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News: Guest Posts
Are Vegan Dogs the Future?
Humane Society goes into the dog food biz

Earlier this month, the Humane Society of the United States announced it would be marketing an all-natural, vegetarian, organic dog food called Humane Choice—responding to the public’s desire for a cruelty-free option with ingredients we can trust. I admire the work of the HSUS, but I greeted this announcement with a big, Huh?

  First, is it really a good idea for a nonprofit advocacy organization to go into a commercial venture supplying food to the animals they are supposedly working to protect? Isn’t that a conflict of interest? Especially, when food safety is such a controversial and important issue.   Second, vegetarian dogs? Really? No animal protein—someone is going to have to explain this to my dogs. To me, this sort of feels like the last straw in remaking dogs’ in our own image. I’m no food expert but Susan Thixton at TruthAboutDogFood.com isn’t liking what she sees on the label. Here’s what she has to say about the first five ingredients: “Organic ground canola seed, organic brown rice, organic soybean meal, organic buckwheat, organic flaxseed. This dog food would rate in Petsumer Report three paw prints on a five paw print scale. It does not contain chelated or proteinated minerals (for better absorption); it does not contain probiotics (to build a stronger immune system).  An email sent yesterday (2/5/10) requesting country of origin information of ingredients has not been responded to; my guess would be some vitamins and minerals are sourced from China.”   And don’t get me started on the fact that the food comes from Uruguay. What about supporting our farmers? Not to mention the environmental impact of creating a new product that has to be sent from another hemisphere. I really want to hear what Bark readers think. Is this the future? Does it make sense to you?

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Keeping Track of Recalls
FDA compiles pet food recalls in a searchable database

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently launched a searchable pet food recall database, similar to the resource that already exists for humans. The database contains the 971 pet food recalls that have occurred since the beginning of 2006. It’s scary to think that there have been almost a thousand recalls in the past four years alone.

I’m glad, however, to see that the FDA is responding to the growing need for resources like the new database and the Pet Health and Safety Widget that they created last year. The best part about the pet food recall database is the ability to easily see if a company has a bad track record, information that everyone should have at their fingertips. I’m hoping that the FDA will make a similar database for pet drug recalls.

I’ve always relied on the FDA web site and various dog e-mail lists to keep myself informed of the latest recalls. The database and the widget definitely make this easier. How do you stay on top of the growing list of recalls?

News: JoAnna Lou
Providing for War Dogs
Deployed military pups face a shortage of rations.

Military canines in the United States date back to the First World War  Now America has the largest fleet of working dogs in the world with over 2,800 military pups. Over 600 of those dogs are currently deployed in the Middle East, where their handlers face a tough predicament when it comes to the animals’ care. 

The recent increase in troops sent to Afghanistan has led to a surge in military dogs, which has also caused a shortage in quality dog food. These high performing canines are in the field everyday, searching for explosives and accompanying patrolling soldiers. They require a special diet made in the United States that’s high in protein and other nutrients. 

The food is shipped from the U.S. to Pakistan and trucked to the troops in Afghanistan. However, space on the vehicles is limited and the priority is placed on transporting human food and supplies. The unexpected increase in both troops -- human and canine -- has put a strain on the system.

I understand that this is a hard situation all around. I can’t imagine how hard it is to deliver sufficient quality supplies. But it’s ultimately the government’s responsibility to only send troops overseas if their basic needs can be met -- human and canine.

While researching what pet lovers could do to help the K-9 teams, I discovered Girl Scout Troop 60667’s Care Packages for K9s project.  Last November, this group from Macon, Georgia wanted to show their support for military dogs and their handlers. 

The Girl Scouts started Care Packages for K9s to assemble both canine and human supplies such as training aids, grooming tools, medical supplies, and protective gear for the dogs, as well as cards created by the Girl Scouts. As of this month, they’ve collected over $3,000 in donations and have shipped over 360 pounds of supplies and equipment to 32 military working dog teams stationed all over the world.  

While Care Packages for K9s doesn’t send food, the treats and supplies are sure to bring cheer to the handlers and their trusty dogs in Afghanistan.

News: Guest Posts
More Salmonella Contamination Feared
FDA issues a “health alert” for Merrick Beef Filet Squares Dog Treats

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to consumers not to use Merrick Beef Filet Squares for dogs distributed by Merrick Pet Care with a package date of “Best By 111911” because the product may be contaminated with Salmonella. This is not the same as a recall. The report says: “Although no illnesses associated with these products have been reported, the FDA is advising consumers in possession of these products not to handle or feed them to their pets.” Read the complete advisory for additional information on Salmonella infection.

News: JoAnna Lou
Full Belly for the Holidays
PetParadise coordinates a three-state food drive for needy pets

In March, I wrote about the emergence of pet soup kitchens, whose numbers are growing amid the current economic state. Unfortunately, not all communities have this type of resource available for those in need. 

The multi-state pet boarding and daycare resort, PetParadise, noticed that, across the board, many people were struggling to keep their pets, while donations were down for area rescues. As a result, the company decided to team up with local shelters, food banks, and super markets to coordinate the first annual Food for Paws, a three-state food drive for needy pets during the holiday season. 

The food collected at their Jacksonville, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., locations was given directly to families in need. The donations at their Houston, Tex., location went to Rescue Bank and helped more than 73 area rescue groups.

