IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT DOG FOOD
People across the globe are striving to improve their health – through exercise and proper nutrition. Every day we make informed decisions about the foods we eat. Companies have recognized this trend and have begun marketing low-fat, low-calorie, or low-carb versions of our favorite foods. But with all of this attention to our own health, we may be forgetting the nutrition of our loyal companion pets. Sure, pet food companies have created special formulas for overweight, older, or active dogs; but even these blends do not meet the necessary requirements for your pet’s health. In fact, studies have shown that your dog’s food may cause illnesses such as skin allergies, stomach problems, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
A BUSINESS FIRST PHILOSOPHY
Pet food companies are run in the interest of business first, while disregarding the interests of those who consume their products – your pet.
Pet food is produced and marketed with the owner – not the pet – in mind. Cute shapes, different colors, exotic flavors-these are characteristics that people have come to expect in their food. Think about colored ketchup, the staggering array of flavor choices for potato chips, and even pasta shaped like cartoon characters. Pepperidge Farm Goldfish(r) crackers, as an example, are shaped like fishs, complete with eye and smiling mouth. You can buy the regular cheddar ones or get the colored ones that come in purple, red orange, and green. The flavor-blasted crackers come in cheddar, nacho, BBQ, and even a flavor called “Xplosive Pizza.”
Kids love foods with different shapes, colors, and flavors. But what about your dog? The only characteristic that your dog is seeking in food is taste. Colored and shaped morsels are for your benefit, not your dog’s.
The whole point of marketing is to convince the consumer to purchase one product among a sea of similar products. Yet the image depicted by a company for their product is not always accurate. We are led to believe that our dogs are eating moist whole chicken, choice cuts of beef, fresh-picked grains, even chunks of real vegetables. Unfortunately, this is just an image
The pet food industry only uses ingredients that are unfit for human consumption. They make a profit from waste that would otherwise be worthless to them. Pet food companies owned by multinational companies include:
* Nestlé – Alpo, Come ‘N Get It, Mighty Dog, Chef’s Blend, Fancy Feast, Friskies, Kit ‘N Kaboodle, Deli-Cat, and Nestlé Purina products such as Dog Chow, Pro Plan, Beneful and Purina One
* Colgate-Palmolive – Hill’s Science Diet Pet Food
* Del Monte – 9-Lives, Kibbles `n Bits, Cycle, Gravy Train, Nature’s Recipe, and Reward
* Procter & Gamble – Eukanuba and Iams
* Mars – Pedigree, Advance, Cesar, Whiskas and Sheba
Another leading pet food, Nutro, is not a multinational company.*
Multinational companies who own dog food manufacturing companies are in the perfect relationship as far as business is concerned. According to the Animal Protection Institute, the benefits of being a multinational company include:
1. Greater buying power
2. Existing customer base
3. Readily available funds
4. Accessibility to cheap ingredients
PET FOOD STANDARDS
Not all pet foods contain poor quality ingredients, but you have to read and understand the labels in order to make an informed decision. Unfortunately, pet food companies use obscure terms to describe the ingredients that go into their products.
One pet food company claims on its web site that “pet foods identified as 100% complete and balanced contain all… required nutrients… in the proper proportions.”
While it is true that pet foods must meet certain standards set by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) in order to be labeled as “complete and balanced,” there are problems with the quality of the standards themselves.
In “What’s Really in Pet Food,” the Animal Protection Institute describes how up until the late 1980’s, the pet food standards were set by the NRC (National Research Council of the Academy of Science). Their standards, however, required feeding trials for a pet food to be labeled “complete” and “balanced.” The pet food industry rejected the feeding methods, claiming that they were “too restrictive and expensive.”
AAFCO created the “Nutrient Profiles” testing method as an alternative to feeding trials. Some larger companies still use feeding trials, because they are more reliable at determining the nutritional value of a pet food. Most companies, however, perform a chemical analysis of the food to test if it conforms to the “Nutrient Profiles.” The Animal Protection Institute explains that testing does not take into account factors such as “palatability, digestibility, or biological availability of nutrients in pet food.”
