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Natural diets for pets

posted June 26th, 2013 by
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greenacres0626

More and more people are choosing to feed their families healthier, but what about your furry family members?

Diet is one of the first places to start improving health and well-being and there are many options available when it comes to feeding your pets.

GreenAcres Market in Jenks will host a discussion on natural diets for dogs and cats this Saturday at 10 a.m.

Led by produce manager Rick Miller, topics will range from how to read labels on high quality kibbles or canned foods to raw diet plans.

Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/events/371117582988321/.

- Lauren Cavagnolo, [email protected]

They are What They Eat

posted May 27th, 2013 by
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by Nancy Gallimore Werhane

Whole chicken, corn gluten meal, whole grain wheat, turkey meal, brewer’s rice— just a few of the ingredients you may find on your dog’s bag of kibble.

When it comes to feeding our dogs, we want to make the best choices, but read any dog food label and let the confusion begin. Add creative marketing and appealing product names to the mix, and the choices become immediately overwhelming.

So how do you decide which food is right for your dog? Dr. Jennifer Miller, a veterinarian at 15th Street Veterinary Group in Tulsa, says that pet food ingredient labels have become a hot topic of discussion with her clients and with consumers in general. According to Miller, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding pet food ingredients, and that makes it increasingly difficult for consumers to make an educated choice.

One way to start to make sense of it all is to follow two basic rules that I came up with in the course of researching this topic:

1. If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.

2. If it sounds terrible to you, it might just be really good for your dog.

So first things first, a name is pretty much just a name, but the pet food bag is actually a legal document. “If you are looking at a particular pet food website or watching a commercial, and they make a big claim about their food that doesn’t show up on their food bag, then it may not be true and could just be part of an advertising gimmick,” Miller says. “Make sure you read the bag.”

There’s a lot of fancy terminology being thrown around in conjunction with pet foods these days, so it’s important to understand which terms actually have legitimate meaning and which words just sound good from a marketing perspective. “What we have to keep in mind is that some of the terms used in promoting dog foods have no legal definition and can be used by anyone that wants to make a claim,” Miller says.

The word “organic” is a term that has been assigned a legal definition and is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AA FCO )—a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies that regulates the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies.

According to USDA regulations, organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones during their lives.

Organic food is produced without using harmful, conventional pesticides; fertilizers containing synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. If you are looking for an organic food, Miller says you should look for the USDA organic seal on the bag. That seal means 95 percent or more of the diet content is organic.

“Natural” is another term with a legal definition. Miller explains that a food claiming to be natural must have ingredients that are found in nature, not artificial or manufactured, and without ingredients that are chemically altered.

On the other hand, she points out that the term “holistic”—a word widely used in pet food marketing—has no legal definition relative to pet foods. “Anyone can claim their food is holistic with no standard for the ingredients chosen,” Miller says.

Pet food manufacturers are also required to state maximum and minimum concentrations of nutrients that must be present for small and large animals in various life stages. Every bag or can of dog food also includes a statement provided by AA FCO detailing how a food’s nutrient content has been verified. Miller explains that pet food can either be formulated—meaning the nutrient content is verified in a laboratory—or it can be tested through a feeding trial.

In the feeding trial, the food has not only been laboratory tested, but has also been fed to animals in the appropriate life stage for a required length of time to show that the animals thrive on the food

“A pet food company that has taken the time and money to have feeding trials performed on their food has essentially proved that their diet works as they claim it does,” Miller says. “The feeding trial method is considered to be the gold standard.”

All product claims, testing, and marketing hype aside, it would seem you could just read the list of ingredients to decide which food is right for your dog. Simple—that is, until you walk to the dog food aisle of your local pet store and stare at row after row of brands and varieties with a dizzying plethora of formulas and ingredient options.

For example, here are the first several ingredients found in three popular dog foods:

1. Whole grain corn, poultry by-product meal, corn gluten meal, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), meat and bone meal, soybean meal, egg and chicken flavor…

2. Chicken meal, brown rice, barley, oatmeal, chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), ground flaxseed…

3. Deboned lamb, oatmeal, whole ground barley, turkey meal, whole ground brown rice, peas…

So which food would you pick? If you’re anything like me, you’re still confused. Back to the classroom we go, and here’s where we touch on my “if it sounds terrible, it may actually be good for your dog” rule

“Probably the biggest myth is that meat by-products are horrible for your pet, and if it doesn’t have a whole meat product as the first ingredient, it isn’t good,” Miller says. “The big issue with this statement is in the legal definition of the ingredients.”

For example, Miller explains that when a pet food label lists chicken by-products as the protein, that means a chicken carcass that has had all of the meat used for human consumption removed (breast meat, wings, thighs, legs), but still contains the cleaned organ meat and bones with leftover meat on them.

While this definition of the term “by-products” sounds anything but appealing to the majority of the human race, it likely has our canine counterparts drooling and actually affords them an excellent source of protein.

Here’s where it gets even trickier, according to Miller—when the label lists whole chicken as an ingredient. It is actually the same thing as the chicken by-product meat, but without all of the cleaned organ meat. This means there is a higher bone (ash/mineral) content to protein ratio.

“Consumers think that they are getting an entire chicken because that is what it sounds like, but legally that is not what it means on an ingredient label,” Miller says.

That brings us to meal. Many dog food labels will list a meat meal as the protein source. Certainly a whole meat ingredient sounds more appealing than something that is a meal. Take chicken again, for example. You might be more likely to buy a food that lists whole chicken as the first ingredient over a food that lists chicken meal.

Guess again. Miller’s colleague, Dr. Erin Reed, explains that in commercial dog food, a high grade meat meal can actually be a better source of digestible protein than the whole meat from which it was made.

Meat meal is the dried end-product of a cooking process known as rendering in which the water is cooked away. The residue is then baked into a highly concentrated protein powder better known as meat meal.

Whole chicken contains about 70 percent water and 18 percent protein, while chicken meal contains just 10 percent water and 65 percent protein. That’s more than three times the protein per pound than whole chicken contains. So maybe now chicken meal doesn’t sound so bad, right?

Armed with a little knowledge, you can make a responsible decision when choosing the bestdiet for your pet. If you want to take it one step further, Miller suggests that you contact the pet food company directly.

There should always be a contact phone number for the pet food company on the packaging, and Miller suggests you ask if they have a veterinary nutritionist on staff. You can find out how and where the food is manufactured, and ask any other questions you may have to try to make a well-educated choice for your pet.

If none of the packaged meals sound appealing to you, you may consider preparing home-cooked meals for you dog, but Miller cautions that the do-it-yourself route isn’t easy either. “If there are consumers out there who truly want to make a home-cooked diet for their pets, there is nothing wrong with it,” she says

“However, it is extremely important to follow a recipe that offers a balanced diet. Feeding your dog chicken and rice with some veggies isn’t going to cut it in the long run because the mineral content will not be balanced.” She suggests visiting petdiets.com or balanceit.com to find a recipe to meet your dog’s dietary needs.

What it boils down to is there are a lot of great commercial pet foods readily available. These foods are designed to meet your pet’s specific nutritional needs at various life stages. On the other hand, there’s a lot of low quality dog food out there too.

As tedious as it may seem, it’s your job to read the labels, sort through the facts, know your dog and any specific needs he may have, and then make the most educated choice possible.

It’s always a great idea to discuss dietary concerns with your veterinarian. Many veterinarians, like Miller, are well-versed in pet food lingo and can help guide you through the pet food aisles. Just remember that appealing names and pretty photos on dog food packaging are designed to catch your eye but may not represent the true quality of the food inside. Do your homework… your dog is counting on you!