By Barbara Fellnermayr
I’m trying to decide on what to make for my dinner tonight. So many choices to make; what protein, which vegetables, how will I cook them. We are very fortunate to be in Canada. We are able to make these choices and have many quality ingredients from which to choose.
What shall my girls eat? The girls, Sassy and Lola, are both rescued dogs from Little Paws Rescue. They can’t decide for themselves, so I’ll decide for them. It is my responsibility as their guardian to ensure they get the nutrition they need.
Sassy had her ninth birthday this week. Although she’s nine she has the health and energy of a two year old. People always comment on what a cute puppy she is. They don’t believe me when I tell them she’s nine!
Lola is six. Lola came to us four years ago with a long list of health issues. She was covered in a rash from head to toe, had urinary crystals, her hair broke off in brush the first time I brushed her, she had little to no muscles in her back end, was blind in one eye and had hearing issues. Within two weeks of joining us Lola’s skin cleared up and her urinary crystals were gone. It’s taken longer to develop muscles in her hind end, but the progress has been amazing. The combination of quality food and exercise has put a spring in her step and muscles in her back end. Her exercise routine was chasing Sassy through the race course (kitchen, TV room, dining room and living room) and frequent wrestling matches. The transformation in Lola has been amazing and it has been an adventure to witness.
Her recovery has been so dramatic that people have asked me when I got the “new” dog. Her coat is luxurious and no longer breaks in the brush. Lola still doesn’t see out of one eye, but I think her hearing problems are selective. Besides Sassy hears well enough for both of them.
FOOD IS MEDICINE
Much of Lola’s return to good health is because of the food she’s eating. Initially Little Paws Rescue asked me to supply food for Lola as she was going to be fostered in Squamish. Donating the food was not an issue, getting it to Squamish was! This is when I offered to foster Lola, and I think I was set up. Lola was started on a raw diet, full of quality meat and fresh vegetables. The rest, as they say, is history!
Some of the other effects of Lola’s new medicine are firm non-smelly poops and no doggy smell. That doggy smell comes from the inside, rotting food in the dog’s stomach. No amount of bathing will get rid of the smell, even the specialty doggie perfumes can’t cover the odour, you’ve got to clean inside first! If we put good stuff in the gut, it will clean the bad stuff out. Lola and Sassy can both put their mouth right up to my nose because they don’t have doggy breath.
How do I decide what to feed the girls? First, I read the label. Pet food ingredients are listed in descending order, based on weight. I look for meat as the first ingredient as it is the most important. It should be in the top three ingredients, but that can also be misleading. Why? Ingredient splitting. This occurs when several varieties of the same ingredient are used and each is shown as a separate ingredient. This allows other ingredients to rise higher up the list. Some companies do this to mislead customers into thinking their product is of higher quality when it actually is not.
THE FIRST INGREDIENT
I make sure the first ingredient is some form of protein. Protein is one of the most important nutrients for dogs. Protein is made up of amino acids; the building blocks that create strong muscles and repair body tissues. Dogs can only make half of the amino acids needed, the other half (called essential amino acids) must come from diet. Common ingredients such as beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, and fish provide necessary protein levels.
Protein is the most important nutrient in the maintenance of lean healthy muscle. It’s protein that helped Lola develop muscles in her back end. Quality is more important that quantity; think filet mignon versus hamburger. You get far more nutrition from the filet mignon even when you eat less.
When I’m reading the ingredients it is important to understand the industry lingo. The following is a list of commonly used terms:
- Meat refers to muscle of cattle, lamb or pig
- Poultry refers to chicken, turkey and quail
- By-products or Offal (pronounced awful for a reason) include kidneys, stomach (tripe), intestines, heart, tongue, spleen, lungs, and liver
- Meat meal or poultry meal is a mixture of ingredients (including the feathers, beaks and feet of chickens) that have been rendered (rendering is a process of boiling the ingredients and drying them)
When the terms meat or poultry are used the source of meat or poultry should be identified. Is it beef, lamb or pork, chicken, turkey or quail? If the animal source is not identified then it is a mixture, mystery meat!
Offal provide many nutrients that a dog need. Offal also provides taste that a dog loves. But dogs can’t survive on offal alone, they need protein in muscle meat.
For many years meat and bone meal were a primary ingredient in cattle feed. It is now prohibited in developed countries as it is believed that meat and bone meal were the main cause for the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease), which is also fatal to human beings. Do I want to feed meat and bone meal to my girls? Absolutely not. If cows get mad cow disease what will they get? Canine craziness?
