food & nutrition
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
What’s gotten into food safety?
We’re barely halfway into the year and already, there have been a flurry of pet food recalls. The sheer number of brands has been surprising, as have the names of the brands involved; we’ve seen recalls from some of the industry’s most respected companies. How and what we feed our dogs (and ourselves, for that matter) is such a fundamental issue that we’ve decided to do a series of articles on pet food safety, starting with a report on a few of the most recent recalls. We examine the reasons behind them, lessons learned and what we might expect in the future.
Until very recently, all recalls have been voluntary (a confusing term that can lead consumers to believe that a recall is optional), triggered for a variety of reasons: mislabeling, misbranding, the inclusion of potential allergens or adulterants, or contamination with a pathogen such as one of the varieties of salmonella. And some products are recalled simply because they were produced at the same factory during the same timeframe as the affected food.
So far, no pet food recall has been as widespread as the one in 2007, which involved the Menu melamine scandal. If Hurricane Katrina taught policymakers the importance of the human/ pet bond, the ’07 Menu Foods recall did the same for the focus on the safety of the food that we feed our pets. As William Hubbard, a former FDA official, notes, “I do think that this pet food thing has shown people … that something needs to be fixed. If this is not a wake-up call, then people are so asleep, they are catatonic.”
It took a while for Congress to fully awaken, but in 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was given more power with the passage and then signing into law by President Obama of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The act marks the most sweeping food-safety reform since the Great Depression.
This new act will soon be putting broader issues into the spotlight. For the first time, the FDA will be empowered to more aggressively regulate and enforce preventive measures. Recalls will no longer just be voluntary, but rather, can be mandatory. In our opinion, given this new regulatory power and the plethora of places from which pet food manufacturers source their ingredients, the number of recalls will surely rise. Closer attention and accountability are good for consumers and the animals we feed, and definitely something we need to be informed about.
RECALL CLASS OF 2013
We have the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to thank for finding what might be the contributing factor: the department identified antibiotic residues not approved for poultry in the U.S. in the treats. This spurred Del Monte, the makers of Milo’s Kitchen Chicken Jerky Treats, and Nestle Purina, manufacturers of Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch dog treats, as well as others, to finally initiate a nationwide removal of these products from store shelves.
Though the FDA continued to claim that “there is no evidence that raises health concerns, and that these results are highly unlikely to be related to the reports of illnesses,” the findings were enough to convince the slow-moving food industry that they needed to get the products out of circulation. The FDA, which still considers this to be an open investigation, notes that they “welcome additional information about New York’s testing methodology …” To date, the treats are thought to have contributed to the deaths of roughly 500 dogs and nine cats. If New York’s state inspectors had not found the illegal antibiotic residue, those treats would still be available. Chalk one up for the state team!
DOMESTIC PRODUCTS TAKE A HIT
In February of this year, Kasel had the dubious distinction of being the first pet food manufacturer to possibly face a first-ever FDA/FSMA mandatory recall notice, a threat based on inspections by an FDA team that found a number of infractions: “All of the finished pet treat product samples and 48 out of 87 environmental samples collected during the inspection tested positive for salmonella. More than 10 different species of salmonella were found in the firm’s products and manufacturing facility, indicating multiple sources of contamination.” The jerky treats were sold through a number of big-box retailers, including Target, Petco, Sam’s Club and Costco.
Other jerky products made in Kasel’s Denver plant were drawn into the recall as well. Bixbi, an up-and-coming independent brand from Boulder, had batches of their products swept up, and Nutri-Vet, a more established brand, was also named, although it was noted that none of these products had tested positive for bacteria. (I contacted the owners of Bixbi and Kasel, who responded to my questions; I also placed numerous calls to Nutri-Vet, who didn’t reply.)
Treats aren’t the only products in which salmonella has been found, however. Natura, a premium holistic brand now owned by Procter & Gamble, had its first recall experience this year after one of their dry-food products tested positive for salmonella by Michigan inspectors. When I spoke in late March to Jason Taylor, a P&G spokesperson, he said the company was still in the process of trying to recreate the production situation at the time the contamination happened; they were, however, sure that it had occurred during a post-extrusion step. “We have an extrusion [cooking] process that is scientifically proven to kill pathogens … So it probably happened either at the dryer or packaging line.” According to Taylor, the company has a complex manufacturing process in place to ensure that their products are contamination- free. Their microbial-mitigation process, which has more than 100 steps, addresses each step the food goes through, from raw material through packaging.
Taylor said that the company was fairly confident that the problem was limited to products manufactured during the two-week period beginning December 17, 2012, and ending January 2, 2013. Since then, we learned that they extended the recall for products manufactured up through March 24, 2013— making this a larger-scale recall.
RAW FOOD PRODUCTS UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
While most of Honest Kitchen’s rawfood sources are in North America, they also get some produce from Europe and exotic fruits from Asia. Surprisingly, they get their parsley from Egypt. Yearround availability of organic and/or human-grade ingredients at a reasonable price is one of the challenges faced by smaller food manufacturers like Honest Kitchen, and is the reason for this wide-ranging sourcing.
Since this incident, Honest Kitchen has switched to another parsley supplier (also in Egypt) and added a new step to their processing of dried herbs and leafy greens, treating them with a gentle steam sterilization to protect against microbial pathogens.
More raw food companies were hit with recalls in March, when the Minnesota State Department of Agriculture found salmonella, first in Steve’s Real Food Turducken patties, and a week later in a two-pound tube of Bravo! Chicken Blend raw frozen food diet the agency had purchased from a local pet store.* I talked with veterinarian Heidi Kassenborg, director of Dairy and Food Inspections for Minnesota, to get a better idea about her state’s pathogen inspection process.
Many have observed that while salmonella is the most prevalent foodborne pathogen, few dogs actually become ill from it, and I asked her why the FDA and her agency have such a strong concern about its presence in pet food. She explained that they are charged with finding adulterants in food, and “in food items, salmonella is considered to be an adulterant.” As for the USDA’s salmonella-tolerance level for raw poultry (now at 7.5 percent, down from 20 percent in 1996), she confirmed that “in raw food, like poultry and beef, it is not considered to be an adulterant.” Basically, there is no tolerance for adulterants in finished food items, and even raw diet is considered a “food item.”
Kassenborg explained the high concern about pet food, saying that since pet food is handled by humans, they are exposed to any pathogens that may be in it; these pathogens can also be excreted in the pet’s stool. Given that salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, the frail or elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, this is indeed a compelling reason for concern.
She went on to say that there would be increased surveillance now that raw diet has tested positive for pathogens. “Once things are found in one food type, they start looking at it and testing more. We have an obligation to find out if it is a widespread problem. And if so, is there a way to produce it better without it becoming contaminated?”
