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Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Donald R. Strombeck Talks Dog Nutrition and Pet Food Recalls
Talks to Bark about vet education, nutrition and the Menu Foods recall

When he wrote Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets: The Healthful Alternative, leading gastroenterologist Dr. Donald Strombeck created one of the first-of-its-kind nutrition and dietetics books. It went on to become one of the standards for both veterinarians and those looking for an alternative to commercial pet food.

Bark: When did you start your career in pet nutrition?

Donald Strombeck: I graduated from the University of Illinois in 1954 and, after leaving the service, went into a small animal practice outside of Chicago—they got me started on an interest in pet nutrition. Back then, we saw the usual variety of cats and dogs. In our standard operating procedure with diarrhea cases, we put the animals on a controlled diet, and we instructed people how to prepare it. Most of our treatments were based primarily on diet. This was at a time when most people, at least in that area, prepared meals for their pets. People didn’t feed commercially prepared diets—the industry hadn’t developed to where it is now. There were some commercial foods available then, and one made by Hills, I/D for dogs with intestinal problems, is still available. But the reason we didn’t use it was that a lot of our patients didn’t respond to it.

B: When did you start teaching at the University of California Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at Davis?

DS: After the practice in Chicago, I went back to the University of Illinois and got a PhD in physiology. My major professor started out with an interest in the GI tract, so I developed an interest in gastroenterology, and I’m glad I did. After three years of teaching physiology to medical students, I wanted to get back into veterinary medicine. So I went to Davis in 1973 and taught and did research there for over 20 years.

B: How have you seen the pet food industry change during that time? What kinds of impacts has it had on the teaching of nutrition at vet schools?

DS: It has become a gigantic, multibillion dollar industry. The industry learned to advertise and describe their products as being the “best,” at least according to them. But they have tried to control the education of veterinarians on pet nutrition. They send a lot of literature and books to veterinarians who teach. One of the dogmas they have promoted, and that many veterinarians have bought into, is that you should only feed commercial pet foods because they are a balanced and provide everything an animal needs. And that you shouldn’t feed any human food or add any table scraps to it. So, if you go to most veterinarians, that is what they are going to tell you.
 
B: This makes it very confusing to the public, who look to their veterinarian as a reliable source of information.

DS: Pet nutrition, up until the ’80s or maybe ’90s, was really sadly neglected as far as teaching at veterinary schools. The quality of the teaching was lacking, the courses were never popular, the students didn’t realize the importance of the courses, and consequently, when they graduated, they didn’t walk away with a lot of useful information on pet nutrition. I do think things have changed now, which is good thing. But most of the people who are trained in nutrition programs get their degrees and are hired by the pet food industry. Most of the money available for research on small-animal nutrition comes from the industry as well. It is a conflict of interest.

B: Does Davis teach pet nutrition now?

DS: They have developed nutrition support services [and a nutrition clinic]. The interesting thing is that they have computer programs (actually, the same programs I used to design the diets in my book) that enable practicing veterinarians to submit information—the kind of animal, the problem, weight and age—and get a specially formulated diet. In fact, Sean Delaney, who graduated from that program, has an online service that also does this for individuals.

B: Were you surprised by the latest recall?

DS: Well, it’s not the first one! It’s a long list. The reason people know about it is because of all the publicity it has received.

B: How can consumers know the source of the food they buy?

DS: If you look at some of the foods at the big-box stores, you know they are producing them at bottom price. There is no way you can ever know where the ingredients come from; all you know is you are paying less for it.

B: In the latest recall, Eukanuba, Iams, Hills and Nutro are among the brands affected, brands many consumers think of as high-quality food—they too used wheat gluten.

DS: They don’t have to put glutens into pet foods; the only reason they put it in is as a binding agent or something that makes the product more palatable or nicer looking (to the human), so it will hold its shape if it’s a biscuit or a kibble. There is no nutrition in glutens, nothing really to speak of.

B: Are there any changes that the federal government can make to improve the process and to ensure the quality of the ingredients? What about the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)—aren’t they the ones responsible for overseeing this?

DS: AAFCO is a mutual admiration society representing the pet food industry. They are from the industry. They say that they can police themselves and don’t need any government interference. And that’s the way it operates. There haven’t been any changes there, and so the only thing that will cause them to change the way they do things is if they lose a lot of money, like from a scare like this.

B: Or perhaps if the public becomes more aware of their power; its members all seem to come from state agriculture departments.

DS: The members are in the back pocket of the pet food industry.

B: What is your position on the “cooked” versus “raw” diet?

DS: The reason I always cooked the meat and vegetables for my own animals is if you feed raw meat, it is not completely digested. And if you use carbohydrates, you have to cook them. This is one example of what can happen with commercial pet foods. They contain a lot of cereals; there have been examples where a dry food containing barley, oats and rye wasn’t cooked completely, like it should have been. Because the carbohydrate source wasn’t cooked, animals who ate it had diarrhea. You see this in vet practice—people come in with sick animals and they have been using the same brand of kibble, but then one batch isn’t well-cooked. It doesn’t make national headlines, but when you see this, you know that there is a problem with that particular batch of food.

