Friday, May 15, 2009

Pregnant women to avoid cat litter

Today’s comment concerns cat nutrition, but only at it’s very end and less the food and more so the results: What goes in must come out and with cats that usually means into the litter box. If being fed the right food, that should be not too much in volume, of the right consistency and not too smelly. Whatever it is supposed to be, it also has to be discarded and dealt with by a human. And that is what my little story today is all about.

Our family this year, just as every year, has something great happening again, this time our son Nick’s wife Kimberly is expecting. In a few months another boy will be joining the gang to keep up with the tradition, in this family there is never a dull moment. Needless to say that everybody is very excited looking forward to that day.
Nick, who joined the Coast Guard a couple years ago, until recently was stationed in Kodiak, Alaska (quite a cool change having been raised in Florida) and is currently going to school in VA, from where, once graduated, he will be transferred to the West Coast of our Sunshine State. Mom is happy, her boy is closer to home again and frequent visits without lengthy 12 hour flights are on the horizon. While Nick is in VA and in preparation of the transfer, the kids had to give up their Alaskan quarters, so Kim is staying with us for the time being. They also own two Himalayans, which moved in with her as well. Actually, they are cool and have a great personality. Those poor things, while their long hair coat was just perfect for Alaska, down here in Florida it’s getting way too hot. They really appreciate living in the air conditioned house. Though sometimes they don’t get along too well with our 5 cats (or is it the other way around?), who believe no other cat should be allowed in our house. And in a very determined fashion they will make that perfectly clear to the temporary house guests. So lately we had to break up quite a few cat fights.
Anyway, ever since Kim moved in, my wife Elizabeth is cleaning Kim’s litter box (well, credit where credit is due, Kim does it sometimes herself too). We no longer have litter boxes, our cats are trained to go and do their business outside in a designated area of our front yard, which now no longer requires lawn mowing. I love our cats. The other day I asked Elizabeth, let Kim do that by herself, don’t clean up after her and her cats. These young people need to learn how to take care of their own things. And her response to the grumpy old man was that pregnant women cannot not deal with cat litter. Well, that was news to me, my comment was “…one of these new fashions again? Listen, cat owning women have been pregnant ever since humans have cats as companions and all their babies have been delivered just fine, so what’s the big deal?”

Anyway, just to proof my point I couldn’t help it but to research the issue on the Internet anyway and here is what I came up with. According to, a Canadian site providing veterinarian advice states:

“Pregnant Women Should Avoid Cleaning Cat Litter”
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by an organism called Toxoplasma gondii. It can infect people if they handle or eat infected raw or partially cooked meats (especially pork, mutton, and lamb), or if they accidentally ingest the eggs (called oocysts) through handling of infected soil, cat litter, etc. In pregnant women, toxoplasmosis can infect the unborn child. The most important source of infection in industrialized countries appears to be contact with meat that contains oocysts, rather than cats.
Toxoplasmosis is not common in cats, particularly domesticated cats, since the primary source of infection is through ingestion of small prey such as birds and mice. The vast majority of cats tend to show no clinical signs during infection and even their blood will test negative until the end of the period of shedding. This makes detection of the disease difficult until it is almost resolved. Clinical signs, when they do occur (rarely) in cats, include some or all of the following: fever, coughing, breathing difficulties, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, and neurological manifestations.
A similar situation exists in people. Most infections can only be detected with a blood test and often go undetected. Signs of the disease may include swollen lymph nodes, fever, fatigue, sore throat and headache. Toxoplasmosis is often mistaken for something else, like the flu. In fact, it is estimated that up to one-half of the general population has had an asymptomatic infection at some time in their lives.
Human infections acquired from direct contact with shedding cats are extremely rare. The major role that cats appear to play in the spread of toxoplasmosis is in the shedding of oocysts into the environment.
Two groups of people that are at risk and should avoid infection from toxoplasmosis are pregnant women who have never been exposed to toxoplasmosis and people with immuno deficiency disorders (e.g. HIV, AIDS, chemotherapy patients, geriatrics). For these people, certain minimum precautions are suggested:* Cat litter should be discarded daily and only by those family members not at risk. Litter should be disposed of in a plastic bag and hands washed afterwards.* All meat should be cooked so that a distinct color change is noted to indicate satisfactory cooking.* Persons at risk should also wash their hands after handling cats as a further precaution.
* Wearing gloves during box cleaning is a good precaution that any family member can take.If you are concerned about the relative risks of toxoplasmosis in your area, call your veterinarian for answers.”

They also, in their listing of precautions at the end had included “Cats should be restricted from hunting to prevent infection. They should be fed only commercial cat food. Avoid feeding raw foods.”
This part I cannot agree with. So what, because the owner is pregnant, now she has to change the cat’s diet and the cat has to eat highly processed commercial dry junk? Raw feeding is the best one can do for a cat (or dog) and if the pregnant women follow all the other advise, that should and will not be a problem. At least I would say so. But that may make me being wrong just another time? Twice within a few days? You know I hate to admit that. I guess I am still learning every day something new. I am also going to send a link to this comment to
Dr. Elsey, maybe he can come up with a solution.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Human gourmet food: Pâté, liver mousse, dog food...?

Today’s comment is a little different than the usual ones and I thought it may make you smile. I found this on CBS News who reported on 05/01/09 “Study: Dog Food Tastes Just Like Pâté”. CBS concluded that “if the recession gets worse, we may be eating dog food for dinner.” Here’s why they believe so:

“Don't laugh. It's apparently tastier than you'd expect. In the last few years, organic dog food made with human-grade free range meat and fresh vegetables has spiked in popularity among health-conscious shoppers. Some companies even claim*, for instance, that "humans actually taste our foods, as part of our QC process!" What's surprising is that some of the new organic dog foods taste as good as (or as bad as) similar human foods, like liverwurst and duck liver mousse, according to a working paper circulated on Friday by the
American Association of Wine Economists.

The paper is titled "Can People Distinguish Pâté from Dog Food?" and it concluded that, well, they can't.

