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)
He was abandoned on the side of a busy road, without food, water, shelter or the ability to walk.
Life was looking bleak for a dog named French Fry until kind-hearted volunteers from Centreville Animal Hospital
and the Fairfax County Animal Shelter made it their mission to get him up, rolling and into a ‘forever home.’
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.
We hope with this nutrition myth-busting, that you can go out with more food knowledge and insight than you had. Our pets are a big part of our families, and we take care of them like they were our own children. Part of that care includes feeding them the best food to keep them active, healthy, and happy.
Valentine’s Day… a time of love letters, boxes of chocolate, giant teddy bears, and… a sick pet?! It only takes one moment to turn a great day into a disaster, but we’d like to help you avoid that altogether with some quick and easy to remember Valentine’s Day Pet Safety Tips! While you’re celebrating with your better half and showing them how much you care, make sure to show your pets how much you care for them, too. Follow these easy tips and tricks to make sure everyone feels the love this Valentine’s Day.
Chocolate is a year round hazard to pets, but on Valentine’s Day there always seems to be a lot more of it floating around. While sweet and delicious to us, chocolate contains stimulants called methylxanthines that, if ingested by your pets, will negatively affect their neurological, gastrointestinal, and cardiac function by causing vomiting, hyperactivity, seizures, diarrhea, and an atypically increased heart rate. Milk chocolate and white chocolate are higher in fats which can lead to life-threatening pancreas inflammation, while dark chocolate and baker’s chocolate have some of the highest levels of methylxanthines because of the high cacao percentage.
Don’t Break my Candy Heart
If you’re planning on getting your loved one gum, candies, or other sweet treats, make sure that they stay far from the reach of your pets! Candy is never recommended for consumption by our four-legged friends, but it is especially an issue when those sweets contain xylitol. This sugar substitute is very dangerous and potentially fatal to pets. If ingested, xylitol can cause hypoglycemia (a sudden drop in blood sugar), which can cause your pet to suffer from seizures, depression, and loss of coordination.
Flowers Aren’t a Cat’s Best Friend
Flowers and bouquets of all sorts are everywhere during Valentine’s Day. While not all flowers are toxic to pets, Lilies in particular are toxic to cats. They can cause kidney failure, lethargy, diarrhea, or vomiting. If you are unsure of what flowers are toxic or non-toxic- reference this handy ASPCA plant guide. Another flower that should be mentioned is the Rose. The flower itself isn’t toxic, but the spiny thorns pose a big threat. If ingested, bitten, or stepped on they can cause major infections if they break the skin.
You Got Me a What?!
Much like on Christmas, birthdays, and other gift-giving occasions, Valentine’s Day seems like the perfect day to surprise your loved one with that dog or cat they’ve always wanted. This can be an amazing experience- for the animal and your loved one, but make sure you are both prepared for what the idea of owning a pet means. Animals are a lifelong commitment that take time, patience, money, and attention. If you do decide to get a pet for someone, drop some subtle hints beforehand and make sure that they would be fully prepared and capable of taking care of a pet. An alternative to the “surprise, take care of this animal!” is to find out if your local shelter offers gift certificates; then you can go with your better half to the shelter and pick out a pet together!
- If you’re getting cozy by the fireplace, make sure your pet is cozy away from any flames!
- After you’re done opening gifts, make sure you properly dispose of all bows, wrapping
paper, ribbons, balloons and tape. Fun to look at, but not fun to ingest!
Extra: Show animals how much you love them, too!
- Visit a local shelter and spread the love by volunteering.
- Give your furry friend some pet-safe treats and toys:
Boarding Assistant & Social Media Coordinator
For most of us, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season… a
time filled with family, friends, and lots of food. While we enjoy this special time of year, we need to pay special attention to make sure our non-human family members stay safe. Some often over looked hazards are actually very easily preventable just by remembering that it’s best to keep your pet’s diet as normal as possible- no matter how tempting it is to share! The following are a few of the ASPCA’s Thanksgiving safety tips to help keep our pets happy and healthy while we feast:
Talkin’ Turkey: If you decide to feed your pet a small bite of turkey, make sure it’s boneless and well-cooked. Don’t offer them raw or undercooked turkey which could contain salmonella bacteria. Do not give your pet the left over carcass either–the bones can be problematic for the digestive tract.
No Bread Dough: Don’t spoil your pet’s holiday by giving them access to raw yeast bread dough. When a dog or cat ingests raw bread dough, the yeast continues to convert the sugars in the dough to carbon dioxide gas and alcohol. This can result in bloated drunken pets, which could become a life-threatening emergency, requiring hospitalization.
Don’t Let Them Eat Cake: If you plan to make Thanksgiving desserts, be sure that your pets keep their noses out of the batter, especially if it includes raw eggs—they could contain salmonella bacteria that may lead to food poisoning.
A Feast Fit for a King: While your family enjoys a special meal, give your cat and dog a small feast of their own. Offer them some made-for-pets chew bones or stuff their usual dinner—perhaps with a few added tidbits of turkey (cooked and boneless), vegetables (try sweet potato or green beans) and dribbles of gravy—inside a food puzzle toy. They’ll be happily occupied for awhile, working hard to extract their dinner from the toy.
Making sure you pet doesn’t get access to anything unhealthy from the table is important, but don’t forget about your trash! Sometimes our pets figure out that the best way to get what they want is to get it themselves… straight from the trashcan! If you know you have a trash-curious pet, make sure you keep your bin behind closed doors, or tightly sealed at all times to prevent an unwanted trip to the emergency room. Some of the most hazardous Thanksgiving items often found in the trash (and hopefully not your pet) include: the yummy string that goes around the turkey legs, discarded skin & bones, and fatty grizzle. The potential problems caused by “garbage gut” include gastroenteritis (e.g., vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain), Pancreatitis (severe inflammation of the pancreas), a gastrointestinal obstruction, or even tremors or seizures.
We all want the best for our pets, and ensuring their health and safety this Thanksgiving will give us something to be thankful for all year long. For more information and helpful tips from the ASPCA, visit Thanksgiving Safety Tips.
For additional resources visit:
Thanksgiving Safety Tips:
Information about Symptoms:
Blog written by:
Lindsey Vance, Client Care Specialist with her dog Hazel