Do not be fooled by the “halo” effect. This refers to the common misconception that if something is more expensive, it must be better. This “halo effect” can be applied to a segment of the pet food industry also. The terms “Natural” and “Organic” are very misleading and confusing when it comes to labeling commercial pet food, and, when used, they are usually more expensive. Be aware that it is false and misleading if any chemically synthesized ingredients are present in the product. Most if not all pet food have preservatives in the mix, by necessity, and most of these are chemically synthesized. To be “Natural” the ingredients can not be highly processed and no chemically synthetic ingredient can be added for preservation. What about the “flavor enhancers” and artificial colorings? They can not be used either. To be “Organic” the product must be organic from farm to pet food serving. That means no hormones or antibiotics were given to the livestock and no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides were used on the crops. Unless you grow your own crops, this is highly unlikely. Also no synthetic preservatives, colorings or flavorings can be added to the final product. Because of the time factor from manufacturer, trucker, to retail store, and then to your home, preservatives must be used to prevent spoilage, especially to prevent fat from becoming rancid. Unless the food is fresh and just made, preservatives are a necessity. Also, the regulation of the pet food industry is poor, and the guide lines are vague and misleading, As of April 2011, the United States still does not have official guidelines for the term “Natural”. The major dog and cat food manufacturing companies in this country are immaculate and very high tech. The research facilities are the best in the world. I have visited several and I have the utmost confidence in their “quality control” standards, yet even the largest of the manufacturers got hurt 2 years ago with the imported additives from China that they used in canned foods. The public lost confidence and the companies lost millions. Things are much better now. By the way, there is absolutely no scientific evidence proving any of these “Organic” or “Natural” diets have any health benefits. Do not get fooled by that “halo” effect. I still recommend dry dog and cat food over canned food for reasons listed in the first 2 parts of this series on nutrition and after many years of practice have seen the positive results in the pet population I have cared for.
There are 5 main reasons why dry dog and cat food is recommended over canned food: (1) Dry dog food is less prone to Salmonella contamination. (2) They have to use their teeth to crunch the food to break it up, and in so doing keep their teeth and gums healthy. (3) Dry food is usually eaten more slowly which is better for digestion. (4) Canned food has a lot of moisture (water), which is a lot less expensive from your tap. (5) Dry food is much more stable during various temperature changes which may occur during shipping from the manufacturer, to the store, and then to your home. The majority of commercially prepared pet foods are nutritionally balanced, so adding table scraps can create an imbalance in the diet. Most of the time people add just meat to their pets diet which actually results in an imbalance of the essential ingredients and thus could be unhealthy to the pet, especially older pets. Whenever a change is considered, remember to make the transition gradually, over 5-7 days, so the digestive tract has time to adjust. Dogs and cats have simple digestive tracts, much like a baby, and they do better being fed the same food consistently every day. Do not feed your dog any bones of any kind, including steak bones, as pieces can break off with sharp edges. I’m frequently asked “how much food should I feed my dog or cat”? The answer is simple: “it depends”. It depends on a number of factors: the genetic makeup of your pet and its metabolism. Certain breeds have definite genetic weight gain tendencies. These include the Labradors, Beagles, and Goldens. Other factors to consider include: the amount of exercise you pet receives, the calorie contact of the food and number of calories being consumed AND burned up, and the quality of the food. Is the food meat or plant based which affects its’ digestibility. (See last weeks article). In general the cheaper the food the poorer the quality of ingredients, the less efficiently digested, the more waste produced, and the more you have to feed just to survive. But, we want our pets to thrive not just survive and be healthy happy companions. Ask your veterinarian for pet food recommendations.
Animal nutrition has always been a major topic of conversation between veterinarians and their clients. After the tainted canned pet food problem in 2007 and the Salmonella scares these last few years, the conversations have intensified. The pet food industry is huge, the research done in animal nutrition costs millions, and the competition among pet food companies is intense. They all strive for the best products, as do pet owners. A few facts should be noted: Dogs are Omnivores (they can survive on a diet of animal protein OR plant protein, BUT to thrive not just survive they should have animal protein–meat—in their diet. Cats however are classified as true Carnivores, because they must have meat to survive. Meat has all the amino acids for a good diet, but an all-meat diet is harmful because it is not a balanced diet. To be a balanced diet, protein, carbohydrates, fat, and the essential vitamins and minerals must be present in the correct proportions. That is why you should not add meat to an already balanced commercial diet. Meat such as beef, poultry or fish should be the 1st three ingredients listed (by federal law) on the pet food package. The by-products that DO NOT include hair, hide, feathers, or hooves, are also good sources of protein. The most digestible protein is egg white, followed by muscle meats such as chicken, beef and lamb, followed by liver, kidney and heart. Next on the digestibility list is milk, cheese and fish. However, many dogs and cats can not handle dairy products such as milk eggs and cheese unless they were introduced to them at a very early age, and their digestive tract adjusted to it. Grains such as corn, wheat, rice, barley and soybeans are good sources of carbohydrates, NOT protein. Grains are very low on the list of digestibility but are commonly used because of the availability and low price. The pet food companies claim that “after processing” plant protein is as good as animal protein as the amino acids are easily digested. Professional dog show breeders however, believe that dogs and cats raised on animal protein based professional foods develop better. In general, the higher the quality of protein, the higher the price, and the less the amount needed, as less grain “filler” is required to meet the nutritional requirements. Don’t forget, we want our pets to thrive not just survive.
Last year Yale researchers discovered that birds can spread this serious disease. This year the Center for Disease Control (CDC) came out with statistics showing that Lyme Disease is on the increase in the Northeast in PEOPLE. Many of these cases come from ticks being brought into owners homes by their pet dogs. Ticks are the primary vector for spreading Lyme Disease to dogs, horses, people , and other animals. The ticks acquire the disease-causing bacteria by feeding on infected rodents and deer. But now, the latest evidence points to common birds, such as robins and blue jays, are also reservoirs of this disease, and they can carry ticks long distances right into your own backyard. Lyme Disease is on the increase on Long Island and the rest of the country. Some suspect Global Warming. We had over 70 positive cases in dogs in the Locust Valley/Glen Cove and surrounding areas in 2010, and this year we are already diagnosing it in dogs that tested negative last year. Some of this can be attributed to the “Indian Summers” we have experienced this winter with temperatures in the high 60’s in March. Lyme Disease can be a very complex and serious disease if not caught early. It can result in painful lameness, chronic joint problems, serious kidney disease and neurological problems. The most effective way to protect your dog is by vaccination. The vaccine induces the body to produce antibodies against the bacteria in the tick and locks the bacteria inside the tick. So the vaccine actually works within the tick, not the dog. These are unique vaccines known as Recombinant Vaccines, and are considered “genetically engineered wonders of modern science.” They contain only a single protein which virtually eliminates all adverse reactions. In addition, monthly applications of tick/flea products to the skin are now recommended all year long instead of just the warmer months, because of the increasing threat to humans. These products kill ticks within 24 hours which is less time the tick needs to transmit the disease to the dog or human. Daily brushing and combing are not enough as the tick is so small it is usually missed.