These enterprising researchers separately put organic Canned Turkey & Chicken Formula for Puppies/Active Dogs, duck liver mousse, pork liver pâté, liverwurst, and spam in a food processor. The resulting confection was ladled into five different bowls and garnished with parsley. The volunteers in this culinary experiment didn't exactly prefer the dog food, but they couldn't identify it either. "Only 3 of 18 subjects correctly identified sample C as the dog food," the paper says.

The authors conclude that: "Although human beings do not enjoy eating dog food, they are also not able to distinguish its flavor profile from other meat-based products that are intended for human consumption." The lesson? Presentation matters. Expectations matter. And, perhaps, that organic dog food is better than you think.”

Note: The company they are talking about is
The Honest Kitchen, manufacturer of a complete line of dehydrated raw food mixes for cats and dogs.

I went on to visit the Wine Associations page for the more detailed article, here is a short summary, I left out much of the details and all their cross references and source document references. If you wish, you can download the
entire article with references as a pdf file.

Considering the similarity of its ingredients, canned dog food could be a suitable and inexpensive substitute for pâté or processed blended meat products such as Spam or liverwurst. However, the social stigma associated with the human consumption of pet food makes an unbiased comparison challenging. To prevent bias, Newman's Own dog food was prepared with a food processor to have the texture and appearance of a liver mousse. In a double-blind test, subjects were presented with five unlabeled blended meat products, one of which was the prepared dog food. After ranking the samples on the basis of taste, subjects were challenged to identify which of the five was dog food. Although 72% of subjects ranked the dog food as the worst of the five samples in terms of taste, subjects were not better than random at correctly identifying the dog food.

What qualifies as food fit for human consumption is culturally defined. In some cultures, grasshopper, snake, dog, and horse are on the menu. Elsewhere, these healthy protein sources provoke disgust. There has also been a substantial flexibility of diet within cultures over time. Lobster, once considered fit only for fertilizer and slave food in 18th Century North America, is consumed there today as an expensive delicacy. Such cultural evolution is ongoing, with comestible goods constantly moving into or out of fashion. We investigated the potential of canned dog food for human consumption by assessing its palatability alone.

The diet of domestic dogs in most of the world consists of scraps, the by-products of human food preparation and consumption. Indeed, the close overlap between the diet of Canis familiaris and Homo sapiens may have been crucial for its evolution as a human companion species. Commercialized dog food is a recent phenomenon, becoming popular only in relatively wealthy industrialized nations since the mid-20th Century. Nonetheless, it has grown rapidly into a $45 billion industry.

Intense competition for market share has kept the price of dog food low relative to comestible goods for human consumption, even those derived from very similar meat industry by-products such as liverwurst and Spam. In spite of its attractive price, commercial dog food is left virtually untouched by human consumption. One valid concern is the risk of food poisoning. The discovery in 2007 that several brands of commercial pet food were contaminated with melamine, an industrial fire retardant that can cause renal failure, caused widespread concern. However, partly as a result of this scandal, "organic" pet foods have gained significant market share. For example, Newman's Own Organics Premium Pet Food is made exclusively from "human grade" agricultural products.

But even if dog food is safe for human consumption, it must overcome considerable prejudice. Part of the barrier is the perception that dog food is unpalatable. The pet food industry has invested decades of research and development to make their products more appealing to the humans who must purchase and handle their products. Human volunteers have been used to compare the taste qualities of pet food formulae. The aim has been to reduce feelings of disgust while owners serve the food to their pets, rather than to make it more palatable for human consumption, but the result is the same. The diet and lifestyle of dogs in the industrialized world has converged with that of humans. Could dog food be approaching acceptance as comestible good fit for humans? Assessing the intrinsic palatability of dog food is a first step in answering this question. Controlling for bias is a challenge. Expectation has a large effect on the hedonic tone of food. There are many levels at which expectation can have its effects, and many
mechanisms have been proposed. The effects can be subtle and depend on when information is gained relative to consumption. Measuring the hedonic tone free of bias requires a double-blind trial. We predicted that in a double-blind taste test, subjects would be unable to identify dog food among 5 samples of meat products with similar appearance and texture, thus allowing them to assess palatability independent of prejudice. We hypothesized that, if the dog food were ranked favorably relative to human comestible goods with similar ingredients, it should be considered fit for human consumption.

Materials and Methods
The dog food tested was Canned Turkey & Chicken Formula for Puppies/Active Dogs (Newman's Own® Organics, Aptos, CA). The four meat products used for comparison were duck liver mousse ("Mousse de Canard," Trois Petits Cochons, New York, NY), pork liver pâté ("Pâté de Campagne," Trois Petits Cochons, New York, NY), supermarket liverwurst (D’Agostino), and Spam (Hormel Foods Corporation, Austin, MN).

Each product was pulsed in a food processor to have the consistency of mousse. Samples were allocated to serving bowls, labeled A - E, garnished with parsley to enhance presentation, and chilled in a refrigerator to 4°C. To allow one researcher to perform a double-blind trial, the preparation was carried out by the coauthors.
The experiment was carried out between 7:00 PM and 10:00 PM on 31 December 2008 in Brooklyn, New York.

