Saturday, June 27, 2009

In Dollars and Cents: Premium pet food making sense?

This phone call received earlier today reflects a customer’s point of view on if it makes sense to pay the (high???) price for a good quality, healthy and natural dog food:

“When looking at what it costs to feed your dog, it's important to understand that not all dog foods are created equal. Quality kibble can make your dog healthier and probably doesn't cost as much as some might think.

In the 1970s when I adopted my first puppy, I knew very little about dogs and dog food. I just purchased an inexpensive brand from the grocery store while shopping for my own food. I thought buying special flavors in appetizing packages equated being good to my dog.

Wrong. My first dog, a finicky eater, was excessively thin in body and coat, not good for an Afghan Hound. She also had digestive problems.

With my second dog I decided to try a different kibble. The one I chose was a bit better and cost a little more, but I was still clueless about what constituted a healthy product. This dog had ear infections, dry itchy skin and allergies her entire life. She was the only Afghan I knew who couldn’t run without tiring easily.

I had heard from some of my friends how expensive the premium dog foods were compared to the grocery store dog foods I was buying and was reluctant to spend what seemed like more money for the same number of pounds of dog food.

So I kept feeding the same kibble to the next four dogs my husband and I adopted. Every few weeks, one of the dogs was at the veterinarian’s for flaky skin, minor skin cysts, dirty ears, heavy shedding, mild respiratory infections or low energy. All the dogs had thin, dull coats and were generally lackluster. Despite my personal inclination to healthy, balanced eating, I just assumed the dogs’ food was nutritionally sound enough, and never really made the connection. Even though these conditions can have many different causes, I eventually decided that trying better foods was the easiest solution.

Before making the switch to better food, we were told repeatedly at dog shows that our Elkhound was “out of coat.” We kept waiting for him to grow the full adult coat as he aged. Extra portions, vitamins, oils, herbs, and unusual supplements added to his inexpensive food did not make that happen.

Finally another handler asked what we fed, and suggested trying a premium food. I started researching ingredients, pet food standards and labeling practices. I realized that if you compared a premium dog food pound for pound to things we all buy in the grocery store, it's really not that expensive. Here's an example. At Walgreens a 14 ounce box of Cheerios costs $4.50, so 30 pounds of Cheerios would be about $150! Cheerios is mostly grains, corn starch and sugar. A 30 pound bag of super-premium pet food costs about starting at $40 where I live so it costs just a little more than a dollar a pound. Even if I go to my vet and buy it from him, he charges a whopping $75 for the same bag, it is still only about half of what the Cheerios cost. Over the Internet I get the same bag starting at about $35, while I don’t have to pay the sales tax I have to add shipping which is easily $15. Buying on the net has the benefit of me not having to run to the store, which translates for me into time and gas savings, quite considerable for me as my pet food retailer is 20 miles away from where I live and I still have one of these gas guzzlers.
Regardless of which route I take, either way only makes sense. A typical dog eats less than a pound a day, so feeding a premium food cost at about maximum $2.50/lbs/day way less than feeding Cheerios. This does not consider the fact that I now can pretty much forget about buying vitamins, oils, herbs, and unusual supplements and save a lot of money in veterinarian bills.

After I figured all this out for myself, I picked a premium dog food to try. It was affordable, and it also finally improved my Elkhound's fur! At the shows, we received compliments on how great our dog’s coat looked, and were asked what food we fed. My husband’s reply: “Premium dog food. It’ll grow hair on a bowling ball.”

Diet is everything; it is the foundation for good health.

In this brutal economy, it’s necessary to save money. But cutting corners on pet food won’t net any savings. That’s because less expensive products use lower quality ingredients. Pennies saved on kibble can turn into big bucks spent at the vet’s.

“Premium” in dog food means (often, but not always) a higher standard in nutrition and quality of ingredients. Pound for pound, the price of premium food is higher. But each serving contains more nutrients that are more nutritionally available than in a cheaper food, making premium kibble the better buy. With more nutrients in every bite, dogs do not need to eat as much premium food as they would a brand containing fillers and by-products.
Although no single dog food is right for every dog, premium foods make a positive difference. Remember, you get what you pay for: high quality food can equal better health.”

After she was done telling me this I was wondering who was the sales person here, her or me?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Why feeding a Raw Diet?

