Monday, March 2, 2009

Feeding natural alternatives: Fabulous pet food for Cats & Dogs

The following article reflects in large also my opinion about feeding our pets what I consider technically the only really natural food: Raw. Joan Morris wrote in the Contra Costa Times:
“Old Mother Hubbard might have needed some assistance in managing her household budget, but some pet owners and veterinarians approve her choice of pet food. Giving her dog a bone, one with some meat on it along with a side of fresh vegetables is the best thing, they say, she could do for the pup. A growing number of pet owners are canning the Alpo and tossing out the kibble in exchange for natural and raw pet foods, sometimes called designer pet food, that they say provide the healthiest diet possible for our domesticated wild things. They point to the diets dogs and cats ate long before Morris starting pushing kitty chow or Gravy Train rolled into town. Dogs and cats ate what humans ate or what they could catch on their own, and they were the better for it.
"I have so many clients and so many stories," says Alameda veterinarian Kristina Dallas. "You hate to call them miraculous, but they are. And when you start to see so many miracles, you have to question why." Dallas, who works at Alameda Pet Hospital, is a natural food convert. She's seen chronic intestinal illnesses and skin diseases clear up immediately with the food change, while diseases such as diabetes become more manageable. The coats thicken and shine, eyes clear, energy returns. Little wonder, Dallas says. She thinks that feeding animals a steady diet of processed pet food is something akin to humans eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at McDonald's. In fact, she says, that would be healthier than the pet food. "I don't preach natural diets to everyone," Dallas says. "If the animal looks good, then I don't recommend a change. It's also more expensive to go to natural foods, so you have to take that into account. But when there's a problem, that's where we should look."
A tough battle: Designer pet food purveyors tend to be small companies feeling their way through the mine fields of the highly competitive pet food industry. They battle not only the resources of national pet food manufacturers, but the perception, even among veterinarians, that brand-name foods provide the healthiest diets for animals. Veterinarians receive little training in pet nutrition, Dallas says, and like pet owners, rely on reading the labels and trusting what they read. We look for food made with meat and scan those tiny labels in search of the magical "meets 100 percent of nutritional requirements." But not all meat is rendered equally, Dallas says, and it's hard to say how much of those nutritional additives are being utilized by your pet's metabolism. Most pet foods, even premium brands, are made with meat byproducts, which include everything not fit for human consumption. That, Dallas says, would be feathers, feet, tumors and abscesses. It is all carved from the animals and placed in barrels, which are shipped to pet food manufacturers. Processing it removes any dangers to pets, but it doesn't make it particularly good for them, she says.
Natural foods have their critics, too. Many complain the costs are unreasonably high, about twice that of brand names and that evidence of the food's benefits is, at best, anecdotal. Brand-name companies boast that they've tested their food and conducted nutritional studies that show their foods are healthful, while designer food makers are experimenting in the family kitchen. Those who feed natural and raw food diets also sacrifice some of the convenience that traditional pet foods provide. Designer pet foods remains a niche market, but it is growing. … And some large pet food companies are expanding their lines to include the natural labels, and beefing up their advertising to promote ingredients such as New Zealand lamb.”
Allow me to comment on a couple points here: Talking about cost: I have my serious doubts about that. However, to show my thought process on this and documenting it with real, factual and cash numbers requires some more serious effort and also would be too lengthy to talk about it in this comment today. But stay tuned as I will bring you more details on this particular topic within a separate comment to follow soon. So much up front: Get ready for a big surprise.
Now let’s discuss what Morris calls a “designer” food. Her article dates back quite a few years. Reason why I decided to share it with you here is simply that she is talking about some major facts on natural and raw feeding, which I consider worthwhile to be discussed. However, at this point I believe we are far beyond that point of considering healthy food designer food. They have in the meantime become and grown into a substantial, undeniable factor in the pet food industry and definitely are here to stay. Example: Pet Product News International, a monthly news magazine distributed within and published for the pet supply retail industry writes in its March 2009 issue:” Prepare for the unprepared: The raw food demand just might exceed a retailer’s expectations. According to David