Doug Lueders, supervisor of Minnesota’s Commercial Feed Regulatory Program and the person responsible for its product-sampling plan, concurs. “If we have a category that has had few [contaminants] or none, we may switch our emphasis to one where we have had a problem. I think we will raise the percentage [of resources] that we have devoted to raw in the past; that, however, will be at the expense of something else.”
Resource allocation is a real issue. Other states have registered positive hits on items like jerky and kibble, so even though there might not be direct interstate coordination of efforts, Lueders says, since “Michigan found salmonella in one brand of pet food, it probably doesn’t serve much practical purpose for us to look at the same brand ourselves. There is an old adage that says an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so we wouldn’t continue to test the same pet food for salmonella in hopes of finding more salmonella, or hoping to find that it is clean …”
THE PRICE OF SAFETY
Prior to processing a food in their facilities, suppliers must certify that the food is pathogen-free. Throughout the manufacturing process, pathogens are tested for and eradicated. A few NARPA members use what is known as highpressure processing or high-pressure pasteurization (HPP), which disrupts a pathogen’s cell walls. Miller says that this very expensive system is considered by the general food industry to be stateof- the-art in controlling pathogens.
Companies like Bravo! also batchtest and follow a test-and-hold system, meaning that finished products are not shipped from their plants until negative pathogen reports are in hand. A Bravo! spokesperson described the company’s process: “Most established companies in raw diet own their own facilities. We [at Bravo] come out of the meat business and our facility is a USDA facility for human food, so we have standards we have to keep up. We have a USDA inspector who checks the plant daily to make sure that [things are] being done by the books [and] we have a HACCP [Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points] plan in place. What consumers should be looking for are companies who use ‘test and release’ and batch testing, and have HACCP plans.” He also noted that the company’s website will soon have a function that will allow consumers to enter an item number and “best used by” date and receive test results for E. coli, Listeria and salmonella.
This type of high-level testing increases the cost of the final product; as Miller observes, “you can’t add a whole level of pathogen controls and not have a resulting increase in cost to consumers.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
But while smaller brands can be devastated by such events, companies who have worked hard and long to develop a loyal customer base can, most likely, recover from them, as can internationally distributed brands such as Natura.
I don’t believe that most of these pet food companies and manufacturers acted recklessly. But after a recall, it shouldn’t be business as usual. Measures need to be taken to identify where the contamination came into the system, and pathogen controls need to be improved. Changes need to be made—for some businesses, that may mean switching manufacturers, raw-material suppliers, warehouses or distributors, or even instructing pet stores on proper handling and storage techniques for their products.
It’s also critically important that they pay attention to how customers are notified (and receive compensation or refunds). For example, I commend Honest Kitchen for quickly alerting its customers via email, social media and website notices. Retaining the trust of customers requires companies to be transparent, forthcoming and ready to make production and sourcing modifications, as they and a few other companies have done.
Realistically speaking, it’s unlikely that the food system can be made 100 percent safe. Nonetheless, we need to know we can trust that those who make the food we feed our companion animals are held to the same standards as those who supply the food we eat ourselves.
Over the years, we’ve become well aware of the concept of food sourcing. In addition to knowing exactly what goes into the food we feed our dogs and cats, we also need to know where it comes from. How the finished products are processed, packaged and distributed is also vitally important. As P&G’s Taylor observed, pathogen elimination is challenging when working with large quantities of raw meat and poultry.
Do some food processors take shortcuts to save money? For some, that might be the case, as evidenced by the huge 2012 recall involving a Diamond co-processing plant in Gaston, S.C. , which ultimately affected 17 brands representing more than 30,000 tons of dry dog and cat food. Because a rare strain of Salmonella infantis was found in some product samples, all brands, ranging from high-end Wellness to Costco’s brand, Kirkland, were recalled. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 49 people in 20 states and two in Canada who came in contact with pet food made at this facility are confirmed to have been affected. When the FDA inspected the plant, they found numerous problems with the contamination-containment processes, including the use of cardboard and duct tape on some of the equipment. How they got away with this—how they managed to fly under the radar of the companies for which they were making food—is anyone’s guess.
Yet another problem that cries out for better monitoring involves actually getting recalled products off store shelves. A reporter for a Colorado television station found bags of the tainted Chinese jerky in stores such as Safeway, K-Mart and Albertsons almost a month after it had been recalled. I learned about this from attorney Jennifer Reba Edwards of the Animal Law Center in Wheat Ridge, Colo. As Edwards points out, “The bigger problem is [that] once recalled, the products are still getting to the end user. Retailers are not pulling the products from the shelf and you can buy them online; that is almost a bigger problem than the recall itself—preventing it [from] being available to the end user.” Who is responsible for this step? Who should be held accountable? This is definitely a problem to track and one that consumers need to be aware of.
Within the dog community, the issue of salmonella is controversial; some question its potential to harm dogs. However, I don’t believe this is debatable. There are too many instances in which people have been damaged by cross-contamination or mishandling in the home of food intended for pets. The FDA considers it to be an adulterant in both human and animal foods, as well they should. More to the point, as Jennifer Edwards says, “I’m pregnant; I would really be upset if I were to be exposed to salmonella. It goes beyond protecting our animals—we have to protect our people as well.”
If ever there was a reason to look at the big picture, this is it. We have only one food supply, and it should be safe for both humans and animals. This is, and ought to be, the standard that foodsafety regulators, the food industry and we—the consumers—need to meet.
*A Bravo! company spokesperson told me that the product that tested positive had been tested by a third-party inspector before leaving the plant and had a negative-contamination finding. In an unusual step, the FDA allowed that point to be included in their recall statement.
News: Guest Posts
Should food that has been genetically modified be labeled?
Last November, California became the first state to put the issue on the ballot. Proposition 37, the “Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” called for such disclosure on the labels of some raw and processed foods sold in stores. It also prohibited them from being advertised as “natural.” And it didn’t give dog chow a free pass.
Although the measure targeted human consumers, the California Sherman Food, Drug and Cosmetic Law applies to both human and animal foods. So any pet food with a detectable level of genetically engineered content would also have to note on its label, “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.”
That would mean a lot of new label text in the dog food aisle. Over 90 percent of the nation’s soybeans and 85 percent of its corn is genetically modified, according to 2010 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These crops, modified to resist pests or withstand high doses of weed killer, are common in processed foods such as cereals and dog food.
But even with strong consumer support, the label law failed to pass. The organic industry and other advocates were outspent by biotech companies led by Monsanto—the world’s largest supplier of genetically modified seeds—and the food industry, including Big Dog Food. Nestle, owner of Purina PetCare Company and Mars, the maker of Nutro and Pedigree dog food, donated funds to help defeat it.
The Pet Food Institute and Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council argued that the label requirements would increase costs for farmers, manufacturers and consumers alike. Heated editorials appeared on Petfoodindustry.com.
“Putting scary sounding labels on pet food packaging will likely mislead consumers and impact their purchasing choices,” states a “No on 37” Campaign flyer.
