All Posts tagged Pet food raw diet

Feeding Bones is an Expensive Gamble.

We have all seen the cartoons and commercials depicting dogs burying bones and stashing them away for later.  Unfortunately, most pet owners are completely unaware of the significant risks and problems that are associated with feeding these treats.  The situation has gotten so bad that even the FDA has warned consumers to avoid giving bones to their dogs.

Advocates of raw pet foods and other so-called “natural diets” claim that, given properly, bones are a great way to clean your pet’s teeth and provide an instinctive means of stress relief. Some even state that bones provide important nutrients and should be included in your pet’s daily routine.

So, is it okay to give a dog a bone?

Most veterinarians answer that question with a resounding “NO” for several reasons.  One of the most common problems for a dog with regular access to bones is fractured teeth.

Attrition of canine incisorsVeterinarians will see unusual patterns of enamel wear, cracks in the teeth and even painful fractures of the canine teeth or large molars and premolars.  Even if the fracture doesn’t look serious, the connection of the inside of the tooth with the outside environment can lead to abscesses that show up on the muzzle or under the eye.  These conditions will require a veterinary dentist to extract the affected tooth or perform a root canal.  Either of these procedures will also cause pain to the owner’s wallet as root canals can start at $700 – $1000 and even extractions are rarely less than $500.

The American Veterinary Dental College’s website (avdc.org) states that dried natural bones are “too hard and do not mimic the effect of a dog tearing meat off a carcass.”

Another common problem seen with dogs who chew on bones is an obstruction of the digestive tract.  These treats can become lodged in the esophagus, the stomach or anywhere along the intestines.  Blockages in any of these areas will require emergency surgery and several days of hospitalization.  A typical exploratory surgery to remove an obstruction caused by a bone or bone fragments can exceed $2000 or $3000!

Bones in a basket at pet store - Veterinary News NetworkCooked bones are especially dangerous as they have the potential to splinter.   These shards then can poke through the digestive tract or even lacerate other delicate structures, such as the tongue.  A pet who experiences a perforation of the stomach or the intestine may be at risk for a deadly case of peritonitis and an expensive trip to the animal ER.

Beyond these very common dangers, veterinarians will also see pets with bones lodged in their mouth, encircling the lower jaw or even serious constipation caused by bone fragments.  These conditions are not only painful, but just imagine how scary it would be to have a bone fragment lodged in the roof of your mouth!

Proponents of giving bones to dogs downplay these risks, citing the importance of matching the right type of bone to the dog.  They state that uncooked bones are much safer, decrease the risk of obstruction and provide more nutrients.

However, veterinarians routinely see the problems listed above with ALL types of bones.  It doesn’t matter if it is a large beef cattle femur or a poultry wishbone, the risks are still there.

With respect to the nutritional argument, bones are composed of minerals that are commonly found in many other foods and dogs can’t properly digest uncooked collagen, the main protein component of bones.  Your pet can get all the beneficial nutrients in other foods with a much lower chance of problems.

So, before you decide to follow the dubious information provided by these so called “experts”, spend some time talking with your veterinarian about these potential hazards.  They have seen the bad cases and can fully explain the very serious risks.

Many safer alternatives to bones exist for dogs and your veterinary team can help you find the right match for your pet.  It’s important that owners always supervise their dogs when giving them any chew item, especially one they have never had before.

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Jerky Treats for Pets Continue to Cause Problems

Using treats as a means of reward or distraction for our pets is not unusual.  “Roxie”, a Yorkie, was owned by a wonderful lady who had long suffered from severe hip arthritis and therefore could not get to the store very often.  She relied on friends to buy her groceries and even food and treats for her beloved canine companion.

Happily her veterinarian agreed to make house calls for her special situation. During a call for an exam and vaccinations, she returned from her kitchen with a bag of treats for reward.  Unfortunately, she held in her hand a newly opened bag of dog treats of a brand that has been associated with numerous complaints to the FDA.  Thankfully, the veterinarian stopped her from giving the treats and explained this serious situation.

Jerky treats have been an extremely popular treat for pets because of their high protein, low fat composition and dogs love them.  Also, the fact that the ingredient list is generally very short (chicken and some flavorings) allows people to feel good about giving their dogs something “natural”.

But somewhere along the way, something has gone terribly wrong.  Since 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued numerous warning about pet illnesses and even deaths associated with these jerky treats.  The most recent figures show more than 2,200 reports on file and these include more than 360 deaths thought to be linked to these treats!  In many cases, kidney failure was the primary reason for the sickness, death or euthanasia of the pet.  What is even more disturbing to most people is that almost without exception, the country of origin of the product is China.  The memory of the nationwide pet food recall caused by tainted ingredients from China is still fresh.   Thousands of pets became very sick and even died in 2007 from this serious problem.

