How many of you have gone into a store and stood in the pet food aisle and just starred at the countless options on the shelves? It can very difficult to choose the right food. You want to make a good choice but what is a good choice? Pet food companies have many tricks to get you to choose their food. Advertising is often misleading and some terms are intentionally ambiguous so it sounds better than it is. From the color of the bag, to words used to describe the ingredients-these play a big role in the decisions we make about what to feed our pet. This post is not intended to be an advertisement for any one food or company, though I do have my preferences. It is however, intended to educate.
My biggest pet peeve is misinformation on the internet and public hype being taken as fact and passed on from person to person without true thought or research. It is human nature to believe gossip and that is all half the stuff you read on the internet is….GOSSIP. It is not based on fact or research. It is based on someones subjective opinion and knee-jerk fear. I have no doubt that whoever puts that crap on the internet truly believes what they are saying, but it is a shame that we blindly take it as fact. I caution my clients that they should take everything they hear and read with a grain of salt and then look further. You can poll 5 different people and ask them what they feed their animal and get 5 different answers. Ok, lets be realistic…you can poll 50 different people and get 50 different answers. Does that mean that 49 of them are wrong? NO, not at all. You are allowed choice. You are allowed personal opinion. You are also allowed preference. That means your pet also has input. You may have the best food in the world from an ingredient perspective and be perfectly balanced for your animal’s needs but if your pet isn’t going to eat it, what good is it?
I want my clients to make educated decisions. I hope that I can help in that decision. I do not own stock in a pet food company. I do not work for a pet food company. I do not have a personal reason to recommend one food over another, other than I want your pet to be healthy and live a long time. It would honestly be my preference to not even carry pet food in my hospital, but unfortunately, nutrition is such an integral part of health and for convenience sake, my clients prefer to have a one stop shop as much as possible. We do carry prescription as well as wellness or maintenance diets. We actually stock products from three different companies. As a practice we chose the products that we felt were the most useful and clinically indispensable from a quality and treatment standpoint. We look for quality ingredients from a company with a strong emphasis on research and development and of course a consistent product that the animals will eat. These are the same key factors that you need to consider when choosing a food for your needs. We have to take into account affordability for our clients but unfortunately prescription diets will be more expensive than maintenance diets. We cannot and will not choose a diet based on price alone and neither should you.
Let me get the some nitty gritty about nutrition. I want to go over some buzz words that are being thrown around when it comes to pet food and human food too, but that’s a different article.
- Organic: (of food or farming methods) produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents. In order to be considered “organic”, all products must be grown on land that has been free of prohibited pesticides and substances for at least three years before harvest; In order for a processed food to be labeled organic, its handler must be certified organic and ninety-five percent of its ingredients must be produced organically. This percentage is determined by the weight of the final product. If a product has more than fifty percent organic ingredients, it can label this on the front of the product. If it has less than fifty percent organic ingredients, organic labeling can be displayed on he ingredient list. The Secretary of Agriculture establishes whether imported foods may be labeled organic based on whether they have followed regulations that meet the standards of the National Organic Program [Wikipedia].
- Natural: “Natural foods” and “all natural foods” are widely used terms in food labeling and marketing with a variety of definitions, most of which are vague. The term is often assumed to imply foods that are minimally processed and all of whose ingredients are natural products (in the chemist’s sense of that term), but the lack of standards in most jurisdictions means that the term assures nothing. In some countries, the term “natural” is defined and enforced. In others, such as the United States, it has no meaning; often assumed to be foods that are minimally processed or do not contain any food additives, or do not contain particular additives such as hormones, antibiotics, sweeteners, food colors, or flavorings that were not originally in the food.[Wikipedia] Believe it or not most vitamins and minerals are not considered “Natural”.
- Holistic: The dictionary defines holistic as “relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts”. Essentially, it means considering the needs of the whole animal, not just certain systems or particular aspects of nutritional needs. However, no definition of the term has been generally accepted by the pet food industry, and there currently are no regulations or legal definitions for labeling a food “holistic”, allowing for misrepresentation of the term and its implications of benefits. Moreover, based on the dictionary definition, all satisfactory pet foods are holistic. [This was taken off the Ohio State University website: http://vet.osu.edu/vmc/companion/our-services/nutrition-support-service/myths-and-misconceptions-surrounding-pet-foods]
- Filler: An ingredient in a pet food or any product for that matter that has no nutritional value at all [Me]. That does not mean corn or fiber. These two ingredients have nutritional value. Yes, even to dogs and cats.
- Grain free: Containing no grains like corn, wheat, barley, etc. This does not mean carbohydrate free. Often grains are replaced with other sources of carbohydrates like potato or carrot. [Me]
- Hydrolyzed protein: is protein that has been hydrolyzed or broken down into its component amino acids [Google]. This makes the proteins “unrecognizable” so to speak by the immune system and therefore do not cause an allergic response. I’m fairly certain that due to the processing required to create a hydrolyzed protein it cannot be labeled organic. I attempted to verify this online from a source other than my conversation with an executive at a pet food company, but it does not appear to be writing from a reputable source. I am basing it off the definition of organic however, and I have done the research there.