In one ad by the campaign, a befuddled-looking man held up a slab of meat and a pet food canister. The line read, “So dog food would need a label but my steak wouldn’t?” The ad aimed at exemptions in the law that might confuse consumers; in this case, that processed beef dog food would be labeled but beef from animals fed genetically engineered crops wouldn’t.
Label supporters say that, given the prevalence of genetically modified ingredients and the scale of the industrial supply chain, a label that covers many of these foods is a good start (for example, dog food with beef which may contain bioengineered ingredients, such as vegetable oils).
Some dog owners already consider mainstream pet food, with its uniform nubs of dry kibble or wet mush, mere canine junk food; fast, convenient, and nutritionally questionable. But are those genetically modified morsels unhealthy in other ways?
The science is inconclusive. A genetically engineered food is a plant or meat product that has had its DNA altered by the insertion of genes from other plants, animals, viruses, or bacteria. The traditional means—plant breeding—allows desired traits to be cultivated, or unwanted effects to be eliminated, over time. Gene-splicing also shortcuts the long process of adaptation and evolution that occurs between food and consumers,
The FDA has ruled that these foods are “substantially equivalent to conventionally produced foods,” and does not safety test them. Unless they contain a known allergen, there is only a voluntary consultation process with developers, who conduct their own testing. But scientists say that the potential for creating new allergens and toxicants in bioengineered foods is there. At the same time, corporate patent rights over seeds limit independent researchers’ ability to study them.
California’s failed initiative calls labels “a critical method for tracking the potential health effects of eating genetically engineered foods.” Dog owners may agree. How would anyone know if genetically altered foods are triggering disease in dogs? Shouldn’t vets know what the pets they attend to are eating?
One thing is clear: it isn’t over. Several states are now working on proposals for their own label laws.
Editor's note: Starting in 2018 Whole Foods will be labeling GMO foods. And even Wal-Mart has been looking at labeling as well.
Recalled Because of Posssible Health Risk
Steve’s Real Food Recalls Turducken Canine Recipe Patties Because of Posssible Health Risk
March 7, 2013 - Steve’s Real Food of Murray, Utah is recalling its 5 lb. bags of Turducken Canine Diet – 8oz. Patties due to potential contamination of Salmonella. Salmonella can affect animals eating the products and there is risk to humans from handling contaminated pet products, especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with the products or any surfaces exposed to these products.
Healthy people infected with Salmonella should monitor themselves for some or all of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever. Rarely, Salmonella can result in more serious ailments, including arterial infections, endocarditis, arthritis, muscle pain, eye irritation, and urinary tract symptoms. Consumers exhibiting these signs after having contact with this product should contact their healthcare providers.
Pets with Salmonella infections may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Some pets will have only decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain. Infected but otherwise healthy pets can be carriers and infect other animals or humans. If your pet has consumed the recalled product and have these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian.
The recalled Turducken Canine Diet – 8oz Patties in a 5 lb. bag were distributed from October 2012 to January 2013 in retail stores in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, California, Minnesota and Tennessee.
No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem.
The potential for contamination was noted after a routine sampling of one 5 lb. bag by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
Production of the product has been suspended while the company and the FDA continue their investigation as to the source of the problem.
The product comes in 5 lb. green and cream-colored biodegradable film bags with lot number 209-10-27-13 with an expiration date of October 27, 2013.
Consumers who have purchased 5 lb. bags of Steve’s Real Food Turducken Canine Recipe are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions should contact the company at 801-540-8481 or email@example.com Monday through Friday from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm MST.
Another jerky recall hits home
There has been another large-scale recall of pet treats, including jerky. But this time it isn’t products manufactured in China, rather it affects treats made at a Kasel Associated Industries facility in Denver, Colorado. The products may be contaminated with Salmonella, both animals and humans are at risk. The treats have been distributed widely from April 20 to September 19, 2012. We are trying to find out why it took them so long to identify this threat, although this is a voluntary recall.
A number of brands have been affected by this recall, including the new “No Junk… More Jump” BIXBI out of Boulder, Colorado. I am disappointed to learn this because I have been giving my dogs their Hip & Joint Chicken Breast Jerky (100% USA Sourced), not knowing that it was manufactured along with other brands, including treats for Petco. Luckily for my dogs, the lot/expiration date does not seem to be among those in this recall.
The recall covers the brands, Boots & Barkley, BIXBI, Nature’s Deli, Colorado Naturals, Petco, and Best Bully Stick items. Lot numbers as shown in 1 Year Best By Date Table and 2 Year Best By Date Table, which follows.
Consumers who have purchased any listed products are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact Kasel Associated Industries at 800.218.4417 Monday thru Friday from 7am to 5pm MDT.
UPDATE: We just read about another recall involving chicken jerky, this one involves Nurti-Vet's Chicken Jerky Treats distributed nationwide through online sales and in retail stores from April 2012 through February 2013 with Best By Dates ranging from April 20, 2014, through October 3, 2014.For a more complete listing, see the FDA site.
2 Year Best By Date UPC Lot/Best By Date 085239043165 Boots&Barkley American Beef Bully Stick 12″ 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239403495 Boots&Barkley American Smoked Beef Femur Bone 3″ 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239043103 Boots&Barkley American Flossie 6-8″ 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239403440 Boots&Barkley American Pig Ear Strips 8oz 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239043202 Boots&Barkley American Chicken Stuffed Beef Femur Bone 6″ 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239043110 Boots&Barkley American Braided Bully Stick 5″ 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239043325 Boots&Barkley American Chicken Jerky 16oz 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239043400 Boots&Barkley American Chicken Jerky 8oz 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 490830400086 Boots&Barkley American Variety Pack 32oz 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 647263899196 Boots&Barkley American Beef Ribs 2ct 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 647263899172 Boots&Barkley American Beef Knuckle 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 647263899158 Boots&Barkley American Pig Ears 12ct 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 647263899189 Boots&Barkley American Beef Bully Sticks 6ct 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 647263899165 Boots&Barkley American Pork Femur 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 681131857246 Roasted Pig Ear Dog Treats 28oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 800443092903 25 PK Natural Pig Ears 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 800443092910 12 PK Natural Pig Ears 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 800443092927 12 PK Smoked Pig Ears 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 800443092934 7 PK Natural Pig Ears 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 800443092941 7 PK Smoked Pig Ears 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263800291 16oz Chicken Chips 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263900151 16oz Salmon Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263800178 4oz Chicken Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263510176 4oz Lamb Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263900175 4 oz Salmon Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263801175 4oz Beef Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263800291 16oz Chicken Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263700157 16oz Pork Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018021 BIXBI Skin & Coat Beef Liver Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018045 BIXBI Skin & Coat Lamb Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018007 BIXBI Skin & Coat Chicken Breast Jerky Treats 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018069 BIXBI Skin & Coat Pork Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018144 BIXBI Hip And Joint Pork Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018120 BIXBI Hip And Joint Lamb Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018083 BIXBI Hip And Joint Chicken Breast Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018106 BIXBI Hip And Joint Beef Liver Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Bulk TDBBS, Inc Buffalo Hearts Sliced 3 lbs 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Bulk TDBBS, Inc Knee Caps 25 Ct 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Pork Jerky Strips 16oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Chicken Jerky 16oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Turkey Cubes 4.5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Bulk TDBBS, Inc Pig Snouts 25ct 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Bulk TDBBS, Inc Beef Lobster Tails 1ct 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Turkey Jerky Sticks 6ct 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Hearts of Lamb 4oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Lamb Jerky 4oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN
1 Year Best By Date UPC Lot/Best By Date 647263800215 Nature’s Deli Chicken Jerky 3lbs 04202013 DEN-10032013 DEN 647263800208 Nature’s Deli Chicken Jerky 2.5lbs 04202013 DEN-10032013 DEN
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
It’s been two years since the first melamine-related pet food recall, and during that time, more dog lovers than ever have decided to turn to homemade diets—cooked or raw—as insurance against potential problems with commercial products. Is a homemade diet really insurance? Yes, it can be, assuming it’s nutritionally balanced and takes into account your dog’s breed, age, weight, activity and overall physiology.
