Can we believe everything we read on a bag of pet food? And even if it's true, what does it all mean in terms of the health of our pets?
"You would need two degrees to be able to read and understand a pet food label," said veterinarian Alice Jeromin of Richfield, Ohio.
As an allergist, Jeromin specializes in discovering the reasons dogs and cats scratch themselves raw, cough and wheeze, have skin problems, stomach issues or recurrent ear infections. Sometimes, it is because of what they eat.
Generally, if a problem is because of a food allergy, it is caused by the meat protein in your pet's food, Jeromin said.
So you can't blame all your animal's allergy issues on wheat, soy and corn found in many pet foods.
The bigger issue, Jeromin said, is the fact that some foods contain large proteins that are difficult for animals to break down when they are ingested, particularly beef and chicken.
In an over-the-counter sample of four brands of dog food labeled "venison," all the test product contained beef and/or chicken, she said.
Jeromin has a few tips for helping you find a food to serve your canine and feline companions.
"Avoid generic pet food." It has been shown to cause a zinc deficiency and produced poor growth rates in puppies, she said.
Do your research, Jeromin advises.
"Make sure the pet food company employs a veterinary nutritionist on their staff," she said. And make sure all the manufacturing is done in one plant.
"Also interesting is that fish is not a commonly eaten protein in cats -- cats were originally derived from desert areas, no fish there! -- but because it's cheap, it was and is used in most cat foods.
"With cats, higher protein and high fat is actually best for them," she said.
Stick with brands that have the Association of American Feed Control Officials seal of approval on the package or can, Jeromin said.
Also, she said, if the food is not "human-grade," it can't say it on the package. Pet food manufacturer Honest Kitchen, headquartered in San Diego, claims it produces the only pet food in the U.S. with a statement of "no objection" from the Federal Drug Administration to use the "human-grade" on its packaging.
Honest Kitchen pet food, made from whole food ingredients, which are sourced from the human food chain, comes to the purchaser in a dehydrated form. The company requires that all ingredients come from providers with a signed pledge that they are free of genetically modified organisms, do not originate from China, have not been irradiated, and have been screened in accordance with human food standards, among other things.
As proof, the company advertises its employees are "taste testers," who, along with their dogs, insure the products' aroma and color as well as taste.
Jeromin cited pet food manufacturers Purina, Iams and Hills as producers of products that contain nutritionally sound ingredients.
Raw feeding, a method that has become popular within the past decade, is another alternative. Pets are fed a diet primarily of uncooked meat, edible bones and organs.
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