- Non-GMO: Used to describe a food or animal that has not been genetically modified. Genetically modified foods or GM foods are foods produced from organisms that have had specific changes introduced into their DNA using the methods of genetic engineering. These techniques allow for the introduction of new traits as well as greater control over traits than previous methods such as selective breeding and mutation breeding. [Wikipedia] I once had a painful conversation with a goat client about the body condition of her goats and the lack thereof and rec that she revisit her feeding practices. She says she only feed the good stuff. I asked what that meant. She proudly stated she only fed Organic and Non-GMO alfalfa hay. When I looked at this “good stuff”, it was clear to me that this alfalfa had almost no nutritional value at all. It was pitifully mature and stemmy with no leaf to it and it didn’t smell fresh at all. I tried as politely as I could to tell that it was crap and that is why her goats were dying. They were starving. Good hay is good hay. It needs to leafy, smell fresh and not make a dust cloud when you pull it apart. If you wouldn’t chew on it, do not expect them to either. I would rather feed non-organic hay that looked good and smelled good than feed Non-GMO, organic hay and watch them die.
Ok, so what does this mean? What is the best for my pet. Organic? Natural? Holistic? Grain free? Non-GMO? The answer to me is not based on the buzz words we just defined. To me the best food is one that is balanced for my animals needs taking into account their life stage and specific needs. I have an Irish Wolfhound puppy. I am not going to feed him a small breeds senior diet food. I am also not going to feed him a diet that is designed for weight loss. I do not look for “organic” or “natural” on the label. Those do not mean jack to me. As of right now, my puppy is not showing any signs of a food allergy so I am not worried about a hypoallergenic diet either, and by the way, the top three allergy causing components for animals are beef, dairy and wheat. I want a quality puppy formulated for larger breed dogs.
So what does quality mean? I define quality ingredients as those ingredients that meet a strict standard of healthy protein sources (non-diseased meat proteins from consistent sources) and contains no harmful organisms like Salmonella or mycotoxins. A quality food contains quality ingredients on a consistent basis and in a repeatable fashion so that I know without a shadow of a doubt that what it says on the bag is what is in the bag. The company must have strict quality control measures in place and perform regular testing on its ingredients and final product to ensure the safety of that food. The company must also adhere to a strict code of ethics when it comes to labeling and testing. Do not even waste my time with “holistic.” It means absolutely nothing.
It does not bother me that there is corn in my dog’s food so long as they used corn not loaded in mycotoxins. Corn can be a quality source of carbohydrate energy to just about all animals including humans. Dog are pretty much omnivores anyway. They’ll eat anything. Unlike their obligate carnivorous feline counterparts that must meet their daily intake taurine which is only found in meat. The most nutritiously balances diet for a cat is a mouse. An whole intact mouse-including the fur, bones, and grains the mouse has been dining on its mousey intestines. Gross huh? Just ask any carnivorous cat what part they eat first? The choicest parts are the guts after all.
Do not make your decision based on buzz words. Look carefully for yourself and do the research. Real research. Find reputable sources. Find repeatable sources, like multiple studies that came up with the same result. I do not formulate diets for my own animals (dogs, cat, horses, snakes and fish-well maybe the snake cause all he eats are mice) because I am not a nutritionist. It has been a long time since I balanced a ration. I bet every single one of my clients that feeds their animal a homemade diet is not a nutritionist either. If you are, then you feel my pain when everyone else professes to know what you know without the benefit of years of education and rigorous tests and final exams. I do not recommend that my owners come up with their own pet food diets. I strongly recommend that they purchase their food from a reputable company that is formulated for their animals needs. This goes for you horse owners too. I’m calling you out, those of you that custom mix your own “blends” by hand mixing a little bit of this and a little bit of that….uh hummm….Linda, cough cough. I subscribe to the KISS method (do I have to spell it out?). Pick ONE food that works and be consistent with it. You are not saving money by mixing a good food with a cheap food (and by that I do not mean less expensive) to make the good food go farther. What you are actually doing is diluting out the nutrients and having to feed more to get the same effect. Buy a good food and feed less-because you need less.
I despise the term “ALL STOCK”. Guess what, they have different nutritional requirements. They do not ALL need the same things in the same ratios. Someone is getting short changed.
In terms of price, well that is going to vary for each individual. I understand that not everyone can spend the same amount of money on food for their animals. That is alright. No judgment here. However, I ask that you honestly choose a food that is of the highest quality you can consistently afford. Also good quality does not mean you have to buy the most expensive food on the shelf. Again find a quality food and stick to it. Often times the most expensive bag on the shelf may be labeled organic or holistic and is priced high so you think it is the best choice (marketing 1o1).
It is easy to jump on the band wagon with the rest of the sheeple (sheep-people), but be careful where the wagon ends up. Even the people driving the wagon may not know where it’s going.
But don’t take my word for it. Look and decide for yourself.