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Dog Food for Thought

Dr. Andy’s Dog Food for Thought
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, about 63 percent of all the households in the United States have a pet.  Based on surveys conducted by the American Pet Products Manufacturers the amount spent on pets has steadily increased from year to year.  With this growth manufacturers of other food products have realized the potential for profit and are trying to break into this blossoming market.  Some of these new products are excellent sources of great nutrition, while some are all hype.  With all the choices it is easy to get caught up in the newest food fads.  I hope to help you learn how to spot the good foods and dispel the misleading information flooding the market. 
As with human food, pet food has regulations that govern not only what can be in the food, but also the claims made on the bag.  Keep in mind the food manufacturers want the food to sound tasty and healthy, but you need to look past the front of the bag to see what is really inside. The Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO, regulates the labels and claims pet food companies make on their labels.   All pet foods must have an AAFCO statement on their label. This is a great place to start when researching pet food.
The first part of the statement tells you if the food was “tested” or “formulated” to meet the AFFCO standards.  If the food was formulated then your pet is testing the food for the company and problems and side effects have not been established. 
The second part of the statement explains the species and life stage for which the food is intended.  If the claim is made for maintenance of all life stages, then that food meets the requirements for puppy or kitten food and may not be appropriate for adult and senior pets.   
The name of the pet food is also regulated by AFFCO.  If the name of the product says chicken, beef, seafood, etc., than it must contain 95% of that ingredient.  When the food is called a dinner, entrée or platter, such as a chicken dinner, than the food must contain at least 25% of that ingredient.  Only 3% of an ingredient is required for the label to say “with” that ingredient.  There is no requirement if the label says flavor, but the source of the flavor must be disclosed in the ingredient list. 
One of the latest trends in pet food right now is the grain-free diets.  While in some cases this type of diet is warranted, it is not for the reasons for which these products are being marketed.  Some of the grain- free diets claim they are higher in protein and therefor healthier for your pet.   Feeding a food that is high in protein, especially to older dogs, can cause strain on the kidneys and other organs. Dogs, unlike cats, are not true carnivores and they need certain levels of carbohydrates in their diet to remain healthy. Carbohydrates from wheat, corn or rice are excellent sources of energy for a dog, unless it is allergic to these grains.  Chronic ear infections, loose stools, and poor hair coat are some of the symptoms of food allergies and in those cases grain free food may help. 
Another trend in both pet and human food is natural, holistic and organic foods.  The three terms mean very different things.  Organic is the strictest and means that the ingredients are grown with only animal and vegetable fertilizers.  In order for a food to be classified as organic the content must be at least 95% organic ingredients.  The foods making this claim should have the USDA organic seal. One thing to watch for if feeding an organic diet is that the USDA seal doesn’t go away.    Companies will make the diet organic for the first few months and then without notification the USDA seal will disappear.  The term natural means that the ingredients have not been chemically altered by the manufacturer.  There is no legal definition of the term holistic, so foods making this claim could just be trying to make their foods sound and nutritious. 
When switching to a new food, research it carefully and check with your veterinarian.  Always make the change slowly by mixing the new food with the old in increasing portions over about a week.  Watch your pet carefully for adverse reactions such as vomiting, loose or dark stools, and dark urine.  If your pet loses weight quickly or their coat becomes dry and scaly, these are signs that the food isn’t providing the appropriate nutrition for your pet. 
We all want what is best for our beloved companions.  Keep in mind that when purchasing pet food, that a high price doesn’t always equal quality, but a low price usually coincides with poor quality.  Avoid foods with artificial colors and ingredients.  Also, table food and treats should always be given carefully and with moderation.  If you have any questions feel free to stop by or call me. 
Hillman Veterinary Clinic, 2101 N. Palafox St. Pensacola, FL 32501 or 850-433-2812