Pet Food, Part 1: So Many Choices
There are so many choices of pet food and there are so many opinions about pet food. A pet owner is paralyzed trying to decide what to feed their pet. I have some basic points to help with the decision. So let’s first concentrate on the pet’s side of the equation.
The simplest choice is to feed food made specifically for your species of pet. Dogs eat dog food, cats eat cat food and people eat people food. If you own a rhinoceros feed what rhinoceri eat. These diets are formulated by nutritionists that have studied for years the nutritional requirements for animals.
The next simple choice is safety. This is why I do not like raw diets. However, we have seen just about every manufacturer deal with tainted food products and recalls. No company can cast a stone and say they have not had issues with their products. But safety includes the product at home. Keeping food too long will cause rancidity and spoilage. Temperature and humidity will affect the diet’s quality. An opened can of pet food in a refrigerator will grow mold.
Marketing, marketing, marketing makes us all make choices. People love variety in their lives. Consistency in our daily living would “bore” us to death. Leftovers gag us, reruns on TV bore us, mono-themed cloths would embarrass us. We tease people that live that way. So it is natural for us to want the same with our pets. We are inundated with pictures of pet food that look like our meals. Colors of orange and greens and shapes of beef steak and fish all to look like something we would eat. Words are on cans and bags reading like fine restaurant menus. So the question is, ”What’s wrong with this picture?” Your pet is color blind, so all the colors look gray. Your pet has no idea what any of the ingredients are like: beef, peas, carrots, sweet potato, rice, or chicken. Pets have no idea what vitamins and minerals are. Ask your pet, ”Chippy, what are the essential amino acids and fatty acids?” All Chippy does is cocks his head to one side and wags his tale because he heard the word, “Chippy.” Everything is marketed to the owner, not the pet.
I have to diverge a little now and talk about dogs first. What do they like to eat? I know they like any type of poop, and sometimes other dog’s poop. I know they like rotten stinking carcasses, garden mulch, garbage, tomatoes off and on the vine, most insects, anything I am eating, and most dog foods. So what about the finicky dog, who only wants to eat table food and different varieties of canned food? First I will admit that I have seen two dogs in my entire years in practice (I graduated in 1979!) that would have starved if the owner did not forcibly stuff food down the dog’s throat daily. Otherwise, all other dogs will be OK if they don’t eat occasionally. The wild canid only eats every third day. One day for hunting and gorging, the other two days devoted to what wild dogs do; chewing something up, playing with the other dogs, sleeping, barking at intruders, pooping, marking their territory, and/or making babies.
Dogs eat when they are hungry and don’t eat when they are not hungry or have a digestive problem that diminishes their appetite. Can you make a dog eat that is not hungry? Yes, if you entice it with something greasy and/or salty. The next time you are sitting at the Thanksgiving table, had your fill of turkey, potatoes, dressing, green bean casserole, and rolls and finally push your plate away because you can’t swallow another bite. Out comes the pumpkin pie with whip cream, yessiree you eat a piece.
Let’s talk cats now. They have different patterns of eating. Cats usually are more discriminate eaters than dogs. Dogs are scavengers: eat first, question later. Question later being vomiting or diarrhea if the scavenging resulted in something bad they have ingested. Cats will sniff and smell before eating. If the food does not pass the sniff test, they will walk away. Cats graze throughout the day taking small portions. Because of the grazing, a lot of pet owners think there cat is finicky because the entire dish was not devoured in one sitting. Out comes the smorgasbord of canned foods and dry foods only to be thrown away because the food was not eaten in a timely matter.
What do cats like? Instinctively, cats like smelly fish and fatty smelly meats. Not much on the vegetables, but they like new green grass. They like to catch rodents, snakes, and birds, but usually do not eat them. Cats are particular concerning the shapes and textures of their food. Those little dry food shapes are meant for nibbling corners. Canned food has a particular texture and shape to entice the cat to eat.
Marketing does not care about dogs and cats and their unique peculiarities, they want the product to appeal to you. Your inclinations of how you eat are manipulated into buying food for your pet. Vegetarians believe their pet would be healthier with a vegetarian diet. People afraid of gluten or any food allergies want their pet food devoid of gluten or any other allergy causing product. There are those that believe their pet is a carnivore and should eat an all meat diet. Those who believe big business pet food manufacturers dupe the pet owner and they want to feed either homemade diets or some small boutique diet.
Here is the good news. Most, if not all, the diets made are balanced, palatable, and safe. Most of the diets have met the nutritional needs for your pet. There is a watch dog group called AAFCO, Association of American Feed Control Officials. They are like UL. UL is a global independent safety science company. We all look for the UL label on electrical devices, assuring us that that device has been tested by an independent laboratory. So, look for the AAFCO initials on your pet’s food.
Part two will talk about feeding your pets.