B: Even some of the kibble in this recall was contaminated.

DS: Did you read the information in my book about kibble being contaminated with bacteria? Veterinarians know this. I got money to research this, and gave it to Jim Cullor, a good researcher; I asked him to do a study to determine the numbers and kinds of bacteria that could be cultured from kibble. And he did it, but I don’t know if it was ever published. [Editor’s note: We are checking on this.] The guy who was in charge of public programs at Davis was adamantly opposed to having this published, because he wanted to protect the industry. Also, I remember when the pet food industry would say on the bag of puppy food, “moisten this food” and put it down for them. But bacteria multiply rapidly on moistened dry food. You know that puppies, a lot of times, eat a little bite and wander off, then come back to it, so the food could be there all day long. It is a good way for them to get diarrhea.

B: What do you think prevents people from cooking for their pets? Is it because they are made to believe that they must feed a balanced diet and they don’t understand how to do that by themselves?

DS: It is more a matter of, do they want to spend the time doing it. If you look at human eating habits today, people more and more eat out, they buy processed foods, they don’t spend any time preparing food for themselves or their children. Whenever you process anything, especially a food, there may be eight or 10 steps—from harvesting to shipping, storing and on to the end. All you have to do is have one little error come in at any one of those steps and you have a food that can cause problems. If you go to a grocery store and get the ingredients yourself, and prepare it, you have more control over everything. But you don’t have control over anything when you buy a processed food. Every once in a while, you see a processed human food cause a problem, and that is going to happen the more people eat processed foods.

B: What about a balanced diet? How can we ensure that our dogs have a fully balanced diet?

DS: You know, that is overblown. Here’s an example. We have had animals who veterinarians put a controlled diet, like cottage cheese and rice, diets that didn’t balance out. Clients are instructed to bring the dogs back in a couple of weeks for a recheck, but they wait. And you see the dogs a year later, and they are still on the unbalanced diet, and doing fine.

 

Wellness: Health Care
Melamine: Toxicity in Dog Food
Recall Follow-up
Marion Nestle

For the last year or so, we have been working on a book about pet food, What Pets Eat, to be published by Harcourt late in 2009. One of the pleasures of a long-term project like this is the time to follow digressions wherever they lead. Last year’s (2007) massive pet food recall was so much of a diversion that it resulted in a spin-off publication—Pet Food Politics:Chihuahua in the Coal Mine —scheduled for release this September by University of California Press.

The recall made us especially curious about the role of melamine, the substance responsible for kidney failure in pets eating food that supposedly contained wheat gluten. Just a glance at the chemical structure of melamine shows that it is high in nitrogen, a nutrient usually obtained from protein. This made us suspect that melamine must have been added deliberately to boost the apparent amount of protein in wheat gluten, because methods that measure the amount of protein in animal feed count nitrogen, not protein itself. Our suspicions were confirmed. The toxic “wheat gluten” turned out to be wheat flour laced with melamine.

But why would melamine harm cats and dogs? A quick search for studies of melamine toxicity turned up several performed on rats and mice, but just one on dogs (which dated from 1945).These studies gave the impression that melamine was not very toxic except at extremely high doses. Furthermore, the kidneys of animals who had eaten the contaminated food contained odd crystals that did not look like crystals of melamine.These turned out to be formed from complexes of melamine and one of its by-products, cyanuric acid. Even so, researchers and federal officials were puzzled. They had not heard of associations of melamine or cyanuric acid with kidney failure.

Really? Our Internet search turned up a brief and not particularly informative abstract of a 1960s study on melamine toxicity in sheep.We thought we needed to look at the entire paper, and found it and others in old bound journals in the Cornell library. These decades-old studies demonstrated that melamine is quite toxic, and causes kidney-related symptoms in animals at doses nearly identical to those reported in contaminated pet food. The studies were designed to test the idea that, because melamine nitrogen is far less expensive than protein nitrogen, melamine might have two useful purposes: (1) as an honest feed additive for ruminant animals, whose microorganisms can convert nonprotein nitrogen to amino acids, and (2) as a dishonest adulterant that makes feed test as though it contains more protein than it really does.

By following other leads,we also found references to relevant studies from the early 1980s in Italian journals that we had to request through interlibrary loan. These showed that melamine was so frequently used for fraudulent purposes in the 1980s that Italian scientists developed a test for it. They used the test to show that melaminna had been used to adulterate more than half the samples of fish meal they examined.

