Saturday, November 29, 2008

FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine encourages AVMA members to report complaints about pet food directly to the FDA

Susan Thixton earlier this month sent me her newsletter noticing that “In a move that's a day late and a dollar short, the FDA is asking American Veterinary Medical Association members to report complaints about pet food to the FDA."
Here is how the American Veterinarians Medical Association (AVMA) publishes the news on their website:
“The Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine is encouraging AVMA members to report complaints about pet food directly to the FDA, particularly in light of last year's adverse events following contamination of ingredients with melamine.
Many practitioners report adverse drug events to drug manufacturers, and the law requires drug manufacturers to submit the reports to the FDA. In the case of pet food, however, manufacturers are not required to submit consumer complaints to the agency. Therefore, the FDA may not learn of any potential problems with a pet food until after the manufacturer has investigated complaints independently and notified the agency that the investigation identified a problem.
Veterinarians and other individuals can report complaints about pet food and other animal feed to the FDA by calling the FDA consumer complaint coordinator in their state. Reports should include product details such as lot number, brand name, expiration date, manufacturer or distributor, and location of purchase. Reports also should include medical information, including signs of illness, numbers of animals that do and do not have the signs, and complete medical histories. Additionally, veterinarians should consider contacting the manufacturer so any necessary investigation can be initiated immediately.”
Interestingly, the notice from the FDA on the AVMA website states that many (veterinary) practitioners report adverse drug events to drug manufacturers, and the law requires drug manufacturers to submit the reports to the FDA. In the case of pet food, however, manufacturers are not required to submit consumer complaints to the agency.
Susan wants to know: “Now why is that? Why wouldn't the FDA require any and all companies that provide food or drugs to US citizens to report complaints from consumers? The FDA regulates all food and food ingredient companies, why shouldn't those food and food ingredient companies be held responsible for their products?
It is a good idea for the FDA to ask veterinarians to report cases of sick pets, but...the next concern is will the veterinarian do it, and how often will a vet actually believe a pet food is the cause of a pet's illness. Time will only tell if this action will help.”
I agree and for my part am very skeptical as to if the vets will follow the call. Reporting such issues could result in having an impact on a for these days many vet’s very lucrative and important profit center in their business. Second, as she says, many vets don’t see the food as a problem. It is, I believe, the reason why some of them are prescribing questionable food in the first place.
By the way, did you know that as a consumer you can report complaints about a pet food to your state FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator? Information for each state's FDA representative and how to file a complaint can be found at

Friday, November 28, 2008

Pet Food Isle: Magic Kingdom or an Empire of Smoke & Mirrors? Part 2 conclusion

Yesterday we looked at a number of marketing claims made by mass producing pet food manufacturers.
What most consumers don’t know is that the pet food industry is an extension of the human food and agriculture industries. Pet food provides a convenient way for slaughterhouse offal, grains considered “unfit for human consumption,” and similar “waste” products to be turned into profit. Additionally, the pet food market has been dominated in the last few years by the acquisition of big companies by even bigger companies. With the billions of Dollars at stake in the home and rapidly expanding foreign markets, it comes as no surprise that some want a larger piece of the pie. Acquisitions result in the fact that numerous brands are now all coming from the same company. It is not unusual that sometimes up to 20 brands come from one and the same manufacturer. So then, are all these foods different? Not really or very often just minimally. Then there are private labelers, which are manufacturers making food for house brands for retailer super markets. Co-packers, producing food for other makers are additional players. The three major companies in those two categories produce food for dozens of private label and brand names. It is interesting that all of them have been involved in all major pet food recalls that sickened or killed many pets. The 2007 recall brought to light some of the pet food industry’s darkest secrets. With surprise we learned that one of the largest “manufacturer’s” canned foods are not made by that manufacturer at all as we all were made to believe. In fact, they signed an exclusive long term contract for the production of all of its canned foods by a co-packer. This is a very common arrangement in the industry and only makes business sense. It was first illustrated by recalls, when dozens of private labels were involved. These recalls included large and “reputable” companies with their high end, so called premium foods.
The big question raised by this arrangement is whether or not there is any real difference between the expensive premium brands and the low priced “bargain” generics. The recalled products all contained the same suspect ingredient
Part of the attraction of using a co-packer is that he can buy ingredients in larger bulk than any one pet food maker could on its own, thereby reducing cost and increasing profits. Forget about pet food, Wall Street counts. It’s likely that many of the ingredients that cross all types of pet foods are the same. So, are one company’s products, made in the same plant on the same equipment with ingredients called the same name, really better than another’s? That’s what the makers of expensive brands want you to think. You draw your own conclusion. The recalled premium brands claim that their co-packer makes their foods according to proprietary recipes using specified ingredients and that they must follow strict quality standards. Let’s face it, the contracts undoubtedly include those points. But then there is also something called “the real world”.
Cheap or high end food, whatever the differences between those are or may be, one thing is clear: The price tag does not always determine whether a pet food is good, bad or safe. However, most of the times, the very cheapest foods can be counted on to have the very cheapest ingredients. It is not unusual to see that a brand has now been involved in 3 serious recalls. So when are pet owners going to learn? At the same time, let it also be known that at least one co-packer manufactures canned foods for many companies that were not affected by the recall. Looking at those, it is easy to see from their ingredient lists that their products are made from completely different ingredients and proportions.

