This is Part II of an article by Sheltie Nation member & guest author Ann Compton. You can read Part I here. (Ann is an accomplished Animal Journalist with more than 20 years specializing in canine topics. Currently, she writes a weekly column on animal care for one of Connecticut’s newspapers.)
This year’s widespread pet food recalls came as no surprise to some industry watchers, who have predicted a disaster such as this for quite some time and wondered what it would take to make manufacturers sit up and take notice. The shame is that it took the lives of more than 4,000 dogs and cats to date. More than 100 brands’ products have been recalled since this past March.
Even more astounding is that initially, no one could isolate the reason for the illnesses overtaking the nation’s pets. A variety of questionable ingredients were floated and speculation abounded, up to and including intentional poisoning, before the Food and Drug Administration was able to identify the cause as wheat flour containing the chemical melamine, sold as wheat gluten imported from China.
Some pet food companies are crying “foul,” claiming they didn’t know wheat flour was used in their food. Others have vowed to improve quality control—sorely lacking in most cases and long overdue.
The trouble is that most pet food companies outsource the manufacture of their products. Menu Foods, the culprit in most of the recalls, is a primary manufacturer of canned pet food. Typically, the food is produced from a recipe given to the manufacturer by the pet food company, who assumes its recipe is followed.
Therein lies the problem. Many pet food companies do not manufacture their own food, and have little or no oversight into how, or with what, it is actually made. Manufacturers supply the ingredients; in some cases, pet food companies don’t even know the sources for them.
If there is any good news from this tragedy, it is that companies will be pressured to manufacture their own food or, at the very least, control the ingredients through audits or quality controllers in the manufacturing plants. Natura Pet Food, makers of top quality natural brands Innova, California Natural, and Evo, has pledged on its website to buy or build its own facility for the manufacture of its food.
While all this is ongoing, however, what should you, the consumer, do to assure the safety of the food you buy for your pet?
Pet food bags should list an expiration date, as well as the telephone number of the company so that if you do have a problem or a question on any aspect of your animal’s feeding, you have someone to call. This is also why it’s important to keep the bag your food comes in, even if you transfer the food to another container.
Check the website of your pet food company. Most list whether they manufacture their own food, as well as any precautions they have taken to ensure their food is safe. If they don’t, ask—or switch to a food that does supply this information.
Be alert to your pet’s eating habits. If your dog suddenly turns fussy and refuses his food, there’s a reason. He may not immediately become sick. Stop feeding the food and call the manufacturer to check on whether there have been any other reports of problems. Contact your vet to alert him to your pet’s symptoms and see how to proceed. Switch your pet to another good quality food, but don’t feed more than one brand at the same time. This makes it more difficult to identify a problem and isolate the cause.
There are three basic ways to feed your dog: a commercially prepared food, whether dry or wet; a home-cooked diet, or a raw food diet. Most of us opt for the first, although the second two alternatives are excellent. If you choose a home-cooked diet, be sure to consult one of the many excellent recipe books available on what your pet needs in terms of nutrients to make his meal balanced and complete.
There are prepared packaged supplements that can be added to home-cooked diets to make them nutritionally complete for convenience’s sake. The same is true of raw food diets, available prepackaged at local natural pet stores.
A good list of resources for both home-cooked and raw food as well as other helpful information may be found at www.dogaware.com. However, before you transition your pet to a completely different type of diet, check with your veterinarian and follow up immediately should your pet experience any type of problem.
Finally, if you think your food may be tainted, there is an up-to-date list
of identified contaminated pet food on the Food and Drug Administration’s website at www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/petfood.htm.
Unfortunately, in years past, there has been little oversight of the pet food industry and few standards enforced. Certainly, the tragedy of thousands of lost and sick pets will implement much needed changes. In the meantime, it’s important to be your pet’s advocate. Be an educated consumer; it’s the best safeguard you have for your pet.
Thanks to Ann for the great reminders about being vigilant about our furkids health!
Finding good advice can be difficult, regardless of subject. Since the advent of the internet, information is readily at our fingertips, but now the challenge can be determining if the information is opinion or fact. An example of this quandary can be seen on the website, Dog Buffs, where they have a page dedicated to the topic of Nutro dog food.
At first glance, the page seems like a news article about the benefits of feeding Nutro. But reading further into it, the author compares Nutro brands against each other and then to outside brands – then finally the author “ranks” them. The article is posted anonymously, leaving the reader with no idea of the expertise level of the writer.
The site is a great place to start your nutrition or training research…but for in depth information and to answer the “why?” factor, you will have to search elsewhere. For example, on the puppy foods page, the statement “dry puppy foods are generally healthier and more economical” might in fact be a true statement, but the article doesn’t justify the author’s position or tell the reader why they should trust their judgment.
