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Newark, DE 19711

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They Are What They Eat!


Oh my gosh. My husband is bringing home an obligate carnivore. What do I serve for dinner?

Obligate carnivores are animals that depend on the nutrients only found in the flesh/muscles/organs of animals for their survival. Domestic cats are obligate carnivores requiring a diet of primarily animal flesh and organs. This means that our cats have high protein requirements and their metabolisms can't synthesize certain essential nutrients (including retinol, arginine, taurine, and arachidonic acid), and thus they rely on animal flesh in their diet to supply these nutrients. Caution : when reading the list of raw ingredients in your cat's food, if soy ( a plant) is listed, the manufacturer is using that to increase the protein level instead of meat.

The discussion continues as to whether dogs are omnivores or carnivores. The best conclusion is that they are NONobligate but carnivores none the less. They thrive on a meat based diet but are adaptable to an omnivorous diet. My friend feeds the grocery store brand to Bella. He compared the nutrient analysis and both meet the AAFCO requirements.

Protein levels and fat levels are listed as minimums per AAFCO requirements, and are determined by chemical analysis. So what are the true levels? Does one food have 22% protein and the other 30% percent? Quite a big difference, but you might never know. Similarly our state has mandated minimum wage for everyone employed in the state, but actual salaries are quite varied.

Fiber and moisture are listed as maximums according to AAFCO, but often on quizzing some manufacturers even they cannot provide actual numbers.

There are also AAFCO requirements for fat soluble and water soluble vitamins, and minerals, some with minimum levels and some with maximum.

Be aware that as is indicated on the AAFCO website, AAFCO does not regulate, test, approve or certify foods in any way. They merely set the standard and it is the responsibility of the pet food company to comply. Additionally, once a food is tested and approved, it is this way forever. Better pet food manufacturers continually test a sampling of every lot that is produced. You might consider contacting the manufacturer of the food you currently feed and ask about the absolute nutrient levels and testing.

Have you considered the source of the protein? Meat or plant? Source and digestibility of the fiber, and what is the quality of the meat or the origin? I chose my brand because it is suitable for all life stages, so she can eat it from babyhood to senior life.

REALLY!? Almost all of my clients know that puppies need puppy food and kittens need kitten food. But why do some pet food manufacturers state that theirs is a food that would be appropriate for all life stages? Surely an 8 week old kitten has different needs than a 12 year old cat.

AAFCO has only two categories: growth/reproduction and adult maintenance. Growth/reproduction formulas must have more protein, calories, calcium and phosphorus therefore it will meet the minimums for adult maintenance. It may however be too high for some adult pets and specifically seniors. Look at that bag. It has pictures of meat chunks, peas, wheat, corn and carrots on it. I tried it and my dog loves it.

Pictures of these ingredients are no guarantee that those ingredients are in that bag and are in balanced and nutritive amounts.( Although the bags also have pictures of cats or dogs on them, there are no pets inside).

Palatability of a food is no guarantee of nutrition. Most folks like cookies, but they are not to be the main part of a person's diet. Similarly I do not believe that the sweeteners SUGAR and SORBITOL should be in dog food, although a popular manufacturer of their best selling dog food lists them as ingredients. I only feed my Rhapsody Dr. Spoof's Diet since it is all natural and holistic. The chicken in it is all human grade.

Holistic has no legal definition pertaining to pet food and therefore is meaningless. since anything can be legally labelled holistic.. Human grade also has no AAFCO definition.

Organic foods are regulated by the USDA and so have a definition for foods for human consumption. If the requirements are met it will bear a USDA organic stamp on the package. Organic as it pertains to pet foods is also meaningless, since it is not defined by AAFCO.

Natural pet foods however do have an AAFCO definition and therefore requirements are to be met before that label claim can be made. The term refers to the growth, processing, and additives of and to the pet food. Food manufacturers may state made with natural chicken but the rest of the ingredient list might not adhere to the requirements.

Be aware that none of these label claims guarantees the quality of the products.

As yet, there has been no scientific data that proves that the feeding of grain free, natural, holistic, organic, or raw pet food diets are of more benefit than the feeding of pet foods that do not make that claim.

Confusing, isn’t it? Advertising makes it even more so. I wonder what nutritional education did Dick Van Patten, Rachel Ray, or Caesar Milan receive? Barbie says “I cook my pet’s food. I put in meats, vegetables, rice, and vitamins. I found the recipe on the internet”.

