Monday, May 28, 2012
Pet Food - Conclusion
Last post I discussed sources of protein and carbohydrates in your dog’s food; ingredients you typically find in the top five on the list. Stipulated by law, food manufacturers have to list ingredients in order of quantity: the first one is what is most in your food, the second one second most, and so on. Keep in mind, though, that protein is measured by weight, and that can fudge your perception. Let’s say chicken is the first ingredient, but because it is fresh, it is inclusive of water, which of course has weight, and the food might not be as protein-rich as one that has dehydrated meat meal listed as the, for example, third ingredient. I personally don’t put too much value on that, but what I don’t want to see are byproducts or grain fragments in the top ingredients - ideally not at all.
Often not in first five, because lower in quantity, are oils, fruits and veggies. Lower in quantity doesn’t mean that the quality is less important.
I am not going to bore you with saturated/unsaturated and omega fatty acids technicalities, but let me say that dogs, like us, need all of it - and in the correct ratio. Saturated fats are of animal origin, and although they have a bad reputation, they are good suppliers of energy, needed for every steroid hormone formation, including stress hormones, and have some anti-viral and anti-fungal properties – and yes, they are good for humans, too. Don’t shy away from good animal fats in moderation; don’t replace them with hydrogenated, artificial oils. There is one drawback: fatty tissue is a preferred storage area for toxins, so if you have access to organic meats, you’re a step ahead. Frankly, if I couldn’t access free-range, grass-fed and ethically raised meat, I would be a vegetarian.
Fish oils, high in beneficial omega 3 and in almost every brand of food, can also be heavy metal contaminated. Supplements for humans are tested for that, but I am not so sure regarding our pets’ food.
Unsaturated fats are the plant-sourced ones, and in kibble typically sunflower and/or canola oil. I don’t like either, but am more concerned about the latter.
Canola it is cheap and plentiful, and thus a preferred raw material for manufacturers of all processed foods – for humans and dogs. Naturally, the food industry and their clever PR and Ad people don’t promote it as convenient for them, but healthful for you. Hailed as omega-balanced and nutrient-rich, and a Canadian success story to boot, it is anything but good for you, at least according to fat expert and author of “Fats that Heal – Fats that Kill”, Udo Erasmus, Ph.D.
Canola, he points out, is rapeseed and toxic, and hence was traditionally used as an industrial lubricant. Genetic modification made it consumable, but Erasmus argues that it still has adverse effects, all outlined in his book. As far as I know, the FDA prohibits canola oil in infant formula, and yet puppies and dogs, especially when fed kibble exclusively, ingest it daily and for life. Even if toxicity is minimal, there is a cumulative effect – and not just for dogs, but for people as well because it is found in so many different products.
The other trouble with canola is that it turns rancid easily. In fact, China only recently partially lifted an import ban because of fungal disease issues. To prevent that, the oil is often highly processed, and everything highly processed is nutritionally useless or harmful. But even when cold pressed and unrefined there is a problem: canola is high in goitrogens, which can interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis.
At least, canola is listed on your ingredients label. Grease waste sprayed on kibble to increase palatability usually isn’t. Wrap a handful in paper towel and leave it on the counter over night. Is the paper covered with large fatty splotches? When you hang your schnoz in it, how does it smell?
When I cook my dogs’ food, the flavor comes from the ingredients and I don’t have to fancy it up so they will eat it. The yummy stuff is in the food, not on top, including oils. My favorite ones, you rarely find in commercial food cause they are costly, are extra virgin olive and extra virgin coconut oil. It is time well spent to research both; you will be amazed by the health benefits.
So, lots to think about regarding fats. Thankfully veggies and fruits are straightforward. I haven’t found a food yet that contains the known toxic ones, onions and grapes, and anything else is generally good. The only thing I like to point out is that beet pulp isn’t from valuable red beets, but another useless waste product from the human food industry: the residue of sugar production. In kibble, it increases drastically in volume when mixed with water or digestive juices. You can test that too by putting a handful of kibble in water, and watching it transform into a super-expanded foamy glop. I can’t imagine how that would be a good thing in your dog’s stomach.
I hope I gave you some guidelines what to check for in your dog’s dry food, and the same rules apply for wet food. Higher in moisture, you are paying a lot for water, so choose nutrient-rich broth instead. A high quality canned food’s ingredients list looks like that: meat broth, meat, some organ meat, a few veggies, and grains or potatoes. On the low end you have the same stink-stuff that are in cheap kibble: meat byproducts, water, soy flour, poultry by-products, color, salt and a premixed mineral supplement likely made in China. On that note, most supplements that are added to commercial food, even the high-end brands, are the premixed kind likely made in China.
How important it is to add micronutrients to make a food balanced is not an easy question to answer. The more processed the food, the more important. The more nutrient depleted the raw material, the more important. Staying with the theme of wholeness, I add culinary herbs rather than isolated vitamins and minerals, some parsley, some kelp, and squish my green tea bag into the doggy dish every day. Because so many things in our environment kill and deplete beneficial intestinal bacteria, the pooches also get a probiotic supplement, or at least a tablespoon of natural yoghurt each day. Is it enough? For mine it seems to be. They are, and have been, vibrant and healthy till old age, especially considering hereditary issues some came with.
Dogs are omnivorous food opportunists, and there is quite a bit of liberty feeding right. My magic words for the wash’n’wear pooch are: whole and fresh - and variety. Even some kibble manufacturers now offer rotation diets. If you are dealing with health problems, my advice is to talk to a holistic veterinarian who can help you explore all options, including home-cooked or raw. Many veterinary clinics and good pet stores also carry supplement mixes you can add to the food you make, and nutrition experts like Cat Lane and Monica Segal, their links were provided in the first post in this series, can customize your dog’s diet to his/her specific needs, including supplements and/or medicinal herbs.
If the ingredients in your dog’s food, or the stink going in and coming out, make you gag, buy a different and better one with your hard-earned dollars. It is never too late to reap the benefits: improved coat quality, increased energy, and yes, also behavioral changes.
Food is a biological right, and the moment we acquire a furry dependent, it is our duty to supply something the dog likes, and keeps his body and mind well nourished. Eating should be stress free – not only for mental health, but also because stress affects digestion, and that can contribute to an array of physical problems, including allergies.
You are not what you put in your mouth, but what you absorb.