As a consulting canine nutrition specialist, I analyze hundreds of diets annually, and see firsthand what people are actually feeding their dogs. Here are a few common misperceptions I’ve encountered and my responses to them, which I hope will help Bark readers in their own efforts to improve their dogs’ nutrition. (The following applies to adult dogs in good health; if your dog is a puppy, a senior or has health issues, be sure to consult with your veterinarian before making dietary changes.)
1. “Using fresh, wholesome foods will, over time, meet my dog’s needs if I vary the diet enough.”
There is some basis for this point of view; fresh foods are indeed more bioavailable than those made with highly processed ingredients. In addition, when an owner prepares food at home, she knows exactly what’s going into it. However, when analyzed, even diets based on wholesome, fresh ingredients can still come up low in various vitamins and minerals.
Bone up on your dog’s actual nutrient requirements by doing a bit of research; this means reading widely, speaking with nutritionists and vets (holistic, conventional and specialists), and starting to think in terms of both ingredients and nutrient needs. (See sidebar for a short “starter list” of online information sources.)
2. “A multivitamin added to the food will cover any gaps.”
The question here is this: Which multi, and with which diet? Any unsupplemented home-prepared diet will be low in some nutrients and adequate or high in others. But because there is no standard formulation for human multivitamins and they can vary greatly in what they include, just tossing one in the dish is not the answer.
Choosing an all-purpose multi made specifically for dogs doesn’t necessarily solve the problem either. These usually contain very low levels of nutrients because it’s assumed they will be added to commercial food, and so are unlikely to provide enough supplementation to round out a homemade diet. This is why “balanced” is not just a buzzword; it’s a valid and essential aspect of proper nutrition. Once you understand your dog’s nutritional needs, work out what her diet actually contains and then add what’s missing.
3. “I’m adding yogurt to my dog’s food daily so she’s getting enough calcium.”
Dogs require fairly high levels of calcium, and yogurt absolutely won’t cut it. Here’s a quick example: My own 75-pound dog has a daily requirement of 1,840 mgs of calcium, and since I use quite a bit of fiber in his diet in the form of brown rice, I want to offset any absorption issues and ensure that he gets about 2,000 mgs per day, or 14,000 mgs per week. His weekly diet alone—turkey, liver, sardines, brown rice, ground lamb and acorn squash—only provides 1,750 mgs. That means I need to add over 12,000 mgs of calcium; in other words, more than 40 cups of plain yogurt.
Calcium supplementation is always necessary unless you are feeding raw bones. I recommend using a commercial carbonate or citrate form of calcium, or an eggshell crushed into a fine powder—one teaspoon of this powder (about 5.5 grams) equals roughly 2,200 mgs of calcium carbonate. To use eggshells, rinse them well and then bake for about 10 minutes at 300 degrees; use a small grinder to make the powder. Bone meal can be used if there is also a need to add phosphorus, but many homemade diets supply plenty of this mineral.
This is a very common assumption but unfortunately, it isn’t accurate. Current nutritional guidelines for humans—who are omnivores—emphasize foods and ratios that may not be ideal for dogs. Ensure dietary balance by aiming for about 30 to 35 percent of total calories from fats, 30 percent from protein and the balance from complex carbohydrates. (Percentages are guidelines, but are not as accurate as evaluating the gram content of a diet; this is another place where it pays to do the math.)
5. “My dog had some loose stools, so cutting way down on fiber will correct that.”
Fiber is an important dietary component, and the type of fiber you use counts as much or more than the amount (fiber is commonly used to address both constipation and diarrhea problems).
6. “I use a lot of fresh veggies in my dog’s diet because they offer so many health benefits.”
Vegetables’ role in the canine diet has been a topic of considerable discussion. One school of thought holds that adding them is inappropriate, since dogs are carnivores and do not need plant matter. Others emphasize the need for both veggies and fruit to boost not only essential nutrients but also phytochemicals that may provide protection from disease.
Unlike cats, who are obligate carnivores (animals who must get their primary nutrition from meat), dogs’ systems are more accommodating, and vegetables offer a lot in the way of health benefits. But here again, we are faced with the all-important questions, “How much and what type?” Some vegetables have elements that may interfere with the absorption of minerals, and others, such as those in the nightshade family—tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplants and peppers—contain solanine, an alkaloid that some theorize aggravates inflammation. Use veggies judiciously: Limit dark leafy greens—which contain high levels of oxalate and may contribute to bladder stones in dogs who are prone to them—and be conservative with nightshades. Green beans and carrots are usually safe bets, and pumpkin and sweet potatoes are well tolerated (unlike white potatoes, sweet potatoes are not in the nightshade family, but are high in calories and starch).
7. “Dogs don’t require carbs, and grains are bad for them.”
All this means is that lack of carbohydrates will not lead to an identifiable deficiency in the way that a lack of Vitamin C in humans will produce scurvy. It does not, however, mean that a carb-free diet is a good idea. To complicate this issue, many people use the terms “carbohydrate” and “grain” interchangeably, thinking they’re following a no-carb diet because they have eliminated grains.
Complex carbohydrates provide energy and aid in healthy gastrointestinal function, and some portion of your dog’s homemade food should consist of brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, legumes (which also add protein) or starchy vegetables. Try to keep levels consistent so if need be, you can make adjustments.
8. “A raw diet is always superior to one that’s cooked—dogs fed raw do not get sick.”
Raw diets vary in type; some seek nutrient balance while others utilize a “prey model” approach, which mimics the diet of wolves or wild dogs as closely as possible. These diets have become hugely popular over the past decade, and to be sure, there are dogs who absolutely thrive on them. But some do not. As with a cooked diet, it’s essential to ensure proper formulation. Raw diets have drawbacks as well as benefits, and may not be suitable for every dog.
