Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dog Food: FDA tags on ingredients? Growers don’t have separate fields for dogs and people.

One of the tasks I like the most about my job at the store is talking to pet food manufacturers. Especially when I can talk to the owners. See, since the companies I trust when it comes to pet food are usually small to at the best medium sized businesses, they give you their honest, untainted opinion about the issues on hand. And because most of them are also the founders of their companies, they typically are very passionate about their product and you find out the real reason why they got involved in this business. Typically they are pet owners themselves and have had their fair share of bad experiences with commercially produced and mass marketed pet food. While all of them are in business to make money, their main objective, unlike presidents and CEO’s of companies traded on Wallstreet, is still their product and less market shares and profits.
Recently I had a chance to once again catch up with Mark Hayward, founder and owner of Timberwolf Organics. We discussed the subject of myths and misconceptions of dog foods. I (PFE) asked: “Mark, many pet food manufacturers make certain claims about their pet food. These include phrases such as human grade, antibiotic and hormone free and meat based, to name just a couple of them. What’s your take on this? Are these just true facts or just misleading marketing claims, or should I better say, false statements? I knew I am going to get him going again on this subject. Here is what he (MH) told me:
“We all know about these manufacturer claims about pet food. It got to a point where a pet owner does not know what to believe anymore. Let me say this up front: Many are really half true and that could be construed as being misleading.
It is a fact that federal labeling law precludes pet food manufacturers from including "misleading" statements on their bag. For example: Some say that they use only antibiotic and hormone free chicken, lamb etc. That is not exactly true. It is against federal law for chicken to be labeled as hormone free. That's because growers may not use hormones on chickens. To label your chicken as hormone free would imply that your chickens are the only ones that are hormone free when in fact they all are! What happens with other animals used for human consumption is that they must test free of hormones, antibiotics or pesticides before slaughter. It usually takes three to five days to clear their systems of any chemicals. Those animals that are earmarked for slaughter are kept free of chemicals for several days and then butchered. When I think of "antibiotic and hormone free" I think of an animal that has been raised chemical free, not just for a few days. A play on words perhaps but it borderlines on fraud. What the consumer needs to do is ask if it is Certified Organic, "pasture grazed only" or imported from a country that restricts the use of chemicals if that is what he wants. Of course he will pay a lot more.
Another one is: "Our meat comes from USDA inspected plants".
All slaughter houses that process for human consumption must be USDA inspected.
One natural dog food company claims: "Digest is the full guts including the manure".
Not true. It is made from whatever it is named for (chicken digest, liver digest etc.) and is digested by enzymatic activity and then dried. We do not use digest in our formulas but there is nothing wrong with it.
A natural food supplement maker that lists molasses as the second ingredient claims: "We use molasses because it is a nutrient not a sugar.
Molasses contains many nutrients and is technically not a sugar but it contains 60% sugars by weight and 20% water. Maybe it is not thought of as a sugar in Fufu Land but most of the world uses it as a sweetener. Dogs love sugar and it’s added mostly for palatability. If sugar must be used to help preserve a product, then molasses would of course be better than sucrose or dextrose, but only if it’s necessary.
The same supplement maker also claims: "Our product contains natural enzymes and probiotics that are naturally present in food".
Even if that were true, because you are only adding 1 teaspoon of supplement, it would only contain enough enzymes to assist in digesting that one teaspoon. If you ask them what the enzyme levels are they will not tell you. That is because they are so low they cannot be measured. If you want to replace the enzymes lost in the food due to processing you must add enough to assist in digesting the full amount of food you are feeding. However, this is expensive to do.
My favorite is "Made with only 100% human grade ingredients."
One quick way to determine if this is not true, other than cost, is if the food contains any "meals". Guess what? There is no such thing as human grade chicken meal or lamb meal. I don’t know of any restaurant where you can say, "Waiter, may I have some beef meal to go with my baked potato?" Or "May I have my chicken meal on a bun please?" The meat starts out as human grade because remember it’s from an inspected plant, but does not receive an inspection sticker because it’s not intended for human consumption so cannot be labeled as human grade. There are different grades (classifications) of meals however and are graded or classified by protein content, ash content and price. Some are of very high quality. For example, our lamb meal is imported from New Zealand and is a special low ash, only 8% and high protein, 70% lamb meal that we have classified and most of the bone is filtered out. All lamb, chicken, beef meals contain a lot of bone because it’s made from what is left over from cutting away steaks or boneless chicken breast for example. It’s the most expensive and probably the best lamb meal in the country as it’s made from the organs and contains a lot of blood, which gives it a very complete amino acid profile. Most lamb meals are high in ash and are low (50%) in protein. We searched six different suppliers before finding the current suppliers for chicken meal and for lamb meal. Is it human grade? Come on, man, I'm listening?”
PFE: “No, you just said that there is no such thing as a human grade meal. Already then. But how about foods that list meat?"
MH: “Good question, pretty clever! Let me tell you: First, only a handful of mills have the equipment to add meat. Some companies may list meat but actually use meal. Of those that actually can add meat it’s not quite what you would expect. It’s usually mechanically deboned and mixed with water to make a slurry that is pumped into the extruder. The most you can use in a formula is limited to about 30% but can be as little as 3%. What starts out as chicken with 78% moisture is now perhaps 90% moisture cooked down to 10%. That 30% you started out with is now about 3.3% or less dry matter. To get the protein up you must now add corn gluten meal or another protein source. Corn gluten meal is a good protein source, it’s high in the sulfur containing amino acids, but a lot of people, myself included prefer an animal based protein which means you must add animal meals which means it is not 100% human grade.”
PFE: "What about the other ingredients?"
MH: “The brown rice I get in looks just like the brown rice on your supermarket shelf, it’s clean and looks indistinguishable. The only difference is that it doesn’t have a FDA tag on it. Our oats are of exceptional quality. Higher in linoleic and alpha linoleic acid than locally grown oats because of the cold, probably grown organically as well and they’re the same oats that are supplied to food processors. Growers don’t have separate fields for dogs and people. The point I’m trying to make is that I have trouble believing that a company would pay five times as much for the same ingredient just to get that FDA sticker. Let me give you an example: I buy a chicken fat from a company that supplies soup manufacturers etc. If I buy a tanker of fat it doesn’t have to have an FDA tag and my price is $.11 per pound. If I buy less it must have an FDA tag and the price goes to $.58 per pound. Same product. That chicken fat is apparently human grade but I cannot call it that. A lot of my ingredients are human grade, some even certified organic but at the end of the day I cannot make the claim 100% human grade because it ‘s not, but neither can any other company unless maybe they are charging $2 to $5 per pound.
Another example is that if a truck load, that’s 40,000 lbs of frozen whole broilers were purchased for half a buck per pound, and if a custom chicken meal were produced, it would be exorbitant in cost. Chicken meal is made from chicken meat, usually mechanically de boned, that is put into a vat and is brought to the proper temperature and pH and then enzymes are added. The meat is broken down into a liquid and either spray dried or roller dried into a fine powder. Now go back to the truck load of chickens at half a buck per pound. It takes several pounds of chickens to make one pound of chicken meal. So let us say 7 pounds times .50 equals $3.50 plus the rendering charge. Let’s assume $4.00 per pound okay? I am using about 50% chicken meal so $4.00/2 is $2.00+ per pound of dog food my cost. Just for ingredients. Not including herbs, oils, probiotics etc. Does any of this make sense to you?
One natural dog food company uses poultry meal but lists on their ingredient label chicken meal, turkey meal. AAFCO allows listing animal meals by particular animal if you know what animal was used in making it. If the meal is made from more than one animal or a composite you may list all the animals used in making it. What they mean however is "chicken/turkey" meal for poultry or if you know the exact percentages than you may list them where they should appear in order of weight on the label but not chicken meal, turkey meal as the first two ingredients. Chicken meal and turkey meal gives the impression that the food is meat based when in fact it is not.
One question you can ask a dog food company to determine if it’s meat based or grain based is "what percentage of your formula is animal meals?" or "what’s the percentage of protein that is animal based?" or "how many pounds of animal meals are used per ton of your formula?" They probably will not tell you or say, "That is proprietary." We use 48 to 52% chicken, lamb or fish meals by weight or 900 to 1100 pounds per ton! Put another way, 91% of our protein is animal based. That is meal not meat. If someone tells you they use 1000 pounds of meat per ton that is equal to only 200 pounds of chicken meal or ten percent. Another way is to look at the calcium content. Chicken, lamb and meat meals are usually 4 to 5% calcium, special graded low ash meals with lower levels of calcium can be used but are up to 3 times as expensive, so if a company claims to be using 50% animal meals by weight and their calcium is only 1.2% then you know something somewhere does not add up. Or maybe they are using new math. The only reason we disclose this is that it’s very expensive and not many other companies will do this and those that do will have to raise their prices. Of course someone may tell you they use a high amount but if so the kibble should be very dark. Our Lamb, Barley and Apples kibble is almost black.
Now that you have listened to me, at least you'll know what is in the food. If I decide to put in goat's eyes, tongue of wren and pickled fish pan fried in roasted sesame oil you'll know it. None of my formulas contain 4D animals, simple or white carbohydrates, dextrose or other sugars for palatability enhancement, soy, BHT, BHA or Ethoxyquin. I personally have sold and used a lot of specialty and super premium foods and have seen more positive results and heard more positive feedback with this food than any other. I invite you to go to my testimonials page and read some of the testimonials.”
PFE: “Thank you Mark, this was quite interesting. As always, when talking to you, I have learned a lot”
MH: “I hope I have answered some of your questions, but don't take my word. Call the FDA or AAFCO or some feed ingredient suppliers and see what they say.”
If you want to find out more about Mark’s line of pet food go to Timberwolf Organics.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dogs on the run: Giardia infections

