Saturday, October 18, 2008

So many specialists, so little objective advise

I found this on one of the so called Expert Advise websites on the net, listed under the topic Animals/Pets > Dogs > Dog Food > Grain Free Diet:
There is this owner of an 11 month old Bichon Frise. The puppy has been fed A-XYZ Dry Puppy since she was 10 weeks old. The owner claims she has done tons of research on the best food and decided to settle with XYZ (Note: I put the A in front of it standing for the manufacturer of XYZ who also happens to be the manufacturer for the second food mentioned within the dog owner’s inquiry). The owner is now planning on switching the dog over to adult food in another month. She was thinking of putting her on a grain free diet, such as A-UVW. The protein level, according to the dog owner, of A-UVW is 42% and she is wondering if it is ok for a 10 lbs dog to be fed grain free. She says, she heard many mixed reviews. Some are saying grain free is the best for any dog of any size. Others told her it will cause kidney and liver failure, so she wants to know what the “specialist” is recommending. She also wants to know if the “specialist” has any experience with food rotation. She even explains what this is. Again because of getting mixed advise she wants to know how the “specialist” views this subject.
The “specialist’s” answer states that there is very little objective information on dog chow available to the general public (My Q: Specialist, have you been on the Internet lately?). That there is a lot of marketing hype. That he does not know if there is any objective tests on how dogs do on grain free food. That he knows of some service dog schools documenting successful feeding of rice containing common chows. These schools are also careful to not stick to one type of meat while the dog is a puppy. And he has a friend whom’s dog developed an allergy to chicken in the ABC kibble he was fed. Switching to DEF was an easy work around. (Mind you, there are DEF links plastered all over the “specialist’s” website). Furthermore, the “specialist” doesn’t like the 48% protein level (My Q,: Would you please pay a little more attention? The dog owner said 42%, quite a difference to what you read. Also, I doubt that the Bichon is going to perform as a race dog, or in any other high performance function requiring protein levels in the 40%+ range). The “specialist” continues: Much of that protein will be burned for energy creating more urea for the kidneys to filter out. Finally, he recommends to find a food with a protein level of less than 30%. (My Q: Ever heard of AAFCO’s feeding profiles which recommend 32% for growth stage and 18% for maintenance stage. After 12 months the dog is pretty much done growing. AAFCO’s 18% is an absolute minimum, a good dog food is in the mid 20% range of protein content, so I guess that answer is not wrong so to speak).
I looked at the “specialist’s” background, he’s getting most of his knowledge by friends who know other dog owners telling him what’s good and he happily shares that knowledge with any dog owner who is interested right there on the “Expert’s Advise” site. He also has done “extensive reading”, I think looking at his advise I couldn’t tell. He claims having a degree in chemistry, which allows him to understand how real research is done, evaluate the proof behind diet claims and not to be taken in by the junk science behind many diets. Yet that doesn’t prevent him from promoting DEF, which is quite frankly based on my knowledge just that: Junk.
In closing let me say this: In my opinion the “specialist” has not answered one question and just published as much garbage as is contained in the food he recommends. Be careful what kind of advise you are listening to. There are 2 different kinds: Either objective, educational and scientifically backed, or should I call it real good advise and then there is tricky and, in my opinion dirty methods of selling junk by making pet owners believe they are the Top Guns among the pet nutrition specialists. There is particularly one company, which uses this strategy as their one and only sales tactic. I am sure anybody who ever looked for pet food on the Internet is familiar with it. If you really look into it you find out that all it is is a pyramid scheme build on the foundation of, guess what? More of really not so good food.

FDA above the law?