To increase participation, PetParadise offered a free night of boarding to people who donated 20 pounds of food. Their efforts resulted in over four tons of pet food for hungry pets, an amazing feat, particularly for their first year.

It’s great to see communities come together to help each other out. Food drives, like Food for Paws, not only collect supplies for those in need, but also bring attention to the economy’s effect on pets. Hopefully more companies will be inspired to use their resources to support events like Food for Paws in the future.

News: Karen B. London
Pet Food Claims Allowed to Be Deceptive
Normal advertising laws don’t apply.

The Federal Trade Commission requires that advertising can’t be deceptive and that it must be truthful. It’s not clear why this does not apply to pet foods, but apparently it doesn’t. In fact, according to the American Association of Feed Control Officials, the labels on pet foods can have qualified or unqualified claims, and these may be direct or indirect. In other words, pet food labels can say things, such as “balanced nutrition for a long life,” or “natural complete nutrition,” or “helps maintain healthy body weight” whether these statements are true or not.

This seems odd given the regulations on advertising in other areas, including human food. What if candy wrappers had claims, such as “balanced nutrition for healthy body weight” or “it’s just like eating spinach.” Surely this sort of misleading and deceptive advertising should not be allowed on pet food labels either.

Obviously, avoiding commercial pet food in favor of raw food or other diets more closely related to what dogs ate several decades ago is one way to avoid the problem of misleading advertising altogether. Still, for people who use prepared dog or cat food regularly or even occasionally, truth in advertising could help keep pets healthier.

News: Guest Posts
Dog Bowl Bailout
One-time offer aims to get free chow to dogs in need.

The folks at Dogswell, a pet food company in Los Angeles, are reaching out to Americans who’ve been stung by the economic downtown/collapse/crisis (take your pick) by offering a free bag of dry dog food to the first 10,000 eligible people to submit a Bow-Wow Bailout redemption form, through May 15, 2009. It’s about time dogs got a little piece of the recovery action. We love a marketing strategy that puts food in the bowls of dogs who need it.

Individuals and families with long-term challenges feeding their dogs may find food support at their local animal shelter or food bank. According to JoAnna Lou’s story in The Bark (March/April 2009), at least 68 organizations nationwide currently offer pet food assistance to those in need. Visit the Humane Society of the United States for more information about assistance in your area.

News: Guest Posts
Better Than Liverwurst
Is dog food just pâté by another name?

“Tastes like dog food” may not be the insult you think. According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, only 3 of 18 human participants in a blind taste test were able to identify dog food from among samples of pâté, liverwurst, Spam and Newman’s Own dog food. While I think this says more about the competition than about dog food, the results highlight something we all suspect about taste—that it’s about much more than taste buds.

 

Personally, I’m happy about the results because I’m always a little freaked out by how much I want to snarf my dogs’ peanut butter and molasses cookies. Still the test leaves one question unanswered: Faced with the same selection, which do dogs prefer?

 

News: Karen B. London
FDA Investigates Nutro Dog Food
Illnesses may be linked to food. UPDATED.

[Editor's Note: ConsumerAffairs.com has reported that the FDA is denying reports of an investigation into Nutro, contradicting individuals who say they have been contacted about Nutro by FDA investigators, as well as others in the FDA. We'll keep following this story. Meanwhile, readers have posted some interesting comments including an inside perspective from someone who claims to be a former employee.]

 

There has long been talk that Nutro Dog Food may be responsible for illnesses in many dogs, but the company has denied these claims and maintained that their food is safe. It may be some time before the truth is sorted out, but we do now know that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating the company.

Food safety continues to be a huge issue for both people and our pets, and we must be cautious about everything we feed our dogs. It may be a long time before we know whether or not Nutro Dog Food is causing these problems, but the fact that an investigation is underway to determine the truth is a good thing.

News: Guest Posts
Consumer Reports Tackles (Not Really) Pet Food
Maybe a better source for insight on GPS collars and robot dogs

When I turn to Consumer Reports, it’s usually for the skinny on things with plugs and engines. Last time I subscribed online, I was in the market for a refrigerator. So I was surprised to see them shine their high beams  (only sorta) on pet food in the March '09 issue. The basic advice was sound: Ignore fancy packaging and unverified claims, read the labels, don’t assume the most expensive is best.

But some aspects of Q&A: Vets Weigh In on Fido’s Food nagged at me, especially the opening caveat: “All but one [of the veterinarians interviewed] have received some funding from the pet-food industry.” Give me Whole Dog Journal food reviews anytime.

I also felt a twinge when I read this advice: “Be careful when making your own pet food. Most experts said they hadn’t seen a pet get sick from inexpensive food; however, half said they had seen pets become ill from eating homemade pet food, a growing trend since the 2007 recall of some commercial pet food contaminated by melamine.” I’m not a nutrition expert but the suggestion that people can’t home-prepare food better than a giant extruding machine half-way around the world really sticks in my craw.

I was also disappointed by the lack of detailed help in interpreting ingredient lists. For example, there is no advice about avoiding meat by-products, processed grains or artificial preservatives. As much as I love CR, I'm disappointed they squandered this opportunity to reach a wide audience with sorely needed smarts.
 

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