Jeff Baker, Founder, President and CEO of Canine Caviar Pet Foods is providing his answer to that question:

“In the last few years, there’s been a lot of interest in feeding raw meat diets to our pets. With the introduction of these new diets comes a lot of questions and confusion. Why should I feed my pet a raw meat diet? Is it safe? What makes raw meat better than cooked kibble? Raw meat diets are recommended for the following reasons:

  • Nutrition – all nutrients remain intact. Cooking breaks down nutrients
  • Digestibility – raw meat help eliminate digestive upsets
  • Allergies – proper nutrition helps alleviate allergic reactions
  • Weight Control – proper digestibility helps control obesity

The most important thing to remember when feeding your pet is that they are almost identical to their wild ancestors. "A wild wolf is genetically little more distant from the domesticated dog than a wild mustang is to a quarter horse. In actuality, a poodle, like any purebred dog, already has innumerable wolf genes since they share a close common ancestry. " Dr. Michael W. Fox, D.V.M., Ph.D., D.Sc., Vice President, Bioethics, Humane Society of the United States. Affidavit. If we want to feed our pets naturally, we need to mimic what would occur in nature.Wild dogs and cats such as wolves, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions eat raw meat. Their digestive systems are perfectly suited for that purpose. Domestic dogs and cats possess the same digestive system. In fact, cooking meat makes it harder to digest. Raw meat also contains a high level of natural bacteria that helps the digestion process. These bacteria are called probiotics. Chronic digestive upsets can be associated with the pet’s inability to break down cooked meats and the lack of viable probiotic bacteria. When we provide meat in its natural form for our pets, their bodies are able to get all of the nutrients necessary for better health. That’s why allergies disappear, along with obesity, lethargy and a significant amount of waste. Since the meat is easier to digest, your pet’s body will use more. Therefore, there’s less waste to clean up. In addition to raw meat, wild dogs have a carbohydrate requirement. Dogs are classified as carnivores since they hunt for meat in the wild. However, wild dogs do consume vegetables, fruits and beneficial grains. When a dog consumes a wild animal, such as a rabbit, it also eats the rabbit’s stomach and contents. These stomach contents have been predigested by the rabbit and provide the perfect carbohydrate balance for the dog. It is extremely important that we duplicate this need in our domestic pets. Corn, wheat and soy do not provide the proper carbohydrate balance for dogs. These poor grains contribute to hot spots, itching, scratching, shedding, digestive upsets, and many other common problems. Beneficial grains, such as Pearl Millet, should be used to provide the proper nutritional balance for domestic dogs. Pearl Millet helps settle upset stomach issues, lowers the glycemic index, and provides an unparalleled energy supply for your pet. Its very high in protein and amino acids. It is also completely resistant to Aflatoxins which are common cancer causing fungi found in problematic corn.

Why Doesn’t Everyone Feed Raw Meat?
Most raw meat diets are available in frozen form. Frozen diets require thawing, special handling, freezer space for storage, and usually have an additional cost to the consumer. Sometimes these inconveniences prevent people from trying a raw meat diet with their pets. However, the word “Raw” should never be confused with the word “Frozen”. The definition of the word “Raw” simply means “not cooked”. We freeze raw meat in order to preserve it for shipping and storage. However, there are other ways to preserve and store meat in its raw form. Dehydration is a process that removes all of the moisture from meat without cooking it. Dehydrated meats can mimic the nutritional benefits of frozen meats because the nutritional value of the meat is preserved. Dehydration only removes water. It’s the reason foods dried foods are used by NASA. It’s a convenient storage method that doesn’t sacrifice nutritional value.

Is it Safe?
When we talk about the safety of raw meat diets, the most common concern is salmonella. Dogs and cats are extremely resistant to Salmonella infections, therefore, there is little risk that your pet could be affected by salmonella bacteria in raw meat. However, as with any raw meat product, you must take precautions when handling this product. Always clean preparation and feeding areas and utensils immediately after handling a raw frozen diet. Raw dehydrated diets are safer from the standpoint that the salmonella bacteria cannot propagate itself the same way in the raw dehydrated meat that it would in a raw frozen meat. No special handling or cleaning is required.”

Some manufacturers, including Canine Caviar, use dehydrated meat to provide all of the benefits of a raw diet without the special handling or storage concerns of a frozen diet. No freezing, no fussing, no preparation. Just dinner.”

Contribution by Jeff Baker, Founder, President and CEO of Canine Caviar

Pet nutrition in Layman’s terms: Part 2 Fat

Those readers of you who have read my first comment in this series (Pet nutrition in Layman’s terms: Part 1 Nutrients and Protein) know already about the reasons for and background behind this series of comments, please scroll right down to “Fats” (sorry, blog software does not allow me to add hyperlink, or should I better say, I don’t know how to do it?).