This article focused in very general terms on the most visible name brands, the pet food labels that are mass distributed to supermarkets and discount stores. There are many highly respected brands that may be guilty of the same offenses. Perhaps I now owe an apology to these pet food companies. Ok, here it is: I apologize. I didn’t mean to cause harm. At least I didn’t mention any names and this not just because I’m limited on the space generously given to me in this publication. My only intention was to raise consumer awareness. Because I believe that mere polished labels and alleged claims do not make healthy nutrition. In conclusion I would like to say that there are still many, typically smaller and privately owned pet food manufacturers offering healthy food. All you have to do is finding them by keeping in mind what you just read.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Recall Update

Please check the Recall Alert for important updates as Orijen limits latest voluntary recall to Australia and Mars Petcare issues yet another recall for certain lots of Ol' Roy and other brands.

Pet Food Isle: Magic Kingdom or an Empire of Smoke & Mirrors? Part 1 Introduction

Have you ever felt overwhelmed when shopping for pet food in the super market? Walking down the pet food aisle sometimes can be quite mind boggling.
Phrases like “Plump whole chicken, choice cuts of beef, fresh grains” combined with high resolution pictures of the cutest puppies you have seen resting in the greenest lawn and stud dogs so perfect that they leave any AKC Champ behind are an image publicized by pet food manufacturers through media, advertising and food packaging. They want you to believe that they offer all the wholesome ingredients in the only food your perfect dog will ever need. For an obvious reason: Everybody wants a slice of the $16.1 billion a year pie This is the quite impressive market generated by the 63% of the US households owning a pet and being home to 75+ Million dogs.
With all the wonderful claims made by pet food makers for their endless assortment of products, knowing the ingredients certainly helps sorting out some of the more outrageous claims. But this is only part of it. What is the truth behind all the marketing hype? How realistic are these claims? Are there hidden dangers? Who are the real players in this market? All these questions are pieces in a puzzle you need assemble yourself. Knowing the answers means knowing the differences between what you as a pet owner think you are buying and what you end up getting.
Today’s pet diets are a far cry from the variable meat based diets eaten by their ancestors. Unfortunately this shows in an enormous increase of diseases attributed to these diets. To name just a few, urinary tract, kidney and dental diseases, obesity, chronic digestive problems, heart disease, cancer, allergies are becoming an increasing problem mostly associated with commercial pet food. With last year’s recall with its 17,000 reported sickened animals and a 20% death rate still fresh on our minds, it is clearly a serious issue. As a responsible owner you owe it to your pet that you make well informed dietary decisions on your it’s behalf.
What are all these claims we are talking about? Let’s start with the “Niche Claim”. Whether you have an indoor active or outdoor low energy dog, a medium Shepherd, a maxi Poodle or a mini Schnauzer, puppy 9 or 10 months old, adult 6 years old or senior large, medium or small breed, they got you covered. Your dog needs to loose weight or you want to put some meat on his bones? Bad breath, age related behavioral disorders, vegetarian, stool too loose or too firm or itchy feet? Don’t worry and rest assured: There is a food, which was designed just for your special dog’s personal needs. Say “Hello” to niche marketing. What started out as simply “dog food” turned into “dog food for puppies, adults and seniors” and from there ended up with hundreds of specific formulations available today. Really specific? We all like to feel special, and a product with specific appeal is bound to sell better than a general product like plain and simple “puppy food.” Reality is, there are only two basic standards against which all pet foods need to be measured: Adult and growth, which includes gestation and lactation. Everything else is marketing, it is as simple as that. Too simple? Look at nature: Do wolf puppies eat different than their parents or grand parents? Is a “quiet” dingo surviving by eating the same prey his “active” brother hunted down? I rest my case.
