Welcome to your official first lesson!
As humans, we have resources such as the Food and Drug Administration, the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy & Promotion, and the Food Pyramid to help us learn about the ingredients, quality, and nutritional value of our food. There are programs, doctors, and personal trainers that are available to tailor our diets to our individual needs. We know that balanced diets that are rich in proteins, grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats are the best ways to help fuel our bodies.
Our pets rely on us to provide them with that same information and regulation. While your dog would love to have the freedom of a weekly trip to the grocery store to choose his or her own food, our pets need us to make their nutritional decisions for them.
For humans, we know that fast foods, such as those that are fried, high in sugar and fat, and which contain many calories, are delicious, cheap, and easy, but not good for you. Similarly, many commercially-available pet food formulas do not contain the proper ingredients to keep your pet healthy.
Low-quality pet foods, like many human junk foods, often contain unexpected and potentially harmful ingredients (which you will learn more about in the next chapter). In fact, many of the big-name dog and cat food brands, whose logos have become synonymous with the pet food industry, are actually far less than ideal diets for your pet. For these foods to be mass-produced quickly, easily, and inexpensively, they often contain fillers and preservatives that don’t provide nutritional benefits for your pet. Low-quality foods often contain ingredients that your pet would never choose to eat in the wild, masked by flavorings that your pet is drawn to.
Many popular pet foods have labels that can be misleading. A food that has a healthy dog surrounded by vegetables on the front of the package might not actually contain any vegetables. Foods that show photos of delicious-looking steaks might not contain any real beef. The company may be able to afford a celebrity spokesperson to do convincing commercials or sponsor studies by independent labs that show that their food is the best available. However, being flashy does not mean the food is nutritionally sound.
The term “holistic,” can be found in the descriptions of a lot of different pet foods, but it does not mean that it is defined by higher standards or monitored by a government health agency. Pet food manufacturers are at liberty to call their food holistic, with no regard to the food’s ingredients or formulation. For pet owners, this can be dangerous. You can easily glance at a pet food bag on the shelf and see that it is called “holistic,” and assume that you are making a healthy, smart choice for your dog or cat. However, since there are no rules regarding the use of that word, you have to do your due diligence and inspect the food labels further.
Some commercial pet food companies also participate in advertising programs with veterinarians. This means that the vet gets paid by the pet food company to push their food out to their patients. While your vet should always have your animal’s best interest in mind, this usually means that they will recommend their sponsor’s food rather than other brands, which might have more nutritional value.
In the past few years, some very popular pet food brands have been subject to massive recalls. It should be said that all sorts of foods (for pets and humans alike) are recalled throughout the year for various different reasons. In 2007, there was a huge, multi-brand recall that affected thousands of animals. Pets across the country began suffering from renal failure at above-normal rates, which prompted investigations into what could be causing the issue. The Food & Drug Administration, as well as the Centers for Disease Control, were able to conclude that the issues were all occurring in pets who had eaten foods with vegetable proteins that were sourced from China. It was found that those vegetable proteins, which were sold to dozens of pet food manufacturers in the US, contained a substance called melamine. Melamine is a chemical that is used to create plastics, insulation, cement, flooring, and fertilizer. The Chinese companies added melamine intentionally to give their products a higher protein content. Charges were filed against them for passing off the melamine-tainted ingredients like wheat gluten.
Some pet owners use the 2007 pet food recalls, and other recalls of popular brand foods, as substantiation for their choices to pursue other methods of feeding their pets, such as natural, organic, raw, and homemade foods. These recalls certainly opened the eyes of pet owners as to the content and nutritional value of the food they feed their dogs and cats.
While some dogs and cats might do fine on a lower-quality, commercially-available food, there is a growing population of pet owners who disapprove of anything sold in the grocery store. Pet owners are opting for higher-quality diets, despite the fact that they may be less convenient to purchase. They are turning to specialty stores and websites, and even making their own pet food. On the whole, pet owners are becoming more educated and aware than ever before.
That’s it for today’s lesson! See you tomorrow with a dousey of a lesson. You won’t want to miss it!