What does dog food really contain, this article is not for the sensitive.
There's a retail boom going on in North America.
While consumer spending is down in many areas, savvy companies
have learned that there is very little the doting owner can deny their pet. The result is a virtual explosion of products, toys and pet foods. In fact, one of the most profitable items on the shelf at your local grocer's is not steak - its dog food.
Today's better educated owners are growing
increasingly picky about what they feed their pet, and manufacturers have
been quick to respond with a wide range of foods geared towards this market.
Phrases such as "balanced", "complete" and
"all natural" clutter the labels of cans that a few short years ago were more likely to say "Tasty" - or the old stand by "Dogs Love It".
But how much more do we really know about
what we're feeding our dogs? The language employed on labels is less
than clear - and the reasons for this may be more sinister than you think. Most of the major dog food companies are divisions of giant food conglomerates - conglomerates that produce tons of offal and by products from the manufacture of human foods every day. Using this material that would otherwise be garbage may be good business sense, but is it good for your pet?
In the last few years, articles have quietly appeared that illustrate a more disturbing aspect of these cost cutting measures. They paint a picture of a billion dollar industry that is almost entirely self policing, and willing to go to almost any lengths to increase bottom line profits.
It's the worst moment in every pet owner's life - that final, painful
trip to the vet's with your treasured companion. You
make the difficult decision to let your vet dispose of your beloved pet's remains, confident that he'll ensure the disposal is handled in a sensitive matter. In actuality, many vet clinics now use a pick up service to collect the bodies of euthanized
animals, and what can happen to these pets from the time they are picked up is nothing short of shocking. "Dogs and cats euthanized at clinics, pounds and shelters are sold to rendering plants, rendered with other material and sold to the pet food industry. One small rendering plant in Quebec was rendering 11 tons of dogs and cats per week from Ontario. The Ministry
of Agriculture in Quebec, where a number of these plants are located, advised me that "The fur is not removed from dogs and cats." and that "Dead animals are cooked together with viscera, bones and fats in 236 F for twenty minutes." One large pet food company in the U.S., with extensive research facilities, used rendered dogs and cats in their food for years and when the information came to light "claimed no knowledge of it."
- Ann Martin, Natural Pet Magazine
Road kill, slaughter house rejects, animals that die on their way to meat packing plants - all are acceptable ingredients for pet food under the "4D" rule - diseased, disabled, dead and dying. Steroids, growth hormones and chemicals used to treat cattle for infestations - including insecticide patches - again end up mixed into the final product. Meat from grocery stores past its final due date is also added to the mix, as are the styrofoam trays and plastic wrap they were packed in.
The addition of euthanised pets goes beyond
morally repugnant - it also introduces a host of chemicals not listed on
pet food labels. At the rendering plant, time cannot be spared to remove
even the green plastic bags the pets came wrapped in, let alone the insecticide
laden flea and tick collars they were wearing. Even the very chemicals
used to put these pets to death also find their way into the final product.
"Facts of Sodium Pentobarbital in Rendered Products", a University of Minnesota
research paper, stated that sodium pentobarbital, the barbiturate which
is most commonly used to euthanize small animals," survived rendering without
undergoing degradation." When ingested, sodium pentobarbital has been shown
to cause liver and kidney damage and renal failure. The pet food companies
these chemicals are found in such low doses as to be harmless, but make no mention of what the cumulative effects of years of ingesting them may be.
Dr Wendell Belfield, DVM, former USDA Vet, "Let's Live" Magazine
Learning to decipher labels is a good beginning for those of us who wish to discover just what exactly we are feeding our pets. Any dog food that lists "Meat Meal", "Bone Meal" or "Meat By Products" might in fact have been made from suspect sources. The generic term "Meat" allows the pet food companies to use any animal source as an ingredient, as opposed to more specific terms that clearly state the animal source - like "Chicken Meal" or "Beef By Products" . Even the foods that do state the meat source do not spell out for you that these meat sources could still fall under the 4D rule - that is, animals that were rejected as being unfit for human consumption. In the wild, most dogs will naturally shy away from eating contaminated meat, which perhaps explains the dizzying array of flavor and scent additives most commercial foods contain.