Next, the claim of being “Natural” and “Organic” The AAFCO adopted definition of “natural” is very broad, and allows for artificially processed ingredients that most of us would consider very unnatural indeed. The term “organic”, on the other hand, has a very strict legal definition under the USDA National Organic Program. But beware, some companies are trying to get around the intent of both of these rules and are, intentionally misleading and distracting from the actual product. As an example they use terms such as “nature” or “natural” or even “organic” in their brand name, whether or not their products fit the definitions.
With regards to the claim about “AAFCO approved ingredients” I’d like to mention that so are (no joke!) dehydrated garbage, hydrolyzed feathers, hair and leather meal, 36 chemical preservatives, peanut skins and hulls, ground clam shells and antibiotic and chemotherapeutic pharmaceuticals. I guess, there is no need to complete this list.
Here’s a good one: “Made from free range animals”. That may be true, but it still had to be processed by drying, dehydrating, extruding, heating and many more tortures. So much indeed that it was robbed of all its original healthy elements. Consequentially it then had to be fortified with synthetic vitamins, minerals etc. to turn into a 100% complete and balanced chemical potpourri, sometimes also called “Natural Pet Food”.
A lot of pet foods in their ingredient quality claims contain “human grade” ingredients. To make it short: This is a completely meaningless term, which is why pet food companies get away with using it. The same applies to “USDA inspected” or similar phrases. The implication is that the food is made using ingredients that passed the USDA for human consumption, but, as with every rule and regulation, there are many ways around this. If you want to see it for yourself, next time you’re in the pet food isle, stop by at the human meats isle too. Check out the prices for “your” meat and compare them to your pet food prices. Needless to say, there is no T-bone steak or pork chop in your dog food. This in itself isn’t bad. In the wild the wolf eats the pheasant complete with its guts, head and feet and seems to be doing quite alright. Just don’t get mislead and consider the human grade claims a sign to be alert.
“Meat is the first ingredient” is a claim common and generally seen with kibble. Ingredients, according to AAFCO rules, have to be listed on the label by weight. Raw meat, due to its high water content weighs a lot. If you look further down the list, you’re likely to see ingredients such as meat by-product meal, meat-and-bone meal, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, or other high-protein meal. Meals have had the fat and water removed, and basically consist of a dry, lightweight protein powder. It doesn’t take much raw meat to weigh more than a large amount of this powder, so in reality the food is based on the protein meal, with very little “meat” to be found. A very popular marketing gimmick and since just about everybody is now using it, any meaning it may have had is so watered down that you may just as well ignore it.
Many high end pet foods today rely on the appeal of people food ingredients like fruits, herbs, and vegetables. However, the amounts of these items actually present in the food are small; and the items themselves may be scraps and rejects from processors of human foods, not the whole, fresh ingredients they want you to picture. Due to their minimal presence, such ingredients don’t provide a significant health benefit and are most often just a marketing gimmick.
Finally, my favorite is the “we are different claim”. It tempts me to ask: If that is so, why was your product recalled in 2007?
The bottom line about these and countless other claims not mentioned here: Pet food marketing and advertising has become extremely sophisticated over the last few years. It is up to you to differentiate what is hype and what is real. Stay tuned for my conclusion following soon.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ingredients: Confusion, myth meal, truth by-product, …

