Dog and cat owners are often overwhelmed by the number of pet foods on the market today. The rows of bags and their labels all seem to tell the same story. There are 260 manufacturers in North America producing 4000 pet food labels. Are they all good for your pet? The answer is "No," according to Dr Danielle Hettler of Star Valley Veterinary Hospital.
Choosing a good pet food requires reading the label carefully. Cats and dogs have very specific and differing nutritional needs. Cats are carnivores and need a meat based diet which is high in protein. Dogs are omnivores and therefore need meat plus grain products and lower protein. Cats need cat food and dogs need dog food.
You get what you pay for with pet food. Cheap food contains cheap, inferior ingredients.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials is the regulatory agency for the pet food industry and provides the definitions and standards for each ingredient. It does not guarantee top quality ingredients however. The ingredients must be listed on the label from top to bottom according to their quantity in the product.
The front of the bag is designed to sell you this product over the others. Read the ingredient label. Look for the words "complete and balanced" for the life stage of your pet. A high quality pet food will have the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals. Supplements can throw off this delicate balance. Hettler encourages consulting with your veterinarian before feeding supplements.
By-products can be good or bad depending on what they are. Chicken feet and beaks are by-products and are high protein, but they contribute nothing to your pet's nutrition. By-products can include lung, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone and stomach and intestines freed of their contents. They do not include hair, horns, teeth and hooves.
Color is added to pet food to please the owner. Your pet is not impressed. Pet food is heated to very high temperatures to eliminate bacteria. Colors and fancy shapes are added afterward. Artificial flavoring will cause your pet to prefer an inferior product.
Obesity is a major problem with pets in the United States. Hettler said that in her practice, people rarely come in asking for help with their overweight pets. She has to tell them that the pet is overweight. Excuses are prevalent. But obesity can lead to serious health problems. Significant links between diabetes and obesity are being found in cats, dogs and people.
Hettler stated that the recommended feeding guidelines on bags of pet food are too high. The best way to determine how much to feed is to look at your pet. If he is too heavy, cut back gradually. If he is looking a little thin, which is rare, add a little food. Use an actual measuring cup so that you always know how much you are feeding.
It is much easier to keep a pet in good weight than to get the excess weight off. Watch and do a weekly rib check. If you cannot feel the ribs easily under the skin, the pet is too fat. Besides the link to diabetes, excess weight stresses the heart and other organs and joints. Heat is very hard on overweight animals.
Studies have found that within 24 hours after a cat has been neutered, his/her metabolism changes. It is important to cut back the amount of food after neutering to avoid weight gain. Certainly this applies to dogs as well.
Most commercial treats contain high quantities of fat and lots of artificial color, preservatives and flavoring. Healthy treats are available. Read the labels. Many top pet food manufacturers also make treats which compliment the food.
Moist packets of dog and cat food and treats contain lots of chemicals and very little nutrition. Hettler says this makes them like a Twinkie with a 50-year shelf life. Canned food, because of the canning process, does not need all the chemicals. However, canned food is about 70 percent water.
For proper nutrition, digestion and dental health, dogs and cats need a high quality dry food. A little canned food can be added occasionally, or raw or frozen vegetables if an animal is overweight.
"Dogs and cats should be fed on a regular schedule," says Hettler. "Do not leave food out all the time. Providing food on a schedule establishes your position as the pack leader." Free feeding often leads to obesity and the quality of the food deteriorates when it is left in the open air. Twice-a-day feeding is recommended.
Have your dog sit while you put down the food dish. Release him to eat. Set the timer for about 15 minutes and then pick up the dish and put the food away. The pet will quickly learn that if he wants to eat, he better eat when it is put in front of him.
Always keep the pet food in a sealed container.
Fresh water must be available at all times, both inside and outside.
PAWS meets the first Wednesday of each month at the Payson Library meeting room. The July meeting will be a picnic at Rumsey Park. Call (928) 468-6880 for more information about PAWS.
Christy Powers 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.