If you are planning to try a raw approach, do your homework. Research both within and outside the various raw communities that exist on the Internet. Talk to veterinarians and nutritionists, read widely, and take your time.
9. “Raw diets are a dangerous fad. I’d be scared to try it.”
For every home feeder who sings the praises of a raw diet, I hear another one say she wouldn’t dare use foods that aren’t cooked. It’s as much a mistake to assume that raw is uniformly dangerous as it is to insist it’s a viable solution for every dog. I often use raw diets for dogs with allergies, or proactively where there are no problems and the owner has expressed an interest. One great advantage of this approach is ease of preparation. Consider your own needs and lifestyle as well as your dog’s when making this all-important decision about feeding.
10. “Dogs of all ages can be fed a similar diet, as long as it’s made up of whole foods.”
This can be a dangerous misconception. Puppies’ diets need to have at least twice, and in some cases, as much as five times the nutrient content of an adult dog’s. But although they require more nutrients, hyper-nutrition can be a serious problem, particularly in giant breeds. At the other end of the age range, though it was long thought that reducing dietary protein was in the best interest of seniors, current findings suggest they may actually require more protein than adult dogs.
If you are new to home feeding, learn as much as you can about canine nutrition before introducing your puppy or senior to a homemade diet. Better yet, work with an experienced nutrition consultant who can help you formulate and adjust the diet according to your dog’s growth needs. For seniors in particular, have a full geriatric screening run at least semi-annually to ensure that liver and kidney values are within normal range; aberrations in these numbers often indicate a need for changes in dietary management. Though poor nutrition causes problems no matter what the dog’s age, growing dogs and seniors pose greater challenges to the novice home feeder than do adult dogs, and mistakes made here can have serious consequences.
So, here’s the take-away message: A homemade diet remains a popular and potentially very healthy alternative or complement to the many premium foods on the market. However, research and planning are essential. Gather information from a wide range of sources, exercise a little caution, start slowly and don’t forget to check in with your vet or nutrition specialist regularly to be sure the diet hasn’t inadvertently drifted out of balance. Any diet on which your dog fails to thrive is a poor choice. If you see that your dog is not doing well on what you’re feeding him, consider a change. He will thank you for it.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Raw feeding isn’t just for experts anymore [Expanded]
The web is crowded with passionate bloggers extolling the benefits of the raw-food diet: cleaner teeth, less odor, shinier coats, more energy and far fewer visits to the vet’s office. But when we move beyond anecdotal evidence, does science support it? And what exactly constitutes a healthy home-cooked canine diet anyway?
For more than two years, Sir Robert McCarrison, a doctor whose work is referenced in the authoritative Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, conducted a study in which he fed roughly 1,000 rats a healthy diet, including sprouted beans, raw cabbage and carrots, raw milk, and a moderate amount of meat and bone. He also provided them with sun, fresh air and a clean place to live. Their eventual necropsies revealed no disease — not one. Two other groups, who had the misfortune of being fed rice or diets rich in boiled, sweetened and canned foods, showed disease in every organ, and some became so agitated that they devolved to cannibalism.
Taking this compelling research into account, the next question is where to begin. Two major schools of raw feeding exist today. The first, “Biologically Appropriate Raw Food” (BARF), was created by veterinary surgeon Ian Billinghurst. A typical BARF diet is made up of 60 to 80 percent raw meaty bones (poultry necks, wings and backs; rabbit or quail quarters or halves; and so forth), and 20 to 40 percent fruits and veggies, meat, eggs, and dairy foods, along with an abundance of supplements. The second, the “prey-model” diet, strictly mimics what proponents believe would be the animal’s natural diet in the wild. Whole rabbits or game hens, for example, are often offered to the dog. This diet recommends 80 percent muscle meat, 10 percent bone and 10 percent organ meat, and nothing more.
According to most raw feeders, dogs should eat muscle meat (hamburger, chicken, turkey), as well as a healthy array of organ meat (heart, liver, kidneys), whole fish and raw meaty bones (RMBs). Cooked bones are dangerous and should never be fed, as cooking leaves the bones brittle and prone to splintering. To balance out nutritional needs, you’re generally advised to add other ingredients to the menu, including dog-safe vegetables, legumes, limited grains and fruits, and some supplements. That’s where it gets tricky.
Heidi Hill, the owner of Holistic Hound in Berkeley, Calif., is a trained homeopath who has been feeding her dog Pearl raw for nearly 10 years. She often advises her customers to start out with prepared diets to avoid becoming overwhelmed or, worse, neglecting the nutritional needs of their dogs. “If you’re home-cooking or preparing more than, say, 20 percent of your dog’s food yourself, you really need to do your research,” says Hill. Complete and balanced commercial diets and pre-mixes to which you add your own fresh meat can take the guesswork out of healthy nutrition. Hill also recommends that you confirm that products are locally sourced, made in small batches, organic whenever possible and both hormone- and antibiotic-free.
If, on the other hand, you feel up to the task of managing your dog’s nutritional needs yourself, you can work with your veterinarian or an animal nutritionist to assure that you fill the most common gaps in canine nutrition created by home feeding: bone meal for calcium, fish oil for omega-3s, supplementation for vitamins A and D and more.
Grains are also frequently indicted as a problem for dogs, but the real culprits are often the mold mites (such as Tyrophagus putrescentiae) that can be found on food in opened kibble bags. Still, veterinarians generally agree that canines’ short digestive tracts make it harder for them to digest grains; if you feed your dog grains, be sure to cook them. Dr. Pitcairn advises quick-cooking and economical grains, such as rolled oats (which have the highest protein count per calorie of any common grain), cornmeal, millet and bulgur.
Raw veggies can also present dogs with a digestive challenge, and the following should be cooked as well: corn, peas, green beans, broccoli, potatoes and squash.
If you have a juicer, mix leftover carrot, beet, apple, or other fruit or vegetable pulp in with the rest of your dog’s meal.
Finally, chia seeds are a great source of antioxidants, protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, and another healthy addition to the raw canine diet now moving into the mainstream. The most digestible form is a gel, which you can make by whisking one cup of cool water with 1 3/4 tablespoons of seeds. Let it stand for three or four minutes, and whisk again. Wait another 10 minutes, whisk again and you’re good to go. The rule of thumb for feeding is one tablespoon of gel for every six ounces of food.
How Much Is Enough?
• 100 lb. dog: 2 to 3 lbs. daily, or two meals of 1 to 1.5 lbs. each
• 75 lb. dog: 1.5 to 2 lbs. daily, or two meals of 12 to 18 oz. each
• 50 lb. dog: 1 to 1.5 lbs. daily, or two meals of 8 to 12 oz. each
• 25 lb. dog: 8 to 12 oz. daily, or two meals of 4 to 6 oz. each
In other words, many nutritionists who support raw diets suggest that a dog should eat the equivalent of about 15 percent of her body weight each week.