The majority of ingredients for rendering plants come from slaughterhouses. Additional ingredients include restaurant grease, butcher shop trimmings, expired meat from grocery stores, and the carcasses of euthanized and dead animals from animal shelters, zoos and veterinarians. This material includes fatty tissue, bones, and offal, as well as entire carcasses of animals condemned at slaughterhouses, and those that have died on farms, in transit, etc. They also include any chemicals used to euthanize an animal.
I want to feed my girls meat and poultry that are free of antibiotics, growth hormones and steroids. I want as much of the animal used as possible to ensure that the girls are getting glucosamine, chondroitin and taurine in their natural states. I don’t want any synthetic ingredients in their food; synthetic is not natural, despite what many pet food manufacturers will have you believe. 90% of world’s synthetic vitamins and minerals are manufactured and imported from countries that do not share the same standards we have in Canada.
Why do I want to stay away from meat that contains antibiotics? Responsible people doctors donʼt give people antibiotics they donʼt need, because when they really do need them they won’t work. On the other hand livestock producers feed antibiotics to healthy animals to make them grow faster — no prescription necessary. Growing them faster means more money in the pocket of the livestock producer.
Sick animals may need antibiotics. Most animals raised for food in North America come from factory farms. On factory farms healthy animals are regularly given antibiotics in their food and water. The reason for this is twofold, 1) to get them to slaughter faster and 2) prevent infection in crowded, stressful and sometimes unsanitary living conditions.
How do you protect yourself from antibiotic overuse? When shopping for your own meat look for organic and meat raised without unnecessary antibiotics. These livestock producers rely on preventive medicine, good sanitation and stress reduction – not antibiotics – to keep animals healthy. Healthy animals give healthier meat.
Now you’re thinking I don’t have the money to spend on quality meat for myself, let alone for my dog. Yes you do! Supermarkets always have meat on sale or on clearance. Load up, stock the freezer when it’s cheap. It will require a bit of planning and budgeting but is well worth the effort.
If you’re buying prepackaged food ask the manufacturer about their meat suppliers. I have personally visited the farms from which we purchase our meat. I know the owners and I know how the animals are raised. Even though the animals are raised as food I think they should have a good life. Living in sunlight, fresh air, roaming the plains makes more nutritious meat. You can taste the difference.
All ingredients should be human grade; meat and vegetables. Vendors frequently call me to sell pet food grade ingredients. The conversation usually goes something like this:
Vendor: We’re calling because we have pet food grade salmon available at a good price.
Me: Is it wild?
Vendor: No, it’s farmed
Me: Is it Pacific?
Vendor: No its Atlantic Salmon
Me: What cuts of the salmon? Vendor: Heads, fins, tails and skin Me: What about the meat? Vendor: That gets sold to people!
Beware of the term human grade, another term that is misused and unregulated. What is consumed by humans varies widely. In many cultures offal is considered a delicacy yet you won’t see me consuming lungs or spleens.
If your pet food manufacturer claims to be using quality ingredients, check it out. Most reputable manufacturers will tell you their meat source, it takes nothing more than an email or phone call to confirm. Alternately, visit the facility where the food is being made. Is it clean? Does it smell bad? I have customers and vendors that come to our facility and are surprised that it is so clean and doesn’t smell. Meat only smells when it starts to go bad.
It is also important to ensure that real meat is being used. We use whole free range chickens and legs in our chicken blend. Many manufacturers use only chicken necks and backs, not a lot of the necessary protein I wrote about earlier.
Also, beware of butchers selling dog food. When butchers sell lumps of ground up mystery meat for $1.50 – $2.00 a pound, you have to wonder what’s in it. I can’t buy meat, at wholesale, at that price. The butcher’s primary customer is the human. Meat gets sold, at top dollar, to the human for human consumption. Whatever scrap and fat is left over gets ground up and made into dog food. Keep in mind that these meats were not good enough to sell to customers and were not even good enough to be made into sausages.
Let’s not give fat a bad rap! Dogs need fat but it needs to be in proportion. 10 – 15% of a dog’s caloric intake should be from fat. Fats provide energy, as well as taste and flavour to foods. They also help the animal to absorb certain vitamins. Fat in the diet provides healthy skin and a shiny, healthy coat.
When reading the label there are three things that should never be in dogs food; wheat, corn and soy. These are the three biggest allergens for dogs and are likely responsible for the bad skin, itchiness and gnawing at the feet. They are also cheap fillers.
When you feed quality food you feed much less; less input means less output. Your dog will also look and feel much better for it.