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Solve Pet Kibble Quibbles

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Solve Pet Kibble Quibbles

Does Spot clamber for that juicy steak on the barbecue? Does Kitty turn up her nose at dry bits in her bowl?

Does Spot clamber for that juicy steak on the barbecue? Does Kitty turn up her nose at dry bits in her bowl?

Many of my clients feed their pets raw food that is sold frozen as packages of ground meat and vegetables, either as a complete meal or packaged separately. A raw food diet has many advantages, including improved body condition, coat quality, energy, and dental hygiene.

But a raw food diet does pose some risks. Without proper hygiene, raw food has a potential for bacterial contamination to both animals and humans. It also costs more than dried or canned pet foods. Raw food requires constant refrigeration, demanding more from an already overtaxed electricity grid.

It is possible to nourish your dog or cat with quality dried or canned pet foods–if you read the label carefully.

What’s on the Label

In Canada, pet food labels must list major ingredients, a guaranteed analysis by weight, as well as all preservatives used, according to guidelines set in 2001 by the Competition Bureau of Canada.

The front label on pet food packages shows a display panel that tells you what type of meat (beef, turkey, bison) the food contains. The general rule is that the less description the label offers, the less meat the pet food will contain. For example, if a pet food label says “beef dog food,” it must contain 70 percent meat, whereas a label that reads “beef dinner” may contain only 25 percent beef. A label that reads “beef flavoured” may contain no beef at all.

Ingredients List

The ingredients list shows the ingredients in descending order by weight. For example, if chicken is the first ingredient listed, it means that chicken is the most abundant ingredient by weight in that pet food.

Starches and grains, which are dried and therefore weigh less, may actually represent a larger volume in the pet food but a smaller weight. That’s because chicken protein contains a considerable amount of moisture, making it heavier than other ingredients even though it may represent a proportionally smaller amount.

To help the consumer understand the proportion of wet to dry ingredients in a pet food, labels must indicate the food’s moisture content, with a 78 percent maximum moisture content allowed, unless the food is described as “in gravy.”

Other Ingredients

Meal is the dried form of the protein, but the weight is lower so it will appear lower in the ingredient list.

Meat byproducts can be anything other than muscle meat, including lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone, and stomach and intestines freed of their contents. Meat byproducts do not include hair, horns, teeth, or hooves.

Poultry byproducts include heads, feet, and internal organs (such as heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, abdomen, and intestines) but do not include feathers.

Natural Means no Preservatives

“Natural” is often used on pet food labels, but for the most part, natural means no artificial flavours, artificial colours, or artificial preservatives in the product. Look for products preserved naturally with mixed tocopherols (vitamin E), ascorbic acid, and rosemary, if possible. Be aware, however, that their shelf life may be shorter than pet food that is preserved artificially.

Although raw food is an excellent way to feed your cat or dog, quality kibble and canned pet foods are a reasonable alternative for pet owners who choose not to serve raw food.

Select your pet’s food by carefully examining pet food labels. Look for foods labelled “human grade,” meaning they are fit for human consumption. Your veterinarian can also guide your pet food choice.

Tainted Pet Food

Whether you choose dry, canned, foil-packed, or frozen raw food for your pets, you’ll be extra vigilant about checking labels after the recent pet food scandal that sickened more than 40,000 pets in the US and Canada.

Melamine is used by some Chinese manufacturers as a cheap fake protein in wheat and rice gluten, common fillers in pet food. The chemical provides no nutritional benefits but has been proven to be harmful to animal health, and in thousands of cases reported so far, it has been fatal to pets. Wheat gluten imported from China is also found in some human foods, including some vegetarian “fake meat” products.

Aside from avoiding purchasing those brands that have already been recalled (see www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/petfoodrecall/), what can we do to ensure that our pets are safe? Dr. Gary Weaver, DVM, of the University of Maryland’s Center for Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture Policy suggests that “pet owners can either purchase only those premium pet foods not yet recalled or make their own pet foods until the melamine-contaminated pet food is purged from the…pet food supply.”

See “What’s in your pet’s food?” online at alive.com/1030a3a2.php for more information and recipes about making your own pet food.

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