Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dog Food: Part 1 What difference does it make? Foundation, building blocks & industry controls

If you feed your dog incorrectly, a number of various problems may occur, anything from spinning and aggression to bad skin and all kinds of diseases. Let’s start with taking a closer look at the food. What difference does it make? In order to live, a dog must eat. How long the dog lives, as well as health, immune system, behavior and temperament, the ability to reproduce successfully and to recover from trauma, all depend on what is eaten. An animal that eats well lives a long life, coping with everyday stresses and strains. One that eats poorly is unhealthy and with age will begin to suffer from chronic diseases. So, how is it possible that what we feed our dogs can make so much difference to their health? Think of the body as a house. If you build a strong foundation (pregnant mother's diet), the walls of the first story provide the support for the upper stories (puppyhood and adulthood). A roof that is made of the right materials and placed at the correct angels will be a protective covering over the whole house that will withstand even the most violent weather (immune system). Your house will outlast those around you that are built of less solid materials.

Building blocks
In order to build a proper nutritional foundation, you need six building blocks: Protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water. The quality of these building blocks and the ratio of one to another will determine how long your house will last.Every cell in the dog's body needs fuel. Fuel comes from food, which is converted into energy. Energy produces heat, and how much heat is produced determines the ability of your dog to maintain and regulate body temperature. The quality and quantity of energy your dog needs to be able to run, play, work and live a long and healthy life depend on the quality and quantity of the fuel you provide. Nutritionists measure fuel in terms of how much energy it produces. They use the term calories to measure energy produced by individual foods. A dog will eat the quantity of food needed to meet individual caloric needs.If the calories provided in dog food are sufficient, your dog's body will be able to produce energy for growth, maintenance, the production of enzymes and the ability to fight disease. Chemical reactions take place in the body that allows these enzymes to break down the food, making it available as a building block. The chemicals that are needed to trigger enzyme production come from the food the dog eats. If you provide a food with the correct amount of calories coming from quality sources mixed in the right proportions, your puppy will grow well if the correct calories are not provided, you will produce an inferior dog, poor in health and short lived.
Growth: A puppy during the first six months of life, increases birth weight anywhere from 15-40 times, depending on the breed. By one year of age birth weight will have increased 60 times. By contrast, humans reach maturity over a 20 year period. A dog, therefore, grows almost 12 times faster than a human, and if fed improperly as a puppy, even for a short while, may quickly exhibit symptoms of improper growth. A puppy needs almost double the amount of food of an adult, at times, even more than that.
Maintenance: As an adult, your dog needs to maintain weight and provide enough energy to do the tasks you expect. A family pet, with no demands other than to play with the children and be a companion, needs a different diet than a dog that is used for hunting, showing or working.With age, your dog's digestive system becomes less efficient, and should make dietary changes that take aging into consideration.Other factors that affect what your dog should eat are temperature and climate. If you live in a cold climate, your dog will require more food to maintain body heat calories than if you lived in a hot climate. Living in a hot climate often reduces hunger, but dogs burn up a lot of energy panting to stay cool. In the hotter climates, your dog needs a small amount of food that contains a lot of calories.Food also has breed specific results. What produces energy or body heat in one breed may not in another one. A good example is a Border Collie whose ancestors were raised in Scotland. This breed has developed a digestive system that breaks down oats and lamb very well. A food made from chicken and corn may be digestible and turned into fuel, but the dog will need to eat more of this food in order to get the necessary nutrients.

A dog fed incorrectly will experience stress. That stress will manifest itself in the weakest part of the body. It may be runny eyes, ear infections, skin problems, crooked teeth or diseases of the bones and kidneys. Stress may manifest itself in an inability to breed, conceive, have a full term pregnancy, whelp easily or make enough milk to feed puppies for several weeks. Dogs that are shy or afraid of thunderstorms or who show unprovoked aggression may also be exhibiting stress symptoms.Dogs that are genetically sound, fed properly for the breed and the climate in which they live, and for the purpose they are being used, will be healthy animals.

Industry controls
Where do you start when making the decision on what to feed your dog? There are two organizations that have researched this subject and supposed to control what is put into dog food. One is the National Research Council (NRC) and the other is the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
The NRC is composed of a body of scientists under the jurisdiction of the food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture. This body is responsible for e the supplying federal guidelines to the dog food industry. The research provided to the NRC comes from university studies and independent laboratories and covers the basic components of dog food, which are protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. These studies are by no means complete and the guidelines abound with statements such as "remain to be determined," or "while histamine was reported to be an essential amino acid for the adult dog, no data were presented." These studies are incomplete in protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. The gaps are filled in by data based on theoretical knowledge and studies done on other species of animals. Some of the studies presented show clearly that certain breeds of dogs have different needs than others, but no accommodation has been made for these breeds in the guidelines.
AAFCO supervises the state regulation and pet foods. As of January 1994 the regulations stipulated by AAFCO have been followed by the dog food manufacturer rather tan those guidelines determined by the NRC. AAFCO requires that certain testing procedures for dog foods be used in order to receive its stamp of approval. The testing is done in independent laboratories and the food must pass the labeling requirements.For example, if a label states that a food is "complete and balanced" or is "nutritionally complete," or words to that effect, the food must go through certain feeding trials. These last from two to six weeks and ensure that the food does what the label states. If it says that the food is for puppies, or adult dogs, or all life stages, laboratory testing must prove that the food can indeed support life at those stages. The tests include blood plasma levels as well as fecal and urine analysis. When the test is completed satisfactorily, the AAFCO statement is placed on the label.Two to six weeks is a short time frame to have a food tested, but at least the test is carefully controlled, and gross deficiencies of protein or other nutrients are revealed. It is one way for the consumer to be assured of the consistency of a product. Most foods today contain the AAFCO statement on the label.AAFCO also requires the manufacturer to submit its food to be tested by an independent laboratory to ascertain what is in the finished product. If, for example, the product states it is 22 percent protein, the laboratory profile or assay must support that assertion.Labeling of dog food is strictly controlled. A company is told what can and cannot be put on the label. At present, a company that uses organically grown grains or superior sources of animal protein is unable to differentiate itself from a company that uses inexpensive, chemically laden ingredients. The consumer is left in the dark.The dog food industry is in transition. There are no definite guidelines as to minimum amounts of nutrients required to keep dogs healthy in all life states. In the meantime, the NRC guidelines printed in 1985, which list most of the minimum requirements of known nutrients, is one of the protocols that is followed. Another is a new concept of shared data from the Expert Committee on Nutrition. This committee is made up of dog food manufacturers.
Stay tuned for part 2 when we discuss in a little more detail the subjet matter of ingredients in dog food.

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