After fully disclosing the aim of the experiment--to evaluate the taste of dog food--18 subjects volunteered. Subjects were college-educated male and female adults between the ages of 20 and 40. The five sample dishes, A - E, were presented to subjects with a bowl of crackers ("Table Water Crackers,” Carr’s of Carlisle, UK). The identity of the samples, unknown to the researcher, was as follows.
A: Duck liver mousse. B: Spam. C: Dog food. D: Pork liver pâté. E: Liverwurst.
Subjects were asked to rank the "tastiness" of the samples relative to each other on scale of 1 (best) to 5 (worst). They were instructed to taste all of the spreads, in any order and as many times as necessary, in order to make a sound judgment. After the rankings were recorded on data sheets, subjects guessed which of the five samples they believed was the dog food. Results The dog food (sample C) was ranked lowest of the five samples by 72% (13) of subjects. The duck liver mousse (sample A) was rated as the best by 55% (10) of subjects. Between these extremes, the majority of subjects ranked Spam, pork liver pâté, and liverwurst in the range of 2nd to 4th place. The rankings were analyzed using the multiple comparison procedure described by Christensen et al. The absolute differences between summed rankings were compared to the threshold values for P=0.05 and P=0.01 levels of significance. The aggregate taste ranking of the dog food was highly significant. The ranking difference between dog food and Spam was greater than the P<0.05 threshold, and the difference was greater than the P<0.01 threshold for all other samples. Subjects' preference for the duck liver mousse was also highly significant. The only sample that was not ranked significantly differently than the duck liver mousse (at the P<0.05 level) was the pork liver pâté.
Only 3 of 18 subjects correctly identified sample C as the dog food. A Chi-Squared test did not support the hypothesis that the distribution of guesses was significantly different from random.

Subjects significantly disliked the taste of dog food compared to a range of comestible meat products with similar ingredients. Subjects were not better than random at identifying dog food among five unlabeled samples. These two results would seem to be paradoxical. Why did the 72% of subjects who ranked sample C as worst in terms of taste not guess that sample C was dog food? One possibility is that slight differences in appearance and texture skewed the guesses. While the distribution of guesses failed a Chi-Squared test of statistical significance, 44% (8) of subjects incorrectly chose liverwurst (sample E) as the dog food. As the texture of samples had been equalized with a food processor, it is possible that subjects were attempting to discern which sample was dog food based on taste, not texture. The explanation we find more compelling, however, is that subjects were primed to expect dog food to taste better than it does. As we assured subjects that the experience would not be disgusting, they might have excluded the worst-tasting sample from their guesses. Regardless of the cause of the distribution of guesses, we can be confident that the comparison of taste was free of prejudice. Even with the benefits of added salt, a smooth texture, and attractive presentation, canned dog food is unpalatable compared to a range of similar blended meat products.

We conclude that, although human beings do not enjoy eating dog food, they are also not able to distinguish its flavor profile from other meat-based products that are intended for human consumption.”

Quite amusing, don’t you think so? I didn’t know taste testing is such a complicated matter. But then again, I guess one can turn anything into a scientific rocket science project. What do I know? I thought I am going to be cute and hire our own 2 dogs and 5 cats as taste testers. It’s supposed to help our marketing efforts (and believe it or not, it indeed does. Always makes for good conversation). Fact is, they never make it look that complicated. The felines sometimes look like they are taking it serious, the dogs however typically inhale anything.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Another David vs. Goliath Battle: Now about Pet Food Marketing

Remember my comment dated back the beginning of February this year “David vs. Goliath in 2009 - Let the battle commence: Nestle/Purina vs. the Natural pet food industry (Featuring: Wysong as "David")” and a follow-up comment written on 04/03/09 “Purina vs. Natural Pet Food Industry. It’s all about what? Probiotics? “? No big deal if you don’t, you always can refresh your memory by clicking the links. There is actually no news to report on that subject, I guess the lawyers are diligently working the deal and hopefully get it straightened out before too much money is being thrown out the window and Wysong pet food prices have to go up to cover the additional and unnecessary expense. But while all this has been going on, it appears as if there was another similar battle developing in another corner of the pet food industry. This one is between Hills Science Diet and Blue Buffalo. Susan Thixton of the reported on her site and in her newsletter earlier today on this development
Apparently Pet Food giant Hill’s Science Diet has filed a complaint against Blue Buffalo with the BBB (Better Business Bureau) National Advertising Division (NAD). The Science Diet NAD complaint challenges several advertising methods utilized by Blue Buffalo Pet Foods.

Well, whatever it is, we are getting into more details in a second, it must have left a great impression on Susan. She, who usually does not appear to be afraid of anybody and anything (visit her site for her constant ongoing efforts for better pet food regulations taking it all the way up into our government), before she even starts writing her comment, publishes the following disclaimer:

“This article does NOT imply any pet foods discussed are high in quality or inferior in quality. The intent of this article is simply to report on the misgivings of regulations that govern pet foods in the United States.”

After reading this I was thinking that maybe I myself should keep my mouth a little more controlled and be careful with what I am saying in my comments. I know I, or better, our on-line store couldn’t afford having to get involved in a legal dispute with one of the big guns. But then again, sometimes I can’t help it but to scream loud about the misery existing in this industry. And then again, I am not the only one who notices the problems. There have been many experts long before I came along sharing my opinion (or did I share theirs?) And as you all know, it is one of my missions: To educate pet owners so they can make educated decisions when it comes to pet nutrition. So much for freedom of speech, I guess if you dish out you have to be prepared to take the heat.

But let’s come back to the actual topic here. To me the story is highly interesting for various reasons. First the fact that another Goliath is attacking a David in itself to me indicates that the Goliaths out there do take the Davids very serious and are at least to some degree concerned about not just their existence but also their increasingly well doing in the business. And it appears as if they think throwing in some road blocks may change things. Secondly I am interested in what is going on with Blue Buffalo because it is one of the brands I see as fitting the philosophy of our on-line store and offering an outstanding product line. We do not offer this brand in our store yet, emphasizing “yet”. And third, it also shows very clearly that there are problems with the existing rules and regulations, otherwise the entire issue wouldn’t even be one.

Susan, at least on the last point feels the same way. She writes:

“In July 2008, Hill’s Science Diet (third largest pet food producer in the world, owned by Proctor & Gamble), filed a challenge with the NAD against Blue Buffalo Pet Food. The NAD’s mission is “to review national advertising for truthfulness and accuracy”. “Policy and procedures for NAD are established by the National Advertising Review Council (NARC).” No agreement could be made between NAD, Science Diet, and Blue Buffalo; the advertising challenge has been referred to “the appropriate government agency” for possible law enforcement action” (The Federal Trade Commission).

