Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Types of pet food, many choices Part 1: Dry over canned?

Basically a simple question, but the answer is not quite as easy. Just as we humans, pets are individual in their needs. While there are many other types such as for example raw food in all kinds of shapes and forms, today I am going to limit myself to dry and canned food. When making a decision about what type of diet to feed, we need to consider, among other things, our pet's age, size, breed, and perhaps even any existing medical problems. We also need to consider the nutrient content of the diet we feed. I always recommend feeding a premium quality diet that meets AAFCO Official Nutrient Profiles for the appropriate life stage of the pet. This preferably is a diet with meat as the first or second listed ingredient and of course without any artificial preservatives or colors.
Typically I do not recommend semi moist types of food. We don’t even offer them in our online store. This is because they tend to have high salt and sugar content. Our companion animals do not require this much salt and sugar in their diet. In addition, sticky, sugary foods can contribute to dental disease. While dental caries or cavities are related in people to the amount of sugar in the diet, it is infrequent in dogs and unusual in cats. However, tooth loss is more commonly associated with gingivitis and periodontal disease. Inflammation and infection of the gum tissue causes loosening and retraction of the gum tissue around the tooth. This eventually leads to tooth loss. Sticky, sugary foods can contribute to the development of gingivitis and periodontal disease. In general, I recommend a premium quality dry or canned food.
For large breed dogs, most pet owners choose a dry food, for several reasons. Larger breed dogs require a larger amount of food than smaller dogs. Dry food is easy to transport, store and prepare. It is also probably the less expensive option. Because canned food contains a much larger percentage of water (average around 80%) than dry foods (average around 10%), dry food is usually more economical to feed on a per serving basis, especially when feeding a premium quality food.
Many pet owners also choose to feed their pets dry food believing that dry kibble has a significant scraping or wiping action on the teeth and will slow the accumulation of plaque and tartar. Dry food does exercise the mouth during chewing. However, the average dry kibble actually does not provide very much scraping action. When the tip of a tooth comes into contact with regular dry kibble, the kibble shatters before the tooth can penetrate far enough into it for any scraping to take place. Of course, the pet food industry’s marketing gurus immediately noticed this new marketing opportunity. There are specially designed dental diets on the market, with a kibble designed to hold together longer, allowing more tooth contact before the kibble breaks apart. This allows for more of a wiping effect on the tooth. However, in my opinion, dry food is simply not a replacement for good dental care. We don’t clean our teeth by eating crackers either. While canned foods may promote somewhat faster accumulation of plaque and tartar, plaque and tartar will still eventually accumulate no matter what type of food is fed. Because of that, regular home care, yearly dental exams, and professional cleanings as needed still are essential for optimum dental health.
Smaller breeds of dogs obviously eat less than larger dogs, and for them canned food may be more of a financially affordable option. However, smaller breed dogs often have more crowded teeth, providing areas where plaque and tartar easily accumulate. Sometimes owners report that their dog is used to canned food, and refuses to eat dry food. These dogs can still be fed canned food, but home dental care needs to be especially emphasized. Needless to say that the same dental care rules apply as with the larger breeds.
Dry food, until most recently also was usually recommended most often for cats. However, recent research in feline nutrition is causing some rethinking in this area. The typical dry cat food is quite high in carbohydrates (often 45% or more) and there is some indication that this may pre-dispose certain cats to becoming overweight and possibly developing diabetes as they get older. The typical diet of cats in the wild (which usually is mostly mice and other small rodents) is thought to be about 45% protein, 45% fat, and only 4-5% carbohydrates. Dry pet food requires fairly high carbohydrate content in order for the kibble pieces to stick together. However, canned food is typically much lower in carbohydrate content, about 10%. Some veterinary nutritionists are recommending that cats, especially those with a tendency toward obesity, be fed a canned diet with a protein, fat, and carbohydrate content as close as possible to a “wild” diet. Interestingly, early reports seem to indicate that a canned diet does not seem to increase dental disease in these cats. More research is needed, but this is a very interesting finding.
It is important to note that specific health conditions may affect the type of diet that is recommended for your animal. For example, cats with urinary tract problems or animals with kidney disease may benefit from increased water in their diet, and feeding canned food can help with this. Make sure to talk to your vet before making any changes to your pet's diet.
And just so that you don’t think I changed my mind and philosophy: I have not. As I mentioned in the beginning, there are other feeding options such as for example raw. And I prefer that all day long over dry and canned food and so do my animals. You can’t get closer to nature.
While I understand that there are many reasons calling for a dry or canned food option such as economical restrictions, convenience and many others, here is one example why I am sort of against canned or kibbled: By the time commercial dog food has passed from the manufacturer, to the distributor, to the store and finally to your pet, this food could now be months old. At room temperature, meat, chicken, lamb, turkey, etc. have less than a 24 hour shelf life. Actually, after a few hours meat starts to decompose. If you had raw meat in the refrigerator, you would throw it away after 3 days and if the meat was cooked, and then refrigerated, you would throw it out in no more than 6 to 7 days. Do you think that you can have either raw or cooked protein or meat at room temperature for more than 12 to 18 hours? You can’t! So how is dog food kept from decomposing? Answer: Preservatives and Chemicals. Chemicals are also used to enhance taste and looks. These additives can have detrimental effects on your pet's short and long term health. I would say no further comments are needed.

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