What are these drawings you wonder? No, it is not something I came up with while talking on the phone with a concerned pet owner telling me about her dog suffering from diarrhea. Though I have to agree it looks like something I, with my very much limited artistic talent could come up with. But give me a minute, you will see what it is.
Dogs and diarrhea: If I would have ten Dollars for every inquiry I get about it, I probably would be getting close to become a millionaire. The other day I said to my wife: It is getting to a point where I almost start hating what I am doing for a living, there are just too many of this particular inquiry. I am sure you agree, it is not the most pleasant subject to talk about either.
Of course, when it happens the first thing owners blame the cause on is the food what they purchased from us. “Are you aware of any issues related to this with the food you sold me?” Like I am sitting there selling all day long food knowing that it will be harmful to the dog. It does not work like that. If I would know of such a problem, chances are nobody will find out about it since I will simply not sell such a product. So the continuation of the discussion is usually a long investigation of what has happened to the dog before the problem came up. I.e., what did the dog eat? Trust me, this is a problem. Because most dog owners assume they know to 100% exactly what their dog ingested. Those people I have to tell, keep dreaming or wake up. Let me tell you, you do not know the answer to that question unless you keep a very close eye on your pet 24/7. Most dogs will just eat whatever comes into their sight. And they will do it quickly and fast too, before you can blink with an eye. I hear very often about finicky cats. Seldom however I have a dog owner characterizing his pet as being picky. Reminds me kind of that joke this comedian made one day: Being a dog owner, when his wife tells him to clean up the back yard of all the excrements laying around there coming from his own dog, he has no problem following her orders. Because all he does is inviting the neighbor’s dog to come over. That guy cleans up really good. Joking aside, Ingestion of the strangest things can become a problem.
In one case, after unsuccessful and over hasted diet changes, I had to find out that the dog for fun was chewing paint off the doors. Another one was caught drinking very excessive amounts of waste oil from a turkey fryer. My neighbor admitted to feeding my dog fried bacon every morning for weeks until I prohibited Brandy’s tasty morning snack. Quite often it is a change in diet forced too fast onto the dog rather than slowly transitioning. With the same popularity rank veterinarian ordered medical treatments. But most of the times we never figure out what actually caused the problem. We take some simple steps (like feeding rice with added fiber such as for example whole pumpkin or carrots only for a couple days) and after a few days it goes away and things return to normal. Very often it also can be the water which caused a contamination of the dog’s system. Related to this subject I did a little searching and figured I share with you what I found on an infection of the intestine by a commonly occurring single cell organism called giardia, causing severe diarrhea.
The USDA Forest Service says about giardia: “Cool, clear mountain streams may appear clean and safe, but they often harbor a hidden danger. Giardia lamblia, is a microscopic, single celled animal protected by an outer shell called a cyst. If ingested, it can cause a disease known as giardiasis. Giardiasis is not fatal but it can cause great discomfort. All water should be considered potentially contaminated because even contaminated water may look, smell, and taste clean. Cool, clear mountain streams may appear clean and safe, but they often harbor a hidden danger. Most water becomes contaminated by infected animals that live nearby. Beavers and muskrats are easily infected with giardia and, once infected, if they release fecal material in or near water, it becomes contaminated. Many hundred million cysts may be shed at one time by one animal, and it takes as few as ten cysts to cause an infection.”
Now we know why giardia is also commonly know as beaver fever. Beavers are known carriers of giardia. These are also the most commonly diagnosed protozoa in humans. Coccidia is yet another, similar parasite affecting the intestinal tract is coccidian. Unlike the causes of giardia in dogs from lakes and streams, coccidiosis is contracted by eating feces directly.
About the signs and symptoms USDAFS says: “Chronic symptoms will appear from seven to ten days after ingesting the cysts. They include: Abdominal cramps, diarrhea, increased gas, bloating, fatigue, and sometimes weight loss due to nausea and loss of appetite. These symptoms last for several days only and the body can naturally rid itself of the parasite in one to two months. However, for people with weakened immune systems the body often cannot rid itself of the parasite without medical treatment. Most water becomes contaminated by infected animals that live nearby.”
The Dog Health Guide describes signs and symptoms as follows: “Giardia interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. As can be expected, when you don't get the nutrients you need, you lose weight and appear to have less energy. Dogs with giardisis may have no symptoms or diarrhea. Diarrhea tends to be bad smelling and very watery. Diarrhea may be bad or light and occur frequently or far apart.”
Maggie Fisher, creator of the two drawings, is a veterinary surgeon with a special interest in parasitology. She describes the infection and how it can be treated and controlled as follows:
“The division of Giardia into groups according to species is still somewhat confused; the organisms that infect mammals look very similar but it remains unclear to what extent they form one or a number of species. It is for this reason that, while Giardia infection in some mammals, including dogs, is suspected of being infectious to man (a zoonosis), it has not been conclusively shown that the species in, for example, dogs and man is the same.
The Giardia trophozoite (mystery drawing on the top to the left), which is the active stage of the organism, inhabits the small intestine of the dog. It attaches to the cells of the intestine with its adhesive disc and rapidly divides to produce a whole population of trophozoites. As they detach they may be swept down the intestine. If intestinal flow is fast then they may appear in the feces. However, if they have time, they will develop into the inactive, more durable, cyst form of the organism and these will be passed in the feces. The cyst (mystery drawing on the top to the right) is more able to survive in the environment than the trophozoite, which is very fragile.