To compensate for the test’s faults, AAFCO created a “safety factor,” whereby companies add extra nutrients as a guarantee of achieving the requirements. Many nutrients are lost during manufacturing, especially for extruded (puffed and shaped) foods. Companies add additional vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in order to meet the standards for “complete and balanced” labeling. In her book Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food, Ann Martin notes that in some cases the minerals added are unchelated, meaning they do not readily combine with proteins, so they pass through the body practically unused. In other cases, the excessive amounts are absorbed, which can be dangerous and even deadly.
Another issue with AAFCO standards is the designation of one standard feeding profile for all types and breeds of dogs. William D. Cusick – researcher, author, and self-proclaimed “Animal Advocate” – points out that some dogs shed their coats while others don’t. Each type of dog requires different nutrients for their fur, not a diet that is designed for an imaginary “average” dog. Some dogs excrete oils from their skin. These dogs do not require the same amounts of fatty acids as other dogs. Activity levels vary between breeds and even among dogs within a breed. Certainly these pets require different nutrients that cannot be met with one standard nutrient profile.
UNDERSTANDING PET FOOD LABELS
In addition to these issues with the standards set by AAFCO, there are further problems with the pet food industry’s labeling practices. The labels follow a secret code, and consumers do not have the key to decipher it. In fact, most consumers do not even realize that there is a hidden meaning in the label’s wording.
The “Flavor” Rule states that a food may be labeled as “Beef Flavored Dog Food” even if it does not contain any beef, as long as the flavor is “sufficiently detectable.” This is achieved by using meals, by-products, or various parts from the animal listed on the label.
When a label reads “With Real Turkey,” a consumer may assume that he is purchasing quality turkey dog food for his pet. However, according to AAFCO’s “Nutrient Profiles,” a label may use “with” if it contains 3% of the meat, excluding water.
The 25% or “Dinner” Rule states that any label that has a qualifier such as “dinner,” “entrée,” or “nuggets” must contain at least 25% of that meat. If two ingredients are listed, such as “Chicken and Liver Dinner,” then the total product weight must equal 25%. The first ingredient listed must contain more than the second, and the second ingredient must comprise at least 3% of the total product weight excluding water for processing.
Very few all-meat commercial foods are available, because they do not provide a balanced diet. Some companies offer canned meats with 95% and 100% of one ingredient as a supplement. To qualify for using “all” or “100%” on a label, a food must contain 95% of that ingredient or 70% of the total weight excluding water for processing. If the label reads “Beef and Liver for Dogs,” the food must contain a combined amount of beef and liver to total 95%, and again there must be more beef since it is listed first.
DOG FOOD INGREDIENTS
The protein in dog food comes from poultry, cattle, fish, lambs, swine, and other animals. Choice cuts are stripped away for human consumption. This leaves approximately 50% of the carcass including bones, blood, intestines, lungs, ligaments and any other portion not usually eaten by humans, according to the Animal Protection Institute.
Material received from the slaughterhouse is “denatured” to prevent it from being manufactured for human consumption. Denaturing involves covering the raw meat with any number of substances including the federally approved substances of carbolic acid (phenol, a potentially corrosive disinfectant), fuel oil, kerosene, crude carbolic acid, citronella, or creosote (used to preserve wood or as a disinfectant). Dr. Wendell Belfield, DVM, former USDA Vet, stated that as a veterinary meat inspector, he used carbolic acid and creosote, both of which are extremely toxic. Creosote, with its distinct odor, “was used for many years as a preservative for wood power poles. Its effect on the environment proved to be so negative that it is no longer used for that purpose.”
At the rendering plant, the meat is shredded and cooked at high temperatures until the fat separates from the meat. This process is seen on a small scale when you boil chicken on your stove. The fat floats to the top; and if allowed to cool, it will harden in a thick layer. The fat is removed to be used later. The water is squeezed from the remaining material to create meat and bone meal. Although rendering kills bacteria, it also removes nutrients and proteins needed for energy.
Meat and bone meal is made of more than just meat and bone. All kinds of things find their way into the rendering pot. In addition to slaughterhouse waste, animals that fit within the 4D Rule are also rendered – that includes animals that are disabled, diseased, dead or dying. Other rendered items include restaurant grease and leftovers, road kill, euthanized companion pets complete with flea collars and the green bags in which they are transported, grocery store items such as meat and baked goods that are past their expiration date (Styrofoam tray and plastic wrap included) and much more.