As many pet owners are aware, pet food advertising is not known for its ‘truthfulness and accuracy’. AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) regulations allow dog food and cat food labels to “include an unqualified claim, directly or indirectly” (PF7a). Thus an advertising challenge from one pet food manufacturer against another, seems difficult at best to prove and quite the oxymoron (a figure of speech that combines two normally contradictory terms). The Pet Food pot calling the Pet Food kettle black.

Science Diet Pet Food had several ‘beefs’ about Blue Buffalo’s advertising. The he said/she said banter between these two pet food makers is lengthy in documents provided to by the NAD.

The biggest issue challenged by Science Diet was Blue Buffalo’s claim of “No Animal By-Products” in their dog foods and cat foods. “The challenger (Science Diet) took issue with the advertiser’s express claims that none of its pet foods contain animal by-products. It also took issue with the implied claim that BLUE pet foods are healthier for pets than competitive foods that contain by-products.”

Here begins the mass confusion thanks to AAFCO ingredient definitions. AAFCO defines ‘meat’ to be exclusive of any animal material resembling by-products. However, AAFCO’s definition of ‘meat meal’ (such as ‘fish meal’, or ‘lamb meal’) allows any animal part to be included except ‘hair, hoof, horn, hide, manure, and stomach’. One more definition to add to the confusion is ‘poultry meal’ (such as ‘chicken meal’ or ‘turkey meal’); ‘poultry meal’ unlike ‘fish meal’ or ‘lamb meal’, cannot include animal intestines, poultry heads or feet. The term ‘meal’ implies, according to AAFCO regulations, the moisture is removed from the ‘meat’ prior to manufacturing of the pet food. Pet owners would think that a ‘meat meal’ is what AAFCO defines as ‘meat’ with the moisture removed; such is not the case.

In an attempt to explain this confusing ingredient definition mess…’meat’ is nothing similar to by-products, a ‘meat’ meal such as ‘fish meal’ or ‘lamb meal’ can include intestines which anyone in their right mind would consider a by-product, but another type of ‘meat’ meal such as ‘chicken meal’ or ‘turkey meal’ cannot include intestines but can include other internal organs that AAFCO defines as a by-product (liver as example).

Whew! Are you lost yet? Buckle your seat belt, it gets worse…

AAFCO defines ‘meat by-products’ (such as ‘chicken by-products’) to be completely exclusive of meat (“includes but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, stomach, intestines”). Despite by-products having their own definition, by-products can be (at the sole discretion of the pet food manufacturer and without the knowledge of the pet food purchaser) included in other safe sounding pet food ingredient names such as ‘fish meal’ and ‘chicken meal’.

One more twist…all of the above pet food ingredient definitions can come from animals rejected for use in human foods, again at the sole discretion of the pet food manufacturer. Each of the above AAFCO definitions includes “it shall be suitable for use in animal food”; any animal rejected for use in human foods, regardless of why, is ‘suitable for use in animal food’ per regulations. This does NOT mean that all pet foods that contain ‘meat’, or ‘meat meal’ ingredients includes animal intestines or is sourced from diseased, rejected for use in human food animals; it means that some do and some don’t. It also means that those pet foods that do use inferior sources of ‘meat’ and ‘meat meal’ ingredients, don’t have to tell you.

Back to the ‘challenge’ presented by Science Diet. Science Diet stated Blue Buffalo’s ‘no-animal by-products’ advertising is false and thus misleading. The NAD agreed. “NAD therefore recommended that the advertiser discontinue its ‘no animal by-products’ claims when made in reference to pet foods containing fish meal, lamb meal, and/or liver.”

The following statement is provided in the fine print of the Blue Buffalo website ( “In addition, all BLUE healthy canned dog foods contain NO animal by-product, artificial preservatives, corn, wheat or soy. As “by-products” are defined in The 2009 AAFCO Official Publication”

Another advertising ‘challenge’ presented by Science Diet regarding Blue Buffalo is the Blue statement “Because the leading pet foods did not meet our standards, we developed a two-part product that combined a nutrition kibble with our exclusive LifeSource Bits – active nutrients and antioxidants ‘cold formed’ to preserve their potency.” Science Diet claimed the Blue statement was implying Blue Buffalo Pet Foods are superior in nutrition than Science Diet Pet Foods.

The interesting aspect of this part of the ‘challenge’ begins with the following quote from the NAD report: “Although the claim does not explicitly state that Blue pet foods are more nutritious than competing brands, it is established NAD precedent that advertisers must not only substantiate their express claims but also those that are reasonably implied.”

While keeping in mind that Science Diet objected to Blue’s ‘superiority claim’, the Hill’s Science Diet website states the following as the home page title: “Superior Nutrition for the Quality of Life of your Pet.” I personally interpret this statement as Science Diet’s own ‘superiority claim’. Here are a few other claims from leading pet food brands that seem to be making similar superiority claims as Science Diet and Blue Buffalo...

Iams: “Iams is veterinarian recommended.”
Pedigree: “Really good food.”
Nutro: “Natural Super-Premium Dog & Cat Food.”

AAFCO regulations allow pet foods to make all types of ‘superiority claims’. Despite the NAD agreeing with Science Diet that Blue’s ‘superiority claim’ is not substantiated through clinical proof, this is one of countless in the pet food world. For one pet food manufacturer to challenge another pet food manufacturer on this particular issue, consider regulations allowing all to make "unqualified claims" seems…well…ridiculous.

Lastly, Science Diet challenged the Blue claim “Feed your pet like you feed your family”. The issue of concern is the implication of ‘human food’ quality; a big no, no in the pet food world. AAFCO regulations do NOT allow a pet food manufacturer to state the grade or quality of dog food or cat food ingredients. Just to be clear, AAFCO regulations ALLOW dog food and cat food labels to make “unqualified claims, directly or indirectly” yet do NOT ALLOW dog foods and cat food labels to state their use of human grade meats. These regulations, accepted by the FDA, keep pet owners completely in the dark as to the true quality of their pet’s food.