If you’re just starting out with raw food, you may choose to begin by combining homemade fare with a highquality commercial food. Remember that not every dog thrives on a raw diet. If your dog is immune-compromised, for example, it might not be the way to go. And while most healthy dogs’ systems can handle many strains of bacteria, good hygiene is still important when handling raw meat. If you’re concerned about your dog choking, grinding meat and bones to a hamburger-like consistency can eliminate the risk.
The most important task in this transition is to talk with those who have experience and are up-to-date on the research, read up on nutrition, and keep your holistic vet in the loop throughout the process. Fans of raw feeding believe that even a partial transition will give your dog such a spring in her step that you’ll be making the switch faster than you can say RMB.
Dog's Life: Humane
Meeting the needs of food and companion animals alike
My wife Alayne and I are dog lovers. We have 35 of them at Rolling Dog Farm, our nonprofit sanctuary for disabled animals in New Hampshire. We care deeply about their health, their happiness and their overall well-being. Then, several years ago, we began asking ourselves a difficult question: What about the animals we feed our dogs? What kind of life do they deserve?
When we first started our nonprofit in 2000, we focused on the quality of the food we were feeding our disabled dogs. We learned how to distinguish between high quality and low quality by reading ingredient labels and ignoring packaging and marketing hype.
Then we began to think about its source — about the animals who ended up in the dog food. Alayne calls it “animal in a bag” and “animal in a can,” though most of us never think of it that way. It’s a lot easier not to think about it. Just open the bag or can and serve.
When the subject of dog food comes up, it seems that nearly everyone has an opinion. Some argue passionately that a raw diet is the only way to go; others insist on feeding organic food; some will feed their dogs only one specific brand, while others promote the benefits of home-cooked meals. But when was the last time you heard someone say, “I only feed humanely raised food to my dog”?
Today in the pet food marketplace, you’ll see a bewildering number of claims when it comes to the benefits and features of every type and brand. One thing you won’t see on a pet food label is “humanely raised.” While many people are concerned about their own food sources — a concern that has manifested itself in third-party certifications like “Animal Welfare Approved” and “Certified Humane” — this attribute is conspicuously missing when it comes to the food we feed our companion animals.
Reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan’s book on America’s food system, made me realize that those of us who work in the animal welfare movement face our own dilemma. We focus intently on the well-being of the animals in our care, but rarely give any thought to the cows, sheep, chickens, turkeys (and more) who wind up in their food bowls.
Best Friends Animal Society, which operates the nation’s largest animal sanctuary, has a wonderful slogan: “A better world through kindness to animals.” All of us in the animal welfare movement believe in the spirit of that statement. But how far are we willing to take it?
That was the dilemma Alayne and I wrestled with over the years. How can we have one set of standards for companion animals and turn a blind eye to the welfare of those who go into pet food?
Much of our interest in this issue was driven by the fact that I was a vegan for nearly a decade and a vegetarian for several years before that. I struggled to reconcile my own beliefs about what I ate with what we fed our dogs. At one point, we even tried feeding them a vegetarian diet — with many unhappy results. Whether the meals were commercial or homemade, we’d never had so many dogs walk away from food before. A few ate anything we put in front of them, but most made it very clear that they were not happy with the new menu. We quickly abandoned the effort.
How Others See It
These nonprofits promote a vegan lifestyle as the antidote to factory farming. Given this point of view, they aren’t quick to acknowledge that humane livestock farming may be a genuine and reasonable alternative to the misery of factory farms. Their answer to the animal welfare dilemma is a simple one: eat plants, not animals. (Whatever you may think of this position, it fails to address the fact that some species, felines for example, must have animalbased proteins in their diet.)
Putting its money where its philosophy is, HSUS has come out with its own brand of vegan dog food. The first eight ingredients in its “Humane Choice” kibble are organic ground canola seed, organic brown rice, organic soybean meal, organic buckwheat, organic flaxseed, organic sunflower seed and organic millet. You could be forgiven for thinking this was bird food.
Just because some of us believe that being vegan is the answer, does that mean we should force our dogs to be vegans as well? The simple truth is that dogs are, by their very nature, meat-eaters. Trying to make them anything else is, well, unnatural. Been there, done that. Didn’t work.
What We Did
Alayne and I wanted to take responsibility for the entire “cycle of life,” from birth to death, and assure ourselves that the meat we were feeding our disabled dogs came from animals who were raised as humanely as possible. That meant doing it ourselves — yes, raising our own cattle. We wanted to know exactly how they lived, what they were fed and, most important of all, how they died.
We were fortunate in that we had the land, facilities and skills to raise cattle on a modest scale. We started the journey in 2008 with a small herd of heritage- breed cows. In January of this year, we took our first steer to slaughter. We selected a small, local, familyowned slaughterhouse for processing. I visited the facility, met the owner and staff, and walked through every step in the process, from unloading to the kill floor and, ultimately, the freezer. The day I visited, it was so quiet that I wasn’t sure I was in the right place. There were no feedlots full of bellowing, stressed cattle. There was just a handful of stalls along a hallway, each with sawdust bedding. The facility processes four steers a day, not 400; our steer, Sebastian, would be one of the four slaughtered the following day. He would become several hundred pounds of ground beef.
Leaving Sebastian behind was very difficult. I choked up when I said good-bye to him. But I knew what kind of life he’d had, and how his end would come. And I knew we would now, finally, be feeding humanely raised food to our dogs.
What You Can Do
Contact local livestock farmers and ask about purchasing directly from them. The most cost-effective way is to buy a whole or a side (half) of beef. If you don’t have freezer space for that much meat — and most people don’t — make a group purchase with other dog-loving friends and split the meat among you. Consider locally raised lamb, chicken and turkey, too. Check out neighborhood farmers’ markets or go online to visit Local Harvest or Eat Wild (see the resources box) to find family farms in your area. Ask them about their animal welfare practices, and see if you can stop by. By buying direct, you help support local farmers, a worthy goal in its own right, as well as provide your dog with humanely raised food.
At the grocery store, look for meat that has been certified as “Animal Welfare Approved” or “Certified Humane.” These third-party endorsements have specific humane-treatment standards that must be met in order for the meat to be certified. (Note that simply being “organic” does not address many humane issues, including slaughter.) This is the most expensive option, but it will give you some assurance that the food animals were humanely raised. Not every supermarket carries this kind of meat, so you may have to shop around to find it. Better yet, ask your supermarket to start carrying it.
We turned to the board-certified veterinary nutritionists at DVM Consulting. Their website, BalanceIT. com, provides customized recipes based on several variables, including protein and carbohydrate choices and your dog’s age, sex, breed and activity level. Their recipes provide specific nutritional profiles, so you know exactly what your dog is getting. The vitamin and mineral supplement they sell, also called Balance IT, is crucial to making sure these homecooked meals provide all of the nutrients your dog needs.
