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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Do your pets eat beaks? Feathers? It's Possible.

Source: Knight Ridder

Do your pets eat beaks? Feathers? Entrails? The mental images are terrible. At best, the majority of low-end and premium commercial pet foods are lacking in the basic nutrients to sustain health, say experts. At worst, they include garbage and are a source of death and disease.

Pet food quality has been in the news recently with the FDA investigating the deaths of more than 100 dogs attributed to aflatoxin-tainted food manufactured by Diamond Pet Foods. Aflatoxin causes lethal liver disease in animals and had exceeded the maximum allowable levels. Although the poisoning was accidental, it brings to light a serious issue regarding dog food quality.

"Half of all dogs over 10 years old are expected to get some form of cancer," writes Tracie Hotcher, author of "The Dog Bible, Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know" (Gotham Books, $20). "My personal inclination is to think that the danger to our dogs resides inside the bags of dog food: They are full of mysterious and possibly dangerous ingredients, often the bottom of the barrel from processing the discards of a food industry that is filled with carcinogens and chemicals."

Take, for example, the common ingredients listed as byproducts. "Byproducts are anything under the sun - wood shavings.

"It's pretty gross and disgusting," said Lin Croskey, co-owner of In Good Health, a natural foods pet supply. "Byproducts can be beaks, feet and heads. ... Chemical preservatives have been proven to cause cancer in animals and people as well."

Ingredients in low-end and even premium pet food typically include meat and poultry byproducts, powdered cellulose, preservatives, fillers, crude protein, sweeteners, flavor enhancers and artificial color. These ingredients are regulated by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which requires "that pet foods, like human foods, be pure and wholesome, safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled," according to the Food and Drug Administration at (www.fda.gov/cvm/petfoods.htm). The devil is in the details.

We recommend that you purchase all natural, human-grade food with no byproducts, no chemical preservatives and no fillers, the same things you should be eating, said Croskey. If you don't immediately recognize the ingredients on the label, don't serve it to your pet.

"It's the same as the basic human principle, you are what you eat," said Rodger Robertson, a sales consultant for RJ Matthews, the parent company of PBS Animal Health in Massillon. "You can have the word `natural' in the name, but not have one natural product in there."

The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine "explains" the regulations behind pet food labels in six agonizing pages on the Internet at www.fda.gov/cvm/petlabel.htm. While the ingredients are listed on the bag or box in order of predominance by weight, a number of complex rules govern their descriptors. In something labeled "Beef Dinner for Dogs," for example, the beef should comprise an alarming 25 percent of the dry or canned product, not counting the water used in processing, but manufacturers use terms such as platter, entree, nuggets and formula to get around it.

"Chicken meal" is better than "poultry meal." 'Poultry' is anything with feathers," said Robertson. "Protein sources described as 'meat' or 'bone meal' could be roadkill."

California has a law forbidding the use of dead, dying, diseased and disabled (sick) animals in feed, but no such laws govern other states, he said.

Veterinarian Nan Decker of Northfield, Ill., steers her clients away from mainstream fare. "I prefer more holistic diets than are found at supermarkets. ... If a label says "meat" or "chicken byproducts," that's usually not a good sign. You don't really know it's quality protein."

She also shuns corn, wheat and gluten-containing grain, dairy and soy - foods most likely to set off allergic reactions with continued use. Unusual combinations in dog food such as duck, trout, sweet potatoes and salmon are healthful alternatives designed to vary the diet and alleviate symptoms.

"If your pets are scratching, it could be something they're eating," said Burlson. "We don't get fresh veggies anymore - everything sits. It's the same with dog food. ... People are saying better food has made a difference in their animals. People think of their animals as their children. I have one cat (Lucky), and I feed him the best."

Consider: If you wouldn't put it on your plate, don't buy it - and take a second look at what you're eating. The shortest list of ingredients is the best list.
Here are some things to avoid from "The Dog Bible:"

  • Meat or poultry byproducts - indicate lower food quality.
  • Fats or proteins from unknown sources. "Animal fat" could mean old restaurant grease.
  • Dedicated fiber sources - results of the food manufacturing process.
  • Crude protein - beaks, hooves, tendons, etc., can't be processed by the body.
  • Powdered cellulose - essentially sawdust.
  • Artificial colors - chemicals with long-term health consequences.
  • Sugar and sweeteners - aggravate health problems.
  • Food fragments - what's left after the nutrition is removed.
  • Flavor and texture enhancers - good food doesn't need them.


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