The very labels that are supposed to let us know just what is in the food we feed are open to an amazing amount of artistic license, thanks to AAFCO's regulations. A consumer who buys a food named "Johnny's Dog Delite with Lamb and Rice" may very well assume that "Lamb and Rice" are the primary ingredients of this food - after all, it seems to clearly say just that on the label. In actuality, the addition of "With" to the label means the manufacturers are only required to include lamb and rice as 3% of the total food ingredients. If this food was labeled "Johnny's Lamb and Rice Dog Food", AAFCO would require the Lamb and Rice combined to comprise 95% of the total ingredients – a very big difference for such a small word.
The wide spread use of Lamb and Rice in
so many foods has caused some canine dermatologists to worry. "It's not
meant to be eaten by the average dog" states Dr. Maxwell, DVM. "It was
meant to be introduced as an alternative protein, but if dogs are eating
it every day it is now worthless to us for use as an alternative food.
Owners of allergic pets will have to go to exotic protein/carbohydrate
combinations like Ostrich and Millet, or Duck and Potato. It's expensive
and unnecessary. Leave the lamb and rice alone unless your pet has been
diagnosed with food allergies." Old time breeders comment on the
number of food allergies they see in dogs today - conditions that were
almost unheard of in the days when dogs ate mainly human food with a little
puppy biscuit or cereal mixed in.
So what is the conscientious pet owner to do? Long regarded as setting the standard for natural pet care, "Dr Pitcairn's Guide to Natural Pet Care" sets out a variety of home cooked diets for healthy pets. Emphasizing fresh ingredients, raw meats, and balanced supplementation, Dr. Pitcairn's book addresses the nutritional needs of everything from pregnant dogs to vegetarian cats. Even more conveniently, Sojourner's Farms offers meal sized packages of pet food mix that include steamed and raw fresh vegetables, grains, vitamins and natural source minerals. It needs only to be mixed with fresh meat and a little warm water to become a fully nutritious and all natural food. But few of us, especially those with multiple pet households, have the time required to feed a fresh, home cooked diet to our pets. We want a food that's safe, but we also want convenience.
An answer may lie in the growing number of "holistic" pet food companies that are emerging. Many of these manufacturers are adamant about their commitment to using only "Human Grade" ingredients - that is, food sources that have been certified as safe enough to be eaten by humans. The California based pet food company "Innova" was started by Dr. Belfield, DVM, after his years of experience as a USDA vet gave him good cause to worry about the connection between pets he treated in his practice and the food they were eating. Other "Holistic" companies making a similar commitment include Solid Gold, Wysong, Cornucopia, Nature's Recipe, Natural Life and Flint River Ranch. While premium foods carry a price tag higher than your average supermarket brand, most offset this by requiring pets to be fed a reduced volume of food compared to foods made from nutritionally worthless sources.
Eager for your business, many smaller food
companies offer a home delivery plan, saving pet owners from lugging heavy
bags of food from store to home. This policy of home delivery often means
fresher food - rather than going from factory to
warehouse to store and finally to you, many smaller companies ship their food straight to the consumer from the factory. As well, bulk buying and breeder discounts are offered by almost half of all the companies we called, comparable to the breeder programs offered by the major manufacturers. Several companies have combined the use of quality ingredients with enhanced packaging to preserve quality and increase shelf life, all without the addition of chemical preservatives. Wysong uses an ingenious packaging method of cartons that contain smaller, vacuum sealed bags of food. Solid Gold has also adopted this method of packaging, and several other companies we contacted are planning to do so.
As pet owners, it is up to us to learn just what it is we are feeding
our pets, and to decide what we can and cannot accept as ingredients.
Make inquiries – most manufacturers print their customer service 1-800
number on the side of their bag. Ask them what they put in their food -
and if you don't like the answer, tell them so. Insist on food made from
quality ingredients, sold in packages that are clearly labeled, and tell
them you will only buy from companies willing to offer this. Those
of us who breed can carry particular clout, which we can exercise in part by recommending a food we trust to buyers who would otherwise be swayed by advertising. The fact that so many breeders are sought out to appear in dog food ads illustrates how much our opinions matter to the major companies - when you call them, tell them if you are a breeder. Together, the pet owning public can flex its financial muscle to a degree that manufacturers will have a difficult time ignoring, and together we may be able to ensure no other well loved family pet finds its way into a food can.
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