GMO in Pet food

Here is more reason to carefully check the ingredients on the food you are feeding your pets:  GMO.  What is GMO?  GMO stands for genetically modified organisms, and they are becoming more and more prevalent in our food supply every day.  Crops are modified to increase profit by increasing resistance to disease, or increasing production.  What is the problem with GMO?  Genetic engineering is done in such a way that the DNA of the plant is permanently altered.  The scary part is that very little testing is done to determine what effects the altered genetics will have on the person or animal ingesting the food.  The modified genes can be unstable and even incorporate into intestinal cells, modifying their DNA!

This can explain increases in diseases such as allergies, food sensitivities, autoimmune syndromes and cancer, even when supposedly ‘healthy’ foods are being consumed.   You can learn more details about the genetic modification of our food supply at:  http://responsibletechnology.org/

What does this mean for your pet and how can you feed foods that are GMO free?  The answer is to read labels and ask questions of food producers.  Anything labelled organic will be GMO free by definition.  Avoid soybeans, canola, cottonseed, corn, and sugar from sugar beets.  These are the crops with the highest prevalence of GMO.  Remember too that there are many byproducts of these crops, especially corn, such as syrup, starch additives.  Many companies are now labeling their products that are GMO free.  You can find a more comprehensive shopping guide at http://nongmoshoppingguide.com/.

In general, fresh organic ingredients will provide the best chance of avoiding genetically engineered foods.  Companies that do not use genetically modified ingredients will typically make that obvious on their packaging.  Remember – pay attention, read labels and ask questions if labels are unclear.  The time you spend will be worth the health benefits to you and your pets.

Beyond canned food – feeding your cat fresh and raw food

In my recent pet on feeding your cat I talked about the important essentials of feeding a diet that is 85% meat and 70% moisture.  You can provide added benefit to your cat by adding in fresh food, either lightly cooked or raw.

Fresh food comes with enzymes, co factors and digestive aids that are often destroyed during the processing of commercial foods.  Eating food in its natural state also provides natural protective and healing mechanisms found in nature.  Vitamins and minerals ingested in their natural state can provide more benefits than those in the chemical form.

You can start by finding out which fresh foods your cat will actually eat.  Cats are carnivores and it is rare that they will relish dining on fresh fruits and vegetables, but you can offer them and see how your cat responds.  Try different types of meat proteins to see which you cat favors.  Animals often know what is best for their constitution, so don’t worry about forcing any particular ingredient – feed your cat what it likes!

Always make diet changes slowly, so start by adding in about 10% fresh meat, either raw or lightly cooked to be sure there is no digestive upset.  If all is good after a few days, increase to 25%, then 50%, up to what ever proportion you will be feeding on a regular basis.  If you go beyond 50% fresh food in the diet, some supplementation will be needed to be sure the diet is not missing any nutrients.

It is not necessary to feed the same thing every day – you can vary the ingredients, the amount, and the number of days per week that you feed fresh food to your cat.  Good nutrition is a balance over time, and any amount of fresh food in the diet will help your cat.  Even a small amount of fresh meat 2-3 times per week will offer tremendous benefits to your cat.

Will a bit of experimenting with this, your cat will soon be enjoying the benefits of a healthy diet.

The healthiest diet for your cat

There are 2 main ingredients that are essential in your cat’s diet:  1. Meat    2. Water

1.Cats are obligate carnivores.  This means that cats must eat a diet that is about 85% meat or they will not get the nutrients that they need.  Certain nutrients that are found in meat  meat can be synthesized internally by other species such as humans and even dogs, but not by cats.  For example, taurine is an essential amino acid that cats must have or can develop heart disease along with vision problems, poor coats, and low energy. 

Nutrients such as taurine can be chemically synthesized and added into commercial diets, but there are many benefits to feed it from a natural source.  Every nutrient found in nature comes with ‘hidden’ benefits that aid its digestion, absolution, and utilization.  Chemical reproductions of nutrients may not be as compatible with your cat’s physiology and some of the benefits may be lost in the processing of the diet.