Like all infectious agents, in order to cause disease giardia depends on being able to overcome the dog's defense against infection, either by its virtulence or by the number of the organisms becoming established. It has been observed that as few as 10 cysts can cause disease in humans. Different animals may respond to infection in different ways, which may be due to different strains of the same giardia population, with varying levels of pathogenicity. Another explanation for observed differences in the host response to infection is that protective immunity changes with age and/or exposure. This may be temporarily lost if the animal is stressed or immuno-suppressed, for example with corticosteroid treatment.
What is the source of infection for dogs?
The original source of an outbreak may be cysts in contaminated water or the environment. In addition, infected dogs which may be either carriers (show no clinical signs but continue to harbor infection and pass cysts into the environment) or dogs that have diarrhea associated with infection may act as the source. Surveys have shown that about 14% of the adult dog population and over 30% of dogs under one year of age were infected. Once passed, the cysts can survive in cold water for several months.
The cysts are infective as soon as they are passed, unlike other parasites where a lag period is necessary before the organism is infective. The most common route of infection is oral. For example, dogs may accidentally eat cysts as they lick around the environment or lick other dogs' coats (particularly if the other dog has diarrhea). Another major source of infection is drinking contaminated water. Once ingested, the cyst breaks open in the animals' intestine and releases two new trophozoites to initiate infection. If a dog is left in a dirty environment it may act as its own source of further infections it eats cysts passed in its own feces.
What are the clinical signs associated with infection?
The trophozoites divide to produce a large population, then they begin to interfere with the absorption of food, so feces from affected animals are typically light colored, greasy and soft. These signs, together with the beginning of cyst shedding, begin about one week post infection. There may be additional signs of large intestinal irritation, such as straining and mucus in the feces, even though giardia do not colonize the large intestine. Usually the blood picture of affected animals is normal, though occasionally there is a slight increase in the number of eosinophils, one of several types of white blood cells, and mild anemia. Without treatment, the condition may continue, either chronically or intermittently, for weeks or months.
How can infection be diagnosed? Diagnosis is based on demonstration of the infection and the elimination of other possible causes of diarrhea (Salmonella or Campylobacter). Giardia cysts may be observed directly in fecal samples or indirectly using an elisa technique. Direct examination of feces, using zinc sulfate centrifugal flotation. followed by staining has been found to be up to 70% effective at detecting infection from a single fecal sample. The cyst output is very variable from day to day so the detection rate may be improved by pooling fecal samples collected over three days. Fecal examination is the cheapest method but is time consuming and requires an experienced technician for reliable results. The elisa technique requires a kit and some method of reading a color change or some method of production of fluorescent. Studies examining the reliability of some immuno-fluorescent kits have found them to be over 90% accurate, with relatively few false negatives or false positives. However, the tests are costly and probably only worthwhile where there are a large number of samples to be processed. Another option your vet may choose is to take a swap and wipe it at your dogs rectum. It is possible that the swap will not show any causes of giardia in dogs, yet your dog still has the disease. Your doctor will take 3 samples collected at least 2 days apart.
Infection may be treated using one of a number of prescription drugs. There are a number of treatments your vet may order you to use. The Metronidazole, traded as Flagyl, is effective against giardia and is given over 5 to 7 days. This drug should not be given to pregnant dogs as it is known to cause problems with the fetus. Metonidazole also has a positive effect on other causes of diarrhea. The list of options includes: Metronidazole (Flagyl,25-30 mg/kg, 7 days), Furazolidone (Neftin, 4 mg/kg, 10 days), Tinadazole (44 mg/kg once daily, 7 days), Fenbendazole (Panacur 50 mg/kg once daily, 3 days) and Albendazole (Valbazen, 25 mg/kg, 2 days). Other treatments include adding fiber to your dogs diet. Dogs do not acquire immunity to giardia after treatment, so they can contract the disease again. There is a vaccine to prevent the disease. Whatever treatment is chosen, it is very unlikely to eliminate 100% of the infection in all dogs. Adaptations that may be made to try to improve the success rate of a treatment regime include extending the duration and dose of the treatment. Care must obviously be taken with this approach to make sure that an adequate safety margin is always maintained. Another approach is to retreat after an interval of one week. Alternatively, repeat fecal samples may be collected one week after the treatment and dogs still passing cysts can be identified and treated. It should be recognized that, when treating a number of dogs, whichever of these treatment strategies is adopted, there may be one or two dogs that remain as carriers of infection that will act as a potential sources of infection in future.
Dogs should be prevented from access to foul water that may contain large numbers of cysts. Small numbers of cysts may occasionally be present in the potable water supply but the risk of this being a major source of infection is small. It also should be noted that removal of Giardia in contaminated water is difficult. They survive chlorination of drinking water and freezing temperatures up to –9 degrees F, therefore the best solution is disposal.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dog Food: What difference does it make? Part 2: Proteins, signs of deficiency and conclusion