On 09/27/07 President Bush signed into law the FDA Amendments Act, known as FDAAA. Section 1002(b). It required the FDA to develop “Early Warning Surveillance Systems and Notification During Pet Food Recalls”. The deadline for these pet food safety measures was was not grey, but black and white with no room for interpretation: “Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall establish an early warning and surveillance system to identify adulteration of the pet food supply and outbreaks of illness associated with pet food.” That means, the deadline expired 09/27/08. What happened? This day has come and gone seemingly ignored by the FDA, which justifies this question: If the FDA can ignore the law, where does that leave 74 million US pet owners? Was the new law just another government act of pretending it is fixing problems, while actually really nothing changes?
The FDA has not developed the pet food surveillance system or recall notification system required by the new law. Are they working on it? It almost appears as if they are not. During the Animal Feed Safety System Public Meeting in Gaithersburg, MD back in May they only briefly mentioned briefly what needed to be accomplished and highlighted existing gaps in existing programs. Without any progress update. In August 2008 an update from the FDA mentions a few speeches given by the FDA; a 50 state meeting on food protection held in August 2008 and a reminder of a formerly discussed FDA Third party certification program for Food and Feeds safety. There was no mention in the FDA update regarding the upcoming deadline for a pet food surveillance system or pet food recall notification system. As of today there is no updated information on the FDA’s website regarding anything related to the new law.
The deadline has passed. The FDA has accomplished little to nothing in the year since Congress developed the Amendments Act and the President signed it into law. Who is holding the FDA accountable for ignoring the FDAAA mandated deadline? Pet owners and all consumers cannot afford for the FDA to ignore the law. How many more ill or even dead pets do we need to get the message across?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

McVeterinary Hospital?

It feels good when you have an opinion and then find out that you are not the only one who agrees with your view. But it feels even better when what you are saying is confirmed to be correct by people who really should know. It happened to me this morning at the breakfast table while reading my favorite pet corner column in the daily local paper. There it was, written by Dr. Michael Fox, D.V.M.. Now keep in mind, as you all know, I don’t always agree with what he says, but what he said today I had agreed upon before he even said it. This woman with her Maltese, 8 years of age and throwing his entire weight of 8 lbs on the scale, had a question about her new vet office. She has changed vets because “the new guys donate their services to my pet charities. But they insist on physicals every 6 months, teeth cleaned annually and shots for ticks, etc., which my old vet did not find necessary.“ She goes on that she is religiously performing the dog maintenance duties with weekly ear and daily eye cleaning as well as daily teeth brushing. She is concerned and reluctant to have her dog getting anesthesia on a regular base. The Doc’s answer was:
“I am very sorry that there are many veterinarians operating what I call a “McVeterinary Hospital”. Many are in franchised chains, sell pet health insurance and junk pet food.” Did you hear that? Just to make sure, let me repeat: “Junk pet food sold by vets.”
He continued: “They also oversell services, treatments, vaccinations, worming and flea/tick medicines. It is absurd to anesthetize pets every year to clean their teeth. With a proper diet”, another one for me, “and safe things to chew, most pets have few dental problems. Toy breeds and dogs and cats with blunt faces and dental misalignment need additional attention and a daily brushing as you are doing. There are oral gels like XYZ that actually help remove tartar/scale and keep gums healthy. Check the website of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association ( for a list of vets in your area who do not operate in the McVeterinary Hospital fashion.”
Now, that made my day especially related to the comments on pet nutrition. But it also reminded me of a fierce battle my wife was having a few weeks ago with the administrational staff of our vet’s hospital. It went so far that she called me up stating: ”That’s it, we are changing vets”. What happened was that the dogs needed their scheduled parasiticides and she had found out that tablets only cost a fraction of what you have to dish out for the drop-on’s. Well, she ended up getting them, but only after like I said a “battle” with an aggressive forceful admin staff, who not just try to abuse their relationship with the vet, but also seem to be very much interested in making that way more lucrative sale.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Holistic nutrition