2. Cats should eat a diet that is 70% water and will likely be healthiest when they get moisture from their food rather than drinking it from a bowl.  Why?  Cats were originally desert animals, and there was not a lot of water around to drink.  Many cats, therefore, do not have a big enough thirst drive to drink what their body needs, especially if they are eating a kibble-type diet, which are typically about 10% moisture.  When eating a kibble diet, a cat must drink enough to make up for the moisture lacking in the food, along with some extra to meet their metabolic demands.  Many cats end up with kidney and bladder disease because they live their lives in a state of chronic dehydration.

Cats are also picky water drinkers.  Have you ever know a cat that will only drink out of a running faucet or a glass of water?  These cats are often the ones that do not take in enough water to stay healthy. 

So now, what do you feed your cat?

The simplest way to meet the dietary requirements of the feline is to feed a high-quality, grain-free canned food.  Quality foods will contain fresh meat ingredients, be grain-free and have fewer by-products and chemicals.  Take some time to read the label and know what you are feeding your cat. 

You will likely need to experiment and find the texture and type of meat that your cat likes best, and it is a good idea to change the food around a bit.  Most cats will stop eating a certain food if it is fed for long enough.  Remember also that there is no guarantee that the pet food will remain the same – ingredients and processing methods typically change over time, and this may be the reason that your cat loses interest in a certain diet.

Remember 2 words – meat and water when feeding your cat.        

Look for my follow-up post  Beyond canned food and learn the benefits of adding fresh and raw meat to your cats diet.

 

Prescription diets – how healthy are they?

You have likely heard the saying ‘you are what you eat’.  There is a great deal of truth in this for our dog and cat companions as well.  The options and information about what is best to feed your pet are nothing less than overwhelming these days, and it is very important that you read carefully the actual ingredients that you are feeding your pet.

Prescription diets have been  the mainstay of therapeutic nutrition in veterinary medicine for many years.   These are diets that claim to give you a handy package containing the proper nutrition for whatever ails your pet.  Let’s take a look at a few examples for the sake of comparison:  ( For more information on interpreting pet food labels, see  ingredient list )

1.  Here is the partial ingredient list for a diet claiming to help with canine liver disease:

Brewers Rice, Pork Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), Dried Egg Product, Soybean Meal, Powdered Cellulose, Flaxseed, Pork Protein Isolate, Chicken Liver Flavor.

2. And another claiming to promote bladder health in cats:

Brewers Rice, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken By-Product Meal, Pork Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), Chicken Liver Flavor, Fish Oil

3. For contrast, here is the label ingredients from a commercial raw food product:

Ground chicken (including ground bone), chicken gizzards, chicken hearts, organic squash, organic apples, chicken livers, organic greens, organic broccoli, organic blueberries, organic apple cider vinegar

4. And another from a grain-free dry dog food:

Bison, lamb meal, chicken meal, egg product, sweet potatoes, peas, potatoes, canola oil, roasted bison, roasted venison, natural flavor, tomato pomace, ocean fish meal, salt, choline chloride, dried chicory root, tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries, yucca schidigera extract, dried Enterococcus faecium fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus casei fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus plantarum

Now just use your common sense for a moment – which of these diets do you think provides more benefit for your pet?  Of course the diets with the most whole-food ingredients are best. 

I have not sold a prescription diet food in several years now.  In fact, my basic nutritional recommendations change very little from pet to pet, though I may modify slightly depending on the health condition.  Fresh, whole foods and a diet that is 70% meat and 70% moisture is the best fit for most carnivorous companions.

I still advocate diagnostics such as bloodwork and ultrasound when indicated, and there are other supplements that can help with certain health conditions.  The basic nutrition, however, changes very little from case to case.

 

Lifestage diets – is the change necessary?

Many commercial pet food companies these days have foods grouped into categories based on a pet’s age.  You will likely see varieties such as puppy, adult, senior, weight loss, and even some breed-specific diets.  Is all this necessary for proper nutrition?  I say, absolutely NOT!! Dogs and cats are basically designed to eat the same diet from the day they are weaned until the day they die.  I would like to clarify that this is for maintenance only – certain disease conditions may require some variation in the diet.  In my way of thinking, however, it is absurd to think that just because a pet reaches a certain age, its diet must change.  This is nothing more than marketing hype.  The best fundamental nutrition for a dog or cat is a fresh, meat-based diet with a 70% moisture content.  I may sometimes use a diet that is more bland or lower in fat or protein for certain disease conditions, but my basic nutritional recommendations do not change.