What is the protein level of that food? What is the calcium and phosphorus level of that food? What is the fat level, vitamins, A, D, E, or K? Who formulated the recipe? Has it been analyzed? I have yet to meet the client that can answer those questions. Although we love them as family members, pets have very different nutritional requirements than us.

Is your pet's food at least formulated and proven to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO as determined by laboratory analysis or proven to be nutritious by feeding to live animals and consistently monitoring their health? Stated another way, the ingredients of oatmeal cookies are wholesome but are they nutritious?

There are companies that will analyze your recipe and sell you the additives to balance it. There are also companies that will sell you a pet recipe that nutritionists have designed. These are listed at the bottom. Ms. J. Tarzan only wants to feed her pet the raw or BARF (appropriately named) diet.

This woman should speak to Barbie, since I have the same questions for her. In addition to nutritional deficiencies of this diet, bones frequently cause digestive upset, obstruction and cracked teeth. Raw food also carries the risk of parasites (Toxoplasmosis), Campylobacter, Salmonella and resistant strains of E. Coli. Not a nice thought for pets playing (and pooping) in the backyard with the kids.

A study in 2012 failed to find any health benefit to feeding the raw diet. My vet said that my pet is overweight but I feed her a weight maintenance food.

Weight maintenance is not diet food. It is not labeled as such, and sometimes contains more calories than that brand's maintenance diet. (Example: Iams Healthy Naturals dog food has 352 calories per cup, but Iams Weight Control has 363.) If your doctor says that you need to diet, that is distinctly different than saying you need to maintain.

Remember calorie need is also based on age, health, and activity level and total calories means just that- include all treats in that calculation! Ms. Betty Cooker likes to add cooked meat to her pet’s food every day. Why is that wrong?

Since nutritionists design the better pet foods and we assume that these pet foods are totally balanced, Ms. Cooker is unbalancing the diet. Think of twin toddlers on a balanced seesaw and one of them is replaced by a 5 year old child. Oops, now one is much less and the other side is abundantly unbalanced.

The same applies to too many treats and the addition of table food. People tend to feed goodies based on people size not the size of the pet. Be a raw ingredient label reader.

  1. Does your pet food contain bone meal (ground bones). Has this been done because the protein has been derived from grains more than meat, so additional levels of calcium is needed?
  2. Does your food list "whole grain corn, chicken byproduct meal, corn meal etc ? (This is a corn diet), to disguise the preponderance of corn (since food ingredients are listed by weight). It is similar to saving oranges and orange juice - still a lot of citrus!
  3. Animal derived protein is very important in pet foods. It contains all of the amino acids necessary for our cat and dog friends, and it is easily digestible. For that reason it should be listed as the first or second ingredient. Chicken, beef, fish, turkey, lamb meal has less weight than the fresh meat, so to be listed as the third ingredient is perfectly fine. Be aware that meat meal is a generic term and so could contain the meat of any animal.
  4. Grain free ( no corn, rice, wheat, oats, barley or millet) does not mean carbohydrate free. Potatoes and other veggies are carbs, too. Grains provide a good source of fiber and energy.
  5. Corn and wheat despite the bad press are very good sources of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and is well utilized by dogs. (Remember our obligate carnivore cat friends cannot use nonmeat sources well.) Past studies have found that corn is actually one of the least likely to cause allergies in pet food. And from where did the gluten free need arise in pet food? Wheat gluten is more than 80% protein. Advertising and Dr. Google, no doubt.
  6. Improper nutrition can be linked to such problems as constipation, obstipation, urinary crystals and obstruction, poor growth, dental disease, obesity, nervous systems disorders, abnormal bone growth, heart disease, retinal disease, skin disease, gastrointestinal disorders to name a few. Why take the chance?

What food do I recommend to you?

I use and recommend the foods that have been tested and proven nutritious in the living beasties, not the test tube.

Feed appropriate to your pet’s life stage and health needs. Purchase from a reputable manufacturer with whom you can consult specifically and one that guarantees and continually tests their food. (Have you ever tried to research the ingredients of store brand pet foods, or where they are manufactured or where their raw materials originate? It can be near impossible.)

There are quite a few very good pet foods that meet these requirements, but there are also those that frankly are quite bad. Let’s discuss it the next time we see your pet.

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