Most of the early information about melamine toxicity came from attempts to use it as a drug or nutrient. In the 1940s, investigators explored its potential as a canine diuretic. To follow what comes next, pay attention to the size of the melamine dose in milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight, and recall that a kilogram is 2.2 pounds. The 1945 study showed that at a dose of about 120 mg/kg, dogs excreted crystals in their urine but otherwise did fine. In the 1960s, investigators used cyanuric acid (which is 32 percent nitrogen) to feed ruminant animals, and observed no problems even at high doses.Wouldn’t melamine (66.6 percent nitrogen) work even better?

A South African scientist fed daily doses of about 250 mg/kg to sheep, but most animals refused food and lost weight, and some of them died. Another South African investigator gave melamine doses to a single sheep, starting with 2,600 mg/kg. At such high doses, the sheep died within a few days from kidney damage, and the investigators could see crystals of melamine hanging from the animal’s prepuce. Lower doses of melamine caused sheep to stop eating, especially if their water intake was restricted. These studies suggested that a dose of about 250 mg/kg kills some— but not all—sheep over time.So, by 1968, melamine was known to induce kidney damage when fed to sheep over prolonged periods. Ten years later, American investigators tested melamine in cattle and found that a dose of about 100 mg/kg caused four out of six steers to refuse feed.

We think these studies are highly relevant to the pet food situation. The FDA reported that melamine could have accounted for 10 percent of the weight of the false wheat gluten, and the false wheat gluten could have accounted for as much as 10 percent of the weight of the pet food. If so, 100 grams—about 3 ounces—of pet food could have contained as much as a gram (1,000 milligrams) of melamine, and an average cat or small dog could have eaten an amount close to the 250 mg/kg level that proved toxic to sheep in the 1960s.

Recently, investigators from Georgia and the University of California, Davis, have shown that much smaller amounts of melamine can form crystals if cyanuric acid is also present. In cats, doses as low as 32 mg/kg each of melamine and cyanuric acid caused crystallization and kidney blockage.

We were surprised that neither the university or FDA veterinarians involved in the melamine investigations knew about this earlier work, but we think we can guess why. Papers in international journals are not readily accessible on the Internet, and the old animal feed literature is not likely to be studied these days.We had to discover the papers the old-fashioned way, by going to the library in person, sifting through reference lists, following up leads that sometimes required interlibrary loans and pursuing the reference trail back to its origins.We had the interest and time to pursue these questions. For the veterinarians and FDA officials caught up in the heat of the recall, a trip to the library might have seemed like a luxury they could ill afford.

We can’t say whether earlier suspicion of melamine would have hastened the recall or improved veterinary care of the sick dogs and cats.But we can say that the old experiments on animal feeding are well worth reading, that it’s best to read entire papers and not just their abstracts, and that libraries still have much to offer that the Internet cannot.

This article is based on Nestle M., Nesheim M.C. Additional information on melamine in pet food [letter]. JAMVA 231(2007):1647.

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
DIY with Probiotics
Four simple steps to success

The contents of my cabinets — stocked with maca, goji berries, coconut water and the like — confirm it: I’m a sucker for food trends. So, when my social network lit up with talk of probiotics for dogs, I took cautious note. No harm, no foul if I want to get wacky nouveau with the things I eat, but what about my dog, whose nutritional needs I’m responsible for meeting?

“Probiotics,” a broad group of over 400 microorganisms that support a robust, disease-free body, are a longstanding favorite in the human supplement world. Now they are suddenly omnipresent in pet-supply stores as well. But are they suitable and safe for the canine constitution? To get to the bottom of these questions, as well as to better understand the fundamental mechanics and benefits of probiotics, I dug right in to get the lay of this microflora landscape. The result of these investigations? Four self-education steps that will help you map this molecular jungle, and safely separate the fish oil from the snake oil.

1. Understand the science.
None of us likes to think that our dogs are hosting microbes. But they are — hundreds of different kinds! And according to Mary Ellen Sanders, PhD, an internationally recognized leader in probiotic microbiology, that’s a good thing. In the canine gastrointestinal(GI) tract, probiotics promote health by “piggybacking on the important relationship between the normal immune system and microbes,” says Sanders.

More specifically, Sanders suggests that probiotics increase “the activity or numbers of immune cells or cytokines, whose job it is to attack invading pathogens.” When the immune system senses these microbes in the gut, it launches a response. Probiotics can also produce antibacterial compounds called bacteriocins, which directly inhibit the body’s tolerance of pathogen growth. The plain-English version: probiotics are the good bacteria that kick out the bad, and then make it harder for the bad actors to get back in the door. They help your dog digest her food, increase her absorption of nutrients and boost her immune system, too.

When it comes to optimizing the use of probiotics, Dr. Robert Boyle, a clinical lecturer with the UK’s National Institute for Health Research, suggests that they work best as preventive agents. “Once disease is established,” Boyle writes, “it is harder for [probiotics] to compete with pathogenic bacteria and processes that have already become established in the gut.” While your dog is well, get her started with a diet rich in good microflora. But where do you get it?