After closely looking at almost 1300 dog foods, cat foods, and pet treats, I can honestly say there are few to none that don’t market (advertise) to the pet lover’s instinct wishing to feed their dog or cat just like the rest of their family. All Pet food manufacturers are well aware of these human instincts and most openly advertise to this instinct.

Regardless of Science Diet’s challenge of Blue Buffalo’s advertising, pet owners continue to be misled by most pet foods advertising and label claims. AAFCO ingredient definitions would be laughable if the issue wasn’t so serious. Top that off with a government agency (the FDA) not enforcing Federal law where pet foods are concerned. In other words, pet owners are left defenseless.

Some pet foods use only the finest ingredients, the very same ingredients you WOULD feed to any member of your family. The pet food that I provide my gang, uses only human grade chicken breast in its chicken meal (no bone, no skin, no by-products, only breast meat), yet they are NOT allowed to tell customers this on their label or in their advertising. Another pet food can imply all types of unqualified health claims on their labels, when they use intestines and diseased chickens in their chicken meal. It doesn’t seem fair does it?

This isn’t quality of potting soil or house paint, this is quality of nutrition that is supposed to enhance the lives of our furry family; family that solely depends on us to provide them with quality nutrition.

Truth in pet food labeling and advertising doesn’t exist. Existing regulations do not require it.

Our pets on the other hand, do tell us the truth. Recently a pet owner shared with me her experience of changing pet foods (from a well known pet food brand to a lesser known brand that uses human grade meats – but can’t advertise they do). As recommended, she slowly introduced the new dog food and cat food; mixing only a partial amount of new food in with the old food. Her cat “ate around” the old food, eating only the new food. Her dog politely spit out every kibble of old food all over the kitchen floor, eating only the new food. When this ‘mom’ followed instructions and did not provide her dog and cat more of the new food for this meal, both animals refused to eat the old food and thus had only a small portion of their regular meal – all new food.

This dog and cat get my vote as President of AAFCO and Director of Pet Food Safety at the FDA. If they were in charge, things would be different.”

Thank you Susan, well done. If anybody thought Wysong’s probiotics story was a complicated one, this one is not less complicated and it is not even scientific. I for my part wish Hills would leave Blue Buffalo alone and let them concentrate on continuing what they are doing best: Making great pet food. It also could be beneficial for Hills to look into the option of making better foods. At the end, it only would benefit our companion animals and what is wrong with that?

To me it’s all a waste of time and money, money which could be spend in much better ways all day long. Let’s hope, with this being the second battle now going on that we are not at the brink of pet food world war.

Please visit Susan’s website to learn more about her opinions and work, her endless efforts on behalf of our pets for better and stricter regulations and also for her greatest accomplishment, the enormous and really eye opening pet food review database

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thinking outside the conventional bag: Innovative pet food forms like Pre-mixes are here to stay (Comparison of Pet Food Types Part 3)

In part 1 of this series we started looking at and comparing various types of food, mainly dry, canned and raw food and did so by concentrating on the advantages and disadvantages of the various processing methods applied during the manufacture of these types of food. Today we are going to expand upon this topic by taking a look at the pet food industry overall and how developments are influencing innovation for the pet food market. A further discussion in Part 2 addressed the reasons for the positive development in this market sector, which are primarily substantial growth rates and the desire of pet food manufacturers to set themselves apart form their competition. Positive for concerned pet owners is that these unconventional forms of foods typically also fall into the highly desirable category of healthy and natural food. Today and in subsequent comments we will take a closer look of what is already available to us now and also take a look into the future to see what we can expect ahead of us.

Let’s get started with the so called dog food pre-mixes. Pre-mixes actually are not that new and actually belong to some of the older innovations. The player established for the longest time in this market is Sojourner Farms with its pre-mixes. The company launched its initial product back in 1985. The concept of these mixes is a simple one: Take the mix, add meat and water and voila, you have a complete and balanced meal. The mix itself looks kind of like a muesli, their organic version even says it in its name “Muesli”. The Grain Free version Europa looks and smells very much like a soup mix for humans. Another product I highly recommend is Dr. Harvey’s Canine Health pre-mix. And there are a few other names, not too many though and I have to admit not knowing enough about them to comment here.

Both named manufacturers basically say that with the addition of a specified amount of fresh, wholesome meat a “complete and balanced” in compliance with AAFCO guidelines is obtained. Some of the products we looked at in our store are formulated to meet the nutritional levels standards of AAFCO, others don’t. Remember, in order to be able to make that “complete and balanced” statement the manufacturer must demonstrate through lab analysis that the food contains nutrients to meet all the minimum expected levels and does not exceed the maximums levels of others to maintain the overall health of your pet. Another method to obtain the authorization to use such a statement would be feeding trials. During these trials a specified number of animals has to be fed an exclusive diet of the food in question for a specified period of time. Due to its expensive nature, this is actually a method not too popular with the smaller manufacturers like the pre-mix manufacturers typically are.

Serious players will state on their packages whether or not their mix is “intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only”. Unfortunately, you cannot always rely on the manufacturer and I strongly suggest staying away from those who are not clear up front about this issue, unless you are an experienced pet owner with enough knowledge to make an educated decision. Note that pets with specific dietary needs due to health conditions may require further supplements to be added to the mix. You should discuss this with your vet to find out which supplements your pet may require. Of course, be prepared that he most likely will attempt to talk you out of your idea and steer you towards his suggested or prescription diets. But this should not hold you back from following this new idea.

Then of course there is always the question about the value of AAFCO nutrient requirement guidelines to begin with. You probably recall the many articles contributed by Dr. Wysong, DVM on this subject matter and you know that most of the times I am in agreement with the doctor. But this is a totally different subject and not to be addressed here and now. The entire AAFCO issue being neither here nor there, at a minimum you should be looking for a detailed and complete lab analysis of the mix if no AAFCO statements are included. Serious players don’t have a problem with you asking them for it, the ones who do: Thumbs down.

