The Best Food to Feed Your Dog – Part I
We are starting the year off with a three part mini-series on 'The Best Food to Feed Your Dog.' Because there seems to be as many varied ideas on the subject as there are different types of dog food, the subject warrants a more in-depth look at the facts. When dog foods and diets are the topic of conversation, it oftentimes becomes a controversial subject that generates opinions and stirs an abundance of emotions. The purpose of this mini-series is not to criticize or condemn anyone for the way they feed their dogs, but to provide facts and information about commercial dog foods, their ingredients, and how they can negatively affect the health of your dog. This information is provided to give you the knowledge and information you need to make the best choice for feeding your dogs.
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Part I begins with a brief history of dog food, how it got started and some of the marketing strategies manufacturers used to sway consumers and increase sales growth. It briefly discusses some of the pet food testing done in the past and ends with a recap of the pet food recalls since 1995. In Part II, Lew takes a closer look at the biggest, and perhaps the most harmful and detrimental 'filler' used in dry commercial dog foods, and how it affects your dog's health. Part III wraps up the mini-series with a more in-depth discussion on commercial dog food – the ingredients, preservatives, added synthetic supplements and how the contents of that attractive dog food bag not only provides inferior nutrition to a fresh food diet, but how over time, feeding processed food to your dog overtime can set the climate for a variety of serious health issues.
There have been many debates over the last few years about what is the best food to feed your dog. Opinions are varied and can run fast and furious. Some people feel commercial dog food is the only way to go to insure 'complete and balanced' meals for your dogs. Others feel a raw diet is best, as this diet is a 'species specific' diet for canines – a carnivore. Others claim home cooked meals are best, as they are made with fresh food, but foods are cooked to destroy any harmful bacteria. I have seen people lose friendships over their opinions on this subject and I have witnessed heated arguments reduced to yelling and insults.
This is an emotional topic because of people's numerous opinions and different beliefs. However, oftentimes people lack the facts on the subject, which can hinder any newcomer who may be searching for good information.
People frequently ask me my personal opinion on this subject and in most cases, I answer as diplomatically as possible. I don't want to alienate anyone with the idea they *must* feed their dogs a certain way. My best hope has always been that dog owners be encouraged to get the facts, learn more, and gain the confidence to improve their dog's nutrition over time.
In my book, “Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs”, I go into great detail on the history of feeding dogs and the history of dog food. I encourage anyone who wants to gain more information to read the book. The pet food industry began with the idea that slaughter house waste and grain mill leavings could be used together to make a profit! These ingredients were made into dog food and the end product filled a 'niche' by offering convenience to busy dog owners with little time. The concept caught on quickly and the pet food industry began. As competition grew, manufacturers started using different ploys to increase sales, one of which included advertising their pet food as 'complete and balanced'. They also used tactics to instill fear in the public about their ability to feed dogs properly and they created alarm over the safety of feeding fresh food, which they labeled 'table food'. While processed pet food is a relatively new concept, most pet owners today are rendered uneducated, helpless, fearful or inexperienced in home preparation of meals for their dogs.
Trying to convince dog owners with little experience on feeding raw or home cooked diets is generally met with resistance. They have been told by their veterinarians and clever dog food marketing tactics that feeding anything else is dangerous and out of their realm of ability. So in this newsletter, I am going to talk specifically about commercial dog food, and why I think it is the poorest choice to feed dogs. This information may help some readers feel more confident about moving forward with a fresh food diet for their dogs and for others, it may offer the facts and information they need for a more educated argument on why feeding fresh food is a better choice.
Pet Food Recalls
While Pet Food Recalls may seem like a recent event, problems with commercial pet food have been occurring since the 1960's. Prior to 1960, the problems are unknown, as testing for content and nutrition standards was not as regulated. In the mid 1960's, dogs began developing problems with dry flaking skin, poor coats and dull coat color. Even puppies, as young as 3-4 months of age began developing skin problems.
It was discovered that increased competition caused pet food companies to cut costs. As a result, more fiber and vegetable protein sources were used in the food. One issue with these ingredients is that vegetable foods contain phytates, which block the uptake of zinc and other minerals. When this issue was identified, pet food companies added zinc to their formula's, which eliminated this problem. This problem resurfaced again in the early 1980's with the poor economic times. This was before the advent of the internet, so it is unknown how much the mineral deficiency affected dogs at that time. Zinc deficiency is reported to cause idiopathic epilepsy and encourage demodectic mange in dogs. (“The Role of Zinc in Canine and Feline Nutrition”, by Charles Banta, from the book “Nutrition of the Dog and Cat”, Cambridge University Press, 1989)
In the mid 70's an independent laboratory was hired to check the ingredients of dog food. 78 brands were evaluated, and over 50% did not meet their guaranteed analysis listed on the bag.