My recommendation is to feed whole, fresh foods whenever possible and avoid by-products, chemicals and preservatives in your pet’s diet.  Many of the healthiest commercial foods available do not have life-stage diets – don’t let this keep you from feeding your pet the best diet possible.

Vegetarian diets, are they safe for dogs and cats?

Dogs and cats are carnivores and are meant to eat a meat-based diet.  I understand that many humans choose to be vegetarians for a variety of reasons, but our bodies are much more suited to this type of diets than our canine or feline companions.  Dogs and cats thrive on the nutritional balance that would be obtained from a prey meal – muscle, bone, fat, organ meat, and intestines.   Recreating this type of nutrition in a vegetarian or vegan diet is very difficult to do, and I would challenge those that say that they are able to accomplish this feat. 

There is a huge difference between surviving and thriving.  I would be interested to check blood levels for adequate protein, minerals, amino acids, calcium and phosphorus as well as checking for anemia in natural carnivores that are fed a vegetarian diet.  I have seen dogs on vegetarian diets and have yet to see one that looks healthy.  I have seen dull hair coats, hair loss, flaky skin, along with a general ‘dull’ look in the eyes.  The dog may be surviving, but is deprived of optimal health and energy through nutritional deprivation.

In cats, feeding a vegetarian diet is not only unhealthy, but could become life-threatening.  Cats are obligate carnivores, there are certain nutrients that they MUST get from meat.  Dogs have a greater ability to  survive on an omnivorous diet than cats do, but their teeth and digestive system are best equipped to eat meat.  The healthiest patients I have seen are those fed a balanced, raw, meat-based diet, with at least 70% of the diet consisting of fresh meat.

Is feeding raw food safe for your pets?

Yes, raw food can be fed safely to your pets. When handled properly, there is no danger whatsoever in feeding your pet raw food.  Raw meat that is fresh or has been frozen fresh will not contain harmful bacteria.  There are also commercial raw products that provide guaranteed freshness along with a balanced diet.

Raw is the most natural diet for dogs and cats. As carnivores, dogs and cats are designed to eat a diet that is about 75% meat with a high moisture content – as if they were killing prey in the wild.  Their entire digestive tract, including teeth, saliva, enzymes and intestines are better equipped to digest meat rather than vegetables and grains.

The biggest benefit in feeding raw food is that it is nutritionally superior to feeding any form of processed food. Commercial foods are processed at high temperatures that can destroy important nutrients. There are also inherent benefits in feeding whole, unaltered foods.   Certain nutritional components are only beneficial in the whole food form, not when broken down into their chemical counterparts.  Many pet foods start with good ingredients and then process them into a dry kibble form that requires the vitamins and minerals to be added back in.

 

Reading pet food labels, part 2 – Sifting through the Marketing Hype

Pet food manufacturers are experts at making labels and packaging look attractive, attempting to convince you that their food is better than the rest.  Their objective, however, is to sell their food, not help you feed your pet a healthy diet.  As I said in part one of this series, the most important thing you can do for your pet is to read the actual ingredients before you buy a bag of food.  You will see colorful packaging, wonderful claims, even ingredients that sound nutritious on the package; but don’t be fooled – these are methods of marketing to you, with the sole purpose of selling foods.  

There are definitely pet foods out there with some quality ingredients, but to pick them you must learn the language of the pet food industry.  A truly meat-based diet, which is required to have 95% of the meat protein present, will list the ingredient simply, such as ‘Beef dog food’.  If a name includes an adjective such as dinner, formula, or meal, only 25% of the ingredient listed is required to be present.  Something like beef flavor does not necessarily contain any beef at all, rather some by-product sprayed on the food to make it taste like beef.

On most bags of food, you will likely see something about meeting AAFCO nutritional standards.  Who is AAFCO?  AAFCO stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officers.  AAFCO is not a regulatory agency.  It is a non-profit organization that creates guidelines that other regulatory agencies can use, but the guidelines are rather loose.  Feeding trials are often done to show that a pet food is nutritionally complete.  An AAFCO feeding trial may consist of a minimum of 8 pets and lasts for 6 months.  The criteria for approval consists of weight stability and a few blood parameters, which are measured before and after the study.  This type of study does nothing to address long term health maintenance, only short-term survival.