In the earlier part 1 on this topic I talked about the fact that if your dog is being fed incorrectly, a variety of problems may occur. I addressed the foundation and building blocks of a healthy feeding and we shortly addressed the industry controls for pet food currently in place. Today let’s take a closer look at the main pet food ingredient, protein. What to pay attention to and what happens if you don’t provide it for your dog.
Most people have no idea what's in their dog's food. If their dogs pick at the food, people will change to another, trying to find the one just right for their dog. Feeding the correct food to a dog makes the difference between health and disease.Dogs are carnivores or meat eaters. Their teeth are formed to pull flesh apart. They have simple stomachs and a short digestive tract, ideal for digesting meat. Cereal and vegetable proteins are not as readily digested by the dog. While dogs have adapted somewhat to digesting these proteins, they have to eat such food in greater quantity to get the necessary nutrients. More food means more expense, as well as more voluminous stools. Dogs prefer a food high in animal protein. It makes them healthier and perform better.In order to choose a food that meets the nutritional needs of your dog, you need to understand something about protein, fat, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins and water. These basic ingredients are the recipe for any food you feed a dog.
At the very core of the dog's health and fitness are amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are necessary to life. If you are feeding an unsupplemented food high in cereal and vegetable proteins, chances are that your dog has an animal protein deficiency. Diseases that may result include: Skin and chronic ear infections, reproductive, heart, kidney, liver, bladder, thyroid and adrenal gland malfunctions, some forms of epilepsy, some kinds of cancer, rage syndrome, "spinning" or tail chasing, lethargy, timidity, lack of pigmentation, inability to think and act clearly, lack of appetite, excessive shedding, as well as gastrointestinal upsets.
Protein is composed of amino acids, of which 25 are presently known. Ten or 11, depending on the reference source you use, are essential and cannot be produced by the dog's body; the other 14 or 15 can be converted from the essential amino acids through a chemical chaining process taking place in the liver. These essential amino acids can be obtained only through what the dog eats, and they must be consumed at the same meal in order to sustain a healthy life.In a commercial dog food, protein is provided by combining animal sources, such as meat byproducts, chicken, cheese, milk, fish, turkey or lamb, together with grain sources, such as corn, wheat, rice, soy and so on. The sum total of these proteins appears on dog food packages as crude protein. How these ingredients are arranged in the recipe and the volume of those ingredients, whether the animal protein is listed first, third, or fifth, dictates the kind of protein available to the dog.Amino acids are altered by heat, which in turn affects their bio availability. Dry, semi moist or canned foods go through a heat process in manufacturing and the finished product can be deficient in amino acids. Such a food, if fed without supplementation, can cause disease. Many amino acids are available only from animal sources, and if grains are the main source, a dog may develop one of the animal protein deficiency diseases listed above. Since amino acids are dependent on one another, a diet that contains too little of one will have a chain reaction effect on the others and will reduce their utilization. To achieve the proper balance, it is necessary to combine foods with the correct amount of amino acids.While the chemical composition of protein is similar for some grains and meat products, the bio availability is different. Soy protein is used as a source of amino acids in food for animals that have complex stomachs, such as cattle and sheep, and as food for pigs, turkey and chickens. Some component parts of soy bind up their own nutrients and make them unavailable to the dog. Younger and older dogs cannot utilize the amino acids from soy, hence it should be avoided. Cottonseed meal falls in eh same category.The need for amino acids in the diet changes during different life stages, climate and season changes, trauma or stress. When these stresses are experienced, your dog's food should contain extra animal protein.The National Research Council's findings showed that certain breeds of dogs, i.e., Labradors and English Pointers, had a greater need for amino acids from animal sources, than did Beagles. In our work, we have found there are many breeds of European origin whose requirements are similar to the Labrador. The content of dog food is made to accommodate the Beagle, not the Labrador.
By observing your dog carefully, you can pick up signs of amino acid deficiencies. Many will be found on the feet and nails constantly biting or licking feet, crooked nails on one or more of the toes or toenails that are brittle can signal a protein deficiency. Pimples, skin discoloration and crooked whiskers are also deficiency signs.
One vet reports of a Landseer Newfoundland he treated for many years. The dog had a pimple on the left side of her face in the middle of her whiskers. It was itchy and she would rub her face along the carpet and paw at it, sometimes breaking it open. The whisker coming out of this point was crooked and turned backward. The pimple was situation on the amino acid lysine point. Supplementing the dog's diet with an amino acid complex containing lysine caused the pimple to disappear and the itching stopped.
Let’s summarize: Food proteins are considered complete only when they contain all the essential amino acids. Animal proteins are complete. Vegetable proteins are incomplete and unbalanced, but can be mixed with complete proteins to provide adequate amounts of essential amino acids.
Dietary protein requirements are influenced by various factors. These include digestibility, rate of protein synthesis, carbohydrate and fat levels in the diet and the timing of meals. Clinical factors can influence protein needs of the dog. These include disease, medications and surgery or any other trauma to body tissue.
You can test to see if your dog is deficient in amino acids. If you wish to supplement the dog's diet, test each of the following supplements to see what is best for your dog. Needs change with the seasons, so test several times during the year.
Animal protein: Raw meat, raw liver, cooked meat (lamb, pork or venison), cooked chicken, cooked fish, milk, whole eggs (cooked for 5 minutes, plus shell), yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, goats' milk, You can add a small amount of any of these proteins to your dog's diet. In total, supplementation should not exceed 10 percent of your dog's total diet.Amino acid complex tablets: Be aware that without good reason it is inadvisable to isolate any of the amino acids when feeding dogs. Their interdependency is such that unless you have a degree in chemistry and understand a fully how the isolated amino acid works, more harm can be done than good. Avoid supplementing with methionine alone if there is a history of liver disease. Too much methionine in relationship to other amino acids can cause coma and even death in dogs that have diseased livers.
When you supplement, make sure that the diet contains adequate vitamin C and B-complex, necessary for protein digestion.
Magnesium must be present in the diet for the essential amino acids to work.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pet food recall: Have a disaster supercharge pet food sales