If purchasing humanely raised meat and preparing homemade meals for your dog is too expensive or time-consuming, here’s another option: ask the manufacturer of the dog food you currently buy to offer a product based on humanely raised livestock. If the pet food industry begins hearing about it from enough consumers, someone is bound to respond to the demand.
In the end, one thing is clear: the choices we make for our companion animals affect the lives of food animals. Better choices can improve both our pets’ lives and the lives of animals destined to become food, and that means a better world for all of us.
About Rolling Dog Farm
Wellness: Health Care
When a good chew turns bad to the bone
An uncanny reason for a visit to the ER is when a playful pup manages to get one of those circular marrow bones caught around its lower jaw and canine teeth. I still remember my first patient that found himself in this very predicament; perplexed, I thought, “How is this even possible?” While it looks like a trick that only David Copperfield should be able to pull off, it can actually happen with surprising ease.
When it comes to marrow mishaps, I have seen the entire breadth of bone bad luck. While some are easily removed with lubrication and gentle manipulation alone, others need to be removed with a cast cutting saw (or other manly tool, depending on the thickness of the bone) while the pet is sedated. I have also seen dogs that have suffered from fractured canine teeth as well as extensive injury to their lower jaw and tongue. Tissue injury occurs when the circulation of blood is cut off to the skin and/or tongue while it is trapped within the bone. The marrow bone literally turns into a tourniquet with the continued and inevitable swelling of the tissues. Major or minor, any of these situations can be painful, distressing, and potentially very costly, depending on the extent of trauma and demeanor of your pet.
Your dog absolutely loves these bones and you love to give them, so what’s a pet parent to do? Here are a few tips to help prevent any misadventures:
As gratifying as these treats can be, one can still find a bone to pick with them because the serious complications happen just as often as the “simple ones.” The marrow of the story: know the risks and let your pet enjoy them only under direct supervision.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Providing good food is our responsibility
It wasn’t all that long ago that dogs were either fed table scraps or their meals were made for them. I know that my childhood dog ate what we did, or in my case, what I didn’t eat—she was always ready to catch the bits of meat I rejected. She lived to be almost 20 years old without ever tasting kibble or canned pet food. However, it can’t be denied that great strides in the field of animal nutrition have been made since that time, and that some of this advancement is thanks to the research performed by pet-food companies, and animal nutritionists and veterinarians.
For the majority of dog guardians, feeding dogs commercial food makes the most sense; it is not only convenient, but—if they select high-quality food made by companies with proven records of ingredient integrity—it provides their dogs with a generally wholesome diet. In fact, many people believe that they are doing the very best thing by feeding their dog “dog food” and not “human food.” You hear this time and time again. More than a decade ago, I recall going to dinner at the home of friends, both of whom are medical doctors; as they prepared our dinner, they were also assembling a crock-pot meal for their three Greyhounds. Sheepishly, I must admit that I thought, Now, why aren’t they feeding their dogs a good dog food? But they clearly knew something then that has taken time for others to understand: No matter how you define it, dog food is processed food. It is manufactured, meaning that it goes through many steps before it reaches the dog’s bowl. The more steps a food takes before it is consumed, the more likely it is that a production or delivery system failure will affect its quality.
In 1981, when Laura Cunningham wrote the article “Pet-Food Esthetics” for The New York Times, she noted that people spent $4 billion that year on pet food. When the Menu recall story broke in March 2007, the amount had risen to $16.1 billion (projected)—a four-fold increase. How has this happened? Has the country’s pet population increased proportionally in a little over 15 years?
Reliable statistics on pet ownership are hard to come by, but in 1988, the first year the American Pet Products Association conducted their pet ownership study, they found that 56 percent of U.S. households had a pet; their most current survey (2007) shows 63 percent of households owning a pet, a modest 7 percent increase. I bring this up because while the statistics of pet ownership might not be all that reliable, the tracking of total spending on pet food is. And it is huge.
March 16, 2007, may have marked the tipping point for the pet food industry, the day the general public began to question how pet food is manufactured and the reliability of the claims made regarding its wholesomeness and safety. One of the most important tenets of our social contract with our dogs is to provide them with food that’s good for them. Many dog guardians believed they were doing just that by feeding their dogs some of the products removed from the shelves by the Menu recall. Even people who have long been concerned about the pet food industry and who don’t feed their pets commercial food were surprised by the enormity of this recall. How could this have happened?
There are many reasons, starting with lax FDA oversight and the self-regulated, non-governmental nature of the Association of American Feed Control Officials, which sets nutritional standards, label requirements and feed-trial protocols for pet foods. Many of its members come from state agriculture departments as well as from within the industry itself. The pet food market is controlled by huge multinational conglomerates, and five companies dominate: Nestlé (Purina, Alpo, Friskies, Mighty Dog), Del Monte (Gravy Train, Nature’s Recipe, Milk Bone), MasterFoods (Mars’ Royal Canin, Pedigree, Sensible Choice), Proctor and Gamble (Iams, Eukanuba) and Colgate-Palmolive (Hill’s Science Diet, Nature’s Best).
What seemed the most surprising to consumers was that some of the “premium” brands, such as Iams, Hills and Nutro—beneficiaries of greater consumer confidence—like the others, don’t always produce their own food. Instead, their recipes and “formulas” are jobbed out to contract manufacturers, companies like Menu Foods, Diamond and Doane, who actually make the foods and purchase raw ingredients in cost-saving bulk. This is a much cheaper way of producing the food because each brand doesn’t have to invest in expensive manufacturing equipment themselves. Which is how wheat gluten (a low-quality protein source) appeared in so many products, under so many different brands (co-packers like Menu also make store-brand pet foods for Wal-Mart and Kroger, among others).
So what is a responsible dog caregiver to do?
In the next few issues of Bark, we will be taking a closer look at the issues we face as we make our pet food-buying, or feeding, decisions. Because Bark is a bimonthly publication, we can’t be a source for late-breaking news, but luckily, outstanding work is being done by many other organizations and bloggers and we urge you to track the information being provided by these resources online. (See resources.)
We decided to start our series by speaking with two of the leading authorities, people who questioned commercial pet food industry practices years before the subject caught the public’s attention. Donald Strombeck, DVM, PhD and professor emeritus, University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, spoke candidly to us about his viewpoints on pet nutrition and offered opinions on food safety and the industry’s lack of regulatory control.