A positive development is that more pet owners are more concerned than ever about what they are feeding their companion animals. I notice the countless questions being asked about what we are feeding our pets and what all the label Latin printed on the food bags at the end of the day really means.
This brings up one question I am frequently being asked: What does “holistic” actually mean and stand for? Neither AAFCO nor any other rule generating and enforcing governmental body has so far come up with standard definitions for holistic. I always say, the holistic approach is basically one that treats the whole animal, using nutrition to stimulate the body’s ability to heal and maintain itself.
Holistic health is based on the law of nature that a whole is made up of independent parts. When one part is not working at its best, it influences all of the other parts of that animal. Furthermore, this animal, including all of the parts, is constantly interacting with everything in the surrounding environment. For example, when a pet is anxious about its owner leaving, their nervousness may result in a physical reaction such as an upset stomach and loose stools.
The principles of holistic health are based on the fundamental idea that health is more than just not being sick. A common explanation is to view wellness as a continuum along a line. The line represents all possible degrees of health. The far left end of the line represents premature death. On the far right end is the highest possible level of wellness. The center point of the line represents a lack of apparent disease. This places all levels of illness on the left half of the wellness continuum. The right half shows that even when no illness seems present, there is still a lot of room for improvement.
Holistic health is an ongoing process. The cells in an animal’s body are constantly being replaced. New cells are built from what is available. Harmful substances or lack of needed building blocks in the body can result in imperfect cells and an inability to do what is required to keep that animal healthy.
When diseases and chronic conditions occur, the holistic health principles can also be applied. The term usually changes to holistic medicine though and additional factors are added. A holistic approach to healing means going beyond simply eliminating the symptoms that are present. For example, giving your pet an inoculation for dry skin and itchiness would be like disconnecting the oil light on the dash of your car when it flashes. The irritation is eliminated, but the real problem still exists. Looking at it from a holistic standpoint, a symptom is considered a message that something needs attention. The symptom is used as a guide to look below the surface for a root cause.
A holistic pet food is one that supports your pet’s health on all levels by using high quality ingredients and proper formulation to insure that optimal amounts of nutrition are being achieved. If appropriate nutrition is received by the animal, you should not see itchy and dry skin, energy loss, excessive eye drainage, yeast infections in the ears and skin or principally any other disease.
What should you look for in a holistic diet for your pet? Here are a few pointers in the right direction:
Look for quality animal based protein sources that are steroid, antibiotic and hormone free. Keep in mind that ingredients are listed by weight. I believe I explained before that fresh chicken would include the moisture (approximately 70% of its weight), chicken meal does not contain moisture and is cooked prior to being added into the kibble mix, dehydrated chicken is fresh chicken with the moisture removed that has not been exposed to heat.
Look for whole grains and not grain fragments. Beware of ingredient panels that list three grain parts together as their total weight could add up to more than the animal protein Example: rice, rice bran, rice flour. Look instead for a variety of grains such as millet, oatmeal, brown rice, barley and quinoa.
Make sure it contains high quality fat sources and a good Omega Fatty Acid Ratio. Chicken fat, fish oil and coconut oil are examples for good sources of fat.
Select food with natural preservatives, such as Vitamin E. Avoid foods that contain chemical preservatives such as BHT, BHA or Ethoxyquin.
The diet needs to be free of added colors or flavors.
Beware of diets that heavily market inclusion of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables should be fed fresh in order to receive the full value of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants available. Fruits and vegetables cooked at high temperatures provide nothing in the end result but fiber and sugar.
Keep in mind that probiotics and enzymes added to kibble diets must be genetically modified to remain active. Once digested these Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) replace what the body has already made on their own. Look for diets that include prebiotics like for example inulin because they encourage the production of beneficial bacteria by the body in the gut, rather than replacing them.
Grain Free doesn’t mean carbohydrate free. Many grain free diets use large amounts of simple carbohydrates such as potatoes. In a basic nutritional comparison, grains such as oatmeal or brown rice offer more nutrition and less insulin production than a white potato.
In my opinion my best advice is: When looking for your pet’s diet rely on common sense nutrition rather than what you are being told by marketing claims and by nothing meaning pictures on the bags.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Recall measurement plant closing?