Well, here is something new: Karlene Lukovitz concluded in her article “Pet Food Recalls actually boosted Sales” for Media Post News Marketing Daily that after all there also came something good out of the pet food industries most disasterous recall back in 2007. Hard to believe that someone can find anything good about that nightmare. Here’s what she said:
“The recalls of contaminated pet food in Spring 2007 encouraged owners to convert to higher-priced foods that were perceived to be safer. This trend to premium helped boost dollar sales for the category not only in 2007, but to a smaller extent last year--despite the dramatic downturn in the economy, according to a new report from Packaged Facts.
U.S. pet food sales grew 5.5% to an estimated $17 billion in 2008 and grew by a cumulative 20.9% (CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 4.9%) between 2004 and 2008, PF estimates in the latest edition of "Pet Food in the U.S."
IRI InfoScan data showed category sales in tracked retail outlets up 6.4% to $5.9 billion for the 52 weeks ending Nov. 2, 2008, including a 7% gain in dog food sales (to $227 million), a 6% gain for cat food (to $125 million) and a 3% gain for other pet food (to $6 million).
Dollar sales reflected consumer trading up and higher ingredient costs, not volume gains. Overall pound sales were down 2% and unit sales were down 6% last year, continuing the pattern seen in previous years, PF reports.
The analysts project that the economy will slow the category's sales to 4.5% in 2009 and 2010, followed by more tapering off through 2013. CAGR for 2008 through 2013 is projected at 4.1%, with premium demographics and products accounting for an even larger part of the overall market going forward.
As owners extend their concern with healthy eating to their pets and manufacturers push premiumization, the products that continue to drive growth are those that include claims such as organic, locally grown, human-grade, made in the U.S.A., whole and "real" ingredients (meat, fruit, vegetables, grains), high-protein and grain-free/non-allergenic).
As with human foods, functionals and nutraceuticals are hot for the pet set--especially those targeting age- and weight-related conditions with ingredients like glucosamine, omega fatty acids, antioxidants (including "dark fruits" like blueberries and cherries) and probiotics, PF points out.
The number of new pet food products shot up last year. During the first 11 months of 2008, 270 new pet food products were launched-- 51% more than in all of 2007, with the number of SKUs rising 119% to nearly 1,500, according to Datamonitor's Productscan Online.
PF also sees potential in the frozen/raw and refrigerated pet food segments. "Each will likely see the entry of a large marketer such as Del Monte (a natural for refrigerated especially) or Nestlé Purina during the near future," the analysts note.
On the marketing front, U.S. manufacturers spent $520 million on national advertising of food and non-food pet supplies in 2007. Over 60% went to television and only 5% to the Internet.
However, like other categories, pet food marketing is shifting online. PF notes that both Procter & Gamble (Iams) and Del Monte (Meow Mix, Milk-Bone) have been allocating more of their spending to branded-entertainment projects instead of traditional media spends.
Meow Mix has been particularly aggressive. The brand launched its first game show for pet owners ("Meow Mix Think Like a Cat") on GSN last November, in addition to its earlier branded series for Oxygen and Animal Planet, and has been hosting high-profile "pop-up" events and seminars for cat owners.
Celebrity branding is also becoming a bigger factor in the pet food category, with Ellen DeGeneres, Cesar Millan and Rachael Ray entering the market last year.”
Wow, just like I said the other day in “Chemicals in pet food Part 2: Marketing campaign indicates: Unhealthy, chemically enhanced pet nutrition is here to stay”, how easy we forget. Let some time go by, get a write up like the above and the number of pet owners who will remember is dwindling down. That same comment of mine also showed that Karlene Kukovitz’s predictions are no fantasies: The latest marketing campaigns initiated by the big guns clearly indicate just that. Now while Karlene makes it sound that all of this is actually something good happening, I would suggest to think again. To me the entire article actually sounds more like a marketing manual to be used for the near pet food future. If sales indeed increased in favor of the good guys, i.e. smaller, actually seriously health conscious pet food manufacturers actually providing good food, then there is nothing wrong and this trend has to be applauded. We can see some of that development happening at our store. And that’s good for the pets. But what scares me is when I hear the names she brings up. Because she makes it sound like the big players are on the track to doing something good. All I can do is to refer you once more to my comment about chemicals in pet food part 2: If Del Monte defines the ingredients of its Pep-eroni treats as healthy, then we have more than enough reason to be worried. That simply calls for a pessimistic view of the future. If Rachael Ray’s list of ingredients on her junk is considered to be good for our pets, then let’s pray. Because these and many other similar concerns I could bring up right here make me wonder: The next recall is not a question of “if” it happens, it’s a question of “when”. Phrases like human grade, nutraceuticals, dark fruits as anti oxidants, targeted premiumization, all sound to familiar and are a sure indication that the saga continues and nothing ever changes. And Ellen and Rachael will make it fly. Lets hope I am wrong. Rather than waiting to see what's going to happen, I for my part will continue to stick to my guns, tell interested pet owners what’s wrong with the pet food world and feed my pets what I have been feeding ever since we started the store: Real, healthy, natural pet food. That's why they are healthy and happy and have no indication of any disease whatsoever.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Recall Alert Update 02/17/09