A couple of years ago our kids came to an agreement with Aunt Cindy. “They” were going to take care of her Bullmastiff, Brandy, as she had become too much to handle for their gracefully aging aunt. My wife and I readily agreed. After all, we always wanted a dog to accompany our cats. As usual, taking care of Brandy to the kids meant walk and feed her for two days, then leave it up to Mom and Dad.
I, on my part, believe in sharing responsibilities. I leave the walking up to Mom but for me feeding was the big issue and that would prove to haunt me for many months to come. After hearing about the pet food industry and massive recalls, I just wanted to make sure Brandy was safe and got “the right stuff”. I asked Aunt Cindy and other friend dog owners and received great advice, “just feed her a high quality pet diet.”
Right, how could I dare to ask such a simple question? Little did I know that “high quality” means different things to different people and leaves a lot open to debate. Then I learned that an accredited veterinary nutritionist at a recent pet nutrition conference defined it as “a high quality diet that is complete, balanced, palatable, digestible and safe.” Now I got it! And was right back to where I started. While this seems to cover all the bases for those knowledgeable on the subject, it hardly helps a pet owner standing in a dry food aisle of their local grocery or pet store studying and comparing pet food labels. And the label is where the confusion really starts.
Just like food for people, pet foods must be labeled correctly. Surprisingly pet food labeling rules are much stricter than those for human foods. Good, I thought, that’s going to help. As a minimum the front panel is to include the product name or brand, the “Cat” or “Dog” designation and the content net weight. The back panel label at a minimum must include an ingredient listing, a guaranteed analysis, nutritional adequacy claim, feeding instructions, indication as to who is manufacturing the food and a manufacturer’s customer service contact. Really simple, right?
The front panel is a no-brainer. Beef is beef. But did you know that a “Beef Dog Food” must be 95% beef, a “Beef Formula” only requires 25% beef, a “Beef & Potato Dinner” requires only 25% beef and 3% potato, a “Dog Food with Beef” gets by with 3% beef content and a “Dog Food with Beef Flavor” just needs to be beef flavored enough so that a dog thinks it contains beef.
Another requirement is that whatever is listed on the package MUST be included in the food. So if the bag proudly promises “contains Vitamin C”, then there’s Vitamin C in the food, even if it is only 0.000001% (which, by the way, wouldn’t matter either as a dog doesn’t need Vitamin C - they produce Vitamin C through their own internal system).
Thanks to the Association of American Feed Control officials there is a requirement of an “Ingredient Listing”. This clearly tells us the true story by listing all ingredients in descending order, by weight without showing the actual weight. But what is the importance of knowing the actual weight? Suppose, for example, that beef is listed as the first ingredient, causing you to think it is the primary ingredient. Look again. If it is followed by wheat flour, wheat germ, wheat middlings and so on, the combined wheat products may very well total much more than the beef. This is one tactic used by manufacturers to disguise less desirable ingredients. Breaking an ingredient into several different smaller ingredients and listing them individually is used to lower undesirable ingredients farther down the ingredient list.
But how about the “Guaranteed Analysis”? The famous regulatory requirement for pet food that refers to minimum or maximum values of key nutrients (such as minimum protein and fat) as well as the maximum fiber and water content. Note that it only has to list “crude” nutrients. "Crude" refers to the total protein content, not necessarily the amount of protein that is actually digestible. What this means is that this is only a crude protein percentage, and fat amounts are rough guides. The actual amounts depend upon the ingredients and their quality.
The amount of moisture in a food is important, especially when you are comparing foods. A food containing 24% protein and 10% moisture would have the same protein per serving as a food with 24% protein listed on the label but only 6% moisture. Keep in mind that you are buying more water instead of food.
While the guaranteed analysis is a start in understanding the quality of the food, be very careful about relying on it too much. This will make you think: A pet food manufacturer made a mock product that had a guaranteed analysis of 10% protein, 6.5% fat, 2.4% fiber, and 68% moisture, similar to what you see on many canned pet food labels. The only problem was that the ingredients were old leather work boots, used motor oil, crushed coal, and water!
Let’s dedicate a couple thoughts to weight information. Maybe one day someone will explain to me why the net content weight is measured in pounds, but the amount to feed our dogs is in grams. Or why the cup size for measuring calorie content is different from the one used to measure for feeding. Or does the manufacturer who recommends feeding measured in cups really not want us to compare pricing with his competitor who feeds in ounces? And does the statement: “distributed by…” mean the food is “manufactured” in places still very easily crossing our mind when we think about the history’s largest pet food recall during Spring of 2007? It seems like the only thing easy to understand on pet food labels is the “Dog” or “Cat” food designation. Not much room for interpretation there.
The bottom line is you have to do your homework. This requires time and effort and certainly cannot be done in front of the food shelves in the market. Check out the internet or visit your local library. Researching pet food may take some time on your part, but I’m sure your healthy pet is worth it to you. Don’t be afraid of asking questions from the pet food stores and manufacturers. If they have nothing to hide they will provide you the information you need in order to make an educated decision. Tip: Ask for a “Dry Matter Analysis”, the only way to reliably compare dog food with dog food instead of comparing garbage with dog food.
Labeling standards for the pet food industry since the mid fifties have come a long way but they sure have a long way to go. I can’t help but think about some pet food manufacturers by recalling a statement once made by the great Leonardo Da Vinci: "Man has great power of speech, but the greater part thereof is empty and deceitful. The animals have little, but that little is useful and true; and better is a small and certain thing than a great falsehood." This applied to pet food labels would be a great step in the right direction.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Don’t over complicate the issue, look at the obvious: Healthy Dog Food