Unfortunately, despite rigorous and continued testing and FDA inspections of manufacturers in China, the source of the problem is still unidentified.  Without knowing what the exact problem is, the FDA is powerless to compel any sort of recall.  Manufacturers of the treats are all reluctant to pull their products from shelves and this has led to a strong backlash from consumers and has social media buzzing.  Even now, several law suits are in progress.

According to Laura Alvey from the FDA, there are productive discussions happening with pet food firms at this time in the hopes of finding a cause for this on-going issue.  The latest testing of the treats is focused on problems stemming from irradiation of the ingredients.

So, what can you do to make sure your pet is not adversely affected?

First, and very simply, avoid buying any sort of jerky treat that is made in China.  Although that sounds easy, it is often difficult to determine exactly where a product is made.  Even products that are “Made in the USA” may source ingredients from China.  If you are not sure, call the manufacturer and ask them if the treats are wholly made in the US from US sourced ingredients.  If you don’t get a definitive answer, don’t buy the product!

Next, consider alternatives for the jerky treats.  Many dogs will happily accept baby carrots or green beans as a snack or reward.  Reputable companies, like Hill’s, Iams and others, also offer a variety of safe treats we can trust.  Other pet owners have found homemade recipes like the ones at DogTreatKitchen.com for making their own special home cooked goodies.

Remember, treats should only make up a small portion of the calories your pet receives each day.  While this sounds like common sense, in many of the complaints on file with the FDA, owners were feeding too many jerky snacks far too often.

Finally, it’s important to see a veterinarian if you’re pet shows any odd symptoms or has persistent vomiting and diarrhea.  In a review of the complaints to the FDA, a fair percentage of pet owners never saw a veterinarian or had any blood analysis done.  Without that information, it is almost impossible to say that the treats are the definitive cause of the illness or death.  Your pets rely on you to make sure their food and treats are safe and they need your help.

If you believe your pets have been affected by these products, please tell your veterinarian and file a report with the FDA online.

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Looking for the Right Pet Food – Part II

Our pets depend on us to keep them properly fed and in the best health.  But for most pet owners, the overabundance of different types of pet foods as well as the enormous number of brand names is often overwhelming.  Then, Internet chat rooms and forums are simply full of a wide variety of opinions on what is the “best” pet food.  How can the average pet owner make the best decision when it comes to feeding their pets?

Thankfully, there are experts in the area of pet nutrition.  Diplomates from the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (acvn.org) are specialists whose focus is the advancement of veterinary nutrition.  Put another way, these knowledgeable veterinarians know what makes a good pet food!

Dr. John Bauer, a veterinary nutritionist with the Texas A&M University, College of Veterinary Medicine says, “When it comes to choosing a diet for your pet, the first thing to think about is the life stage.  Is it a young, growing puppy or kitten or is it a mature adult trying to maintain body size?”

Puppies eatingIn other words, puppies and kittens have different nutritional requirements than adult dogs and cats or even senior pets.  So, a food that is adequate for all life stages may actually have too much of certain nutrients for some geriatric pets.  One way to determine if your pet’s food is meant for all life stages is to look for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on the bag.  If the nutritional adequacy statement reads “complete and balanced nutrition for all life stages”, then pet owners know that the food has enough nutrition for pregnancy, lactation, growth and maintenance.   If the label states “complete and balanced for adult maintenance”, this food is appropriate for adult pets only and not young, growing animals.

“Another important thing to look for is whether or not the food has undergone feeding trials,” adds Dr. Bauer.  Again, the AAFCO statement is helpful.  Foods that have been fed to animals prior to marketing to consumers will have a statement similar to “AAFCO animal feeding trials substantiate…” or “Feeding trials show…”.  This is a good sign that the company has invested in the due diligence to make sure pets willingly accept the diet and stay healthy on it.

Foods can also be created to meet specific guidelines.  If the bag of food simply states that “Brand X is formulated to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles”, then the food was not fed in any regulated manner to animals prior to its delivery to store shelves.  Although this does not mean that the food is poor quality or even bad, most pet owners would prefer that their pets are eating a food that has proven to do well for other animals.

Kitten eatingFinally, the reputation of the company making the food is an important consideration for pet owners.  Does the manufacturer use a veterinary nutritionist to help develop and maintain the diets or is the food one that just has a celebrity endorsement?  Does the company engage in beneficial nutritional research or do they simply follow the most recent dietary fad?