The Dog Channel reported on October 3rd:
“Mars Petcare US to stop production of food at a facility involved in Salmonella scares.
After a nationwide voluntary recall was issued by Mars Petcare US on Sept. 12 because of potential contamination with Salmonella Schwarzengrund in dog food products manufactured at its Everson, Penn., facility, the company has decided to permanently close the plant.
The company halted production at the Everson facility July 29, when it was alerted of a possible link between dry dog food produced at the plant and two isolated cases of people infected with Salmonella Schwarzengrund. There have been no reported cases of death or illness since the recall was issued.
The recall affects 31 states and includes brands such as Pedigree, Country Acres, Members Mark, Retriever, Red Flannel, Special Kitty, Doggy Bag, Natural, Ol’ Roy, Paws & Claws, Wegman’s, Pet Pride, and PMI Nutrition. The Everson plant was also closed for a cleaning in 2007 after Salmonella had been discovered in dog food products produced there.
The company urges consumers to look at the production lot codes under the UPC code to determine whether a product is affected. Concerned pet owners can also visit to find out if a product they purchased is affected.
Regarding measures Mars has taken following the voluntary dog food recall, spokeswoman Debra Fair said that even though no direct link between product produced at the Everson facility and human or pet illness has been detected, the company took the precautionary action of issuing a recall to protect pets and their owners.
“Since we have not yet identified the source of the Salmonella Schwarzengrund at the Everson facility, we do not plan to resume production out of a commitment to the safety of our pet owners and their pets, customers, and associates,” Fair said.”
My comment: I just have somehow the strange feeling that I don’t want to believe just one word they are saying. I think they should admit, the “salmonella” problem is not the main reason why they are closing the plant. At least I don’t think so. Yet, they have the benefit of a doubt. But I believe that there were other reasons why the closing was decided upon. Most probably it is economical, strictly profit oriented reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I do not see making profits as a problem. That’s what business people, including myself, are in business for, it’s our fuel. To blame it on a pet food problem is primitive. If you need that as an excuse to explain to the plant workers that in future they get their paychecks from the government, then I feel sorry for you. Have some courage and be straight forward. It would be a lot easier to believe you, but pet food recalls in the past, and especially your company is very familiar with them, have not caused such drastic changes. It’s bad enough that pet food mass manufacturers make marketing claims which totally mislead the pet owners. All I can say about your press release shown above is “How stupid do you want us to be? And what do you want us to believe next?”

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cats eating dog food and the other way around

My customer was all bent out of shape: “Thank you for sending me the samples. Problem is that at this point I still don’t know if my dog likes the freeze dried raw food you sent. The reason for that is that my cat got a hold of it and ate it. Isn’t that going to cause a problem? And, please can you send me another dog sample?” she wrote in her e-mail.
I answered:
So the cat ate it with pleasure? Good for her and you have nothing to worry about, it is not going to do any harm. We here have the same problem, with 2 dogs and 5 cats it is a regular scenario that the dogs eat the cat food and vice versa. When it comes to dry food, I must keep my cat Isabell out of the warehouse and hide every shipment as fast as I can. She’s made it a habit of ripping open the dog food bags and enjoying the kibble faster than I can say “No”. And there is nothing you can do about it, except being fast and tricky as how to locate the food bowls (keep them out of reach for dogs and let the cats climb into higher locations for them).
However, over the long run you want to consider the following facts:
Cat and dog food is fairly different in many ways. Cats are obligate carnivores. They have to eat meat and correspondingly their diet should consist of mostly meat and a higher protein level. Dogs are omnivores, meaning their diet should feature higher fiber content than feline food. If a dog eats a lot of cat food, or exclusively cat food, he will get way too much protein, which could lead to indigestion and possibly kidney or liver damage.On the other hand, if cats are being fed mostly dog food, they will not be getting the amino acid taurine required, which comes from meat and is added in extra amounts to cat food. Taurine can be synthesized by dogs from other amino acids. Cats do not have this capability and must receive the required supply with their food. Dog foods do not have an adequate level of taurine so a cat on a dog food diet could gradually develop heart failure, blindness and muscle degradation. Though, as a side note, lately more and more manufacturers are changing their recipes to include taurine in dog food as well.In summary, a cat can snack on dog food without real harm as long as they mostly eat their own cat food. Some cats with sensitive stomachs may vomit because of the high fiber content. A dog should not snack on cat food because the high protein and fat levels will upset the digestion of most dogs. Also dogs tend to wolf down their food instead of nibbling a few kibbles like a cat does when it eats dog food. Therefore the food intake is higher as well.
At the same time: A few kibbles or nuggets here and there once in a while don’t hurt neither the cat nor the dog.
Having said that, yes, we will send out some more of the samples for your dog. Just this time make sure you and your dog are faster than your sneaky cat. Maybe feeding her more often would help too… (just kidding).