We love our pets as much as we love our children and we want them to eat the best quality food possible. Does this mean that we should be cooking for our pets or buying them a raw or high-end diet? It is important to know that most pet food companies put a lot of research and effort into developing these diets specifically for dogs and cats. Their dietary requirements are different from ours and something as simple as excess nutrients can have an impact on a pet’s health.
This is especially important with homemade diets and raw foods, where the diet is not scientifically calibrated for a pet. When making a homemade diet for a pet, it is not sufficient to feed them a portion of a protein, a carbohydrate, and a vegetable each day. The diets need to be much more balanced and orchestrated than that. Some examples: excess sodium may play a role in heart failure and cause the progression of renal disease; and excess calcium may cause skeletal disease or urinary bladder stones. In large breed puppies, too much calcium can predispose to diseases like hip dysplasia. Magnesium, which is a nutrient we don’t traditionally think much about, can worsen feline lower urinary tract syndrome, which is an ailment many domestic cats struggle with. In general, the nutrients are more important than ingredients, despite the claims of the pet food companies that emphasize grain free, or no corn.
Corn is overall a great ingredient in pet food and it is low cost, making the foods more affordable. Corn provides good energy, fatty acids, and protein; it is a carbohydrate with the added power of vitamins and antioxidants because of the color (vs. rice with a general lack of color). There is no evidence that grains are bad for your pets. This is a marketing strategy employed by pet food companies that has become a fad in the pet food industry. Ingredients such as cartilage, tendons and ligaments count toward the protein level in pet foods, but they’re not good proteins.
The quality of the protein provided in the pet’s food is important. The higher the quality of the protein, the less of the actual protein you will need to include in the diet. For example, eggs offer a higher quality protein available to your pet than other products like wheat, rice or whole corn. Of the protein in an egg, your pet can use 94% of those proteins, compared to the amount in beef, chicken, or pork where only 74% of those meat’s proteins can be used. This does not mean chicken is a bad protein. It is still a great protein source, especially compared to something like rice, which only 64% of the protein is available to your pet. The quality of the protein is especially important in pets with kidney disease; the less protein volume a pet has, the less strain on those ailing kidneys.
Pet Food Labels:
When evaluating a pet food for your pet the first thing you want to look for on the bag is the AAFCO Statement. Check for it to say “feeding test” vs. “formulated”. Feeding test will indicate that the food was actually tested for a minimum of 6 months following requirements set by AAFCO before going on the shelf, whereas formulated indicates no testing was done. We are all in the habit of looking at the nutrition facts on our own food and the “guaranteed analysis” is the pet food equivalent, but it does not offer all of the same information. The analysis does not provide an actual percentage of a nutrient, just the minimum and maximum amount that could be found in that food.
Here are some guidelines for how they label foods to give you more of an idea of the actual content of the diet.
- If the food is called an “entree, dinner, formula”, 25-95% of that diet contains that ingredient. That is a large range! If the word “with” precedes an ingredient in the title, then only 3%-24% of the diet is made of that ingredient.
- If a diet is turkey “flavor”, then 3% or less of the food in the bag is actual turkey.
- If you are looking for a diet food, the label “light” has to follow AAFCO standards, “Lite” does not.
- To label a diet as “organic” it must have a USDA organic seal on it which indicates that 95% or more of the ingredients are truly organic. The diet does not have to be 100% organic to obtain the label!
- If a label says “organic ingredients” and does not have a seal visible on it, then that is not an organic diet.
- The term “natural” on the label would indicate that there are no chemical alterations to the food. However, it is important to note that GMO ingredients are not restricted from a natural diet, only from organic diets.
- If you are looking for a holistic diet, interestingly there is no legal definition, and this has no guarantee if you see it on a label.
- If you are hoping for a diet labeled as “human grade” then the USDA must monitor the entire production process and no pet food at this time qualifies as human grade.
Dr. Destiny Coleman
(with her dog, Rex)
As our pets age, they continue to hold a very special place in our hearts. Senior pets require additional care to help them carry on long and fulfilling lives. It is important to be aware of the changes in our senior pets’ health and to provide them the care they deserve. Here are some ways to help care for your senior pet:
Regular Health Check-Ups
It is recommended that all pets receive annual physical exams to ensure that your pet is in good health. As our pets age, it is even more important that they receive regular health care. As with people, dogs experience a number of health changes as they age. Preventative care is key to keeping your senior pet happy and healthy. It is recommended that your senior pet receive a health examination every 6 months. During each exam, your veterinarian can monitor health and recommend changes to help keep your senior pet comfortable.
