The beauty of the internet is we can now look up anything in a matter of seconds; the problem is that there is no guarantee that what we find is accurate. This is an issue for owners who try to educate themselves on their pets’ food. To try to assist the nutrition conscious owner, here is a list of common questions we receive about pet nutrition:
Are natural pet foods better?
- “Natural” is defined as a food that does not have anything synthetic added to it. The ingredients still may have been processed with heat processing, rendering, hydrolysis, fermentation, etc. Diets labeled “Natural” are generally healthy for dogs, but with some caveats. For example, many synthetic vitamins and minerals are actually more bioavailable (i.e. used by the body more efficiently) than natural vitamins and minerals. Additionally, natural preservatives are far less effective than synthetic ones. Always check the expiration date of the food and follow it closely!
- “Organic” is defined as a food that has been produced in following with the USDA’s National Organic Program. The phrases “100% organic”, “organic”, “made with organic” or “less than 70% of the content is organic” will be also placed on the food to reflect its content.
- “Holistic” has no legal meaning and therefore can be placed on any food without needing to meet any regulatory requirements.
What do the ingredients on my bag mean?
On any food bag, you will find a long list of very scientific sounding words. The vast majority of these are actually the scientific chemical names for the added vitamins and minerals in the diet.
- When a protein is listed as “chicken” or “beef”, this indicates that it is the muscle of the animal that is being used – the same as we would eat for a chicken breast or a rib eye.
- “Byproducts” is a general term that describes parts of the animal that are not muscle, such as intestines, liver, blood, eggs. While the term “byproducts” understandably sounds off-putting, these are parts of the animal that are commonly eaten by humans (as well as animals) and are often far more nutrient-rich than muscle alone.
- “Animal digest” is muscle meat that has been hydrolyzed and dried into a fine powder to be added to food. It is used primarily as a palatability enhancer.
Do I want a grain-free or gluten-free diet for my pet?
Many people are trending towards the use of grain-free or gluten-free diets in pets as a result of reports of the increase in human allergies to gluten. However, this allergy is actually very rarely found in pets. In fact, most food allergies in animals are protein-related. In recent studies, the most common food allergies in dogs were beef, dairy, wheat, egg, chicken, lamb and soy. In cats, the most common food allergies were beef, dairy, fish, lamb, poultry, and barley/wheat. Corn is not on the list at all.
Why is there corn in my dog’s food at all?
- There is no “perfect” protein that can be fed alone to provide all of the amino acids and nutrients required by dogs and cats. Foods may add corn gluten (a protein source made from corn) or soybean to supplement the meat product and complete the required list of nutrients.
- Grain-free or gluten-free diets just use a different source to complete the required nutrients, such as potato, sweet potato or tapioca. Keep in mind that grain-free does NOT mean carbohydrate-free. Most of these added supplements are actually significantly higher in fat that corn or soybean as well as lower in fiber and protein; this may result in significant gastrointestinal side effects for your pet such as vomiting or diarrhea.
Should flaxseed be added to my pet’s diet?
- Omega 3 fatty acids may provide some health benefits to animals. In humans, they have been shown to help with joint disease, cardiac disease, renal disease, inflammation and potentially even cancer. Studies in animals are still in progress, but preliminary results support similar benefits in animals.
- There are 3 types of Omega 3 fatty acids: ALA, DHA, and EPA. Studies in humans have revealed that it is DHA and EPA that provide the health benefits in humans. Unfortunately, flaxseed only provides ALA, which animals cannot efficiently convert into the more useful types of fatty acids. It is much more efficient to use fish, krill or algal oil sources for fatty acid supplements.
If you have any further questions, or would like help choosing the right food for your pet, please don’t hesitate to ask us!
Additional reliable information can also be found online here:
- The American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition: http://aavn.org
- Veterinary Nutritional Consultants: http://petdiets.com