AAFCO defines meat and bone meal as: “the rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.” David C. Cooke writes in his article “Animal Disposal: Fact and Fiction” that it seems hardly feasible that rendering plants would be able “to remove the hair and stomach contents from 600,000 tons of dogs and cats prior to cooking them.”
Meat by-products are defined by AAFCO as: “the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone, partially defatted low-temperature fatty tissue and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hooves.”
No recipe exists for the meat material produced by the slaughterhouses and rendering plants. Meat by-products and meat and bone meals vary from batch to batch creating an unstable source of nutrition for pets.
Although many sources are opposed to the use of by-products in dog foods, Laura Michaels, the owner of Woodhaven Labradors feels differently. She states that just because humans do not consume a particular part of an animal does not mean that part lacks nutrients. People do eat intestines; they’re known as chitlins. Grocery stores sell the cow’s stomach; it’s called tripe. Some people even eat pork brains in milk gravy in their scrambled eggs. These parts are all by-products used in pet food. The owner of Woodhaven Labradors pointed out that in the wild, animals “don’t go for the ‘meaty haunch’, they go for the gut and pull out all that gooey stuff and eat it.”
The food that comes from the manufacturing plant is so rancid that no dog would touch it. So why does your dog come running when you open a new bag of commercial pet food? Because that overpowering odor wafting from the bag smells like dinner to him. Fat is sprayed directly on the morsels of food, and that is what you and your dog smell. The fat that entices him to eat is gathered from the rendering plant, restaurant grease, and other sources of fats and oils that are too rancid for human consumption. The restaurant grease is gathered from various establishments and stored in huge drums, sometimes outside for weeks at a time in extreme temperatures. Fat is also used as a sort of glue to stick other flavors to pet food morsels. These flavors and the sprayed fat trick pets into eating the food.
Many dog foods list corn, corn products, or other grains on the ingredient list – usually two of the top three ingredients. The amount of grain products has steadily increased since the first commercial pet foods. The biggest problem posed by the nutrients in grains is digestibility. As much as 20% of the nutritional value of grains can pass through the body unused, however pet food companies still list this as viable nutrition on the label. Some grains are used as fiber and others to make dogs feel full. Peanut hulls, for instance, have no nutritional value but are a cheap form of fiber.
We all know that our pets enjoy meats – especially cats, who are true carnivores – so why are we feeding them corn? It all goes back to the pet food industry focusing on business first. Grains are a cheaper energy source, so grains are better for their bottom line.
Types of grains used in pet foods include wheat, soy, corn, white rice, potatoes, beans, oats, and peanut shells.
Additives & Preservatives
Additives are used in pet food for any number of reasons, but they have no nutritional value. Artificial colors and flavors are added to improve appearance and taste. Emulsifiers prevent the separation of water and fat. Antioxidants prevent the fat from turning rancid. T.J. Dunn, DVM of ThePetCenter.com notes that the exceptional amount of additives in commercial dog foods “simply reveals the trickery needed to coax dogs and cats into consuming such material.”
Semi-moist treats are especially full of additives, preservatives, and dyes. Ann Martin writes of a woman who “fed her cat some of these semi-moist tidbits. The cat became ill shortly after eating them, and even professional carpet cleaners could not remove the red dye from the carpet where her cat had been ill.”
Pet foods are able to be stored for long periods of time – from manufacturing through shipping to the grocery store shelves and your home. More preservatives are used in dry foods than moist, since canning is a method of preservation in and of itself.
The fats used in pet foods are preserved with either synthetic or “natural” preservatives. Common synthetic preservatives include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and ethoxyquin. Little research has been done on these potentially dangerous chemicals. They are used at low levels; however, our pets consume them every day of their lives. According to the Animal Protection Institute of America newsletter, “Investigative Report on Pet Food,” ethoxyquin remains in dogs’ bodies for months after it is removed from their diets. After the FDA received many complaints regarding pets that ate foods containing ethoxyquin, it required Monsanto, ethoyquin’s manufacturer, to perform a detailed study. Monsanto found no major safety issues with its own product, but the FDA requested that manufacturers lower the amount of the antioxidant from 150 ppm to 75 ppm. This was not required of manufacturers, only requested until further studies can be made. API points out that even though ethoxyquin is approved for human use at 100 ppm in spices such as chili powder, it would be quite difficult for one to consume as much chili powder in a lifetime as a dog does dry dog food.