2. Do it yourself.
Most over-the-counter supplements include strains of several common probiotic microorganisms — Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, for example — but the quality of these cultures varies wildly. Some nutritionists suggest buying only refrigerated supplements, since the shelved strains may be dead by the time you get them home. However, in 2009, the University of Toronto published a study that, among other things, questioned the batch-to-batch consistency in all probiotics, and found that enthusiasm for their use “has been hampered, at least in part, by concerns about precisely how the various organisms purported as probiotics mediate their beneficial effects.” In other words, there were so many products on the market, with so many different “mechanisms of action,” that questions were raised about the efficacy of these products as a whole. If you do buy supplements, it’s best to shop for whole-food, organic, refrigerated products, to check their expiration dates and to buy from companies that provide laboratory assays, or summaries of the drug potency. But are supplements your only option?

The reality is that plenty of foods contain natural probiotics. Yogurt, kefir, onions, bananas, garlic, honey, leeks, kimchi and Jerusalem artichokes all appear regularly on lists of probiotic foods. Some of these items are not ideal for dogs; for example, onions and large quantities of garlic are dangerous and should be avoided. Kimchi is too spicy. The jury is out on dairy products, yogurt included. Some literature contends that dairy causes digestive upset in dogs, but a better part of the homefeeding community includes yogurt in their dogs’ diets to great effect. Some dog guardians, including C.J. Puotinen, author of The Encyclopedia of NaturalPet Care, are so adventurous that they feed things like lacto-fermented vegetables, such as mild homemade sauerkraut or shredded carrots with ginger. (For the brave souls who wish to try offering fermented veggies, note that fennel seed is a natural remedy for flatulence.)

Ultimately, you can work in any number of ways with a supportive veterinarian to come up with a safe, nutritious regime that takes gut health, and therefore probiotics, into account. The best takeaway in your DIY probiotic diet handbook, the number-one answer that most experts agree on — in part because it has many other benefits and is easily digested — is green tripe. Sticking with foods that are easily digested by your dog (like green tripe) makes the addition of probiotics to your dog’s mealtime routine incredibly safe. That’s the good news.

3. Find a balance.
So, you mindfully begin supplementing your dog’s diet, but her coat remains dull and her energy, sluggish. What could be going on? No matter how thoughtfully we supplement, the detrimental effects of kibble riddled with carbohydrates and fillers can ruin our best auxiliary efforts. The sugars in these foods not only fail to protect your dog from harmful bacteria, they nourish the very bacteria we wish to discourage. Dr. Jeannie Thomason, cofounder (with Dr. Kim Bloomer of the American Council of Animal Naturopathy, suggests that with yeast and other harmful bacteria thriving in the gut, it’s no wonder veterinarians are seeing a rise in inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes and pancreatitis. The preservatives and synthetic chemicals in low-quality food damage the tissues of the digestive tract and flood the body with toxins.

Thomason reminds us that a healthy, species-appropriate diet is the first line of defense against illness, and will often balance the gut naturally. “In nature, animals know to seek out those foods that satisfy their nutritional needs.” Shepoints to the eating patterns of free-roaming wolves. “Before eating muscle or bone, wolves feast on stomach contents, the liver, pancreas and intestines — in other words, they are gorging on enzyme-laden tissues. Wolf pups are weaned and maintained on regurgitated food, also heavily laced with digestive enzymes.”

4. Monitor your dog’s daily life.
Just as diet has a profound effect on a dog’s wellness, several factors can radically affect the extent to which probiotics are able to win the war in the dog’s GI system. For example, a dog who’s undergone antibiotic therapy needs support to recover at the microbiotic level. These therapies make no distinction between beneficial and harmful microorganisms; they destroy them all. Many experts suggest that the harmful strains, being more opportunistic, are quicker to re-colonize and exploit the body’s vulnerabilities. Travel and other environmental changes can be overwhelming, literally altering an animal’s body chemistry. Everyday stresses and the effects of a sedentary lifestyle throw off balance as well. Aging, while inevitable, can also influence the normal balance of microflora in the intestinal tract. Your dog depends on you to protect him from undue stress and thus improve his chances of long-term wellness.

So it’s true — I follow trends. I give my dog yogurt (she’s fine with it). I have offered her homemade fermented veggies (hence the fennel-seed tip). And I have even made it routine to periodically include green tripe in her menus. What we call fads today can become tomorrow’s conventional wisdom when they prove to be legitimate practices that advance our health and happiness. I now know it’s healthy to take probiotics into account. And judging from my dog’sresponse when the tripe hits the bowl, I have the happiness part covered, too.

Wellness: Recipes
Dog Food Recipes: Low-Cost Homemade Treats
Making dog treats from leftovers

Table scraps: dogs love them, and their pleading eyes are difficult to deny. However, the consequences of this indulgence can range from minor and annoying to life-threatening and expensive. Some human foods — onions, chocolate, grapes and raisins in particular — contain enzymes that may produce gastrointestinal upsets, neurological problems, seizures and even death if fed in large quantities.