With reference to the shelve life of pre-mix products, Sojourner Farms for example states: “You should store your bag in its original package without any problems as long as you keep the product in a cool dry place. Avoid extreme heat or humidity. During warm and humid months, you may want to store it in the freezer or in an airtight container. It should keep for about 6-8 months.”
Many pet owners argue that they “don’t even cook for themselves”, so why would they take the time to cook for their pets? Well, it all is not as complicated as it may sound. I personally would preparing a meal with a pre-mix not exactly call “cooking”. Goal of the mix makers is to make it simple and convenient for you to feed your pets natural, real, fresh food. If you don’t have time to prepare the mix prior to each meal, you can make larger batches ahead of time and store them in the freezer. Raw meat, and especially ground beef does well for about 4 days in the fridge. Many pet owners fill freezer containers with 4 days worth of the meat, mix, and water, and store several of these containers in the freezer while keeping one in the fridge, ready to serve. As you dish out the last meal from your container, simply transfer another one from freezer to fridge and it will be ready to serve at the next meal. Not only is this method convenient, but it also allows your mixture to soak, the part of the process which cannot be over emphasized enough. Soaking improves digestibility. Cats and dogs have a strong but short digestive tract designed to quickly break down and absorb foods. Grains and vegetables require more complex digestion than meats, fresh fruits, and other foods so having them soak in water for at least up to an hour is critical to the success of a per-mix diet. Soaking overnight in the fridge or for at least a half day is ideal. You can also add other healthy leftovers (before or after you freeze it) to the presoaked portion. For best results, remove food from fridge and wait 15 minutes or add a little warm water to bring food to room temperature before feeding. Note: It is important not to cook any of this, this would defeat the purpose and the heat would destroy important elements of the food just as it happens with any other processed food.

Finally, another issue not to be discussed here and today is the money. All I want to say at this point is that though at the first glance it may appear that feeding raw diets may be more expensive than feeding regular dry food you are most likely in for a surprise once we analyze those numbers in depth.

Stay tuned for the next time when we look at close counter parts of pre-mixes.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Does your cat need fish?

Most people strongly associate feeding domestic cats with fish. The picture of the cat as a true fish lover is common, if you think about fishing in the goldfish bowl, the tuna addict and back alley cats snatching fish scraps from trash cans. The majority of feline products cater to this image with a wide variety of fish based flavored food and treats.

The truth is that nearly all domestic cats do indeed fancy fish, and care givers around the world eagerly accommodate this desire of their feline friends. Question is: Are we doing our cats a favor with this?

Is fish a component of the cat's natural diet?

The most up to date science of species classification based on molecular genetics as well as morphological schemes indicate, that the domestic cat is one of four sub species of the species felis silvestris. Because domestication has largely influenced and grossly altered the domestic cat's food preference, to explore the truly natural diet of felis catus we should look to the diet of its ancestors: The European wildcat or forest cat, the Asian steppe cat and the African wildcat or tawny cat [Wild Cats, Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan, IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, Kristine Nowell and Peter Jackson, 1996, pages xxiii and 32].

When examining the diet of these three subspecies, none include fish. If we further expand our investigation to include all species of the genus felis, we come to the realization that only one of its members - the jungle cat (felis chaus) - includes fish in its diet, although still hunts predominantly rodent prey [Wild Cats, Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan, page 83] but none of the others do, including the black-footed cat (felis nigripes), the sand cat (felis margarita), and Chinese mountain cat (felis bleti) [Wild Cats, Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan, pages 8, 47, and 96]

Although a diet including or consisting of fish is not natural for the domestic cat, could a diet of fish nonetheless meet the nutritional needs of the cat?

Canned Tuna is among the most popular food stuff to feed to companion cats, because cats are very fond of it. It is not uncommon for cats, that regularly receive tuna, to refuse all other foods. Cats displaying this addiction-like behavior are often referred to by Veterinarians as "tuna junkies".

Feeding a mainstay of canned tuna is long known to cause diseases of dietary origin. One of the most prevailing diseases afflicting "tuna junkies" is Steatitis or Yellow Fat Disease - an inflammation of the fat tissue in the body due to a deficiency of vitamin E. A vitamin E deficiency is usually the result of feeding tuna, or any canned fish, packed in vegetable oil. These products are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids which oxidate vitamin E, besides being a poor source of vitamin E to begin with. Currently, a diet consisting of large amount of any type of fish is considered the most common cause of this syndrome, [The Cornell Book of Cats, by the Faculty, Staff, and Associates of the Cornell Feline Health Centre, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, second edition 1997, page 93]
Canned fish - tuna or other, packed in water or oil - is not a complete diet for cats. Although it is high in protein, it does not supply the cat with sufficient amounts of certain amino acids, mainly taurine, to maintain health. The Calcium to Phosphorus ratio in canned tuna is 1:14.8 [USDA Nutritional database for standard Reference, release 13] - providing the cat with too little Calcium to balance Phosphorus, resulting in bone disease caused by a loss of Calcium in the bone due to a deficiency of this mineral in the diet. [The Cornell Book of Cats, page 79] The only canned fish providing sufficient Calcium is salmon with bones.

Also, many essential vitamins are not provided in sufficient amounts through a diet of canned fish, such as vitamin A and most B vitamins, like Thiamin, Riboflavin. Pantothenic Acid, Folic Acid, and Vitamin B-12 [USDA Nutritional database] Last but not least, canned fish is high in sodium, possibly providing the cat with too much of this mineral.

Raw, whole fish: Much of the nutritional deficient nature of canned fish can be contributed to the way it was processed. Many nutrients are sensitive to heat, and cooking or canning reduces levels of or even eliminates some nutrients in foods. Also, many nutrients are concentrated in various organs and body parts - like vitamin A in liver and Calcium in bone - and carnivores are provided with a complete diet by consuming the entire prey. Therefore, would a diet consisting of whole, raw fish be adequate for cats? Many feral cats in the Mediterranean do indeed supplement their diet considerably with whole, raw fish, but unfortunately, no statistics are available about their health status. The population appear to be thriving, which may be contributed to the fact that these cats mainly hunt rodents despite the generous availability of fish. [Cats in the Sun, Hans Silvester, 1995]

It seems that the idea of raw, whole fish is not entirely without problems. An enzyme found in all raw fish, called thiaminase, can destroy vitamin B-1 (Thiamin), leading to neurological disorders accompanied by a general physical wasting due to loss of appetite. [The Cornell Book of Cats, page 93] This enzyme can be destroyed by cooking the food, which however reduces overall nutritional density of the food itself as well.

