Myth Busters for Dog Food
By Emily Hoppmann
There are a lot of different pet food companies popping-up all the time now and many have wonderful advertising or marketing campaigns, but the information is not necessarily medically true. One huge problem with these newer companies is that producers of pet foods are allowed to vary the ingredients listed on the back of the bag, as long as they at least produce one single batch that matches the ingredients once every 6 months. This can lead to an owner buying the same type of food as usually, but their pet having signs of gastrointestinal upset (such as vomiting or diarrhea) because it is literally like they have been switched to a new diet overnight. The companies are also not legally required to put on the bag where the ingredients came from, so they could be from anywhere from China to North Dakota – you just don’t know.
Also, we know now that keeping our pets at an ideal body weight or body fat index of 20% can add up to two years to the life of our pet. The feeding guidelines on the back of food are usually suggesting feeding way too much food – they want to sell more food and aren’t all that concerned about making sure our babies are at a healthy weight. You can call the 1-800 number on the bag to find out how many calories are actually in a cup of food to be sure that you are feeding your pet the correct number of calories to maintain a good body weight. You should be feeding your pet based on calories (including treats) and not by what the bag suggests. We are always happy to do a nutritional analyzes to help determine that number and get a weight loss plan in place if needed.
There are a lot of pet food companies to pick from and the salesman working at the pet food store is not educated in pet nutrition. They only know what the manufactures of the food tell them and what food has incentives for them to sell. Just because there are companies popping up left and right with good marketing campaigns – the companies that have been around for a long time are the ones I trust, the ones who’s plants I have visited so that I can feel secure in making my recommendations to each individual patients!
Information about Animal Digest – is it a low-quality ingredient in food or not?
It is actually a myth that animal digest is considered a substandard pet food ingredient. In some cases, this is because the word “digest” is mistakenly thought to describe the contents of the digestive tract. Actually, the word “digest” in “animal digest” refers to the digestive process used in production, not the ingredients. The process starts with animal protein such as muscle and soft tissue supplied by USDA-inspected facilities. These ingredients are hydrolyzed or “digested” to break down the animal protein into peptides (smaller, more easily digestible type of protein) in a manner similar to digestion in the body. The resulting digest is in a liquid, but can also be made into a paste or powder, but in any form it improves the quality of food.
Animal digest is extremely palatable and is an excellent source of high-quality protein. It is often used in small amounts to enhance the taste of dry pet foods, and spraying animal digest on kibble or mixing it with the food significantly increases the palatability. Animal digest is a high-quality ingredient that provides an excellent source of protein and enhances the palatability of pet foods.
Information about By-products – is it a poor quality ingredient in food or not?
It is a myth that by-products are low quality ingredients that shouldn’t be included in pet foods. By-products are actually an excellent source of protein and other nutrients.
A by-product is defined as any ingredient that is produced or left over when some other product or ingredient is made. Broths and gelatin are examples of meat by-products in human foods. By-products in pet foods that meet Association of American Feed Control Officials (AFFCO) guidelines come from clean animal parts other than meat, such as liver, kidney, lungs, and spleen. By-products cannot be from feathers, hair, hide, hooves, or intestinal contents.
By-products can actually be more nutritious than meat alone. Muscle meat is deficient in many nutrients, including calcium, other minerals, and vitamins. Many of these missing nutrients are abundant in meat by-products or poultry by-products. By-products are also an excellent source of protein and amino acids. For example, poultry by-product meal contains 60% to 70% protein and can be highly digestible.
Natural, Organic, and Holistic Pet Foods- are they really healthier?
In grocery stores and pet stores, the terms “natural”, “organic”, and “holistic” are frequently and freely used on packages to imply that foods with these labels are healthier than those without.
It should be noted that “natural” and “organic” do not mean the same thing. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines and regulates the term “natural” for pet food and animal feed. The term “natural” means any feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal, or mined sources that have not been produced by a chemically synthetic process. In addition, natural feed and ingredients do not contain any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic. However, chemically synthesized vitamins, minerals, and other trace nutrients are acceptable.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program defines and regulates the term “organic” for pet food and human food. “Organic” refers to the way a crop or animal is grown or raised and handled. Organic crops must be grown on land free from pesticides for three years. Organic livestock is fed organic feed, is not given antibiotics or hormones, and has access to the outdoors.
Natural and organic foods are not necessarily healthier than conventional foods. The USDA makes no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food. Organic food differs from conventionally produced food in the way that it is grown, handled, and processed. In addition, not all foods labeled as organic contain only organic ingredients. There are four levels of organic foods: 100% organic, organic (95%), made with organic (70%-95%), and less than 70% organic. Be sure to look for the USDA organic seal as proof of a certified organic pet food. Pet foods with that seal must contain 95% to 100% organic ingredients.
On the other hand, “holistic” is a vague term that can have many different meanings. As it refers to pet foods, “holistic” is not defined or regulated by any regulatory body. Although pet foods labeled as natural, organic, and/or holistic are increasingly popular, the use of these terms can be misleading or confusing when trying to choose the best food for your pet. These terms do not guarantee better nutrition for your pet.
Information about Corn- Is it a worthless filler or a nutritious ingredient?
People often hear that a plant-based ingredient such as corn is a “filler” that shouldn’t be included in a pet’s diet because it is poorly digested and can cause allergies. However, corn is actually an excellent source of many nutrients and is not even close to the top of the list of ingredients that dogs and cats are most allergic to. “Fillers” may be defined as feed ingredients with little or no nutritional value. Based on this description corn is certainly not a filler.