Although the Internet is full of opinions and folklore about pet foods, the best source of nutrition information will come from your veterinarian.  He or she not only has the needed schooling to help you understand your pet’s dietary needs, but many veterinarians will also attend continuing education lectures to keep up to date with the latest advances in animal nutrition.  In addition, your veterinarian understands your pet’s unique needs and any specific concerns you might have about pet foods.  Anonymous strangers in online chat rooms or forums simply won’t have that knowledge or the same level of concern.

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Pet Foods Part 1 – Myth Busting!

Asking someone about their preferences in pet foods can be as polarizing as if you asked about their political affiliation.  Many pet owners have very strong opinions and beliefs when it comes to the type of food they choose for their four-legged companions and that is certainly their right.  However, there are a few myths about pet foods or pet food ingredients that need some clarification.

First, a very common assertion in online discussions, and even in veterinary waiting rooms, is that corn is a bad ingredient and our pets cannot digest it.  In fact, some people will outright refuse any pet food that contains any corn in the formulation.  This myth comes about because of the human preference for eating whole kernel corn.

But, looking more closely at ingredient labels, pet owners will see that the “corn” present in many pet foods is actually corn meal or even corn gluten meal.  These processed ingredients provide a very high quality carbohydrate source and, in the case of corn gluten meal, a very digestible and good source of amino acids.  The amino acids found in corn protein complement many of the amino acids found in meat, thereby creating a food with all the essential amino acids a pet needs.  An important fact to remember is that nutrients are the most important part of a pet’s diet, not the specific ingredients!

Despite the numerous myths circulating, corn is no more allergenic that any other protein source and actually has been shown to be less allergenic than beef, soy, wheat and dairy proteins.

The next myth has to do with an unfortunate naming convention.  Almost everyone has seen pet food commercials showing paid actors pretending to be disgusted by the pet food ingredient called “meat by products”.  Again, the confusion and misunderstandings happen because of what humans have decided to name particular parts of the meat producing animals.  Skeletal muscle is the most common meat that ends up in our grocery stores and on our dinner plates.  But, there is a lot of muscle and other protein rich organs that are not consumed by people.  Since we don’t use these leftovers for human food, they are termed “by-products”.

In reality, by-products include highly digestible and nutritious organs, such as the liver and lungs and do NOT include things like hair, horns or hooves, as advertising gimmicks would have you believe.  More to the point, if pet food companies did NOT use these organs and other parts, a large portion of the animals we raise for food would go to waste, resulting in the need to raise MORE animals to feed our pets.  As the American Animal Hospital Association has said, “Feeding by-products = green living”.

Finally, many people believe that veterinarians are not instructed in any sort of nutrition basics during their intense schooling.  This is actually a big fallacy as almost all veterinarians will have at least a semester devoted to nutrition and many may have completed undergraduate nutrition courses before applying to veterinary school.  Continuing education opportunities that discuss nutrition are also popular lectures for veterinarians and veterinary technicians.

What you feed your pet will be a decision you make based on a variety of factors.  But, don’t fall victim to Internet fads promoted by individuals without scientific training or who will profit when you purchase their brand of food.  It’s also important to review a variety of information sources before you reach any conclusion about how good, or bad, a particular ingredient might be.

Whether you choose to use a “grain-free” diet, an “organic” pet food or the cheapest food you can find, it’s important to discuss your pet’s nutrition with your veterinarian.  He or she can help you understand what the pet food labels really mean and help you make a sound decision based on the needs of your pet.

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FDA Cautions Dog Owners

Questions continue to be raised over the safety of chicken jerky products that are marketed as chicken tenders, strips or treats for dogs in the US.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued cautionary warnings to consumers in September of 2007, 2008, and again in November of 2011.  After seeing the initial number of complaints decrease in 2009 and 2010, the FDA is receiving complaints levels again, prompting a re-release of earlier warnings.

Year                                       Cases Reported

2006                                                       6

2007                                                    156

2008                                                       41

2010                                                       54

2011                                                       70

If you have been feeding these treats to your dog, you should watch closely for the following clinical signs:  decreased appetite; decreased activity; vomiting; diarrhea, sometimes with blood; increased water consumption and/or increased urination.   If you see any of these signs in your pet, stop feeding the treats immediately and contact your veterinarian if the clinical signs persist for more than 24 hours.

The FDA continues to actively investigate the problem and its origin. To date, with extensive chemical and microbial testing, food scientists have been unable to determine the exact cause of illness.  The FDA’s Veterinary Laboratory Response Network (VLRN) and several animal health diagnostic laboratories are working towards a direct association of the illness and the consumption of the treats thought to be manufactured in China.

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