Fish, cooked or raw, as part of a supplemented diet: Initially, when evaluating fish meat as a base for a feline diet, species like saltwater halibut and freshwater rainbow trout appear to be nutritionally adequate in all the essential amino acids and fatty acids - when raw or cooked [USDA Nutritional data Base]. Supplementation could provide for correct amounts of Calcium within the right ratio with Phosphorus, and could bring levels of vitamins - such as vitamin A, D, E, and complex B, to optimal levels. However, fish meat seems to contain insufficient amounts of the trace minerals iron, zinc, copper, and manganese, making fish meat in the end an unsuitable choice as a base for a staple feline diet, because it would require unreasonable supplementation [Nutrient requirement of Cats, National Research Council, revised edition].

Although our feline companions seem have a real taste for all things fishy, fish is in fact not a natural food for the species. Obviously it is the scent that makes these foods so appealing to felines, perhaps triggering some instinctive craving, not unlike a human's craving for greasy, baked goods. However, it could just as well be a learned taste preference. Many domestic cats raised in close contact with humans have exposure to fish from early on, predominantly through commercial foods containing fish meal as a protein source, as well as treats and table scraps (a large percentage of domestic shorthair cats raise by Feline Future without previous contact to fish as food, will not eat fish when presented with it experimentally). Also, the stereotype teaches people that cats like fish, who then feed their cats fish, and the cats in turn prove their care giver right by developing a taste for it. That cats don't only eat what is good for them, but also posses the ability to learn taste preferences is indisputable. Every day in households all over the world the true carnivore cat behaves very much like an omnivore, stealing muffins and bread, or indulges in fruit and vegetables, often even ingesting things outright harmful like chocolate or tomatoes.

Care givers have to accept that no favor is done for the cat by feeding fish as a main staple. Fish, no matter if whole, dressed, raw, cooked, or canned will cause nutritional deficiency of some kind, which in turn will eventually lead to serious disease.

If fish is to be included in the meal plan of the domestic cat, one may only do so sparingly as treats, or to entice a sick cat to eat. Other than that, the story of fish and cats shall remain a fairytale.

Source: Natascha Wille, Owner and founder of Feline Future, the maker of Feline Instincts, a great pre-mix for cats, which the company unfortunately does not allow us to sell in our on-line store. We wonder why even in the year 2009 on-line stores are still being viewed as something bad and something certain manufacturers do not want to be associated with. Based on our experience, it cannot be customer service and product knowledge, 2 factors why 99% of our customers come shopping at our store, which is truly unique in that regard. But maybe these people don’t know that yet. I wonder if that all will change when even these companies realize that on-line stores are just an important part of everybody’s life, are here to stay and as a matter of fact will sell more product than all brick & mortar stores combined.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The best food for your pet?

Have you ever wondered what the best food to feed your pet is? Or even how to choose from the many options available today? Well, this article is designed to help explain the important nutritional features of a good quality diet. Feeding a good quality food will have a positive impact on the health of your dog or cat.

It is often said that “Pets use the nutrients in the food, not the ingredients.” This is quite true, but the ingredients provide the nutrients, so these are important as well. Having a basic understanding of pet nutrition and the nutrients provided by various ingredients will help you make an educated decision on which diet is best for your pet. Don’t forget, though, that a diet that has a perfect label or apparently perfect nutritional content may not necessarily work for you pet. Don’t despair, a little trial and error will help you find the best food for the health of your cat or dog.

The guaranteed analysis is a required part of the pet food package. This must list the protein, fat, fiber and moisture content in the food. It is important to know these values, but other important nutrients don’t have to be listed. These include ash, calcium, phosphorus, and fatty acids. When examining a pet food package, notice how many nutrients are guaranteed. A diet that has many guaranteed nutrients, above and beyond the four required, is a higher quality, more consistent product.

For example, ABC Kibble may have a guarantee of the following: 21% protein minimum, 9% fat minimum, 4% fiber maximum and 10% moisture maximum. As you can see, this doesn’t tell you a whole lot about the food inside the bag. The protein content of a food is expressed as a minimum value. This means that the food in this bag has at least 21% protein. Most foods stay relatively close to their minimum expressed on the package. So, it is unlikely the ABC Kibble has 30% protein, but probably has 21-22%. Fat is also expressed as a minimum, while fiber and moisture are expressed as maximums.

Protein is important for the overall health of your dog or cat. Proteins are broken down into amino acids during digestion. The individual amino acids have unique and essential roles within the body. Arginine, leucine, and phenylalanine are a few examples of amino acids that are essential for dogs and cats. Taurine is an amino acid that is essential for cats, but must be supplemented, as most protein sources don’t contain high enough amounts to meet cats’ needs. Without taurine, cats can develop blindness and heart failure. This is one of the primary reasons that cats should eat cat food and not dog food, as many dog foods do not have added taurine.

Meat proteins provide a more ideal amino acid profile than do grain proteins, such as soybean meal or corn gluten meal. However, vegetable protein sources are sometimes used to supplement meat proteins because of their low ash content, especially when the meat protein is high in ash.

Look at the label for a dry protein source, or a meal. Fresh meats provide less than 20% protein to a dry diet because of the high moisture content. So, fresh meats are great because they are low in ash and improve the taste of the food, but need to be supported by a dry protein source. Chicken by-product meal is the lowest ash meat protein source available. It is made from the internal organs of chickens as well as a small amount of meat and bone. Chicken meal is higher in ash, being made from rendered chicken necks and backs, including the bones. Lamb meal is higher in ash than chicken meal, as the bone content is higher. Finally, meat meal (or meat and bone meal) is the highest ash ingredient, and considered to be a poor quality ingredient.