With care and common sense, though, you can turn leftovers into tasty and nutritious treats for your dogs.

How about a canine trail mix? Chop meat, potatoes, vegetables, even fruit, into 1/2” pieces. Spray lightly with cooking spray and place in a food dehydrator or 200° oven until dried for a nutritious treat to take along on those long post-meal hikes.

Holiday meals bring a bounty of leftover meat. Instead of feeding your dog the scraps, create a healthy frozen treat. Rinse off any seasoning and chop into small pieces. Fill an ice cube tray partway with water, drop an equal amount of chopped meat into each cube and freeze. Even dogs who don’t usually chew ice cubes will lick this refreshing treat.

Sweet potatoes contain vitamins A, C and E as well as protease inhibitors, which are thought to help prevent cancer in dogs. Remove the peel and slice them 1/4” to 1/2” thick. Place the slices in a food dehydrator or a 200° oven until they’re dry and chewy.

You can also make crunchy dog treats using leftovers. Start by rinsing the seasoning from any combination of leftover meat, rice, noodles or vegetables. Purée until smooth in a food processor. Add a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil and an egg. Use milk or water until the mixture is the consistency of heavy cream. Add a tablespoon of dried parsley and enough whole wheat, soy or rice flour to make a stiff dough. Roll the dough to about 1/4”, cut into shapes and bake at 350° for 20 to 30 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave in the oven overnight to crisp. The treats will keep for about a week in a cool, dry environment.

Healthy and nutritious dog treats are limited only by our imagination — be inspired to create your own recipes!

News: Guest Posts
Recall: Iams ProActive Health Smart Puppy dry dog food

Proctor & Gamble has voluntarily recalled one production lot of Iams ProActive Health Smart Puppy dry dog food, due to detected aflatoxin levels above the accepted limit.

Aflatoxin is a naturally 
occurring chemical byproduct from the growth of Aspergillus flavus on corn and other crops and can be harmful to pets if consumed in
significant quantities. Dogs who consumed the product and exhibit symptoms including sluggishness or lethargy, reluctance to eat, vomiting, yellowish tint in the eyes or gums or diarrhea should be taken to a veterinarian.

P&G recalled 7-, 8- and 17.5-pound bags of the Iams dog food with use by or expiration dates of Feb. 5 or Feb. 6, 2013. The company said no illnesses were reported in relation to the affected product, but it was instituting the recall as a precautionary measure.

The affected bags were distributed in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia.

Those who bought the product are asked to stop using it immediately, throw it out and contact Iams for a replacement voucher.

For more information, contact P&G toll-free at 866.908.1569 or www.iams.com.

News: JoAnna Lou
Problems with Imported Chicken Treats
Illness is on the rise due to products such as chicken jerky

It seems like every month there’s a new pet food product that gets recalled. According to the FDA, the number of dogs getting sick from imported chicken flavored treats has been on the rise. The FDA ran extensive tests, but can’t identify the specific contaminant, nor can they attribute the rash of illness to a specific brand.

Symptoms have included decreased appetite and activity, vomiting, diarrhea, increased water consumption and urination, and even kidney failure and Fanconi syndrome, a condition associated with low glucose.

I gave up buying most commercial dog treats a long time ago. It’s much cheaper to make your own, plus you can control all of the ingredients. For anyone who is hesitant to make dog food, treats is a good place to start. It doesn’t have to be complicated or gourmet.

For training I usually cook steak or chicken and cut it into small pieces. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can even use the microwave. When I’m in a rush and need something really yummy, I’ll stick a hot dog in the microwave and have something ready in just a few seconds. Not the healthiest treat, but a lot better than a lot of commercial treats! Every now and then I’ll also take out the baking supplies and make regular dog biscuits.

Do you make your own dog treats?

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Lessons in Healthy Eating
A primer on nutrition and label reading.

One of the most important and challenging decisions we make as pet guardians is what to feed our dogs. Providing them with a wholesome diet is vital to maintaining their good health and quality of life, so it is incumbent on us to be well informed about their nutritional needs and how best to fulfill them.

There are more choices than ever these days when it comes to top-quality commercial foods, not to mention the wide array of forms the food comes in — kibble, canned, semi-moist, dehydrated, raw. Plus, home-prepared meals are becoming increasingly popular, with many people either supplementing commercial foods or replacing them entirely with meals they cook. However, the convenience and ease of feeding a commercial diet keep these foods at the front of the pack. This is all the more reason to learn how to differentiate among the product choices.

There are two things to keep in mind when you’re deciding which diet is best for your dog: First, every dog is an individual, so what one might thrive on could be an allergen to another. Second, high-quality (organic preferred), fresh ingredients trump all other factors. When we prepare food in our own kitchen from ingredients that we’ve selected, it’s fairly easy to control the quality. But how can we know about the quality of the ingredients in commercial pet foods? It starts with deciphering a pet food label.