Lummis, senior pet market analyst for Packaged Facts in Rockville, MD, raw is still only about 1% of the overall pet food market. However, retailers unfamiliar with the uncooked concept may be interested and surprised to learn it is currently experiencing double digit growth. It is growing about 20 to 30 percent annually, Lummis discloses. It is very big, especially compared with the pet food industry overall, which is growing by maybe 5% at best. And a lot of that (5%) is coming from price increases.” Veterinary Practice News in its January 2009 issue addressed veterinarians as follows: “Alternative diets still riding high. Nearly two years after the massive recall of melamine tainted pet food, veterinarians are still fielding pet owners’ questions about alternative diets. “Even prior to the recall we were seeing a shift in pet owners who were interested in alternatives to conventional pet foods, such as natural or organic pet foods, raw pet foods and home cooked diets,” says Sally C. Perea, DVM, Dipl.ACVN. The recall accelerated the trend, Dr. Perea says, as pet owners began to look for what they perceived to be safer dietary options. … Perea was formerly a consultant with Davis Veterinary Medical Consulting, Inc. in Davis, CA and now is a senior nutritionist for Natura Pet Products in San Jose, Ca.” Natura is known for it’s
Innova, Evo, California Natural, HealthWise, Karma and Mother Nature brands. Veterinary Practice News: “Perea considers alternative diets to fall into 3 categories: Alternative commercial pet foods, home cooked pet foods and raw pet foods, either commercial or home prepared.”
Let’s go back to Morris’ writing: “Natural vs. raw: But even within the growing market of designer pet food there are cat fights between the naturals and the raws. Some owners favor natural pet food, which is made from the same meat and produce that might otherwise find its way onto your dining-room table, 100 percent human grade, they call it. Others opt for raw food, saying that while natural is better than brand-name foods, they still are over-processed, robbing them of important nutrients. Opponents of raw food worry that improper handling could poison the pets and maybe their human owners with salmonella and E. Coli. Stephen Barone, co-founder of
Primal Pet Food, says he worries about serving raw meat to pets are exaggerated. People only need to take the same precautions they take in preparation of their own food.
Primal, based in San Francisco, ships frozen raw foods to customers throughout the country, although the Bay Area has been the company's primary market since the company began in 2001. The food also is sold in area stores. Prices vary, depending on type of meat and size… . Barone, 36, and his partner, Matthew R. Koss, 33, started the business after Koss' own pets began suffering from health problems. Koss, a graduate of the San Francisco Culinary Academy, used his own knowledge of nutrition to concoct a raw formula for his dogs, which responded immediately, he says. Koss began talking with animal nutritionists and eventually developed a line that combines raw meats -- beef, lamb, chicken, duck, venison and fresh vegetables. He partnered with Barone, his longtime friend, to market the meals to other pet owners. In the three years since they began, they've expanded their line to include cat food. Koss and Barone named their food plan B.A.R.F., "bones and raw food." They comb the countryside looking for fresh meats and produce, buying from farmers and ranchers who also supply fine restaurants. The products are sold frozen and include the popular "medallion" form, which packages the food in one ounce nuggets, which makes serving and handling easier. Primal's business has grown substantially. Barone and Koss set up tables at dog and cat shows, and club events. Their customers are devoted to the B.A.R.F. diet.
Primal instinct: Ellen Brooken of Walnut Creek started feeding Primal to her two Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Maddie and Paige, about two years ago. One of her dogs had chronic health problems and she was spending $100 to $200 a month at her vet's office. At a dog show, she picked up a sample of Primal and a testimonial from a fellow pet owner. She was skeptical, but she gave it a try. "Within two days, her digestive problems were completely gone," Brooken says. "That was pretty astounding. And we've had no problems since." The clincher, Brooken says, is when she took both dogs in for their annual check-up and her vet commented that it had been a long while since they'd been in. The dogs got perfect marks on their exams, but Brooken could see the improvements for herself. Their coats are glossy and their eyes shiny, she says. Brooken supplements Primal with her own recipes and raw foods. Her vet wasn't totally supportive of the diet plan, Brooken says, so she switched doctors to one who is. The raw food is more expensive, Brooken says, but she considers it a trade-off. "I've never done a side-by-side comparison, but I know I'm not spending hundreds a month on vet bills," Brooken says. "And my dogs are extremely healthy. I'm convinced."”

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