Part One of a two part series discussing the importance of pet food.
Pet nutrition can be intimidating. Information regarding the dangers of processed kibble has been crucial to improving pet health, but can often leave pet owners with more questions than answers. Dogs need a healthy diet in order to maintain proper organ function and ward off infection, and they rely on their owners to provide healthy, well-balanced meals. Yet the question remains, how can a pet owner navigate the constant influx of dietary options and decipher the list of ingredients on food packaging?
Dr. Heather Zander is a firm believer that nutrition is a critical component of preventative medicine. The Northern California-based vet received her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from UC Davis in 2007, and also feels that nutrition can be used to treat specific diseases in animals and improve longevity. She explains that processed foods and kibble are often ambiguously labeled, and though regulated by the FDA, they’re often confusing to the average consumer.
Various meat “meals” are often listed as ingredients, but the contents of the “meals” are rarely—if ever—described in detail. The word “meal” indicates that particular ingredients are not fresh, but instead, “rendered.” “Rendering” is a process that begins with placing various ingredients into a large vat, where the contents are boiled for several hours. Not only do the high temperatures damage proteins and destroy valuable enzymes, rendered meat can include heinous materials.
“The controversial part of rendering is that by law, pet food can contain elements that wouldn’t be fit for human consumption” Zander shares. “Rendering can include expired grocery store meat complete with Styrofoam packaging, road kill, diseased cattle, and euthanized pets, though the latter is less likely these days but was common in the past. So the labeling may be ‘accurate’ but it’s certainly not self-explanatory.”
Processed foods often contain phosphate additives that augment taste, texture, and shelf life but yield major health issues in pets. These additives can cause issues associated with rapid aging, kidney deterioration, and weak bones and contribute to chronic inflammation that begins in the gut and manifests in the skin and ears (before traveling to other parts of pets). In short, the dangers of processed pet foods range from gastro-intestinal discomfort and allergies to long-term, terminal health hazards.
“The nutritional profiles on pet food packaging can’t be accurately compared from one company’s food to another’s because the guaranteed analysis does not factor in varying amounts of water in different foods” Zander says. “Pet food can only be compared on a ‘dry matter basis’ that requires calculation, and really, who can do those calculations in the pet food aisle?”
Dr. Zander poses a valid question. Considering today’s fast-paced society, finding the time to prepare meals and provide supplements at home can be unrealistic, making prepackaged food a necessity. The key to shopping for prepackaged dog food lies in understanding what to look for. Dogs require a diet that’s essentially 50% meat, and 50% vegetables, with as little fillers as possible. Protein should read high on the food’s list of ingredients, and the shorter ingredient list, the better. Find a premium dog food that clearly labels the contents and uses Vitamin E and Vitamin C to preserve their product in lieu of chemical preservatives like BHA, BHT, and Ethoxyquin.
Whether consulting a vet to prepare meals at home or researching products to find a prepackaged kibble ideal for your pet, the rewards of quality pet food are great. Holistic and organic boutique dog food is a growing trend that takes the work out of homemade pet food, and provides optimal nutrition and convenience. If kibble is the best option, try out a premium brand that uses high quality ingredients and keep a watchful eye on your pet’s behavior to decide which food jells best with your pet.
“As a veterinarian, I’ve taken an oath to advocate for the pet and therefore help people make the best choices available to them within their means,” Dr. Zander shares. “I can make recommendations all day long, but ultimately it’s the pet guardian’s decision what to feed. I am personally much more motivated to feed an animal a well-balanced, quality diet. However, I must admit that convenience is a strong factor because I don’t always have the time to cook for my own animals and to balance their food with minerals and supplements. Finding the right pre-packaged food can be a challenge, but to me it’s worth it to keep our little buddies healthy.”
Keep an eye out for Pet Food Conundrums Part II in December, profiling organic pet food makers from Homemade Doggy Dinners, Inc.