In Pet Food, You Get What You Pay For

FOCUS ON PETS

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Thirteen billion dollars was spent on pet food last year. Premium foods with higher price tags are the fastest growing segment of the pet food market. On the one hand, you have an increasing number of people who are willing to spend more to get better nutrition for their pets. But then, there are too many like the one just arrested in the Valley for duct-taping his puppy's legs together, stabbing him repeatedly and then tossing him into a dumpster. For some, nothing is too good for their pet. For others, dogs and cats are disposable items easily replaced.

In a conversation about pet food and nutrition with Dr. Alan Hallman of Star Valley Veterinary Clinic, he emphasized that you get what you pay for with pet food because the market for the ingredients is so highly competitive. Premium pet food companies put out bids for ingredients based on very strict standards of quality. Whether it be corn, rice or chicken, the standards are very specific for each ingredient and these companies will pay what they must to get that quality. In this way, they can guarantee a particular quality of finished product with a specific level of nutritional value and digestibility for their consumers.

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Dr Alan Hallman of Star Valley Veterinary Clinic checks Taco for weight and overall condition.

A high quality pet food contains less fiber and more expensive, digestible ingredients. Digestibility is the percentage of a

particular food product that is able to be used by the body. The higher the digestibility, the less the dog needs to eat in order to be properly nourished and the less percentage of waste. That is why you feed less and clean up less with a better food. When you average out the cost and the waste, the higher quality foods are a better value.

With cheap dog foods, the ingredients are bought based on price, not quality. When you compare a bag of dog food selling for $9.99 with another of the same size that sells for $29.99, and they both have the same percentages of protein, fat and fiber, you may think that you are comparing similar products. Many feel that a high percentage of protein is the sign of a good pet food. Dr. Hallman pointed to his shoe and stated that shoe leather is crude protein. Turkey feathers are protein and would be listed on the ingredient label as poultry by-products. But these are totally non-digestible by the dog. The source and quality of the protein is most important.

Puppies need puppy food. Pregnant and nursing dogs need puppy food also. Older dogs may need to be on a senior diet depending on their activity level and health. But only when you are feeding a premium product will you be sure that your pet is getting the proper mix of protein, fat, fiber and micro-nutrients for his life-stage.

Dr. Hallman can tell at first glance the quality of the food a dog or cat is eating. A dog on a cheap diet has poor hair coat, lots of shedding, dandruff and large stools.

Poor quality foods are much more difficult for the body to digest and therefore cause problems with the liver and kidneys. And he sees way too many fat dogs. Hallman states that our pets mirror our society. Obesity is quickly becoming a major health problem in this country for people and their pets. He claims that obesity is the number one health problem with house pets. The obesity itself is a strain on the body, but it also leads to many other serious health problems.

Dogs were bred for working, continues Hallman. Whether large or small, they had jobs to do.

During the bubonic plague, little dogs had a most important job -- controlling the rodent population which carried the disease. "Most dogs do not get the level of activity that they were bred for," says Dr. Hallman. His recommendation: "feed the best quality food that you can and feed by condition." If your dog is heavy or inactive, feed less. If it is cold or he is working and is a little thin, increase the amount.

Excess fats in the diet cause pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas. Dr. Hallman sees dogs with this problem and is fairly confident that they are eating table scraps and meat drippings. Dogs get into the trash and overdose on fat which can make them very sick.

Dr. Hallman concludes, "The increase in quality of pet foods available today is amazing." This higher quality of food, combined with teeth cleaning and weight management leads to a longer, healthier life span for our pets.

Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at cpwrather@earthlink.net or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.

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