What’s on (and in) a bag of dog food?
Reading the label on a package of pet food can be an exasperating exercise. Although all labels must include certain elements, finding out where these items appear and what they mean can be difficult. Even skilled nutritional experts like Marion Nestle admit that reading a petfood label “is no simple task … and hardly anyone can make sense of them.”

Another issue is how these elements are identified. Nutritional standards for the production of pet food are set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). This nongovernmental group is made up of state and federal representatives as well as people directly involved in the pet-food industry. This means that people who manufacture pet food have a voice in establishing not only pet-food standards but also most of the label requirements and feed-trial protocols. Though the FDA, a federal regulatory agency, sets rules for three of the label items, its oversight of petfood production is still very limited. As we learned during the 2007 recall, the FDA could not order companies to recall products containing melamine-tainted ingredients. (Sadly, it still doesn’t have recall power.)

AAFCO’s Nutrient Profiles list the minimum amounts (and minimum is the operative word here) of nutrients required by pets. The group recognizes only two canine feeding stages: adult dog maintenance and “growth and reproduction.” So, unless they’re puppies or lactating females, all dogs fall into the “adult maintenance” category regardless of their age, health status or level of physical activity.

Labeling
There are two components to a pet-food label: marketing and informational. The former is intended to convince you that the product inside the bag or can is the best and tastiest. The content of the latter is, for the most part, dictated by the FDA and AAFCO. These guidelines specify the major components:

  • Brand name and product name.
  • Who it is intended to feed (i.e., dog or cat).
  • Package weight (net).
  • Name and address of the manufacturer.( Phone numbers and/or URLs are not required, but are good things to look for.)
  • Statement of Nutritional Adequacy (guidelines that must be adhered to in order to label the food as “complete and balanced”). This is also where you’ll find out how the food meets these standards for nutritional adequacy: by calculation or by live feeding trials.
  • Statement of Guaranteed Analysis (listing the minimum percentage of crude protein and crude fat in the food and maximum percentage of fiber and moisture; some companies also specify other nutrients). By the way, “crude” is not a quality statement; it refers to a specific method of measuring the nutrient. Carbohydrates are not included because they are not required in the diet of pets.
  • Feeding directions, which are based only on the weight of the animal, so you might run the risk of overor underfeeding if you follow them. Always monitor your dog’s weight and energy level.
  • List of ingredients, identified in the order of “predominance by weight,” or weight before processing. This is important to note when you are comparing products with different moisture contents (see Dry Matter p. 67). Also, as explained by Linda Bren in an FDA Consumer newsletter, “Similar materials listed as separate ingredients may outweigh other ingredients that precede them on the list of ingredients. For example, chicken may be listed as the first ingredient, then wheat flour, ground wheat and wheat middlings. The consumer may believe that chicken is the predominant ingredient, but the three wheat products — when added together — may weigh more than the chicken.”
  • The Animal Protection Institute points out that “a good rule of thumb to distinguish the major components of a food is to look for the first named source of fat in the ingredient list. Anything listed before that (and including it) makes up the main portion of the food. Other items, which may add flavor, function as preservatives or [have] dietary benefits (e.g. probiotics, vitamins and minerals),” are present in much smaller amounts.
  • Calorie Statements (optional). AAFCO regulations say the listing for calories “shall be distinct from Guaranteed Analysis and shall appear under the heading Calorie Content.” If a calorie statement is on the label, it must be expressed on a “kilocalories per kilogram” basis. Kilocalories are the same as the calories. A kilogram is a unit of metric measurement equal to 2.2 pounds.
  •  

Other Considerations:

  • The label can reveal other important information besides the ingredients. Check for a “best by” date. Most naturally preserved dry foods have a “best by” date that is 12 months from the date of manufacture.
  • Try to find a bag that is as fresh as possible. If yours is a one-dog household and your budget can tolerate the price differential, shop for smaller-sized bags, which make it easier to keep the food fresh. Also, look for bags lined with untreated aluminum foil. Do not remove the food from the bag, but rather, store the bag inside an airtight, metal container.
  • If you feed your dog canned food and don’t use an entire can in one meal, store the leftovers in the refrigerator in a covered container. Food left in an opened can (even one with a plastic lid) loses flavor.
  • Dogs thrive on variety. As Bren points out, “Some animal nutritionists recommend switching among two or three different petfood products every few months. Doing so helps ensure that a deficiency doesn’t develop for some as-yet-unknown nutrient required for good health. When changing pet foods, add the new food to the old gradually for a few days to avoid upsetting the pet’s digestive system.”
  • If you are adding fresh or cooked ingredients to the meal (which many recommend), make sure you adjust the amount of commercial food to avoid overfeeding and weight gain.
  • When in doubt, shop at small boutique or holistic pet stores. The owners and staff are usually more familiar with their products and can help you with your buying decisions.
  • Make sure you contact the food manufacturer if you have any questions about their products, either before or after buying it. Do not simply rely on the information from their websites.
  • Wellness: Food & Nutrition
    Important Vitamins and Minerals for Your Dog
    [Chart]