Fat is another critical nutrient for a dog or cat's overall health. Most fat sources provide high levels of omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are essential nutrients for maintaining healthy skin. However, high levels of omega-6 fatty acids can be detrimental to the health of your pet, when they are not balanced with omega-3 fatty acids. Look for sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, fishmeal, and flaxseed. When omega-6 fatty acids are not balanced with omega-3’s, they promote inflammation within the skin, joints, and gastrointestinal tract.

Not all fibers are "fillers" as many people think. Carefully selected fiber sources are vital for the health of the gastrointestinal system. Some sources of fiber, such as beet pulp and chicory root, actually enhance the health of the GI tract by providing energy to the cells of the colon and the “good” bacteria that reside throughout the GI tract. These ingredients are often referred to as “prebiotics”.

FYI: Did you know that all of us (humans as well as pets) have some “bad” bacteria, such as E.coli and Salmonella, residing within our GI tract? The numbers are kept very low by the “good” bacteria, except when something disturbs this normal balance. Feeding a diet that contains a prebiotic, such as dried chicory root, helps maintain this normal balance. When a pet suffers from diarrhea, we often will detect these pathogenic organisms in higher than normal numbers. This does not necessarily mean that your pet ate something that contained these bad bugs, but simply that the normal flora of the GI tract was upset and the “bad” bacteria were allowed to overgrow.

Moisture is not really a nutrient of importance to your pet, but simply a factor within the food. The only time moisture is of real concern is if it is too high in a dry pet food. Elevated moisture levels may allow mold to grow within a bag of food, obviously not a desirable situation. No pet food can be 100% dry matter. The moisture value is used to calculate the dry matter content of nutrients within a food. This way, we are able to compare the total nutrient content of various foods on an equal basis, called the dry matter basis. For example, if a food contains 8.5% moisture and 20% protein on an as-fed basis, then this same food contains 21.9% protein on a dry matter basis. You can use dry matter values to compare foods with differing moisture content, such as a dry food versus a wet food.

Ash and the minerals associated with ash may not be included on the packaging, but are vital to the health of your pet. Ash is the non-combustible part of the diet. So, when the food is put in an ash oven, and cooked at a high temperature, the ash is what is left. It is made up of minerals, particularly calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. These minerals come mostly from the bone content of the dry meat protein sources.

We already mentioned that chicken by-product meal is the lowest ash meat protein source, and meat and bone meal is the highest ash meat protein source, so you can ascertain that diets made from chicken by-product meal have lower ash content than diets made from meat and bone meal.

High ash pet foods will not only be less digestible, resulting in greater feeding amounts and more waste in the yard or litter box, but also may be detrimental for the health of your dog or cat. Phosphorus content of high ash diets will be high and high phosphorus can damage the kidneys. Because kidney disease is a very common disease affecting pets today, and because it is difficult to detect kidney disease until it is quite advanced, it is important to do all that we can to protect the health of our pets’ kidneys. Check the phosphorus content of your food before you buy. For an adult dog, look for diets containing 0.8%-1.0% phosphorus, the lower the better. For adult cats, 0.7%-0.9% is a good value to look for. If it is not included on the package, contact the manufacturer to find out what the amount is.

Vitamins and minerals are very important to your pet’s health. Because most pets eat the same food everyday, it is important that the food meets all of their needs. Most pet foods are formulated to meet or exceed the minimum nutritional requirements of vitamins and minerals. Inspect the packaging to see if there are guarantees for any of the critical vitamins or minerals.

Calcium, phosphorus, selenium, and vitamin E are some important nutrients that you should watch for. Calcium and phosphorus should be present in controlled amounts to protect the health of the organs, especially the kidneys. Selenium and vitamin E are important antioxidants that protect the health of the immune system and all of the cells within the body from oxidative damage (normal effect of daily metabolism).

Non-essential, but beneficial ingredients are garnering a lot of attention these days. Beta-carotene, lycopene, L-carnitine, taurine (for dogs), and glucosamine and chondroitin are just a few nutrients that are beginning to appear on pet food labels.

Beta-carotene and lycopene are antioxidants that most people have heard of in regards to their own health. They have the same beneficial effects as other antioxidants such as selenium and vitamin E, namely to protect the cells of the body from oxidative damage. The long term benefits are thought to include: a healthier immune system, a healthier heart, and cancer prevention.

L-carnitine is a vitamin-like nutrient that serves several purposes. It is thought to protect the health of the heart while also helping the body convert fat to energy.

We already discussed taurine, an essential amino acid for cats. However, many people do not know that some dogs may also benefit from taurine supplementation. Taurine may protect some dogs from a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (most dogs don’t require this nutrient as they manufacture taurine from two other amino acids: cysteine and methionine). Lamb tends to be lower in cysteine and methionine than other protein sources, so manufacturers are now adding taurine to lamb based diets.

Finally, glucosamine and chondroitin are added as joint care nutrients. These two substances are present in healthy cartilage and are diminished when there is damage to the joints. They may be able to help repair and soothe damaged cartilage and diminish joint pain. If these nutrients are included in the ingredient panel, look for a guaranteed amount in the Guaranteed Analysis, to ensure that there are adequate amounts being added to the food.

Pet food companies are not trying to confuse or mislead you, but they are trying to sell their product. Making a package look pretty may take the place of providing critical information. However, any reputable pet food company should be willing to talk with you regarding the nutrient content in the foods they manufacture. Request the full nutrient specifications to help you decide if a particular food meets your pet’s needs. The internet is a great place to gather information, but be critical of the information you read. Anyone can put anything on the web and what is there may not necessarily be accurate.

Reputable companies formulate their foods for the best health of your dog or cat. Depending on what breed of dog or cat that you have, there may be specific nutrients that are important to watch for.
Contributed by Taste of the Wild