It should be noted that during his long career, Dr. Strombeck did research for Ralston Purina, so his forthrightness on these matters was especially welcomed. It should also be noted that, though research has advanced what we know about nutrition, ingredients and additives since Dr. Strombeck wrote Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets, his book still serves as an excellent reference. Ann Martin, a tireless advocate, has investigated everything from the ugly side of rendering plants to the challenges that consumers have in understanding pet food labeling. She has been a thorn in the side of the industry for over 10 years, ever since she wrote the book Food Pets Die For. We present this historic overview to give context to problems that have long been known to exist in the industry and, we hope, to suggest ways to affect changes.
We also opened space for a guest editorial by Patty Khuly, DVM, a Florida veterinarian who provides a perspective on how she and most of her colleagues were blindsided by the recall, and remain ill-informed by Menu itself. (As this issue goes to press, hearings are scheduled in Washington to investigate this matter, and it is hoped that Sen. Durbin and his committee will be calling for much-needed changes.)
Increased regulation and scrutiny of pet food manufacturing are truly important. Consider this news item: In a USA Today story (4/9/07) it was noted that the FDA “inspects only about 1% of the imported food it regulates … and the agency’s resources, compared with its vast mandate, are minuscule and shrinking.… Last year, the FDA had 640 food inspectors, more than 25% fewer than it had in 2003.” (And this at a time of heightened concern about national security!) There is no doubt that something must be done about this, but it is also no wonder that the safety of pet food does not top the agency’s agenda. Not only that, but even if there had been FDA inspectors checking the Chinese wheat gluten shipments, they would not have inspected for melamine because it was not considered toxic.
With more attention being paid to the issues surrounding the safety and provenance of the foods humans eat, and with award-winning investigators like Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle writing insightful books on the topic—what Pollan refers to as the “Age of Nutritionism”—it is no wonder that consumers were questioning the way they feed their dogs well before this latest recall scandal. In an article in The New York Times Magazine (1/28/07), Pollan points out that a “potentially serious weakness of nutritionist ideology is that it has trouble discerning qualitative distinctions between foods. So fish, beef and chicken through the nutritionists’ lens become mere delivery systems for varying quantities of fats and proteins and whatever other nutrients are on their scope. Similarly, any qualitative distinctions between processed foods and whole foods disappear when your focus in on quantifying the nutrients they contain.” This point is underscored when one reads a label on a bag of kibble or a can of pet food and tries to understand exactly what the ingredients or nutrient sources are.
Bear in mind that most of the ingredients in pet foods are at the low end of the food chain; they come from whatever remains of the animal (be it chicken, pig or cow) not deemed fit for human consumption. These “parts”—heads, feet, bones, blood, beaks, lungs, ligaments—are either used for pet food or are converted for poultry and livestock feed, or even fertilizers. The consumer does not know the quality or source of the ingredient because it certainly doesn’t appear on the label, and few consumers know the difference between whole meat, meat by-product or meat meal. (For a detailed discussion, see Patrick in resources.)
Quality of the ingredients should be at the heart of this discussion of pet food. Nutrition is certainly important, but as Marion Nestle, PhD, nutritionist and author of What to Eat, says, “The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of food…” All of these factors are also important in our consideration of what and how we feed our dogs. Nutrient-by-nutrient thinking obscures the message that what we feed our dogs is more than an assemblage of ingredients, nutrients and additives, it is food—and it needs to be safe. But somehow we became convinced otherwise, afraid to step beyond the dictums promulgated by the pet food industry. Convinced that preparing our dog’s food ourselves, home cooking or supplementing a kibble diet with some of the “dreaded” table scraps would result in an unbalanced diet. Many of us feared that feeding anything other than commercially prepared food would harm our dogs.
As Christie Keith, who has written extensively on the subject, notes, “There is a lot of wiggle room in formulating a diet for your dog. Canines are, overall, rather forgiving nutritionally. That’s part of their success as a species.” So those of you who want to venture beyond the foods you have been using and either switch brands or perhaps prepare meals (cooked or raw), take heart. There are good alternatives—not only are there a few good commercial pet foods, but there also are easy-to-follow recipes, and even professionally formulated recipes devised by veterinary nutritionists (see resources). We’ll continue to write about healthful alternatives in future issues, as well as well as examining and analyzing the pet food industry’s practices and standards.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
What Difference Does a Few Pounds Make?
People often smile when they see a chubby dog ambling through a park. There’s something endearing, even comical, about rotund pets. But look more closely and you’ll notice a stiffened gait, labored breathing and a lack of energy—nothing to smile about.
Sadly, this is not a rare sight: An estimated 17 million dogs in United States are overweight or obese—and, like canine waistlines, the numbers keep expanding.
“The reasons for the pet obesity epidemic are the same as the human obesity explosion: We’re eating too much and exercising too little,” says Dr. Ernest Ward Jr., a North Carolina veterinarian and president of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). “In addition, what we’re feeding dogs has changed.”
By doling out diets high in carbohydrates, sugar and fat, we’re making our dogs fat. Dr. Ward explains. They stay leaner and healthier with a higher protein diet.
On top of poor nutrition, we’re giving our dogs too much. Most of us rely on a combination of guesswork and feeding instructions to determine how to feed our dogs rather than working out a diet tailored to our specific pets. We don’t know how many calories they need (far fewer than you think) or how many calories are in the food (often more than you think). Calorie counts aren’t on most food labels, and when calorie counts are included, some can be confusing and inconsistent.
And then there are the add-ons—biscuits, cookies, jerky, table scraps and on and on. APOP estimates that 90 percent of pet owners give their dogs treats, many of which are high in calories, carbohydrates and sugar. They’re called treats for a reason.
“If I could only point to one factor causing the modern-day pet obesity epidemic, it would have to be treats,” Dr. Ward says. “It’s that seemingly innocent extra 50 calories a day in the form of a chew or cookie that adds up to a pound or two each year. By the time a dog or cat reaches mid-life, it’s overweight and health risks begin to skyrocket.”
There’s the rub. Weight control is not about winning beauty contests, at least not for most of dogs. It’s about the quality and duration of their lives.
“While those extra five pounds around your waist might not mean much to you and your health, that extra five pounds around your average dog and cat can pose a lot of health risks,” says Dr. Maria Manrique, a Chicago veterinarian speaking for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The AVMA links pet obesity directly with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension, as well as an increased risk for cancer and orthopedic problems, including painful and debilitating knee injuries and arthritis. In addition, overweight dogs are more prone to heat exhaustion and exercise intolerance.
A key to our dogs’ health is getting a jump on the problem. Maintaining a healthy weight for your dog is lot easier and less expensive than treating any of the disease conditions that result from being overweight. Smart diet and consistent exercise not only saves your health care dollars and spares your dogs discomfort and suffering, it will probably extend their lives.
A 14-year benchmark study of Labrador Retrievers demonstrated that dogs kept at a healthy weight from puppyhood lived 15 percent longer than their overweight peers. That’s two additional happy, healthy years with your best friend. That’s the best treat of all.
Copyright © 1997-2017 The Bark, Inc. Dog Is My Co-Pilot® is a registered trademark of The Bark, Inc