Some manufacturers are switching to natural preservatives, such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E, because of the publicity concerning ethoxyquin’s safety. Natural preservatives are not as effective as synthetic ones, however they are safe. Consumers should be wary of dog foods that are labeled as “all natural,” “preservative free” and other such labeled products. Dr. Lisa Freeman, DVM, writes in her article, Nutrition, that there is no legal definition of “all natural,” and that “manufacturers define products by what they believe these terms mean.” Sometimes a manufacturer may not have added any preservatives, but the meat or other ingredients may have had preservatives added to them by suppliers.
ILLNESS & DISEASE
Low quality ingredients, excessive chemical additives, and poor labeling standards all result in problems for your companion pet, from skin allergies to cancer.
The manufacturing processes of rendering and extruding may kill bacteria, but they do nothing to destroy the toxins produced by bacteria. Other toxins that are not necessarily removed during processing include:
* Hormones, such as those used to fatten livestock or increase milk production
* Insecticide from flea collars on euthanized companion pets and patches from livestock
* Condemned and contaminated material from slaughterhouses
* Sodium pentobarbital, the drug used to euthanize pets
Even the grains used in pet food can be contaminated and may cause sickness and disease. Improper drying techniques or storage methods and low quality grains often result in the growth of mold or fungi. The toxins produced can cause vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, liver damage, lameness, or death.
Nature’s Recipe was forced to recall thousands of tons of dog food in 1995, and in 1999 Doane Pet Care recalled 54 brands of dry dog food including Wal-Mart’s Ol’ Roy because of fungal toxins. Twenty-five dogs died in the Doane Pet Care case, and 250 dogs became ill after eating the contaminated Nature’s Recipe.
Another factor that may cause sickness in your dog is how you feed him. The directions for feeding your pet are not always the healthiest feeding practices. Some puppy or kitten foods recommend moistening the food with water or milk. Leaving the wet food at room temperature is a breeding ground for bacteria. Another common feeding instruction is to feed your pet one time a day. It is better to feed two smaller meals than let the food sit, especially if you use canned food. Adjust portions so that your pet eats as much as he needs without leaving any in the bowl. Feeding only one meal a day has been known to cause irritation of the esophagus from stomach acid. Just as smaller more frequent meals are better for humans, they’re better for our pets as well.
Cusick says “the feeding practices listed on dog food packages are written for a hypothetical animal that does not exist: the ‘average’ member of the sub-species canine.” Every breed has different nutritional requirements to meet their various physical characteristics and needs. Feeding the same diet to every dog will cause problems and sickness for these animals. For example the NRC report entitled “Nutrient Requirements of Dogs” shows that a Collie requires 270 IU/kG of vitamin D. However there are other breeds of the same weight that only require 8 IU/kG. Cusick points out that if you were to feed one of these other dogs the correct nutrition for a Collie, it could be toxic; but if you fed the Collie the lesser amount, it would not be sufficient for his needs.
API warns that some companies list higher portions on their labels in order to force consumers into purchasing more of their product. They note that Procter & Gamble took the opposite route with their Iams and Eukanaba brands. They decreased the recommended feeding portions and then claimed that their product was cheaper to feed pets. A competing manufacturer sued Proctor & Gamble after they conducted an independent study that found the feeding levels to be inadequate to maintain health. Jerry Sicherman, president of Nutro, states “Iams is not only being sued by Nutro for false and misleading claims, but they are also being sued independently on the same charges by Kal Kan, and in a consumer class-action suit that has been brought against Iams in California.” According to the Wasserman, Comden, Casselman and Pearson L.L.P web site, consumers who have purchased Iams since the label change in 1999 have filed a class action lawsuit. The suit claims that Iams misled consumers by lowering the portion sizes. It also refers to five independent studies testing Iams feeding instructions and statements made by the company. In all five studies, the humane officer terminated the study because of “significant weight loss suffered by the dogs following Iams’ feeding instructions.”