Does the food I’m providing meet my pet’s nutritional needs? As our knowledge of the relationship between diet and health continues to advance and as the range of foods available for our pets continues to expand, it’s more important than ever to base feeding choices on good information. This information can come from various sources. For example from “Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats”, a technical report issued by the National Research Council as part of its Animal Nutrition Series. The Food and Drug Administration relies on information in the report to regulate and ensure the safety of pet foods (Or better: is supposed to ensure, as we all know too well, pet food isn’t always safe). Scientists who study the nutritional needs of animals use the Animal Nutrition Series to guide future research. The series is also used by animal owners, caretakers, and veterinarians to develop specialized diets for individual animals.
To provide good information is one of my goals with this blog. At various I publish comments and articles about pet nutrition in general on this blog. The problem is that many of those articles sometimes get very technical and can be confusing to some of us, others again may be based on opinions or written for a certain purpose, like for example in order to sell a certain type or brand of food. What I have been missing is simple explanations, kind of written in Layman’s terms and understandable for everybody, easy to read and short and quickly getting to the bottom of things. That was until now when recently, while doing my daily research work, I came across a course, which I decided to publish here with slight modifications. The site itself looks to me like it has not been maintained for quite a while, the last time its copyright notice was updated was in 2005 and many parts of the site are no longer accessible or corrupted. We don’t have to worry about the age of the info, nothing has changed about the basics. The Australian pet food manufacturer Advance created the self study course in cooperation with the Waltham Centre for Pet Care and Nutrition. Waltham, since 1965 has contributed to the advancement of global knowledge on nutrition for companion animals and now has over 600 research and development personnel all over the world. They continuously study in detail the nutrition and behavior of companion animals in a non invasive environment. Their studies cover many specialist areas including veterinary medicine, dietetics, biochemistry, animal behavioral science and breeding science. While this initially all sounded too science oriented to me, it turned out they came up with a pretty cool “crash course” and I decided to share what I was able to salvage here on this blog. As a result I hope I will be able to come up with a simple series designed for those of you who want to learn more about pet nutrition. A series suitable for breeders, vet nurses, pet store retailers, animal trainers or any pet owner who simply wants to learn more about feeding their dog or cat. Today I am going to talk about another basic nutrient, which is “Fat”:

Fat is differentiated in two types: Animal fat, sourced from dairy produce, meats and fish and plant based fat, deriving from seed oils and nuts.

Fats consist largely of mixtures of triglycerides. Each triglyceride is made up of a backbone of glycerol, to which three fatty acids are attached. The differences between one fat and another are mostly the result of the different fatty acids in each. Fatty acids can be saturated i.e. contain no double bonds, or unsaturated with one or more double bonds. Polyunsaturated fatty acids contain two or more double bonds in their hydrocarbon backbone. Essential fatty acidsThere are two main families of polyunsaturated fatty acids: omega-6, and omega-3. Some fatty acids contain double bonds that cannot be made by animals, and therefore must be supplied in the diet. They are termed essential fatty acids. The longer chain polyunsaturated fatty acids can be made in the body through progressive elongation and de-saturation of these fatty acids.

For the scientifically adversed of you:
Structure of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
Linoleic acid (omega-6)
(18:2n6; 18-carbon backbone, two double bonds, first at sixth carbon)

Alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3)
(18:3n3;18-carbon backbone, three double bonds, first at third carbon)

Essential fatty acid (EFA) requirements in dogs can be met by linoleic acid (omega-6). Cats, on the other hand, lack a key enzyme needed for the production of the longer chain omega-6 fatty acids from linoleic acid, and therefore need arachidonic acid in their diet as well.

The functions of fat can be defined as

  • Playing a key role in the absorption, transport and storage of the fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K)
  • Being an energy source (containing 2½ times more energy per gram than either proteins or carbohydrates)
  • Providing essential fatty acids, necessary for cell membranes, kidney function and reproduction
  • Increasing palatability of foods, particularly dry complete products

What happens if fat is not supplied in sufficient volume? Essential fatty acid deficiency may occur in animals eating diets low in fat or poor quality commercial dry food for long periods. On rare occasions, animals develop fatty acid deficiency in association with liver disease, biliary disease, chronic pancreatitis or mal-absorption problems. Signs of EFA deficiency in dogs and cats include dull, scurfy coat, fatty liver, anaemia and impaired fertility. Changes in the lipid film of the skin can alter the normal bacterial flora of the skin, and predispose the animal to secondary bacterial infection, a condition also known as fat deficiency seborrhea.

On the other hand, excessive fat in the diet can result in an excess calorie intake. In the long term this can lead to obesity and/or growth abnormalities in young growing animals. As animals usually eat to satisfy their energy requirements, a high fat diet may not be balanced with respect to other essential nutrients. Diets high in polyunsaturated fatty acids can become rancid through oxidation. Inadequate amounts of antioxidant in dry foods or prolonged storage of food, especially at high temperatures, may cause the fat in the food to become rancid. As fats are oxidized, the essential fatty acids are destroyed, as are vitamin D, vitamin E and biotin. In general, dry foods should be kept at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, in non-lipid-permeable or non-absorbing containers and not stored open for longer than a month.

Summarizing all this, these are the key points to remember about fat:

  • They provide a concentrated energy source
  • Dogs need the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid
  • Cats also require arachidonic acid in their diet
  • A long term EFA deficiency can cause skin lesions, poor coat condition and reproductive failure

The concentrations of saturated fatty acids, and monounsaturated fatty acids present in the diet affect the minimum dietary requirement for EFA. Based on data obtained from studies of rodents, it has been suggested that high intakes of saturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids or oleic acid, compete with the metabolism of EFA and thereby increase the body's EFA requirements. (*1, *2) Because of this dependence on the fat content of the diet, any minimum nutrient requirement for linoleic acid, or other members of the omega-6 family of fatty acids for dogs has not been precisely determined.