Corn provides a good source of carbohydrates, protein, and essential fatty acids in the diet of dogs and cats. Corn can be found in many forms, all of which can contribute to nutritious diets. For example, corn gluten meal contains 60 to 70% protein and is an excellent source of essential amino acids. Whole corn or corn meal provides highly digestible carbohydrates as an energy source. Corn is a good source of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid required by both dogs and cats. It also contains abundant amounts of antioxidants, such as vitamin E and beta-carotene.
Corn gluten meal is easy to digest, making its nutrients readily available to your pet. Corn gluten meal contains many essential amino acids, so when it is properly combined with other protein sources, it can contribute to highly digestible and nutritious diets.
Corn is not a common cause of allergies. Dogs and cats can develop allergies to any protein, including meats and grains. However, allergies to food are very uncommon and it is estimated that only 10% of allergic skin conditions in dogs and cats are caused by food. Many food companies are pushing new ingredients as a way to avoid food allergies, but food allergies are just not very common and the truth is that is a pet has a food allergy to one thing, it will develop a food allergy to anything it is fed over a long period of time. Corn does not appear on the list of most common food allergies in dogs or cats. The most common food allergies in dogs are beef, dairy products, and wheat, followed by lamb, egg, chicken, and soy. In cats, the most common food allergies are beef, dairy products, and fish.
Remember that it is the overall quality of the pet food that makes it a good choice for your pet.
Raw Food Diets- are they the best for your dogs and cats?
Many pet owners think feeding their dogs and cats food that mimics the raw diet of wild animals is the right thing to do. However, it is possible for these diets to be harmful to both pets and humans alike.
Raw meat and poultry may be contaminated with harmful microorganisms, such as salmonella. Feeding raw meat to pets can expose them to bacteria, parasites, and protozoa. Members of the household will also be exposed to the same bacteria, protozoa, and parasites when you feed a diet containing raw meat to a cat or a dog. These microorganisms pose greater risk to the young, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.
Bones as part of a raw diet can also be hazardous to pets’ health. Raw (and cooked) bones can fracture teeth. Jagged and sharp points can tear the esophagus, stomach, or intestines. Fragments of bone can also become lodged in the gastrointestinal tract.
Diets made mostly of meat and bones may be lacking in important nutrients. Calcium deficiency is a common problem with these diets, which can lead to impaired growth, spontaneous fractures, and loose teeth. Vitamin A toxicity can occur if large amounts of raw liver are fed.
A raw food diet may not be the best choice for your pet. This type of food can expose your pet and your family to harmful microorganisms, physically injure your pet, and lead to nutritional imbalances.
Should Pet Foods be Grain-free?
Many pet owners believe that grain-free pet foods are easier to digest and provide pets with better nutrition than pet foods containing grain. However, the carbohydrates, proteins, and other nutrients provided by grains add to both the nutritional value and structure of pet food. Most cells in the body use carbohydrates as a primary source of energy. The nervous system (i.e., the brain and nerves) requires the carbohydrate glucose to support normal functions.
If carbohydrates, such as those from grains are not available, dietary protein is diverted away from its most important function, protein synthesis, in order to make glucose. If carbohydrates are available, the dietary protein is instead used to build and maintain muscle and tissue. Reproducing females, growing puppies and kittens, and active dogs especially benefit from diets containing carbohydrates. Grains also provide fiber, which contributes to gastrointestinal health. Grains also contain essential fatty acids and other nutrients that contribute to a healthy skin and coat. Properly processed grains provide needed nutrients as part of a nutritionally complete and balanced diet.
Information about Wheat Allergies- how common are they?
There is a widespread misperception that wheat commonly causes food allergies and pet foods containing it should be avoided. Food allergies are actually uncommon in dogs and cats. Food allergies constitute only a small percentage of allergy problems in pets. While the exact incidence is unknown, it is estimated that only 10% of allergic skin conditions are caused by food. Flea bites and environmental allergens, such as pollens, mold, and dust mites, are more common triggers of allergic symptoms than food.
An allergy is an abnormal reaction by the body’s immune system to normal substances in the environment, including foods. Allergies can form to almost any food or ingredient, but the more animals are exposed to a food or ingredient, such as wheat, the more likely it is that allergies will develop. Proteins, especially beef and dairy products, are the most common food allergens in dogs and cats. Genetics is also a factor in the development of allergies. Certain individuals are predisposed to become allergic to something, but no single food is more likely to cause allergies than another. The only way to truly diagnose a food allergy is with an elimination diet trial, which your veterinarian can prescribe. Unless it has been proven to be the culprit through appropriate testing, arbitrarily avoiding a single ingredient, such as wheat won’t prevent allergies from developing.
Wheat is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates for energy, as well as a source of protein. Including wheat in a pet food as an energy source preserves the animal proteins in the diet for maintaining a pet’s muscle and tissue.
Are Gluten Free Diets Really Healthier for Your Pets?
Although only 1% to 2% of people have celiac disease and require a gluten-free diet, many more people are jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon in hopes it will help them lose weight or feel better. Many of them assume that a gluten-free diet is what is best for their pets too. However, gluten-induced enterotherapy (celiac disease) is very rare in dogs and has been reported primarily in Irish Setters. Pets with celiac disease react to the proteins (gluten) in wheat, rye, and barley. The protein in corn gluten does not cause GI problems, even in individuals with celiac disease.
Gluten is the concentrated protein from grain after all the starch has been removed. Corn gluten meal contains approximately 60% to 70% protein, and provides essential amino acids that form the building blocks for protein. Gluten is highly digestible. In addition, gluten provides structure to pet food. Just as wheat gluten is added to breads to enhance the texture, a small amount in pet food helps canned formulas, kibbles, and treats hold their shape. Gluten from various grains is a nutritious ingredient that provides a concentrated source of protein in pet foods.