What about feeding for different life stages?  After weaning, dogs and cats can eat the same type of food for their entire life – from growth to geriatric.  There may be modifications for certain health conditions, but the average, healthy pet does not need a different diet just because it turns a certain age.  Regular check-ups will help determine if your pet needs something different.  Most likely if your pet is doing well on a certain diet, then there will be no need to change it. Life stage marketing is another marketing game that manufacturers play in order to sell more food and keep pace with competitors.

There is no substitute for good nutrition when it comes to keeping your pet healthy.  The best thing you can do is to use these guidelines and examine the food you are feeding closely.  You will be helping your pet live a longer, healthier life.

Part 1 – The Ingredient List: http://drjudyholisticvet.com/2011/12/reading-pet-food-labels/

Reading pet food labels, Part 1 – The Ingredient List

Do you know what your pet is really eating?  Pet food labeling is often a combination of deceptive marketing and misleading ingredient information.  This is the first part of a series of posts to provide some important tips on choosing the right food for your pet.

Part one, the ingredient list:

1. Read the ingredients every time you buy food, even if it is the same food each time. Why?  Ingredients change.  Pet food companies will often change ingredients in order to control costs, which may mean a decrease in quality or an addition of an ingredient that may not benefit your pet. Look for changes in ingredients, or ingredients that you do not understand – this is a way to add in fillers and ‘miscellaneous’ body parts.

2. Know what the ingredients mean.  True meat will be listed as such – chicken, beef, lamb, etc… and will consist of muscle and associated tissues ( this is the ‘meat’ that we buy and eat at the grocery store).  Meat-based meals and by-products will contain a variety of other body parts, which although not harmful, may not have significant nutritional benefit for your pet.

3. The order of ingredients.  Ingredients are listed in order of descending weight before processing.  High moisture ingredients such as meat may be listed first, but after processing are not actually the predominant ingredient in the food.

3. Which ingredients are best?  The fresher the better.  Pet food that use fresh meats, vegetables, and fruits are going to be the healthiest.  Grains, though not necessarily harmful in small amounts, should not be a primary ingredient in any food for a dog or a cat.

Bottom line – feed pet foods with ingredients that sound like real food – things you recognize and would eat yourself or feed your family.  Would you order ‘chicken by-product meal’ at a restaurant, or prepare it for dinner at home?  Probably not….then don’t feed it to your pets either.

Part 2 – Sifting through the marketing hype – what can you really believe?  http://drjudyholisticvet.com/2012/01/reading-pet-food-labels-part-2-sifting-through-the-marketing-hype/

Feeding your pet a healthy diet

Are you bewildered by the number of choices that are available when it comes to choosing a pet food for your dog or cat? Pet food manufacturers have created foods for different breeds, life stages, food sensitivities among many other categories. This has made choosing a pet food complicated, confusing, and unfortunately often unhealthy for your pet.

Regardless of age, breed or size, dogs are still dogs and cats are still cats. Although dietary needs may change in the case of specific medical conditions, basic nutritional needs will stay the same. Dogs and cats should be eating a meat-based, high moisture content diet.

Here are a few basic tips :

1. Avoid corn, wheat, soy and dairy in processed foods.

2. Feed a diet that has a high moisture content by adding equal amounts of water to dry food, or adding canned or fresh food to the diet.

3. The fresher the better:

  • Most fresh:  Raw food
  • More fresh:  Home-cooked or any healthy leftovers such as meat and vegetables
  • Fresh:  Canned commercial foods
  • Least fresh:  Commercial dry foods

You can easily do a combination of the the above by using a grain-free commercial canned and /or dry as a base and adding fresh food as you have it available – even healthy leftovers such as meat and vegetables are a great addition to your pet’s diet.

Caution:  In order to avoid teaching your pet to beg at the dinner table, always feed its meals in a separate dish and location.

Try adding a few pieces of fresh meat to your pet’s next meal and chances are he will love you for it!