*1: Mead, J. F. (1980). Nutrients with special functions: Essential fatty acids. Chap.8, In Human Nutrition: A Comprehensive Treatise. Eds. R.B. Alfin-Slater and D. Kritchevsky, Vol. 3A, Plenum Press: New York.
*2: Holman, R. T. (1981). Effect of dietary trans fatty acids upon prostaglandin precursors, In Nutritional Factors: Modulating Effects on Metabolic Processes. Eds R.F. Beers and E.G. Bassett, Raven Press, New York.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Effects of Smoke on our Pets

Being a smoker myself (I know, bad for me), the following article caught my attention.:

“What are the effects of smoke, including second hand smoke on our pets?
“There are different levels of severity of smoke injury. Acute injury results from smoke inhalation when an animal is trapped in a house or brush fire, or otherwise inhales large amounts of smoke over a short period. Secondly, chronic injury resulting from low-grade exposure to smoke can occur, as in situations where the pet lives with heavy smokers (termed side-stream or second hand exposure) or they are exposed to indoor combustion sources (coal or kerosene heaters). The response of the pet to smoke is very similar to the responses humans have to this toxic mix.Smoke Inhalation

Exposure to a large intake of smoke results in increased breathing efforts due to swelling in the upper airway, and faster and deeper breaths to try and increase the uptake of oxygen across the injured lung lining cells. The bronchi tend to spasm, and the irritation results in production of a lot of mucus, leading to cough. Sometimes tissue fluid also builds up in the lungs. Damaging components include the heat itself, the irritating particles, and carbon monoxide inhalation. Once the initial damage occurs, the abnormal lung environment is often colonized by bacteria, leading to secondary bronchitis or pneumonia. If damage is extensive, airways may be permanently dilated, there may be scarring, and there may be a chronic cough due to difficulty clearing the mucus. Sometimes the little hairs that act as elevators to clear secretions, (called cilia) are stripped away and this can lead to permanent accumulation of secretions in the lower airways.Second Hand Low-grade Smoke InhalationCigarette smoke has many carcinogenic compounds (e.g., nitrosamines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and these can settle in the airways, and be absorbed particularly easily through the delicate membranes in the alveoli (breathing sacs). Chronic exposure to smoke has been proven to increase the incidence of lung and throat cancer in humans. A weak relationship between dogs living with a smoker, and increased risk of lung cancer was found in a case control study almost 10 years ago. A recent case control study did find that household exposure to coal or kerosene heaters increased risk for sinonasal cancer in dogs. Sinonasal refers cancer of the nose/sinus cavities. Another case control study a few years ago established that if exposure to cigarette smoke over time is equal between dogs, long nosed dogs (dolichocephalic) like collies are at a higher risk for nasal cancer.It is wise to minimize the exposure of dogs and cats to smoke, both direct exposure and indirect exposure. “

I was a little surprised by the kind of “soft” approach in the writer’s conclusion. The
article was provided by Animal Health, a site published by Canadian Veterinarians providing animal health care information and advice.

New version of Feline Obsessive Licking Disorder: Lick your sis away

Mark with his 2 cats sent in a comment in the hopes to get some input on the problem he is experiencing with his cat Freddie:

“My cat, Freddie, is 16 months old. I found him aba... My cat, Freddie, is 16 months old. I found him abandoned at about 1 month old and took him in. 3 months ago, I adopted a little sister for him from a local temple. Once he got used to this new family member, he began giving her baths. At first, it was cute, the big brother grooming the little sister.Now, however, he tries to clean her every chance he gets. His behavior is bordering on obsessive, and it doesn't seem like the younger sister always enjoys this. I have seen many posts on OLD, but haven't come across a case of one cat obsessively licking another cat. “

Mark, I do not know and have not come across a similar inquiry neither here on the blog nor at our store. Obviously you have seen my
comment on the problem we are having with our Tiger. Currently it is very bad again. I am seriously thinking about placing some restrictive device like a collar on him before “he licks himself away”.

We had a couple comments on from blog participants, but nothing really addressing your problem. I decided to make this a new comment, maybe we can spark some interest this time around and get some constructive input.

Pet Food Labels 101: Product Name

Pet food labeling is regulated at two levels. The Federal regulations, enforced by the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), establish standards applicable for all animal feeds: proper identification of product, net quantity statement, manufacturer's address, and proper listing of ingredients. Some States also enforce their own labeling regulations. Many of these have adopted the model pet food regulations established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). These regulations are more specific in nature, covering aspects of labeling such as the product name, the guaranteed analysis, the nutritional adequacy statement, feeding directions, and calorie statements.