Kim Boatman, a California journalist and pet lover of Studio One Networks in “The Dog Daily” by the Montana News Station recently came up with a very simple but logical conclusion. She suggests, rather than approaching our pet food problems the scientific and “over studied” way, why don’t we look at the very obvious right in front of us: Our pets.
As she says: “The best evidence that you’ve chosen the right dog food is your dog itself. Your furry pal’s inward and outward appearance is tangible, visible proof that you’re dishing up a food that meets its nutritional needs.”
She continues: “While other factors can also affect your pup’s health and behavior, making sure your dog eats properly is fundamental to its well-being. Fortunately, there are a number of ways your dog reflects your chow choice, say experts.”
The she follows up with a list of the following seven signs that your dog is thriving on well balanced, nutritious dog food:
“A shiny coat and healthy skin indicates you are on the right track. However, a dog’s dull, dry and brittle coat with flaking skin may be an indication that he/she’s being fed the wrong diet. Says Dr. Bart Iaia, DVM, who practices in Renton, Washington: “Look for omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in dog food.” Your pet needs these essential fats. Flaky skin could be a sign of a zinc deficiency, a problem often seen with home cooked diets.
A healthy digestive system: Poop is more than the stuff you, ever the responsible dog owner, scoop on a regular basis. Poop matters, say Dr. Iaia and Dr. Laird Goodman, DVM, a Beaverton, Ore., veterinarian who is on the board of directors for the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association. “You want good stools, firm, but not dry, and not loose,” advises Dr. Goodman. Note how often your dog poops as well, says Dr. Iaia. If your dog poops more than twice a day, that’s an indication your pal’s food might not contain enough protein in forms it can use. You can be reassured if your dog’s food has “complete and balanced” on the label. A resilient immune system: Vitamin E and antioxidants will help your dog stave off illness, building its immune system, says Dr. Iaia. Veterinary research has found that a diet rich in antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, improves immune system responses. This is particularly important as your dog ages, since a dog’s ability to fight illnesses weakens as it grows older.
Strong bones and joints: Calcium and vitamin D make for strong bones in your dog, just as they do for you. Dog owners who simply feed their dog meat, rather than a well-balanced commercial food, run the risk of their pet suffering soft bones, resulting in fractures, experts say. A well balanced dog food will include all such essential nutrients. A veterinarian can use X-rays to evaluate your dog’s bone density if a problem is suspected, says Dr. Korinn E. Saker, DVM, Ph.D., diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and a clinical nutritionist at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. X-rays can also detect hairline fractures and other “less obvious” health problems caused by poor nutrition, such as urinary tract stones, adds Dr. Saker.
Healthy teeth and gums: Your dog’s teeth should be strong and white, with healthy, pink gums covering the roots. If you notice a reddening of the gums, a buildup of tartar on the teeth or bad breath, it can indicate dental problems, says Dr. Iaia. Some dry foods and dog treats are designed to slow the progress of dental disease, so look for products that specifically mention dental care or tartar-fighting properties.
Strong muscles: Hourglass figures aren’t just for movie stars. Your dog should maintain good muscle tone, with an hourglass shape when viewed from above, says Dr. Saker. “Obese dogs have lost the tucked up appearance just after the ribcage, when viewed from the side,” she says. You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs but not see them. If your dog is eating a lot but looks too thin, you’re probably not feeding a high-quality dog food, says Dr. Iaia.
A healthy heart: A well-balanced, complete dog food will include protein, calcium, amino acids, fatty acids, potassium and sodium to promote heart health. Your veterinarian can evaluate your dog’s heart health through regular checkups, and if needed, blood work.
Seven could be your dog’s lucky number, in terms of future health, if it exhibits these positive signs. Dr. Goodman advises that you should avoid feeding your dog table scrap handouts, along with too many treat snacks. Instead, stick to a quality diet that both you and your dog can count on. And don’t be afraid to discuss the matter with your veterinarian, who may be able to provide additional nutrition-related advice. Dr. Goodman suggests, “Take the label from your food to the veterinarian to have a better understanding of what you’re providing your dog.”
Kim, your idea in itself was brilliant. Too often we get hung up in over complicating our lives while it would be so simple and logical if we just would look at the obvious. Though there are a few passages I do not absolutely agree with. Like the “complete & balanced” statement. I have doubts about the value of such a statement since it is made by the manufactuer himself and who is he to determine what actually comprises a "complete and balanced" food? I also would differentiate “table scraps” into healthy and unhealthy ones. Finally, I no longer do blindly trust my vet when it comes to nutrition.