Please check the Recall Alert for important updates posted today as the list of peanut butter related recalls of pet products possibly contaminated with salmonella expanded again.
Also: Our Recall Alert now features a FDA maintained Salmonella Contaminated Peanut Butter Products Recall Database Search Widget
Plus: Do's and Don'ts During the Peanut Salmonella Outbreak: FDAs Dr. Stephen Sundlof

Selecting a Commercial Pet Food Part 1: Ingredient Standards and Problems

Commercial pet food is a great convenience for busy caregivers. You want the best for your companion animals, but with a bewildering array of foods and claims to choose from, how do you decide what’s best for your animals?
Standards for Ingredients
The pet food industry is huge and extremely profitable ($25 billion a year in revenue worldwide). While manufacturers may appear to have the best interests of your companion animals at heart, they are generally more concerned about their stock prices and bottom lines. This may be especially true of pet food manufacturers owned by large, diverse, multinational parent companies. What this means to you is that if an inexpensive ingredient is available to replace a costlier one, many companies will make the substitution to save money. A few companies pride themselves on their “fixed formulas,” meaning that they always use the same ingredients. This may be good ... if the ingredients are of acceptable quality to begin with.
Pet food may be labeled as “complete and balanced” if it meets the standards set by a group called AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials. These standards were formulated in the early 1990s by panels of canine and feline nutrition experts. A food may be certified in two ways: (1) by meeting AAFCO’s published standards for content (“Nutrient Profiles”), or (2) by passing feeding tests or trials. While most researchers agree that feeding tests are superior in assessing the nutritional adequacy of a food, clinical experience as well as scientific studies have confirmed that even foods that pass feeding trials may still be inadequate for long-term maintenance. Also keep in mind that the standards set only “minimums” and “maximums,” not “optimums.” Commercial foods are designed to be adequate for the average animal, but not all foods will be suitable for an individual animal’s variable needs.
Commercial pet foods and some pet food ingredients have been implicated in a number of diseases in companion animals. Allergic skin disease, obesity, food intolerance, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic ear infections, cystitis (bladder inflammation), bladder and kidney stones, certain heart diseases, pancreatitis, feline hyperthyroidism, hip dysplasia, canine mammary cancer, bloat, and diabetes all have nutritional components — that is, nutritional factors are suspected or known to play a role in inducing or perpetuating these diseases. Thus, it is crucial that we, as caregivers, pay close attention to what we are feeding our animals and how they are reacting to the food.
One potential problem with commercial pet food is pesticide residues, antibiotics, and molds contained in pet food ingredients. Meat from sick animals may be loaded with drugs, some of which are known to pass unchanged through all the processing done to create a finished pet food (such as penicillin and pentobarbital). Between 1995 and 1999, there were two major recalls of dry dog food by different manufacturers due to mold contamination of grain ingredients. Some fungal toxins are very dangerous. The second recalled food killed more than 20 dogs.
Another problem is the unpredictable quality of common pet food ingredients. By-products, by-product meal, meat and bone meal, and similar ingredients can vary widely in their nutrient composition. Bone meals in the U.S. have had a lead contamination problem for many years. The protein in a meal containing a large amount of bone may be poorly digestible and fail to provide adequate nutrition, even though chemical analysis will reveal an acceptable amount of amino acids.
One of the biggest problems with commercial foods is the processing they undergo. Meals are rendered (cooked) at moderate to high temperatures for hours. Extruded foods pass through a steam heat/high pressure device that allows them to “puff” into kibble shapes when they come out of the machine. Even though they move through the extruder quickly, the extreme conditions may alter or damage some nutrients.
Pet food manufacturers are aware of these factors, and most add sufficient extra vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to compensate for losses in the manufacturing process. However, because the AAFCO profiles set only minimums for many nutrients, tests have shown that some minerals may be added to the food in excessive amounts.
Stay tuned for the continuation when we talk about feeding guide lines, provide a pet food shopping list, discuss vegetarian foods and shed some light on pet food labeling.
Contributed by and © 2004-2009 - Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute - All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Recommended reading:
Celeste Yarnall. Natural Cat Care. Journey Editions. ISBN 1-8852-0363-2.
Celeste Yarnall. Natural Dog Care. Journey Editions. ISBN 0-7858-1123-0.
Kate Solisti-Mattelon and Patrice Mattelon. The Holistic Animal Handbook: A Guidebook to Nutrition, Health, and Communication. Beyond Words Publishing Co. ISBN 1-5827-0023-0.
Richard H. Pitcairn, D.V.M., and Susan Hubble Pitcairn. Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats. Rodale Press, Inc. ISBN 0-87596-243-2.
Donald R. Strombeck. Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets: The Healthful Alternative. Iowa State University Press. ISBN 0-8138-2149-5.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Chemicals in pet food Part 2: Marketing campaign indicates: Unhealthy, chemically enhanced pet nutrition is here to stay