Similar tests were performed to evaluate dog foods for digestibility. These tests were done to compare the percentage of protein listed on the dog food label to the percentage of that protein that was truly digestible and useable by dogs. Most dog foods tested lacked digestibility due to the poor protein sources used and the dogs tested showed poor growth and development and poorer blood work values. (“1985 Revision of the NRC Nutrient Requirements of Dogs” by Ben E Sheffy, from the book, “Nutrition of the Dog and Cat”, Cambridge University Press, 1989)
If pet owners had been more informed about how proper nutrition and diet affects the health of their dogs, I can only imagine that more problems might have been discovered. However . . . the advancement of the internet did allow the news to get out and the problems with dog food were beginning to be revealed. The public started learning that the 'complete and balanced' products recommended by veterinarians and dog professionals had problems. Below is a list of pet food recalls since 1995 that was put together by Born Free USA. http://www.bornfreeusa.org/facts.php?p=359&more=1:
· In 1995, Nature's Recipe recalled almost a million pounds of dry dog and cat food after consumers complained that their pets were vomiting and losing their appetite. The problem was a fungus that produced vomitoxin contaminating the wheat.
· In 1999, Doane Pet Care recalled more than a million bags of corn-based dry dog food contaminated with aflatoxin. Products included Ol' Roy (Wal-Mart's brand) and 53 other brands. This time, the toxin killed 25 dogs.
· In 2000, Iams recalled 248,000 pounds of dry dog food distributed in 7 states due to excess DL-Methionine Amino Acid, a urinary acidifier.
· In 2003, a recall was made by Petcurean “Go! Natural” pet food due to circumstantial association with some dogs suffering from liver disease; no cause was ever found.
· In late 2005, a similar recall by Diamond Foods was announced; this time the moldy corn contained a particularly nasty fungal product called aflatoxin; 100 dogs died.
· Also in 2005, 123,000 pounds of cat and dog treats were recalled due to Salmonella contamination.
· In 2006, more than 5 million cans of Ol' Roy, American Fare, and other dog foods distributed in the southeast were recalled by the manufacturer, Simmons Pet Food, because the cans' enamel lining was flaking off into the food.
· Also in 2006, Merrick Pet Care recalled almost 200,000 cans of “Wingalings” dog food when metal tags were found in some samples.
· In the most deadly recall of 2006, 4 prescription canned dog and cat foods were recalled by Royal Canin (owned by Mars). The culprit was a serious overdose of Vitamin D that caused calcium deficiency and kidney disease.
· In February 2007, the FDA issued a warning to consumers not to buy “Wild Kitty,” a frozen food containing raw meat. Routine testing by FDA had revealed Salmonella in the food. FDA specifically warned about the potential for illness in humans, not pets. There were no reports of illness or death of any pets, and the food was not recalled.
· In March 2007, the most lethal pet food in history was the subject of the largest recall ever. Menu Foods recalled more than 100 brands including Iams, Eukanuba, Hill's Science Diet, Purina Mighty Dog, and many store brands including Wal-Mart's. Thousands of pets were sickened (the FDA received more than 17,000 reports) and an estimated 20% died from acute renal failure caused by the food. Cats were more frequently and more severely affected than dogs. The toxin was initially believed to be a pesticide, the rat poison “aminopterin” in one of the ingredients. In April, scientists discovered high levels of melamine, a chemical used in plastics and fertilizers, in wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate imported from China. The melamine had been purposefully added to the ingredients to falsely boost their protein content. Subsequent tests revealed that the melamine-tainted ingredients had also been used in feed for cows, pigs, and chickens and thousands of animals were quarantined and destroyed. In early May, scientists identified the cause of the rapid onset kidney disease that had appeared in dogs and cats as a reaction caused by the combination of melamine and cyanuric acid, both unauthorized chemicals. The fallout from this recall is ongoing as of May 2007 so please be sure to check the FDA website for the most recent updates.”
(thank you to the Born Free USA website for such wonderful research!)
Between fungal poisoning, food ingredient discrepancies, mineral imbalances, toxins found in pet foods and bacteria such as salmonella, one should certainly question the safety and integrity of processed, commercial pet foods.
Stay tuned in February for Part II as Lew takes a closer look at the biggest, and perhaps the most harmful and detrimental 'filler' used in dry commercial dog foods, and how it affects your dog's health.
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