Recall Update

Please check the Recall Alert for an important update

Feeding your cat for health and longevity – A basic primer

Nutrition is one of the most important keys to our pets’ health and longevity. One of your most important responsibilities as a cat owner is to provide your cat with the necessary nutrients required for its growth and maintenance. To do this, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of what cats need in their diet.
Cats are obligate carnivores and, when it comes to nutritional needs, have very different requirements from dogs. What actually is an obligate carnivore? Our domesticated cats are strict carnivores. Cats rely on nutrients in animal tissue to meet their specific nutritional requirements. In nature, i.e. the wild life, cats are hunters consuming prey high in protein with moderate amounts of fat and minimal amounts of carbohydrates. Cats also require more than a dozen nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids. These nutrients are the building blocks of a number of structural body tissues. They are essential for chemical reactions such as metabolism and catabolism, they transport substances into, around, and out of the body, they supply growth and maintenance energy and they provide palatability.
Important to remember about nutrients, particularly vitamins and minerals, is that your cat needs the correct amount, but no more and no less. It is easy to have either too much or not enough when it comes to vitamins and minerals. The use of supplements not only is unnecessary but also can be potentially dangerous to your cat's health. A key point to remember is that cats are neither dogs nor people. Because of their unique metabolism, what might be good for you or your dog might be detrimental to your cat. A high quality cat food normally assures an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals in your cat's diet. Such a diet does not require supplements and they never should be added without consulting your vet.
Another important nutrient is water. Water helps to regulate body temperature, to digest food, to eliminate waste, to lubricate tissue, and to allow salt and other electrolytes to pass through the body. Make sure your cat always has access to clean, fresh water.
Commercial cat foods are available as dry, semi moist and canned formulas. These products differ in water content, protein level, caloric density, palatability, and digestibility. Dry food typically contains 6 to 10 percent moisture. Depending on the specific formulation, meats, poultry, grain or their respective by-products, fish meal, fiber sources, milk products, vitamin and mineral supplements are combined, extruded, and dried into bite sized pieces. The pieces are then covered with flavor enhancers, such as animal fat, which give them increased palatability. The primary advantages of dry cat food are lower cost and convenience in allowing "free choice" feeding. However, dry food may be less palatable to a cat, and, depending on the types and quality of the ingredients, may also be less digestible than moist food. When feeding dry food, it is important to store unused portions in a cool, dry location, and not to use the food after its expiration date. To save money, cat owners normally buy large amounts of dry food that can sometimes last for 3 to 6 months. Checking the expiration date before feeding it to your cat is very important. Lengthy storage decreases the activity and potency of many vitamins and increases the likelihood that fats have become rancid. Store dry cat food in an airtight container, which helps to prevent nutrient deterioration and maintain palatability.
Semi-moist food contains approximately 35 percent moisture and often resembles ground or whole meat tidbits. Meat and meat byproducts are primary ingredients. They are combined with soybean meal, cereals, grain byproducts, and preservatives. The cost is generally mid range. These foods may be more appealing than dry cat food to some cats. Semi moist food can also be fed free choice. However, after the package is opened, palatability decreases and spoilage increases because of dehydration.
Canned cat food has a moisture content of at least 75 percent, making it a good dietary source of water. It is generally the most expensive type of cat food, but it also is highly palatable to most cats. Different varieties are available in great numbers, which can be helpful if your cat is a finicky eater. Canned food has the longest shelf life when unopened, but any unused portion of opened canned cat food should be refrigerated to maintain quality and prevent spoilage. Gourmet canned cat foods generally feature meats, such as kidney or liver, and whole meat by-products as primary food ingredients. Some brands, however, may be nutritionally incomplete, and it is important to read the nutrition labels carefully on such specialty cat food items to ensure that they have a nutritional guarantee.