At Centreville Animal Hospital, we are pleased to provide the Senior Wellness Bloodwork Panel. This panel is a wonderful aide in keeping track of your senior pet’s health. This invaluable panel measures many important body systems, including organ values, red and white blood cells, and includes an urinalysis. All of these components can tell a lot about your pet’s health. If the levels are abnormal, it can be an indicator of cancers or diseases. If such diseases are detected early, medications or dietary changes can be made to help restore health.
Senior pets are susceptible to discomfort changes such as arthritis. Sometimes your senior pet may seem stiff while getting up or moving around. This is certainly uncomfortable and can easily be managed by administering pain medication at home. A simple, daily dose can greatly impact your pet’s comfort. At Centreville Animal Hospital, we perform a pain assessment during your pet’s physical examination. By determining your pet’s level of pain, your doctor can provide recommendations for keeping your pet comfortable.
Keeping Comfortable with Rehabilitation
With aging joints and limbs, your senior pet could greatly benefit from rehabilitation exercises. After a consultation with your veterinarian, she can customize a plan that will allow you to perform exercises during rehabilitation appointments and at home. Keeping your senior pet active is very important as it will help maintain muscle mass and more comfortable movements. Acupuncture is a method of rehabilitation that involves applying very small needles to certain points of the body. This provide relief for a wide range of conditions, including relieving discomfort. Acupuncture is a painless, natural method that has been very effective for both pets and humans.
Recognizing Nutritional Needs
Your pet’s nutritional needs are important to help sustain health. What your pet consumes can greatly impact his overall health. By referring to the Senior Wellness Bloodwork Panel results, modifying and supplementing your senior pet’s diet can greatly impact the necessary vitamins and minerals your pet may be lacking as he ages. There are several prescription diets that are designed to help treat certain diseases and others for general senior care.
By recognizing changes in your pet’s health as he ages, these preventative and treatment methods will greatly impact your senior pet’s health and comfort. As pet owners, we want nothing but the best for our furry companions, and Centreville Animal Hospital is committed to providing you with options that will offer a better quality of life.
With so many pet food options on the market today, it’s easy to get mixed up in all the labels and articles about what is healthy vs unhealthy, best vs worst, organic vs natural.. etc. It’s a lot to take in, even for a seasoned pet owner. And every day new things products added and old recipes get upgraded; your go-to brand becomes “new and improved!” and you ask yourself, “what was wrong before?!” Well, in today’s blog brought to us by Royal Canin, we’re giving you the basics of what you need to know about what you’re feeding your pets- regardless of which brand you love, and busting any myths about nutrients that you may have heard or seen.
• AAFCO confirms that by-products are suitable for animal food and may include clean internal organs such as liver, lungs, and heart
• By-products are a valuable source of energy, vitamins and minerals
Grains provide valuable nutrients for your pet:
• Grains such as corn and wheat are excellent sources of quality protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber
• Many grains are highly digestible sources of protein
• Excluding the rare dog with a true allergy, there is no evidence to support claims that grains cause health problems
• Many “grain free” diets substitute potato or tapioca (for the grains), which contribute fewer nutrients than grains
Wheat gluten provides a valuable source of protein for your pet:
• Wheat gluten is more than 80% protein, highly digestible and has an amino acid profile similar to other proteins
Chicken Meal is an excellent source of protein for your pet:
• Chicken meal consists of dehydrated and defatted chicken and provides a very digestible source of concentrated protein
Flax seeds contain a precursor to EPA and DHA:
• Flax seeds do NOT actually contain EPA or DHA, but instead contain a precursor from which your dog must
manufacture EPA and DHA itself
• This manufacturing or conversion process is not efficient.
• Most veterinary research supporting benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in the support of the skin, joint, kidney and heart
has been done evaluating EPA and DHA (Found only in certain marine plants and fish)
• Does NOT refer to quality of the raw material or final ingredient; It’s a description of process (under which plants/animals are grown/raised).
• There are NO scientific data to back up the “claim” that organic is healthier for pets.
• Organic diets frequently use flax seed instead of marine plants and fish as source of fatty acids.
• The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states raw meat diets for animals are not “consistent with the goal of protecting the public from significant health risks particularly when such products are brought into the home and/or used to feed domestic pets.
• The FDA has not seen any objective evidence to suggest that raw meat diets are better than other kinds of diets.
Human-grade & Holistic:
• Not defined by AAFCO and therefore cannot be accurately used to describe a pet food.