food & nutrition
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Update on calorie labeling standards
In the wake of the 2007 recalls, Congress ordered the FDA to work with state regulators and the industry to develop national standards for pet food processing and labeling. We’d like to go on record right away as seconding the need for better regulation of pet foods.
We were pleased when the FDA announced a hearing on pet food labeling standards for May 13, 2008. We asked to attend the hearings, but when we didn’t get a reply from the FDA, we decided not to bother. We were surprised that we didn’t hear anything much about the hearings afterwards, but Christie Keith of PetConnection.com explained why. Hardly anyone came, she said, and the FDA shut down the hearings after 90 minutes.
We did see a handful of short press accounts, but these covered only one item of testimony: the American Veterinary Medical Association called for calorie counts to be listed on pet food labels. This proposal hardly seems groundbreaking, but the Pet Food Institute, the trade association for pet food manufacturers, vigorously opposes it. So calorie labeling for pet foods, just as it does for human foods, makes news.
Because obesity is now as much of a health issue for pets as it is for humans, we can hardly believe that calories are not required to be listed on pet food labels. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the group that oversees what is printed on the labels, says that listing calories is voluntary unless the product claims to be “lite.” If companies do list calories, these “shall be separate and distinct from the Guaranteed Analysis and shall appear under the heading Calorie Content.” In our experience, some pet food companies reveal calorie counts on their labels or websites, but most do not.
In the United States, roughly 60 percent of the human population is overweight, and obesity is a worldwide problem. In developing as well as industrialized countries, as many people are overweight as suffer from extreme malnutrition. Pets have joined this trend. Perhaps up to 60 percent of dogs in America also weigh more than is healthy for them. Just as with people, being overweight raises the chance that pets will develop diabetes, heart disease, joint problems, urinary tract disorders and cancers. Most important, thinner dogs live longer. But owners may not even be aware that their dogs are overweight. Surveys have found that veterinarians consider 44 percent of the dogs they see in their practices to be overweight, but only 17 percent of owners view their pets as anything but normal.
The basic explanation for obesity trends in humans and dogs is the same: eating more calories than are expended in physical activity. For dogs, the fattening trend is explained not only by reduced activity, but also by the increasing use of high-calorie dry pet foods as well as treats. Premium dog foods, for example, are deliberately made to be highly concentrated in calories so the animals won’t have to eat as much to satisfy their appetites and will produce less poop. Treats may not look calorific, but they have calories, and sometimes lots of calories. If owners don’t take treats into account in feeding regimens, dogs can quickly pack on the pounds.
Calorie labels would seem to be an obvious way to address this problem. Other veterinary groups also have called on AAFCO to require calorie labeling. In January of this year, the AAFCO pet food committee agreed to look into the matter. Like most such committees, this one will be doing a thorough study that is likely to take years. In the meantime, the Pet Food Institute opposes calorie labels on the grounds that they are unnecessary and will not prevent obesity in pets.
We are baffled by this stance, since it seems so consumer unfriendly. Owners are totally responsible for the food intake of their pets, but figuring out how much food a dog needs is a real challenge. Dogs vary in their calorie needs. Some dogs regulate their body weight well and will not become overweight even when given continuous access to food; others are gluttons and will overeat in such situations. The feeding directions on pet foods offer general guidelines but cannot account for a particular animal’s activity pattern or disposition. And then there are the mysteries of calories in treats; you have no way of knowing how many each has.
The only way to know for sure that your dog is gaining weight is to weigh him regularly. If he is, you need to feed him less and exercise him more. Feeding less is also not so easy to do, because the number of calories your dog needs is tricky to figure out. Veterinarians determine calorie needs using a formula based on weight and expected activity, but these needs are not in direct proportion to body weight (the formula involves a fractional exponent). Smaller dogs need more calories to maintain the right weight for their size than do larger dogs. Without a clear idea of calorie requirements, you have to adjust food intake by trial and error. Our conclusion: More information about calories could help.
Will calorie labeling eliminate obesity in pets? Of course not, but it could be useful, especially if accompanied by information about the calorie needs of dogs based on size, age, condition and activity levels. We think that the time has come for calorie labeling of pet foods and treats. And we cannot think of a single good reason not to do it.
This exactly parallels the situation in New York City, where the Health Department wants fast food outlets to post calorie information on menu boards. Surprise! The New York Restaurant Association (NYRA) strongly opposes this measure for now-familiar reasons: unnecessary and useless. Although the NYRA still is fighting the measure, restaurant chains must post calorie information. For many customers, including us, the information is a revelation. Our favorite example so far: a blueberry-pomegranate smoothie that sounded wonderfully healthy until we saw its 1,100 calorie count. No wonder the NYRA doesn’t want customers to know such things.
So let’s get those calories onto the labels of commercial pet foods as well as onto treat packaging. Let your veterinarian, AAFCO and the FDA know that you want calories revealed. Use those customer call numbers and website addresses on package labels to ask pet food and treat companies to give you the calorie counts. We think calorie labeling will be required eventually, but we’d like to see it come sooner rather than later.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
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.
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.
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: 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.
B: What is your position on the “cooked” versus “raw” diet?
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.
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?
Wellness: Health Care
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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
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?
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.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Adapted from Allegretti and Sommers, Fougère, and Ackerman
MacromineralsCalcium 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,
Chloride Fruits, vegetables, milk, grain
MicromineralsZinc 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
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 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.”
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 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.
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 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.
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