Ann Martin says if you skip commercially packed foods completely and feed your pet foods you’ve made yourself, you’ll discover that “the amount fed is about half of what is listed on lower grade commercial foods.” The reason is that your pet is using all of the nutrition he’s getting instead of it passing through his body unused.
API recommends that if you must use dry commercial pet foods, change brands and flavors every three to four months. Change gradually, mixing the old and new so that your dog has a chance to get used to the new food. Also, try to feed canned food, too, because it contains more meat protein than dry dog food. You should also try to supplement commercial pet foods with organic meats and steamed vegetables.
Dr. Jeff Feinman, Certified Veterinary Homeopath, recommends that pet owners feed the freshest food available to their pets, offer a variety, and serve it in moderation. Feinman says that his advice certainly “sounds like how we should eat.”
Pet food companies have responded to problems in the past by adding needed supplements to prevent illness and disease. For instance, the amino acid taurine is now added to cat food to prevent blindness and heart disease. Potassium is now added to cat foods, since research showed an insufficient amount in cats’ diets was causing kidney failure. In addition, large breed puppy food was created to prevent bone and joint disease caused by excess calories and calcium in regular puppy formulas.
Yet one wonders if continually adding supplements is the answer. Instead of trying to “fix” a poor quality product, pet food manufacturers should work on improving their product – starting with its core ingredients: meat, grains, fat, additives and preservatives.
Pet owners do have options besides paying the sometimes outlandish prices for sub-par pet food. If you must purchase commercial pet food from your local grocery store, try to find one that uses feeding tests rather than the “Nutrient Profiles.” Try brands that advertise themselves as “natural,” but read the ingredients. Remember that the definition of “natural” is dependent upon the manufacturer’s interpretation. Be sure it does not contain by-products or rendered meat and bone meal. API recommends avoiding special formula foods like those touted as “senior” or “light.” These may contain “acidifying agents, excessive fiber, or inadequate fats that can result in skin, coat or other problems.”
Premium dog foods have higher standards in choosing ingredients and in processing methods. Premium foods still vary from brand to brand, but often the formula does not change from bag to bag like it might with economy brands. The ingredients are better, artificial dyes are not added, but antioxidants and vitamins are, and the food is easier to digest, according to the PETCO Care Sheet on Premium Dog Food. All of these extra touches result in higher quality nutrition for your pet, but with less food consumed.
According to Nan Weitzman and Ross Becker in The Dog Food Book, the main difference between Economy, Premium, and Super Premium dog foods is the clean up. The Economy brands had fewer nutrients per package and the recommended feeding portion was 6 cups a day. The Premium brand had more nutrients than the Economy packages, but less than the Super Premium. The feeding instructions recommended 3-1/4 cups per day. The Super Premium offered the best nutritional value and suggested an average of only 1-3/4 cups of food per day. All measurements were for a 40-lb. dog. “Thus, the big difference,” state Weitzman and Becker “is in the poop!”
Super Premium dog foods contain better ingredients than in the Premium brands. Most brands use only human-grade ingredients. They also do not use synthetic preservatives like ethoxyquin, but use Vitamin C or Vitamin E instead. They do not use artificial flavors or colors. Super Premiums may be more expensive, but your pet is receiving concentrated nutrition packed into smaller portion sizes, which can be more economical.
Premium dehydrated dog foods offer excellent nutrition because the process of dehydration removes only the water content from the product, while the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and phyto-nutrients remain. Dehydration is considered to be one of the best methods to preserve food because it is a gentle, time-proven process. Many of the ingredients in dehydrated dog food are considered to be raw because the process of dehydration uses moderate temperatures, but meat and egg ingredients are dehydrated at higher temperatures that will kill any bacteria that is present in the food.
Many premium dehydrated dog foods are made with all-natural, human-grade ingredients. The process of dehydration concentrates the nutrients in the food, so manufacturers don’t need to add any vitamins or minerals to make it nutritionally balanced, as in most commercial foods. Additionally, this type of dog food is lightweight, easy to store, and simple to prepare.
Organic or natural dog foods are becoming more common as people begin to focus on their own health and the health of their pets. AAFCO defines a natural product as “a feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources” that may be altered through processing, including rendering, as long as it has not been “subject to a chemically synthetic process” or contain additives or preservatives that are synthetic.