Dog Buffs does contain a lot good tidbits of information on clicker training, puppy socialization and behavioral problems. The website is clear, easy to navigate and an easy read. But, it did leave us wanting for more. We really would like to have seen clickable links to the products or websites referred to in their articles or reviews. It can be quite a
pain to have to copy/paste into a new web browser to see what the
author is talking about.
Dog Buffs claims it wishes to be “the authoritative online encyclopedia for dogs and puppies”. While the site has made a good start towards that goal, it needs to add a lot more content & provide the background on the authors before it can begin to fulfill that claim to it’s readers. Dog Buffs has the right idea and their hearts are in the right place – wanting to give dog owners the best information. The site just needs to do a better job convincing it’s readers who they are & why their information can be trusted.
We as dog lovers must not believe everything that is posted on the internet is accurate. When researching information on your pet’s health, nutrition or training, it is best to do your homework. Read as much as you can & from as many sources as possible on the topic and then consult a professional. Your vet and respected professional trainers are your best source to determine if all the conclusions you have reached are based on fact or opinion.
By Sheltie Nation member & guest author Ann Compton. (Ann is an accomplished Animal Journalist with more than 20 years specializing in canine topics. Currently, she writes a weekly column on animal care for one of Connecticut’s newspapers.)
One of the most important things we can do for our dogs to keep them healthy is to feed them good food. With so many name brands compromised this year—even some veterinary foods and ‘premium’ brands–many people are understandably confused about what they can and should feed their pets.
There are ways to make sure that what you feed your dog is wholesome, nutritious, and safe. Unfortunately, what you cannot do is pop into the supermarket or local chain store and grab a bag of whatever happens to be on sale. You must aware of what the dog food you are buying contains.
The single most important thing you can do for your pet is to be an educated consumer. This means that you MUST read the ingredients on the label! Of course, you must know what you are looking for when you read ingredient labels, and what you shouldn’t buy.
It’s really a simple formula. All pet food should consist of whole ingredients. Avoid foods with the words, “by-product, “wheat or rice gluten/protein,” “wheat bran, rice bran, rice flour,” or ingredients such as “animal fat” or “meat protein.” These are fillers of inferior quality or unknown origin, or what is known in the pet food industry as “fractions,” including over-processed ingredients that have no nutritional value—in other words, doggie junk food.
The recalls we saw this summer centered primarily around wheat gluten, made in China. What is wheat gluten, and why is it in your pet food? The answer is, it shouldn’t be. Wheat gluten, although not as well known, is an alternative to soy-based meat substitutes such as tofu; some types may taste even more like meat than tofu due to their chewy or stringy texture. It is often used in place of meat in Asian, vegetarian/vegan, and macrobiotic cuisines. Good quality foods with whole ingredients do not use wheat gluten.
A term frequently found on some pet food labels is “by-product.” By-products are just that: leftovers from the good part of the meat; parts you really wouldn’t want to feed if you knew what they were—parts “not fit for human consumption.” The translation is this. The label should read “chicken,” or “chicken meal,” but not “chicken by-product.”
Next, the first ingredient on your dog food label should be named meat or fish, such as “chicken” or “lamb” or “beef,” not unidentified “meat” or “poultry.” It’s very important that one named meat or fish be the first ingredient listed on the label, since ingredients are listed in order of their total weight in the food and what your dog’s diet should consist of first is a meat or fish, unless he is under veterinary care and has dietary restrictions. Succeeding ingredients should be whole grains, vegetables or broth.
The same is true for vegetables and grains. Whole grains such as rice or vegetables should be named, so you know what you’re getting in the food. Avoid foods with artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, sweeteners or sugar.
Does this food cost more? The answer is yes. But you’ll save money in the long run on vet visits, avoid potential health issues, and you can usually feed less of a natural, quality food because it doesn’t contain the fillers found in other brands.
If you don’t know where to find good, natural pet food, consult your local yellow pages for natural or holistic pet food stores. Since the recalls, even some chain pet stores have begun carrying a few premium brands such as Old Mother Hubbard. There are also many natural pet food sources online; all offer delivery.
There are a growing number of healthy, whole foods for dogs and cats. Some brands that top the list include Eagle Pack, Innova, Solid Gold, Canidae, Wellness, Wysong, and Merrick. If you can’t find these foods locally, try an online resource such as www.waggintails.com or www.jbpet.com . Doctors. Foster and Smith also make an excellent line of pet foods that can be ordered online (www.drsfostersmith.com ) or through their catalog.
Remember to check your pet’s biscuit and treat labels as well. They contain similar ingredients that can also be questionable. Look for the same whole ingredients when buying treats and chews.
Stay tuned for part II of Ann’s great article & what you should do to assure the safety of the food you buy for your pet!