Monday, March 5, 2012

Do You Know What Is In Your Pet's Food?

Do You Know What Is In Your Pet's Food?

Pet nutrition can be a frustrating process with so many labels, ingredients and brands to research. How do you know which pet food is best and if it is the right food for your cat or dog?

When it comes to pet nutrition, Rule #1 is to READ THE LABEL! Many people use a pet food because a friend or neighbor said it was good, or their breeder used it previously, or even because the veterinarian recommended it. With no disrespect intended to whoever might have recommended it, YOU are the one responsible for your pet’s well-being and YOU alone should read the label and understand what you are giving your pet. Many pet owners lament years later after giving their pet the wrong food that they wish they had “known this before.” The label is required by law for your pet’s protection, so please take the time to read it.

The “best” food can vary from one pet to another, just as what food is good for one person may not be good for another. One dog may feel just fine on a certain brand of pet food, while another one scratches and itches, tearing his fur out. One cat may like a certain brand of cat food, while the other one refuses to eat it. While it is more convenient to feed all pets the same food, this is often not a viable strategy.

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Your pet's food should provide the most benefits possible: promotes good health, doesn't cause digestive problems, is convenient, affordable and that your pet likes the taste. Unfortunately, not all of these pet nutrition variables may come to play and you will have to make some compromises.

When it comes to optimizing pet nutrition, one fact prevails: you get what you pay for. If standard grade meat/poultry is $3.00+ a pound and a 20lb bag of dog food costs $30 — do the math-how much meat vs. corn fillers do you actually think is in the food? So, if you want to keep your pet healthy and use a nutritious food, chances are you are going to have to pay more for it. The tradeoff though is that you will pay for a lot fewer visits to the veterinarian because your pet’s well-being benefits from using a higher quality food.

A good pet food should contain meat, poultry or fish clearly identifiable in the first ingredients. It should contain familiar ingredients such as spinach, carrots, fish oil, etc. There should be a healthy balance between protein, fiber, fats (especially Omega 3 fatty acids such as flax seed and fish oil) and a limited amount of carbohydrates. Even if a pet food says it is “organic” or holistic, it may be filled with soy and flour, which contribute to allergies and urinary tract infections.

Cereal grains such as corn, corn gluten meal, ground corn, wheat gluten, wheat flour or any other flour-while some pets do just fine on high quality brands that contain grains, many pets do not digest them properly and develop allergies, IBD, UTIs and chronic health problems.

Brewer’s Rice — A processed rice product that represents the milled fragments of rice kernels that have been separated from the whole grain rice. This is a lower cost rice product that lacks the nutrients found in its counterpart whole brown rice.

Ethoxyquin — chemical preservative found in some pet foods used to extend the shelf life and ultimately the overall profitability of the food. Ethoxyquin has been banned from most human foods due to its cancer-causing properties. Try to find foods that are preserved with Vitamin C or E (mixed tocopherols).

Meat and Poultry by-products — Byproducts are much less expensive and digestible than the muscle meat found in higher quality brands. Ingredients vary from batch to batch but can include heads, feet, bone, etc.–not the steak and chicken breast you are seeing in the commercials.

Potato Product — a cheap byproduct of food processing of potatoes for human use. The potato “product” does not have the same nutritional benefit of a fresh whole potato. As a general rule, any food labeled as a “product” in the description, e.g. “egg product” or “byproduct” isn’t going to have the same level of pet nutrition for your cat or dog as the whole food itself.

Peanut Hulls, Beet Pulp, Soybean Hulls — used as an inexpensive filler with little or no nutritional value. Provides fiber and is often used in “reduced calorie” pet foods so that the dog or cat feels satiated. It is better to use green beans, canned pumpkin or other natural sources of fiber to help your pet lose weight.

There are many high quality pet foods offering superior pet nutrition available today. Some pets may require a special, “prescription” diet and there are pet nutritionists and holistic veterinarians available who can help you determine the best food for your pet. With just a little extra effort in reading labels and becoming educated about your pet’s food and the benefits of pet nutrition, you can greatly help your pet to live a longer and healthier life.

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