Organic dog food offers diets of human-grade ingredients without dyes, additives, or synthetic preservatives. Some brands offer baked food for a great taste and aroma as well as improved digestibility. These brands return to the basics, giving your dog the best nature has to offer.
Holistic diets treat your whole pet – from nutrition to environment to all-around well being. The foods are all natural and chemical-free. The holistic approach offers many treatments that were formerly for humans only, such as herbology, acupuncture, homeopathy, and chiropractic.
The BARF diet – Bones And Raw Food – returns your dog to his wild roots. This regime recommends feeding your dog raw, meaty bones and finely ground vegetables. It is important not to cook the food, but serve it as your pet would find it in the wild. The vegetables should be chopped into very tiny pieces – like he would find it in the gut of his prey – so that your dog’s body will be able to process the nutrients.
Some experts claim that the best food for your pet is the food you make yourself. Advocates of a raw food diet recommend feeding your pet fresh meals instead of prepared foods. This requires some planning and preparation, since you cannot buy fresh dog food in a bag. With a little foresight, however, you can prepare enough food for several days to compensate for those days that you are running a little short on time.
Pros for homemade dog food include:
* Fresh, natural foods
* More meat for your “almost-carnivore”
* Less illness and disease
* Healthy, shiny coat
* Higher energy level
* Reduction in body odor, including fresh breath and odorless stools
* Strong, clean teeth
* A happy, healthy dog
Many recipes are available for homemade dog food. They vary in ingredients, suggest different proportions of ingredients, and some offer supplements. The trend in recipes appears to lean toward raw meats as opposed to cooked ones. Lew Olson, PhD Natural Health, recommends raw meats “because heat destroys the amino acids a dog needs.” Debbie Tripp and Peter Brown, Breeders of Bernese Mountain Dogs, agree that raw is best. They feed their dogs the BARF diet and note that cooking “changes the bones’ makeup, and it is not a useable product to the dog anymore.” They also point out that cooked bones tend to splinter, which could seriously injure your pet.
Suggested meats include beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, and fish. You can also use meats such as buffalo, venison, elk, rabbit, or goat if it’s available. Carol Gravestock-Taylor writes that lamb and rice should not be used often. Dr. Maxwell, DVM, states: “It was meant to be introduced as an alternative protein, but if dogs are eating it every day, it is now worthless to us for use as an alternative food. Owners of allergic pets will have to go to exotic protein/carbohydrate combinations like Ostrich and Millet, or Duck and Potato.”
Organ meats such as kidney, liver, and heart are also recommended on an occasional basis – approximately once a week. You may also blend organ meats in with other meats, but should not exceed 20% according to Dr. Olson.
As to the question of Salmonella or E. coli, Tripp and Brown state that “many cases of food poisoning have been traced to careless handling of raw meat and poultry around… kitchen surfaces. These problems are more of a health risk for the humans in your family – not your dog.” They also point out the canine’s high concentration of stomach acid, beneficial bacteria within the digestive tract, and short gastro-intestinal tract. All of these characteristics make it difficult for harmful bacteria to affect dogs.
Raw, meaty bones are another ingredient in many homemade recipes. Although most suggest a large, meaty bone for chewing as an occasional treat, some recommend smaller bones as a part of your pet’s daily diet. The BARF diet, for example, suggests bones – especially raw chicken backs and necks – to fulfill your pet’s calcium and phosphorous requirements.
In addition to the nutrients that bones supply, they also clean and strengthen your dog’s teeth. And dogs love them. You’ve never seen your dog enjoy commercial dog food the way he enjoys a good meaty bone.
Although some experts recommend bones, others are just as adamant that bones – raw or cooked – are not healthy for your pet. T J Dunn, Jr. DVM of ThePetCenter.com posed the question of the benefits of bones to several experts in the field, including veterinarians, researchers, and biologists. The responses overwhelmingly vetoed bones as a regular source of nutrition. One of the main concerns of feeding bones is splintering. Many of the responses that Dr. Dunn received mentioned that in the wild, canids eat the hide with the hair along with the bones. It is the hair that protects the animal’s systems from the bones that they devour. Debra Davidson, a wildlife biologist who helped raise captive wolves at the International Wolf Center, states that when the animals defecate after eating a whole carcass, “hair can be seen in the feces actually wrapped tightly around any bones that are passed through. This seems to protect
the organs/passageways as the bones are eliminated.” Dunn performed research of his own by placing a large, raw, meaty beef bone in a vice and tightening it until the bone cracked open. The result was bone fragments, large and small – many of them with sharp points. Dunn recommends finely ground bone, if you must feed bones for nutritional content. He believes that the nutrients that raw bone proponents are seeking are “mostly derived from the meat, fat and connective tissues attached to those raw bones more so than from the actual bone itself.”