The product name is the first part of the label noticed by the consumer, and can be a key factor in the consumer's decision to buy the product. For that reason, manufacturers often use fanciful names or other techniques to emphasize a particular aspect. Since many consumers purchase a product based on the presence of a specific ingredient, many product names incorporate the name of an ingredient to highlight its inclusion in the product. The percentages of named ingredients in the total product are dictated by four AAFCO rules.

The "95%" rule applies to products consisting primarily of meat, poultry or fish, such as some of the canned products. They have simple names, such as "Beef for Dogs" or "Tuna Cat Food." In these examples, at least 95% of the product must be the named ingredient (beef or tuna, respectively), not counting the water added for processing and "condiments." Counting the added water, the named ingredient still must comprise 70% of the product. Since ingredient lists must be declared in the proper order of predominance by weight, "beef" or "tuna" should be the first ingredient listed, followed often by water, and then other components such as vitamins and minerals. If the name includes a combination of ingredients, such as "Chicken 'n Liver Dog Food," the two together must comprise 95% of the total weight. The first ingredient named in the product name must be the one of higher predominance in the product. For example, the product could not be named "Lobster and Salmon for Cats" if there is more salmon than lobster in the product. Because this rule only applies to ingredients of animal origin, ingredients that are not from a meat, poultry or fish source, such as grains and vegetables, cannot be used as a component of the 95% total. For example, a "Lamb and Rice Dog Food" would be misnamed unless the product was comprised of at least 95% lamb.

The "25%" or "dinner" rule applies to many canned and dry products. If the named ingredients comprise at least 25% of the product (not counting the water for processing), but less than 95%, the name must include a qualifying descriptive term, such as "Beef Dinner for Dogs." Many descriptors other than "dinner" are used, however. "Platter," "entree," "nuggets" and "formula" are just a few examples. Because, in this example, only one-quarter of the product must be beef, it would most likely be found third or fourth on the ingredient list. Since the primary ingredient is not always the named ingredient, and may in fact be an ingredient that is not desired, the ingredient list should always be checked before purchase. For example, a cat owner may have learned from his or her finicky feline to avoid buying products with fish in it, since the cat doesn't like fish. However, a "Chicken Formula Cat Food" may not always be the best choice, since some "chicken formulas" may indeed contain fish, and sometimes may contain even more fish than chicken. A quick check of the ingredient list would avert this mistake.

If more than one ingredient is included in a "dinner" name, they must total 25% and be listed in the same order as found on the ingredient list. Each named ingredient must be at least 3% of the total, too. Therefore, "Chicken n' Fish Dinner Cat Food" must have 25% chicken and fish combined, and at least 3% fish. Also, unlike the "95%" rule, this rule applies to all ingredients, whether of animal origin or not. For example, a "Lamb and Rice Formula for Cats" would be an acceptable name as long as the amounts of lamb and rice combined totaled 25%.

The "3%" or "with" rule was originally intended to apply only to ingredients highlighted on the principal display panel, but outside the product name, in order to allow manufacturers to point out the presence of minor ingredients that were not added in sufficient quantity to merit a "dinner" claim. For example, a "Cheese Dinner," with 25% cheese, would not be feasible or economical to produce, but either a "Beef Dinner for Dogs" or "Chicken Formula Cat Food" could include a side burst "with cheese" if at least 3% cheese is added. Recent amendments to the AAFCO model regulations now allow use of the term "with" as part of the product name, too, such as "Dog Food With Beef" or "Cat Food With Chicken." Now, even a minor change in the wording of the name has a dramatic impact on the minimum amount of the named ingredient required, e.g., a can of "Cat Food With Tuna" could be confused with a can of "Tuna Cat Food," but, whereas the latter example must contain at least 95% tuna, the first needs only 3%. Therefore, the consumer must read labels carefully before purchase to ensure that the desired product is obtained.

Under the "flavor" rule, a specific percentage is not required, but a product must contain an amount sufficient to be able to be detected. There are specific test methods, using animals trained to prefer specific flavors, that can be used to confirm this claim. In the example of "Beef Flavor Dog Food," the word "flavor" must appear on the label in the same size, style and color as the word "beef." The corresponding ingredient may be beef, but more often it is another substance that will give the characterizing flavor, such as beef meal or beef by-products.

With respect to flavors, pet foods often contain "digests," which are materials treated with heat, enzymes and/or acids to form concentrated natural flavors. Only a small amount of a "chicken digest" is needed to produce a "Chicken Flavored Cat Food," even though no actual chicken is added to the food. Stocks or broths are also occasionally added. Whey is often used to add a milk flavor. Often labels will bear a claim of "no artificial flavors." Actually, artificial flavors are rarely used in pet foods. The major exception to that would be artificial smoke or bacon flavors, which are added to some treats.