A few weeks ago I started writing a comment titled Chemicals in pet food can lead to bad behavior, says top vet Part 1. It discussed efforts of researchers in England in an attempt to show that the chemicals currently being added into commercially available mass marketed pet foods are not just bad, but ultimately over the long run can be fatal for our pets. While the article talks about pet food on the European market, quite similar problems exist here on our own shores.
A marketing campaign started during the past couple weeks here in the States is currently making it into many expert blogs. It also got my attention and I figured this would be a good introduction to write today’s sequence on the subject of unhealthy pet food ingredients. I am talking about the “Pupperoni” dog treats. If you haven’t seen the commercials yet, help yourself here: While it is really no news that marketing and especially pet food marketing works on the emotions of pet owners, Sabine Contreras of “The Dog Food Project” asks straight forward on her home page: “Do you really want to feed this junk?” While studying the labels, she came up with the truth, which is simply that, except for one ingredient, which is (in only some of the various formulations) the first listed one on their ingredient listing and is a meat (how much of meat can there be in a treat), these treats appear to be made of nothing but unhealthy garbage, synthetic ingredients and chemicals. You notice that I changed Sabine’s “junk” to “garbage”. Here is an incomplete list of ingredients common to all flavors of the Pupperoni treats: Meat Byproducts, Soy Grits, Sugar, Liver, Salt, Propylene Glycol, Garlic Powder, Caramel Color, Natural Smoke Flavor, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Nitrite, Red 40, BHA, Onion Extract. Theoretically I could go on and list a lot more, but I think in general you get the picture.
Susan Thixton on her Truth About Pet Food site says in her “Pup-Peroni Dog Treats kicks off an $8M Advertising Campaign article”: “You decide about the quality of this soon to be highly advertised pet treat. Del Monte Foods, producer of Pup-Peroni Dog Treats announces an $8 million national ad campaign. Pup-Peroni Dog Treats is about to be advertised on televisions everywhere; Del Monte Foods is spending the largest amount of money ever on the treat. The new commercials “will highlight consumers’ strong conviction that their pets can communicate and empathize with them.” “This program also underscores the company’s commitment to making strategic investments in our key brands and to driving growth,” said Bill Pearce, Del Monte’s chief marketing officer.” I see, lets play the game of touching the pet owners’ soft spot to satisfy our need for growth, market position and increased shareholder value, all at the expense of these “oh, so cute” animals. Let me tell you, this company could care less about our “cute” animals. I am convinced after being fed this stuff for a while, those cute doggies will be having a lot of problems, but at least your vet will be happy and laughing all the way to his bank. I keep repeating, I have no problem with companies making money. That capability is substantial to the functionality of our great system. What I do have a problem with is how it is being done. If a company tries to achieve this goal by risking our own or our pets’ health then, at least in my opinion, that is wrong. The problem is that these people get away with what they are doing. The 2007 recall result: A settlement costing the manufacturers involved a lot of money, but really, was it enough? I don’t know. I am not talking about the irreplaceble fatalities. I am talking about the issue if there was a lesson learned. Apparently there is still enough money left that one of them is in a position to start a humangeous, senseless lawsuit against Wysong, a pioneer in the field of healthy, natural pet food. Others decide to just shut their doors before it is too late, like the Peanut Company Files for Bankruptcy. What an easy way out. I wish there would be that much creativity when it comes to creating healthy products. But then again, why? We Americans are forgiving and easily forget. Time heals wounds. Just as Susan Thixton says in “Pet Food (Industry) Must Think 2 Years is Sufficient Mourning Period”: “It’s been two years since the deadly 2007 pet food recall. We can assume pet food manufacturers feel it’s ‘time’ to shove their products in front of our faces again; two years must be their allowable mourning period after the deadliest pet food recall in history. Pedigree just spent $3 million for a 30 second Super Bowl commercial… Mars has handed over its Nutro Pet Food line to BBDO Worldwide, an advertising agency that’s been handling the campaigns for Cesar and Sheba pet foods. Purina advertising group Fallon Worldwide has been awarded an estimated $1 to $2 million campaign to promote Alpo dog food; Fallon currently works with Purina promoting Dog Chow and Purina One products. … Barely two years after the deadliest pet food recall in history, pet food advertising is gearing up to attract new customers. No new safety regulations have been developed, many pet food manufacturers continue to purchase ingredients from China. Nothing has changed, except now, the advertising.”
Enough of this, I made my point. Now, what’s really the problem with those ingredients, you may ask? Which ones are the problem ingredients I should stay away from and why? What reasons do the manufacturers have (aside the ones just noted) to distribute such dangerous goods? That’s what I wanted to talk about to begin with. But then I guess tonight I got carried away in a little different direction. So just be patient and stay tuned for more about unhealthy pet food ingredients to follow soon.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Reader input wanted: What do you feed a Bull Mastiff?

I am looking for input from Bull Mastiff owners. Please tell us what you are feeding your puppy and/or adult and what is your experience with doing it.
We have a customer in NJ who owns a puppy which is now about 6 to 7 months old (sorry, I am losing track of time). She e-mailed me the other day saying
“Moose was neutered today and the vet said to put him on adult food now so when I get down to the 2nd bag that is coming on Monday I will order adult food and begin to switch him over then.
Now to decide on what kind. I have a book on Mastiffs that says their diet should provide meat protein from beef, with a very high fiber content from barley, whole oats and rye, and that the main carbohydrate source should be from potato. It also said to avoid feeding him any food that contains lamb, fish or soy or any minerals from sulfate sources since Mastiffs have a problem digesting these and they can also get allergies.
They recommend the dog’s diets based on where they are originally from and the foods required that their ancestors would have easily digested. Anyway it made sense to me and of course it recommended holistic and natural foods such as I’ve been feeding him. This book was originally one of the reasons I started feeding my puppies the raw diets you sell because I didn’t want to give them the grain dog foods. I bought this book after my other Mastiff got cancer and died last year.
I went to your site and was checking out ingredients of some foods and it looked to me like the AFS freeze dried raw beef I was buying originally is closest to what the book recommends, what do you think? Or can you recommend a food that has all of the above for him?”