Dr. George Collings, an expert in pet nutrition at Sunshine Mills, addressed the issue of using bones as a source of nutrients, pointing out that “nutritionally, the extra calcium and phosphorus to the diet is an issue.” Dr. Collings reports that excess calcium impedes digestion and interferes with the absorption of some nutrients. Extra phosphorous can cause kidney disease. Dr. Collings also mentions the protective attitude that dogs adopt when fed a bone, often growling, even at their owners.
The experts queried by Dr. Dunn recommend feeding an occasional large bone “for enrichment purposes,” however they recommended using bones with little or no meat on them. Susan Lyndaker Lindsey, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center, believes that feeding bones reiterates a dog’s natural behavior and “the gnawing helps in development of musculature,” however there is no nutritional value in feeding bones as a part of a domesticated dog’s regular diet.
Eggs and eggshells are other ingredients that often appear in homemade dog food recipes. Pet-Grub.com warns not to feed raw eggs too often, since it can cause a loss of biotin, a B-vitamin. The site recommends that “eggs should be soft-boiled to kill the avidin, which is the cause of the biotin problem.” Eggshells should be dried overnight and finely ground before mixing it with the meat.
Your dog needs vegetables in his diet, as well as meat. The vegetables should also be raw in order to maintain all of their nutrients, but you should chop them until they are very fine. Use a food processor, blender, or if necessary, a hand grater, in order to make the vegetables as small as possible. Dog’s bodies are unable to process whole vegetables. In the wild, they get their vegetables in the bellies of the animals they eat, so it is already broken down for them. You can use any number of vegetables. Switch often to see what your dog likes and use a wide variety. Pet-Grub.com recommends that if you use squash, you should cook it first to soften the rind.
Some dogs enjoy fruits in addition to vegetables. Take clues from your pet. Offer a variety, and chop them up as you would the vegetables.
Other optional ingredients include cottage cheese, yogurt, finely ground seeds and nuts, oils, and garlic, which is a natural flea repellant.
Dr. Olson suggests feeding your dog twice daily at 2% to 3% of his body weight (i.e. a 100 lb. dog would get 2 to 3 lbs. of food per day). Pet-Grub.com recommends feeding mature dogs 50% meat and 50% vegetables, but puppies should get a higher ratio of meat. The site also recommends adding hot water to the mix just before feeding. This fulfills several functions. “The hot water takes the chill off the food, replaces the water naturally found in prey, and volatizes the odour [sic].” Please remember that these are only guidelines.
Pet food companies will continue to sell to consumers what barely passes as food as long as the sales are good. Remember, they play by a “business first” philosophy. Boycott inferior pet foods. Tell your family and friends. Tell your co-workers and neighbors. Tell the grocery store clerk and the bank teller. And by all means, write your legislators. The pet food companies are living in a lawless land where pets become pet food. Cusick writes, “We are not being truthfully informed as to what is going into a food and are unable to read a pet food label to know what is in the food.” He tells of a former AAFCO President, Herschel Pendell, who when asked if euthanized pets were in pet food replied, “If the ingredients list meat or bone meal, you don’t know if it is cattle or sheep or horse… or Fluffy.” Write to your legislators and demand that labeling laws be made for the pet food industry. Pet owners do not knowingly feed their pets other companion pets or foods that may cause liver damage, cancer, or any number of other illnesses.
Your pet is not just an animal. He’s a member of your family. Take the time to protect him. Read the ingredients on his food, or better yet, give him food made with human-grade ingredients or fresh food you’ve made yourself. Force the pet food industry to realize that sometimes a “business first” philosophy is the worst thing for a business.
* Please note that all brands may be registered or trademarked.