Pet owners and veterinary professionals have a right to know what they are feeding their animals. The pet food label contains a wealth of information, if one knows how to read it. Do not be swayed by the many marketing gimmicks or eye catching claims. If there is a question about the product, contact the manufacturer or ask an appropriate regulatory agency.

FDA Animal & Veterinary Resources Pet Food Labels - General Consumer information provided by David A. Dzanis, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Are By-Products Bad?

I asked Dr. R.L. Wysong, DVM. Founder and owner of Wysong* “We read all the time that by-products as a pet food ingredient should be avoided. Yet, while looking at nature, how and what wild carnivores are eating, I somehow cannot help it to think that such advise is not appropriate.” Here is how the Doctor replied:

“From a nutritional as well as ethical standpoint, the benefits of incorporating by-products into pet foods cannot be denied. The Whole Dog Journal advises pet owners to reject any by-products and instead seek “whole meats.” This demonstrates their lack of understanding of the nutritional merits of the various parts of food animals. Whole Dog and others in the pet food marketplace pushing the "no by-products" claim seem unaware of the fact that “by-product” is a mere word invention. It creates a negative connotation, but has nothing to do with health or nutrition. Pet health and nutrition are not about superficial impressions created by word labels. Feeding just muscle meats to pets is a serious error since no carnivore in the wild eats such a diet. If they did, they would become diseased from doing so. (
Wysong Call of the Wild is a supplement designed to balance a fresh meat diet, and provide those vital food elements lacking in a strictly fresh meat diet.) In fact, carnivores often prefer the non-muscle meat parts of their prey that are labeled “by-products.” Critics of by-products evidently feel food animals have no inherent merit and that they should be raised, slaughtered, and then everything but their “prime meat” should go to a landfill.In a similar vein, there are claims about “USDA approved” ingredients, “human grade” ingredients, and ingredients purchased "right out of the meat counter at the grocery store." Again, at first glance - and superficiality is what marketers often like to deal with - it may seem that such foods would have merit over others. But such labels only create a perception of quality. People would not consider the food pets are designed for in the wild - whole, raw prey and carrion - “human grade” or “USDA approved.” Just because something is not “human grade” does not mean it is not healthy or nutritious. For example, chicken viscera is not “human grade,” but carries more nutritional value than a clean white chicken breast. Americans think that chicken feet would not be fit for human consumption, but many far eastern countries relish them. On the other hand, “human grade” beef steaks fed to pets could cause serious nutritional imbalances and disease if fed exclusively. Pet foods that create the superficial perception of quality (no by-products, USDA, human grade, etc.) with the intent of getting pet owners to feed a particular food exclusively is not what pet health is about. There are also the larger concerns of the Earth’s dwindling food resources and swelling population. Should “human grade” food products be, so to speak, taken out of the mouths of people and fed to pets with all of the excellent nutritional non-“human grade” ingredients put in the garbage? Think about the humane aspect of converting all pet food to “human grade.” Millions of tons of pet foods are produced each year. Should cows, pigs, sheep, fish, chickens and other sentient creatures be raised and slaughtered for these foods? Or should the perfectly good and nutritious by-products from human meat processing be used rather than wasted? Why would caring and sensitive pet owners want other creatures, that are themselves capable of being pets, needlessly raised in factory farm confinement and slaughtered when alternative sources of excellent nutrition from animals that have already been slaughtered are available?“By-products” are not used in Wysong products as a cheap protein source, a "filler," to minimize production costs, or to maximize profit. Rather, Wysong looks to nature to dictate what should be fed to pet companions to achieve their optimal health. This is why the very nutritionally beneficial trimmings, organs, and viscera are incorporated into Wysong cat foods and dog foods in addition to human grade fresh meats. “

Thank you Doctor. What you said makes a lot of sense to me. Especially the by-product utilization in order to achieve an animal’s optimal health. I think the problem stems from the fact that too many pet owners have heard about and experienced too many bad incidents where pet food manufacturer’s greed took priority over anything else. There are quite a few manufacturers already who just like you realize that our companion’s health should have priority over a pet food manufacturer’s profit concerns and needs. And just like your company, these companies realize that doing the right thing doesn’t mean a company cannot survive. As a matter of fact, interesting enough, many of them are doing pretty good. Though probably not good enough to be a Wallstreet traded, greed driven player in the market. To you and all of them, thank you from all of us concerned pet owners and our pets, keep up the great work.

*Wysong is a scientific company located in Midland, Michigan and focused on making a difference. For over twenty-five years lead by principles Wysong has helped people achieve better health for their pets with competent and honest information and products. Wysong's premium, natural and organic health products and information provided related hereto are the result of tens of thousands of hours in research and development spanning more than thirty years. Wysong sees business as a place of trust, fiduciary responsibility, and conscience. Many of the “natural” changes you see in the market were begun right at Wysong.Wysong was originated by and is presently led by health professionals who have come to see that nature is the ultimate origin of health. They believe their purpose is to help people take control of their pet's health destiny. Wysong products and especially the information provided and related hereto, make it easy to provide for a healthy pet. They fit because true health comes from an informed mind. Whether you want your pet to lose weight, explore an alternative therapy, or simply find a healthy diet, you are on the right track with Wysong

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Natural irradiation?

