March: National Nutrition Month
Over the past decade, people have become increasingly more health conscious. This can be a highly controversial topic - just look at the hot debate surrounding New York’s attempt to pass a soft drink tax in an effort to discourage unhealthy diets!
This controversy spills over into what we feed our pets as well.
What we’re not going to talk about
|Allie likes her raw diet|
If you want to initiate a conversation about it off-grid and find out why we do it, we’d be happy to chat.
But bottom line, we understand that the best diet in the world isn’t going to do a cat any good if he or she refuses to eat it.
What we'd like to do instead is to provide you with information, sources and links you can use to help you make the best decision for the pets in your family.
What are the basics about
pet nutrition that you
It might be helpful to know exactly what the U.S. government does and does not regulate. In the source notes below, we’ve provided you with links to the FDA's web site, so you can read about it in greater detail directly from them. But what they cover - or rather, don't cover - might surprise you.
Please note what that statement does not say:
- The FDA will not specify what a harmful substance is. Unfortunately, that can include several common foods that we might not think twice about giving to our pets, such as onion, garlic, or avocado.
- The FDA does not inspect your pet food company’s production facilities; they merely retain the right to do so.
You'll find all sorts of interesting things in the Animal & Veterinary section of the FDA's web site. For instance, did you know that the FDA found the drug pentobarbitol in dry dog food? Per the FDA:
"pentobarbital residues are entering pet foods from euthanized, rendered cattle or even horses."
Another regulating authority is the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies.
AAFCO has no regulatory authority. They do not regulate, test, approve or certify pet foods in any way:
"AAFCO establishes the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods, and it is the pet food company's responsibility to formulate their products according to the appropriate AAFCO standard. It is the state feed control official's responsibility in regulating pet food to ensure that the laws and rules established for the protection of companion animals and their custodians are complied with so that only unadulterated, correctly and uniformly labeled pet food products are distributed in the marketplace and a structure for orderly commerce."
In both of the above instances, there is great leeway given to pet food manufacturers in how they formulate their food. The pet owner is thrust into a clear caveat emptor situation: buyer beware. It is incumbent upon us as pet owners to determine if what we feed is appropriate and meets the requirements our pets need for a healthy life.
One additional bit of information we wanted to toss into this discussion - simply because we did not know this, and found it fascinating - is a statement made not too long ago by Laura Alvey, Deputy Director for the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM): “Prescription diet is an industry-coined term and holds no legal meaning.”
The term “Prescription Diet” is a registered trademark of Hill’s Pet Nutrition (by their own admission) and should not be confused with any pharmaceutical your veterinarian may prescribe for your pet’s health and well-being.
Why is this important to know?
You may have noticed that there has been an increasing number of pet food recalls in the past year or so. Many of these recalls are for dry pet foods that have been found to contain salmonella - a bacteria normally associated with the handling of raw meat.
|one of the brands identified|
by the FDA as contaminated
Interestingly, the risk of salmonella is more to humans than it is to animals. Experts believe this is due to the shorter length and increased efficiency of the intestinal tract in animals as compared to humans. Bacteria simply does not have the opportunity to develop in our pets. When our veterinarian heard we were feeding our cats a raw diet, his concern wasn't for them but rather for us. ]
Sadly, salmonella isn't the only cause for pet food recalls. Since 2007, the FDA has issued warnings for contaminants in chicken jerky treats that have caused illness and death in dogs. And to date, scientists have been unable to determine a cause.
Because of these health scares, many pet owners unsurprisingly have opted to feed their pets homemade diets to protect them from such illnesses. But here's the rub: veterinarians are beginning to see an uptick in the number of pets who suffer from health issues as a result of feeding a homemade, nutritionally incomplete diet.
Know what your pet’s nutritional needs are
Based on the above information, it's become increasingly important to know your pet's nutritional needs.
First, a nutritionally complete pet food should have a statement similar to "(pet food brand) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO Nutrient Profiles for (life stage)." They may also go so far as to state that they comply with NRC regulations.
(NRC regulations? Why should I care if my pet's food is approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission? Click here to find out - the answer may surprise you!)
In our opinion, based on what we know of radiation physics, if a pet food also states that their ingredients are sourced from USDA-inspected facilities or are made from human grade foods, well, that's even better.
Second, don't be confused by misleading marketing terms.
Dr. Ashley Hughes, a veterinarian at Friendship Hospital For Animals in the DC area, states on PetMD's website that "pet food labels are not very helpful." They can be confusing and difficult to decipher, especially when they carry such claims as "natural" or "holistic" that make interpreting a label very difficult indeed.
Third, if you opt to feed a homemade diet, please seek out a reputable, medically sound source that will provide you with the ingredients necessary for your pet's physical well-being. Cats, for instance, require a certain amount of taurine in their diet. As obligate carnivores, they need the taurine found in meat protein, so if they're fed a diet rich in plant proteins, taurine must be added as a supplement. (We personally feel cats must eat meat - and even then, we choose a food that has taurine added to ensure nutritional balance.)
Below, you'll also find a list of links to a few places where you can find guidelines for homemade diets by actual veterinarians and animal hospitals.
Whatever you end up feeding your pet, we hope that this information is helpful to you as you make those decisions.
Animal & Veterinary Pet Food Landing Page
Center for veterinary Medicine Updates, News & Events
Pet Food Industry Guidelines
Animal Food & Feeds Section
The Business of Pet Food
Ingredients: Making Pet Food
Deconstructing Pet Food Labels
AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association):
Pet Nutrition Alliance
Veterinarian-sourced pet food recipes and ingredients lists:
WebMD's article on homemade pet food (raw and cooked recipes)
Dr. Lisa Pierson's feline Nutrition site
Dr. Jean Hofve's article on homemade diets for cats and dogs
Dr. Karen Becker's Real Food for Healthy Cats and Dogs Cookbook