    Adapted from Allegretti and Sommers, Fougère, and Ackerman
     

    Vitamin A Carrots, spinach, liver, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, fish oil, eggs, turnip greens Vitamin D Marine fish oil, fatty fish, egg yolks, dairy products, liver, beef, cottage cheese Vitamin E Plant oils, leafy green vegetables, seeds, wheat germ, bran, whole grains, liver Vitamin K Liver, leafy green vegetables, milk, cabbage, fish Vitamin C Fruits, vegetables, organ meats Vitamin B Whole grains, nutritional or brewers yeast, liver, beans, green vegetables, spirulina, nuts, dairy products

    Macrominerals

    Calcium Milk, yogurt, tofu, sardines with bones, raw bones, bok choy, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower Phosphorous All animal tissues, eggs, fish, milk Magnesium Spinach, broccoli, green beans, tofu, tomato juice, beans, whole grains, seafood Potassium,
    Sodium and
    Chloride Fruits, vegetables, milk, grain

    Microminerals

    Zinc Spinach, broccoli, yogurt, beef, poultry, whole grains, vegetables Sulfur All protein foods (meats, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes and milk) Iron Red meats, fish, poultry, shellfish, eggs, legumes Iodine Iodized salt, seafood, dairy products, kelp Selenium Seafood, meat, whole grains, brown rice, vegetables Cooper Seafood, nuts, whole grains, seeds, legumes Manganese Nuts, whole grains, leafy vegetables Chromium Lean meat, vegetable oils, brewers yeast Cobalt Liver, kidney, fruit, vegetables Fluorine Available in water Molybdenum Legumes, cereals, organ meats Silicon Cereals, vegetables, beans and peas

     

    Wellness: Food & Nutrition
    Canine Nutrition Basics

    Whether you feed your dog a premium commercial food or prepare homemade meals, it is important to understand the fundamentals of canine nutrition. Here is a review of the basics to help you get started in making the right and informed choices for your dog.

    There are six major classes of nutrients: protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water.

    It all begins with energy, the basic requirement of life. The energy content(measured in calories) of a food is determined by how much of the first three elements the food contains. Vitamins and minerals are also essential for many functions of the body and, because about 70 percent of a dog’s body is made up of water, that too is critical.

    PROTEINS
    Proteins are complex molecules made up of amino acids, the building blocks of cell growth, maintenance and repair. In companion animals, one of the biggest demands for protein comes from the maintenance of fur and hair, which can use up to 30 percent of the daily protein intake, according to Barbara Fougère, BVSc.

    Proteins are made up of 20 amino acids. While dogs, cats and even humans produce about half of these amino acids internally, the other half, termed “essential amino acids,” need to be provided by the diet. The 10 essential amino acids are arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. If even one of these “essentials” is deficient, as Lowell Ackerman, DVM, explains, the body cannot make specific proteins effectively. Amino acids work in a step-by-step fashion to manufacture protein.

    If one of the steps is missing, the process stops. The biological value of proteins indicates how efficiently an animal utilizes them. Animal nutrition expert Donald Strombeck, DVM, notes that this value is high for proteins from meat, most meat by-products, eggs and dairy products. “Dogs digest these proteins efficiently and they provide amino acids in proportions suitable for tissue protein synthesis. In contrast, the biological value of most plant proteins is low, due to insufficiencies of specific amino acids and lower digestibility.”

    FATS
    Fats provide the most concentrated source of energy in the diet. They also supply the fatty acids that are important building blocks for important substances and essential to maintaining normal, healthy cells. Along with protein, fats contribute to a diet’s palatability, plus aid absorption of the fatsoluble vitamins A, E, D and K.

    Like protein’s essential amino acids, fat has its own essential fatty acids (EFAs): linoleic acid, linolenic acid and arachidonic acid. Because they make up an important part of every cell, they are also required by animals. Linoleic acid is the source of omega-6 fatty acids, and linolenic acid is the source of omega-3 fatty acids. According to Strombeck, animals need more omega-6 (linoleic acid) than omega-3 fatty acids for health.

    CARBOHYDRATES
    Although dogs do not need carbohydrates because their bodies can get energy from protein and fats alone, carbohydrates that can be broken down by the digestive system and converted to glucose can also be a source of energy. (Carbs can be the main caloric source in some dog foods.)

    Carbohydrates in the form of whole grains can furnish iron, minerals and fiber as well as other beneficial nutrients. Since cooking determines starch digestibility, and therefore its availability, starches need to be well cooked; otherwise, they tend to ferment in the large intestine. Carbohydrates can be found in vegetables and fruit, which also supply minerals, fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals and some protein.

    VITAMINS
    Fresh, wholesome food provides your dog (as well as you) with the best source of vitamins, organic substances required for normal functioning of the body. They are also important in the conversion of calories to energy. Ackerman points out that they are needed in only small amounts: “All of the vitamins needed by your dog on a daily basis could be provided by a fraction of a teaspoon.” (See chart on for ingredient sources for vitamins and minerals.)