Towards the end of last year there were reports about some problems Champion Pet Foods with its Orijen brand was having in Australia. I reported in great detail on this in various comments on this blog (Pet Food Recalls: Does the pet food industry require federal watch dogs? and Glowing pet food? Irradiation applied to pet food); we also mentioned the issue with a warning in our RECALL ALERT (though there was NO recall here in the States).

Since then not a day goes by without an inquiry from concerned pet owners about the issue of food irradiation.

In case you don’t recall, back then, the Orijen was found to be the only link between a strange illness that paralyzed cats with the unfortunate outcome that the animals had to be euthanized. To bring everybody up to speed, here is what (in Australia only) had transpired in a summary background provided by Orijen: “On November 20, 2008, Champion Pet Foods announced a voluntary recall of its Orijen Cat food brand sold in Australia. The recall is restricted to Australia ….. was issued in response to reports from the Australian veterinary community of cats showing symptoms of a neurological syndrome after consuming Orijen cat food. To prevent the risk of cats eating Orijen dog foods and becoming ill Champion ceased the sale of Orijen dog foods in Australia. The recall was unique to Australia and did not affect any of the other 50 countries to which Orijen is exported. Champion Pet Foods believes the Australian cases resulted from the high-level irradiation (exceeding 50kGY) applied to Orijen upon entering Australia. This high-level irradiation procedure for is unique to Australia and Orijen foods are not irradiated in any other market or country. Champion Pet Foods no longer exports or sells its Orijen pet foods in Australia.”Susan Thixton of the Truth About Pet, back then when it all came to light, spoke with Orijen. On her website she shared the conversation she had with an Orijen representative:“The only reports of sick cats (or any pets) have been in Australia. All pet foods shipped into Australia must be irradiated, treated with radiation, before they are sold. Orijen has no control over this, this is a mandated issue from the government of Australia. Orijen has sent two samples of the irradiated food, along with non irradiated food from the same batch to two separate University testing laboratories. It is not sure if an answer for the illnesses will be found in these tests, however it should provide a wealth of information regarding effects of irradiation of foods.” Note: Those results were subsequently posted on Orijen’s website at Susan then continued: “Orijen told me they feel the irradiation is the concern. Although this is frightening for already frightened pet owners, at this point I am in agreement that the irradiation is the concern. Food is irradiated, treated with radiation, to kill bacteria and molds. In the process, much more is destroyed. Not only is the nutrition destroyed, but far more research than the FDA lets on to, tells us much more damage can occur. Irradiation breaks chemical bonds, and it is suspect that broken chemical bonds within foods containing numerous ingredients (a pet food) can alter the entire ‘food’ in many ways. “

As a subsequent measure the Australian government went to work about the problem. Most recently on 06/01/09,
Veterinary Practice News reported under “Australia Bans Pet Food Irradiation”:
“Australia has banned the government-mandated practice of irradiating imported pet food, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. The ban comes after a number of cats died or became ill after eating irradiated cat food manufactured by the Canadian company, Champion Petfoods Ltd.
The Australian Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke, has ordered the sterilization process to cease immediately after receiving international reports that some cats can suffer neurological damage from eating irradiated dry food, according to the Herald. Details on the reports were not immediately available. …"

Sorry, that the introduction to today’s comment became a little lengthy, however it was necessary to understand my thought process. I recently found an
article in Pet Food, a print and on-line publication for pet food professionals. Written by David A.Dzanis, DVM, PhD, DACVN, the title is “Is irradiation of petfoods natural? AAFCO definition fails to address whether an irradiated product is considered natural. A recent letter from FDA to the chair of the AAFCO Pet Food Committee opines it currently does not.” Her is what he had to say:

‘”In 2001, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a petition broadening the use of irradiation of animal feeds to include petfoods, treats and chews. That same year, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) accepted the feed term "natural" and established guidelines concerning its use on petfood labels. Because these two independent matters were in development during the same period, the AAFCO definition fails to address whether an irradiated product is considered natural. A recent letter from FDA to the chair of the AAFCO Pet Food Committee opines it currently does not.”

Then, many of you will like his explanation of irradiation much better than my original, boring and lengthy rocket scientist approach (
Glowing pet food? Irradiation applied to pet food). Mr. Dzanis explains: “What is irradiation?
Under FDA regulations, ionizing radiation can be from either of two origins:
X-rays generated from machine sources; or
Gamma rays emitted during radioactive decay of radionuclides.
The former are the result of energy shifts in orbiting electrons of molecules, while the latter come from energy shifts within the nuclei of atoms. Other than their origins, though, the two types of radiation are virtually indistinguishable from each other, as the range of wavelengths used to define one versus the other largely overlap.
In neither case does the food incorporate or come in direct contact with radioactive material, nor is there a chemically synthetic step to the process.
The approved purpose of irradiation of pet foods is for microbial disinfection, control or elimination. While not intended as a replacement for other appropriate sanitation measures, it gives the manufacturer another weapon in the arsenal against potential microbial contamination. Irradiation may be more suitable for some types of pet products compared to others, but considering the heightened concern regarding pet food safety today, all manufacturers should consider it a potential means to address safety issues.”