This is your basic list of options. It is incomplete though. I have yet to address other options such as raw food, food mixes and home prepared diets. Stay tuned as I will do so in a subsequent article. For now, after giving you the most popular what should be your choice? High quality (!), not mass produced, commercially prepared cat foods have been scientifically developed to give your cat the correct balance of nutrients and calories. At least that is what their manufacturers claim. Always remember that critical judgment is in order here. Basic minimum nutritional requirements for cats have been established by the Feline Nutrition Expert (FNE) Subcommittee of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Pet food manufacturers use these standards in producing cat foods.
When shopping for a healthy food for your cat, reading the label on the bags is the best way to compare the different products. Understanding the labels and knowing how to read them gives you a good initial idea. Pet food manufacturers are required to supply certain nutrition information on the package. Labeling regulations are established by AAFCO and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). All pet foods that carry an AAFCO approved nutritional guarantee, referred to as the "AAFCO statement," are considered to be complete and balanced. These standards were formulated in the early 1990s by panels of experts on canine and feline nutrition. A food may be certified in two ways: By meeting AAFCO's published standards for content, or by passing feeding tests or trials. Most researchers agree that feeding tests are superior in assessing the nutritional adequacy of a food.
Throughout a cat's life, there are stages during which a cat requires different nutrients. These stages include growth, adult stage, pregnancy and lactation and senior stage. The nutritional claim on the label should state the stage of a cat's life cycle for which the food is considered to be a complete and balanced product. It should also state that it meets the requirements of the AAFCO. Feeding a cat a product that does not have a nutritional claim on the label is not a guarantee for a complete and balanced diet. Many products state that they have been formulated for "all life stages," which simplifies things for owners with multiple cats of different ages or circumstances.
Read the ingredient list when choosing your cat food. It names all ingredients used in the product, including flavor enhancers, artificial colors, and preservatives. These ingredients are listed in order of decreasing proportional weight. Meat, meat by-products, or seafood should be listed among the first few ingredients. This is an indication that the food probably contains enough animal source ingredients to supply protein or essential amino acids and essential fatty acids. Nonetheless, addition of some nutrients (e.g., the amino acid taurine, and B vitamins, including thiamine and niacin) may be necessary to offset the fiber content of the diet or degradation of nutrients that occurs during the manufacturing process.
Once you have determined that a food is complete and balanced, choosing between the types of food may be a matter of what your cat prefers. Some cats like canned food, some like dry food, and some like a combination of the two. Today's high quality cat food market offers an almost overwhelming abundance of well formulated foods for cats of all life stages, so you can choose the ones that work best for your cat.
Is there anything else you should consider? Environmental conditions can affect a cat's eating habits. For example, heavy traffic areas, noise, the presence of other animals, dirty food containers, or nearby litter boxes can deter a cat from eating. You don’t eat in your bath room. Try to be sensitive to your cat's eating behavior. Make necessary adjustments to provide optimum feeding conditions.
Remember that cats vary greatly in characteristics such as the amount of food they need to consume to ensure optimal weight and health maintenance. Be careful not to over feed your cat. Over feeding may lead to obesity, unfortunately the most common nutrition related problem in cats. Additionally, an overweight cat is prone to other health problems such as diabetes and arthritis. Commercial pet foods formulated to help cats lose weight are available.
Although many cats are content to eat a single product, some may develop finicky eating habits and become very selective about what foods they will accept. Cats more so than dogs have a reputation for such a behavior. Remember and live by the concept of varied feeding. Feeding your cat different cat foods provides flavor variety, and may prevent your cat from developing an exclusive preference for a single food, so that if a medical condition dictates a change in diet, your cat may have an easier time adjusting.
Also remember that not eating can lead to serious medical problems in cats. This is true for sick cats that lack an appetite, for cats on a diet, and for the finicky cat that refuses to eat. If your cat totally refuses to eat, see your vet.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Canine Protein Requirements: Too much or not enough? Part 4a

