. Meanwhile, cats are obligate carnivores and would eat only meat. Eating fresh whole foods, ingesting a variety of protein sources, eating foods free of pesticides or artificial preservatives is the foundation for a healthy diet for people and pets.
During the 1960’s when commercial pet foods went mainstream (think Gravy Train) dogs and cats were switched to commercial brand name foods that the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) told us was good for our pets. Unfortunately, the AAFCO is a private association which, of course, has an interest in the commercial pet food industry – but, by no means are they a government body overlooking the quality of pet foods. Maybe the AAFCO isn’t telling us everything?
Without going into big scientific explanations about what makes a good companion animal diet, I have put together a list of what I feel are the most common fallacies associated with feeding your pet. Feel free to debate the facts and I’ll jump in whenever I can and provide more details if necessary.
Read more about the myths about animal food after the jump!
Never Feed Your Pet Table Food
True or False: False
I often hear people gloat that they never feed their dog “human” food. I usually keep quiet unless I know the person is open to a broader conversation when it comes to pet nutrition. There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeding your dog fresh foods. What better, fresher source of nutrition could they possibly get? Meat, carrots, a little bite of that apple pie isn’t going to “spoil” your pet although it is going to give them a hint of what good food tastes like. Now listen carefully. If your dog is a beggar, and you don’t want your dog whining while you eat, never feed your dog “at” the table, but feel free to give your dog food “from” the table. You eat first and IGNORE the dog that asks for food while you are eating. To avoid whining at the table while you eat, just put the food in their bowl where they usually eat rather than slipping it to them under the table (unless you are trying to get rid of something nasty without the cook knowing). There are certain vegetables and fruits that are not good for dogs such as onions, grapes and raisins (and we all know about chocolate – Is chocolate a vegetable?) but for the most part, veggies are safe in small amounts.
Dry Food is Best for my Pet and it Keeps the Teeth Clean
True or False: False and False
Dry food was created as a convenience for the pet owner and it by no means is the healthiest food you can feed your animal. Regardless of how good a dry dog food is, and there are plenty of good ones out there, it is still the most processed pet food on the market. To get all of those meat, grain and vegetable ingredients into the form of dry kibble, the food has to be processed to the point where it looses much of its whole form nutritional and bio-available value. It basically equates to feeding your dog cereal. If you are not feeding a premium food (or you are getting the food for your dog at the grocery store or big box supplier) you are also very likely feeding your pet a food with a high amount of grain or grain products, not to mention by-products. Would you feed your child, or yourself, cereal or even one kind of cereal for life regardless of how good it is? Feeding your animal foods that are less processed including raw and canned premium foods with human-grade ingredients are a better source of nutrition. If you are going to use kibble, and most will, choose a premium kibble, rotate the protein sources in the kibble and provide canned and fresh food to balance an overly processed diet. As far as kibble cleaning your pet’s teeth…..would you try cleaning your teeth by eating a hard pretzel? Dogs don’t chew their food, they inhale whenever possible. Their teeth were made for hunting animals and ripping meat off the bone. I hear many people complain that their dog doesn’t chew but that’s just the way they were created. They bite; they rip to shreds and crush when necessary but feeding dry food is not going to keep their teeth clean “because they have to chew it.”
Bones and Chews are Dangerous for Dogs
True or False: True and False
Hey, we have a president who choked on a pretzel. Of course it is possible that a dog could choke on a bone but given their nature, not likely. Dogs and cats have incredible gag reflexes. It’s far more likely that your dog will choke on a bottle cap, a toy, a tennis ball or some other unexpected object they decide to pick up and give the taste test. You have to know your dog and know your bones. Raw and slow roasted bones are always the best choice because they normally do not splinter. Raise your dog on bones from a puppy and they are less likely to go nuts when you give them a bone because they now know how to handle the bone. Bones are a natural source of everything a dog needs by way of glucosamine, chondroitin and calcium. Raw bones and meat tendons such as bully sticks (bull pizzle – look it up), slow roasted bones are not only a great source of protein and other nutrients, but they give your dog something to do while you play on the computer. Bones and natural chews are also what a dog can use to clean their teeth. The grinding and gnawing they have to do will clean away tartar. Again, know your dog and know the bone. You’re not going to give a 100 pound Labrador the same bone you would give a smaller dog. Use common sense. Supervise your dog until you know how it handles bones and chews and remember that these products have calories. You need to adjust your feeding amounts to account for the additional calories you give your dog by way of bones and chews.
If it States it on the Label it Must be True
True or False: False (or misleading)
You think it’s difficult to read human food labels? That’s nothing compared to pet food labels. To keep this very simple: If the first ingredient on the label does not start with a meat based ingredient, don’t feed it. Preferably, the first 2-3 ingredients on the label should be meat based ingredients and I don’t mean meat by-products. Again, dogs and cats are not meant to eat grain based diets. I am not saying they cannot eat any grain, but the diet must be meat based. Besides grain being a lower quality protein source, dogs and cats have a short intestinal tract and they are not equipped to digest the grains. (Diarrhea anyone?) Those lovely pieces of meat and whole grains falling down from the sky and beautifully photographed for the pet food can or bag can be very deceiving. Turn the product over and read the label. If the first ingredients listed are corn, wheat or anything other than meat or meat meal (dehydrated meat) – step away from the shelf. The ingredients on pet food labels are listed in order by weight. There are, however, ways to get around this in the pet food industry. If you split the grain up into various sub products, like corn gluten, ground corn, corn syrup, etc, corn may actually be by weight the number one ingredient but falls third on the list when you break it up into smaller components. Large commercial pet food companies have large commercial budgets. They do great commercials that almost make you want to eat the food yourself. Small companies that make great foods you have probably never heard of don’t always have the budget to do national commercials. Stay away from grocery stores and large box stores when buying pet foods unless you have researched the food and know it to be a quality food for your pet.
In conclusion, junk food will always be with us. I realize in writing this article that I have probably provided more questions than answers. Many people do not themselves eat a well-balanced optimally nutritious diet. I know you are thinking things like, “But my dog gets sick if I change the food. My cat will only eat Friskies. The vet told me my dog has to be on a ‘prescription’ diet. I tried a premium food and my dog didn’t like it. I’m scared to feed my pet raw foods.” How you decide to feed your pet is up to you making an informed decision on what is best for your pet. By providing optimal nutrition you will prolong your pet’s life, save yourself money in the end and you will have a happy and healthy pet.
Feel free to ask questions in this forum and I will do my best to answer your questions and give informed answers. I am not a vet (I only play one on TV) but I do know about animal nutrition. Most vets and human health care providers are not required to study, or study only very little about nutrition. If your vet is well informed about nutrition and is not suggesting a prescription diet or commercial food for the rest of your dog’s life, by all means listen to what they have to say. Then, do your homework.
My name is Jeff Laylon and you can reach me by e-mail at Jeff@CornerstonePets.com.