    MINERALS
    Minerals are inorganic nutrients that make up less than 1 percent of a dog’s body weight but are essential to many important functions, such as growth and strong bones and teeth. They are classified as either macrominerals or microminerals. It is important to note that two of the macrominerals, calcium (the most abundant mineral in the body) and phosphorus, must be in balance and given in correct proportions (the ideal calcium:phosphorus ratio is between 1:1 and 2:1). Microminerals (also known as trace minerals) serve very important functions as well. Balance is critical with all minerals because they interact; too much of one can interfere with the absorption of another.

    BOTTOM LINE
    If you elect to feed your dog commercial food (and most of us do), here’s what to look for and what to avoid when you’re standing in front of a shelf of carefully designed bags, cans, pouches or boxes.

    • High-quality named animal proteins should be the first ingredient, and, ideally appear more than once as top items on the ingredient list. Note that whole meat is made up of a lot of water (up to 75 percent), so if a whole meat is listed as the first item, the food might not contain an equal amount of meat by weight unless there is another whole meat, or a specifically named meat meal (chicken meal, for instance, which is about 10 percent water). Avoid foods that use generic “meat” meal; the actual type of meat needs to be named: lamb meal or chicken meal, for example. Fat should also come from named source, avoid generic “animal” fat.
    • Whole fruit, vegetables and whole grains which contain the entire grain kernel. For example, rice rather than rice flour or bran. Refined grain products, gluten and mill runs should be avoided.
    • Natural preservatives like tocopherols (Vitamin E) and Vitamin C, or antioxidants like rosemary extract.
    • Avoid: All by-products (from meat, grain or any other source); added sweeteners (which are usually listed as grain fragments); artificial preservatives such as BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, propylene glycol; and artificial flavors or colors.

    Dry-Matter Basics
    When you compare different types of foods — canned, kibble, etc. or simply different brands — you need to keep in mind the moisture content so you can compare like to like. Use the dry-matter basis.

    First, establish the amount of dry matter by subtracting the percentage given for moisture from 100 percent. If the moisture is given as 10 percent, the food’s dry-matter content is 90 percent.

    Next, convert the protein found in the Guaranteed Analysis statement to a drymatter basis by dividing its percentage by the amount of dry matter (calculated in the previous step). For example, if the protein is given as 26 percent, it converts to 28 percent on a dry-matter basis (26 divided by 90). If the moisture level had been, say, 30 percent, the dry matter content would have been 70 percent and protein would have been 37 percent (26 divided by 70).

    You can do similar calculations for fat and fiber after converting their percentages to a dry-matter basis.

    TREATS
    Although treats are usually given in small portions (or ought to be!), make sure that you pay the same high level of attention to what’s in them as you do for all of your dog’s food. Look for organic, wholefood ingredients, including named meats, whole grains, lots of good fruit and/or vegetables and natural, food-based sweeteners (if they are used at all) — applesauce, honey or molasses, for example. Avoid by-products, artificial coloring, artificial flavoring and artificial preservatives. Look for individual portions that are easy to break into smaller bits.

    Treats are often high in calories, so factor them in when thinking about your dog’s overall food intake. It is recommended that “treat substitutes” make up no more than 5 to 10 percent of a dog’s diet. If the calorie count isn’t listed on the label, find out what it is before giving them to your dog. Contact the manufacturer for calorie information if need be.

    To keep bagged treats fresh — and make it a little more difficult for the diligent treat-hound to score — keep the bags sealed. If the seal doesn’t work (often they don’t), use heavy-duty zip lock–type bags or store them in glass or ceramic containers with tightfitting lids.

    Dogs love variety, and with the wide array of treats on the market, it’s easy to find a selection that will satisfy most co-pilots.

    News: Guest Posts
    How Do You Treat Your Dog?
    A plain old biscuit just doesn't cut it.
    treat dog ice cream vanilla custard catahoula rescue

    Desoto was a fast food fiend. It started out innocently enough. Years ago, after each obedience class, my late Catahoula and I would take a trip through the McDonald's drive-through where he would receive his own small fries. I savored watching him enjoy them almost as much as he enjoyed devouring them. As he graduated to more advanced sports and skills, his treats became more varied, including a Dairy Queen soft serve cone and the sausage from my breakfast sandwich.

    Last weekend, my mix, Ginger Peach, earned a vanilla custard cup from Culver's after a good day of agility showing. Of course, I got a treat, too, a chocolate concrete with Nestlé crunch. During the week, when I take my dogs on errands, they often receive complimentary treats: crunchy biscuits from the bank teller, Puppaccinos compliments of the Starbucks barista, and drool-worthy Pup Cups at a local custard shop.

    How do you treat your dog? Where is the most surprising place for your dog to get treats?

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