Can you feed too much protein? The answer to this is yes and no. Theoretically, if a healthy animal eats too much protein, some gets excreted in the urine and the rest just gets used as calories or is converted to fat and does not cause any harm. However, if your dog has a kidney problem, a diet rich in protein is not recommended. Another factor is that, next to marketing, protein is the most expensive ingredient in the food. Why should you pay for more than you need? Most pet food companies strike a happy medium and meet the minimum recommended requirements plus a small safety cushion.
Following here today and in subsequent parts are various view points on this controversial topic explained by their expert owners:
Steve Brown in his book “See Spot live longer”, a part science, part practical advice on helping dogs live longer based on the thesis of “proper raw diets”, says:
“The natural diet of the dog is high in protein. Almost everything the dog ate in the wild was high in protein, high quality animal protein.” Steve calculated from information he found in the “Diet of Ferral Carnivores” that the typical diet of a dog consisted of 56% protein on a dry matter (DM) basis. He goes on: “The protein content of most dry foods ranges from 20% to 30% on a dry matter basis. Much of this protein is low quality protein from grain. In a typical “premium “ lamb and rice product, for example, 26% is lamb and 63% is grain.”
Further down in his chapter he shows protein content values of dog foods in comparison (Dry matter): Rabbit 80%, Natural diet 56%, Commercial raw diet 45+% and Dry foods 20 to 30%.
Steve continues: “Dogs need meat, not grain. While some dogs live quite well on high carbohydrates diets, many do not. Our goal with this book is to increase the odds that all our dogs will live long healthy lives. Dogs need a meat based diet, preferably raw, to do this. The pet food industry is continually learning more about the need for meat and high quality protein. This is especially true for cats. A 2002 article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association concluded: “although cats have adjusted to most manufactured diets, the limitations of substituting animal origin nutrients with plant origin nutrients in foods formulated for cats are being increasingly realized. “ After a few short comments about taurine deficiencies in commercial dry foods for cats, which, since this is an article about canines, I decided to skip, he says: “We are now learning that the lack of taurine in the diet may be creating heart problems with some dogs fed lamb meal and rice or tofu based diets. Scientists at the University of California, Davis, world leaders in understanding feline nutrition (and therefore experts in taurine) report: “Diet related taurine deficiencies and associated dilated investigators have recently reported taurine deficiency (52%) and cardiac insufficiency (10%) among a group of 21 privately owned Newfoundland dogs”. It’s not just large breeds that may have taurine deficiency problems on lamb and rice diets. The Amerian Cocker Spaniel is well known to have taurine and carnitine responsive dilated cardiomyopathy.”
Three of Steve’s own dogs died of heart problems (the reason why Steve wrote his book), all were eating a major national brand lamb and rice diet.
Several dog food manufacturers are now adding taurine to their lamb and rice diets to help correct this issue. According to Steve “L-canitine: Evidence indicates it may accelerate weight loss and increases lean body mass” is the ride of an article by Tim Phillips, DVM and Editor of “Pet Food Industry” in his May 2002 issue. He continues: “Carnitine deficiency is a proven cause of heart disease in dogs…. Most pet foods are relatively low in L-carnitine due to the type of ingredients used. Even though L-carnitine is present in both, plant and animal ingredients, ingredient processing removes significant amounts of it. Wild type diets for dogs and cats (like meat or whole carcass) provide significantly more L-carnitine than commercial pet foods. Controlled studies with sled dogs show that those dogs fed diets high in fat and protein and very low in carbohydrates outperform those fed moderate or high carbohydrate diets.”
Steve conclusion is: “Not all proteins are the same. Proteins are very large molecules that consist of chains of hundreds of much smaller sub units called amino acids. There are 22 types of amino acids. Animals need dietary protein to provide the specific amino acids that their tissues cannot synthesize. Essential amino acids are those that cannot be made by the body in sufficient quantities and must be supplied in the dog food. High quality proteins, like eggs and most meats, consist of a full range of these essential amino acids. Low quality proteins, like the protein in most grains, consist of only some of the essential amino acids. Animal proteins generally have a more balanced amino acid profile and better digestibility than plant proteins. Protein quality is often measured in biologic value, the percentage of the protein that is absorbed and retained, not excreted. The higher the biologic value, the better the quality of the protein. Meats have much higher biologic values than grains. For example the biologic value of beef is 78%, corn is 45%.
What a radical change: In just 50 years the dog’s diet changed from high quality, high quantity protein to low quality, low quantity protein.”