To provide some background: Moose so far has been fed AFS Freeze dried raw 100% All Beef Nibblets and AFS Freeze dried raw Beef Nibblets with 6% Veggies & Fruit. In addition and for budgetary reasons we also fed him Innova Large Breed Puppy Dry Formula. In between he also got sort of as a treat type of food some AFS Freeze dried raw 100% Real Green Beef Tripe Nibblets. We started out with the older formulation of the Innova, like a couple smaller bags or so and back then experienced some minor stool problems. However, at around that time Innova introduced its new and improved formulas and after we started using those the stool problems went away. I attribute that to the pumpkin content of the new formula. Moose currently weighs in at around 65 lbs and according to his vet is a very healthy strong and totally normal boy having no health problems whatsoever.
My response to her e-mail consisted of 2 parts: First the food itself and what I had to say about it. Second, and I will make this a another, separate comment, a detailed cost analysis of my proposal and what it will cost my customer to keep Moose a happy and healthy dog. Here’s part 1 of my response:
Before I get carried away on details as usual, please do not forget that if you make any change in your feeding habits, do so with a gradually slow transition period, i.e. do not switch over night as this may cause temporary difficulties. So please do not wait to the last minute to order any new food, initially you want to mix old and new for a few days. This will be way easier on Moose.
With regards to the brand and type of food: AFS is a very good raw food and it is probably the most economical raw brand we carry at this time. Please keep in mind that there is the AFS brand and the Natures Advantage brand. Natures Advantage is a subsidiary of AFS, the difference between the 2 all meat formulas (in patties and nibblets) is that the AFS formulas contain beef tripe and no kelp and vice versa in Natures Advantage. Both ingredients are good ingredients with many health benefits.

Kelp is a rich source of natural vitamins and minerals including essential trace minerals for balanced growth, health (and reproduction). Kelp helps stimulate kidney function, increase circulation, purify the blood and enhances the immune system. Kelp has also been known to treat inflamed joints and tissues.

Tripe is the stomach of ruminating animals. These animals (i.e. cow, buffalo, lamb, deer, etc.) are classified as cud chewing mammals with a stomach that consists of four chambers. The four chambers are known as the rumen, reticulum, omasum and the abomasum. Food these animal eats is swallowed un-chewed and passes into the rumen and reticulum where it is then regurgitated, chewed and mixed with saliva. It is again swallowed and then passed through the reticulum and omasum into the abomasums. There it is then further broken down by the gastric juices, amino acids and other digestive enzymes. These same gastric juices and enzymes not only aid the animal in digestion. They also can aid dogs in digesting and efficiently utilizing their food. Amino acids are necessary for muscular development. The Woodson Tenant Lab in Atlanta, GA performed an analysis of a sample of green tripe. During the analysis it was discovered that the calcium to phosphorous ratio is 1:1. Overall pH is on the acidic side, which is better for digestion. Protein is 15.1, fat 11.7. It also contains the essential linoleic and linolenic fatty acids in recommended proportions. Additionally green tripe contains the lactic acid lactobacillus acidophilus, a good intestinal bacteria. Disadvantage of green tripe: Some humans (!) do not like the smell.

With regards to the dry food formulas and ingredients I have to say that I have two areas where I draw information from: First my research and second my customer base. I have many customers owning the same breed as Moose, most of them we have on the Innova Large Breed Adult, nobody has any problems, their dogs are healthy and happy. This is somewhat contrary to what your book is telling you as the formula contains some ingredients your book does not agree with. But I also did quite some searching on the Internet and came up with for example that many breed specific sites even recommend fish as an ingredient, which again is contrary to what your book told you.
I found one formula which comes close to what your book says. I do not have it on the site yet as I am in the process of setting up this brand within the next few weeks. It is made by Solid Gold, the formula is called MMillenium. I picked the formula not for its manufacturer intended purpose, but because the ingredients come closest to what your book suggests. The short description and ingredients are:
Dry food formula made with Beef, Barley, and Brown Rice. Ideal for active adult dogs, to provide the energy levels required for sports or performance, and to maintain total health.Protein, Min 22%; Fat, Min 12%; Fiber, Max 4%; Moisture, Max 10%Calories per cup, 387
Beef, Beef Meal, Cracked Pearled Barley, Brown Rice, Millet, Rice Bran, Canola Oil, Ocean Fish Meal, Tomato Pomace, Flaxseed, Natural Flavor, Salmon Oil (source of DHA), Choline Chloride, Taurine, Dried Chicory Root, Parsley Flakes, Pumpkin Meal, Almond Oil, Sesame Oil, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Thyme, Blueberries, Cranberries, Carrots, Broccoli, Vitamin E Supplement, Iron Proteinate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Potassium Iodide, Thiamine Mononitrate, Manganese Proteinate, Manganous Oxide, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin, Calcium Panthothenate, Manganese Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin D Supplement, Folic Acid

I have quite a few more dry brands and formulas, none of them however are in “compliance” with your book. For your information however I do recommend any of the dry food formulas we carry. Timberwolf Organics for example is an excellent food, but all formulas contain fish. Addiction with its kangaroo and venison formulas is excellent. Both, Timberwolf and Addiction are on the high side of the price scale, but because of their high quality rightfully so. Canine Caviar is another great food. As a matter of fact on the West coast it is kept on the veterinary list of alternatives and in California it is very often used in place of the vet’s usual Hills Science and prescription formulas. Another recommended option is Wysong, both with its dry food and its archetypal TNT processed raw formulas.

Ok, with that I am going to stop here for the day. I think I gave you enough material to think about. More detail on each product can be found on our site.
The bottom line is and remains as I said initially: Going with the AFS option in my books is probably the best solution. Dry is only an option to ease the financial burden.
Needless to say that I have plenty of more alternatives to offer should the above not be sufficient enough. They include Primal frozen raw formulas, Omas Pride Frozen Raw, Steve’s Real Food Frozen and freeze dried raw. Plus there are other alternatives such as dehydrated food mixes from The Honest Kitchen, Sojos, Addiction, See Spot Live Longer and Dr. Harvey. Some of them to be used as stand alone, some require the addition of ingredients such as raw meat.

Have a wonderful day and lots of fun making a decision. Please do me a favor, ask Moose what he thinks.

And to my blog participants and readers: Mastiff owners, what do you think? By the way, our 3 year old Mastiff girl Brandy is doing just fine on the food I have recommended above. Surprisingly even the vet can’t find anything wrong with her (yet he still would not sent his clients our way… you think that has to do with his large inventory of scientific pet food?)