Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Scoop on Pet Food

With the memory of last year’s pet food recall still fresh on many pet owners’ minds; curiosity about pet food is at an all time high. Many pet owners completely lost faith in the pet food industry and have begun producing their own foods from home, while some pet owners started buying super premium pet food. The question that still lingers is: what’s the difference? Dr. John Bauer, a professor at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has some helpful advice for curious pet owners.

When a pet owner strolls drown the pet food aisle they are daunted by a long row of different pet food brands all promising the best nutrition for their pet. Some dry type pet foods may cost fifty cents per pound while others eighty cents, leaving the pet owner wondering what miracle ingredient is responsible for this increase in price.

The answer is not as simple as one ingredient; it depends on the pet owner and the pet’s specific needs. According to Bauer, sufficient protein, sufficient calories and sufficient fat are critical aspects for pet food. If a pet does not receive enough protein from its food, over time the animal may suffer from starvation. Other effects of lack of sufficient protein are brittle coat, lethargy, liver failure and kidney failure. If the animal does not intake enough fat, scaly skin will develop which will cause irritation and even hair loss. Vitamins must also be ingested by pets in order to stay healthy.

“Each vitamin participates in a certain metabolic pathway, if the vitamin is not present, the pathway can not persist,” states Bauer.

Bauer offers this example of a metabolic pathway: if a pet does not receive enough vitamin A, which aids in eye sight, the pet may become, over time, partially blind.

To keep a pet healthy, pet owners need to make sure their pet is ingesting a complete and balanced diet.

“Most dog foods on the market right now are complete and balanced, the difference lies in the ingredients,” states Bauer.

The more expensive pet foods tend to offer higher quality ingredients and higher fat contents. The quality of the ingredients can aid in digestibility of the food, but not overall nutrient value of the food. The higher fat count in premium brands ensures that the pet’s daily fat content is met and helps promote an increase in the glossiness of the animal’s coat.

More expensive pet food also goes through more rigorous testing, which leads to the increase in price. The protocol for these further tests is set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). These products are fed to animals whose health is then monitored. Pet owners can ensure that a pet food is AAFCO certified by checking for a small label found on the product usually in fine print. This certification is an assurance to the pet owner that the pet will receive proper nutrition from eating the pet food.

Some pet owners have grown too overwhelmed with trying to decide what the ‘right’ choice is in pet food, and have decided to take matters into their own hands by making their own pet food. Bauer warns that making pet food is not for the timid.

“Making your own pet food is like being a human vegetarian: you can be a successful vegetarian, you just have to work a little harder at it,” said Bauer.

One of the problems associated with making pet food from home is the water content which can dilute calorie content. Normal dry dog food only has about ten percent water, while the average homemade dog food can have up to eighty percent. In order for the pet to still receive the same nutritional benefit from homemade dog food, the pet will have to eat at least three times more homemade food than regular dry food. This can be a financial burden for many owners who make their dog food from human friendly ingredients; easily doubling or tripling the supplies that must be purchased at the grocery store especially for large size dogs. Another problem associated with making the switch from a grocery store bought food to a homemade food is the unbalancing of the pet’s diet; which causes many pet owners to report weight loss after making this switch. For the best results, owners need to be sure that they follow a food formula that has been tested and approved by a trained professional.

With so many different varieties out there, purchasing the perfect pet food can be a difficult decision.

“The three things I recommend thinking about when selecting a suitable pet food are: price, approval by nutrition testing in accordance to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and your personal pet philosophy,” states Bauer. “Many animals will thrive on the cheaper dog food, it just depends on the animal and the owner’s level of satisfaction.”

Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences

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