And here comes what really matters to me today: “Natural or not?
There are many different ways to interpret "natural," which led to wide misuse of the term on pet food labels in the past. To help provide consistency in meaning and a basis to uniformly interpret use of the term, AAFCO defined it to differentiate products and ingredients in terms of their sources and processing methods. For example, natural products or ingredients must be of animal, plant or mined sources but can be ground, cooked, dried, rendered, purified, extracted, hydrolyzed or even fermented.

The key factor in determining the applicability of the term is that anything that is manufactured by means of chemical synthesis or contains a chemically synthetic substance is not natural (at least not without further qualification, such as with a pet food containing synthetic vitamins but otherwise meeting the definition).

Of course, not all people would necessarily agree with this definition. For example, many consumers would not consider chicken meal, wheat middlings, sugar or salt to be natural, but those ingredients are natural under AAFCO. On the other hand, because the bulk of commercial ascorbic acid (vitamin C) used in pet foods is chemically synthesized, this source would not be natural, despite the fact that vitamin C occurs in nature as well.

Aside from these perceived discrepancies, the AAFCO definition as it exists today is the only basis by which the matter of irradiation can be rationally discussed.

Why is FDA concerned?
In its letter to AAFCO, FDA rightly notes that irradiation is not the same as heat processing, rendering or other processes allowed under the natural definition. It ponders whether purification could apply to irradiation, but frankly, I do not believe that was the intent when the definition was drafted.

Rather, the process most likely was not mentioned because irradiation was not approved for use in pet foods while the definition was being developed. Unfortunately, the list of processes is not preceded by "such as" or similar phraseology that would allow for tacit extension of the list when appropriate. Thus, FDA concludes that irradiation effectively nullifies characterization of a product with the term "natural" as currently defined.

While irradiation may not be expressly named among the allowed processes for natural products or ingredients, the intent of irradiation is the same as some of the processes that are allowed, which ultimately is to help ensure microbial safety of the finished product. Essentially, heat is another form of radiation (infrared).

Also, ionizing radiation cannot be characterized as, nor does it result in, chemical synthesis, the key part of the natural definition. In my opinion, then, irradiation should be included among the processes allowed.

Let consumers decide?
Under current FDA regulations, the labels of irradiated pet foods must bear a Radura symbol, accompanied by the words "treated by irradiation" or "treated with radiation." FDA notes in its letter that few consumers may think of irradiation as natural. That may be true, but the same could be said of other processes or ingredients currently allowed under the natural definition.

Regardless, as long as the label discloses that the product has been irradiated as required under the regulations, it should be up to consumers to decide whether use of the term natural to describe that same product is inconsistent. They can then make their purchasing decisions accordingly.
I would encourage amendment of the AAFCO definition for natural to include irradiation for sake of clarity. In the interim, I hope state feed control officials look at the spirit of the definition and opt not to enforce label changes that could, in fact, compromise the safety of pet foods.”

Here is my take: I am not quite as liberal as Mr. Dzanis. To me the irradiation process is not a natural one, period. To me natural means “as occurring in nature, without being touched and changed by humans”. Irradiation does not fall in that category. Therefore I am against its use, whether the consumer approves it or not. I also have the strong opinion that the consumer in most cases probably is not even able to make an educated decisions since not too much is known about not just the process but also its possible consequences. I think that the label itself is kind of misleading, the irradiation symbol has too much of a kind of “healthy, natural” appearance. I refer you to an interesting article by Susan Thixton on her
Truth About Pet Food blog “Do you know what this symbol means?”. Some of her reader’s comments were: “I thought the flower meant it was a good thing; The symbol looks like it is promoting something "Organic". Now that I know it means food is treated with Radiation, I will watch for and avoid it at all cost in both my food and my dog's food and treats; I appreciate the information about the symbol. At first glance it looks like a label on a food that would be considered a natural food that would be free of artificial colors and preservatives. The best defense is an educated consumer.”

Sure, irradiation, there is no doubt, is a working instrument and does what it is supposed to do, which is protecting against bacterial contamination. But do we know what else does it do? Chemotherapy helps against cancer too, but it also makes your hair fall out, …. The cat food in Australia was safe from spoilage, but it also caused some animals to die… I think my dogs and cats are safer off eating some minor bacteria, at least that would be natural. That is of course unless you feed your pets during the middle of the dark night, there irradiated food may come in handy since it may glow.