Thursday, February 4, 2010

Where did all the nutrients go?

The bag says "100% complete and balanced". What exactly does that mean? Does that mean that if my dog eats this food for his entire life he will get all the nutrients he needs in just the right amounts?

Not quite. The idea that one pet food will provide all the nutrition a pet will ever need for its entire life is a myth.

Notice the back of the bag (or can, or whatever packaging the food is in). There is a "Guaranteed Analysis" stating how much protein, fat, fiber, moisture, etc., is in the food. The guaranteed analysis is a regulatory requirement for pet foods that indicates the minimum or maximum values of key nutrients in the food.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

Not so fast.

"Guaranteed Analysis" does not actually guarantee that the food contains the amounts listed. sounds contradictory, doesn't it? The label simply lists the absolute minimum or maximum levels, which often differ from the actual quantities in the finished product. This chemical analysis does not address the palatability, digestibility, or bio-availability of the nutrients in the food. Therefore, these numbers are unreliable for determining whether or not a food will provide your pet with adequate nutrition.

The digestibility and availability of nutrients is not listed on pet food labels.

To compensate for this factor, AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) added a "safety factor" to ensure that a food exceeds the absolute minimum amounts of nutrients listed to be complete and balanced. AAFCO defines the ingredients that can be used in pet food, defines nutrition profiles for dogs and cats, and determines the approved practices for conducting feeding trials. In feeding trials, animals are fed the food being tested for 6 months and are watched to see if they remain healthy. The guidelines here are: the animals stay alive, and the animals don't show any signs of nutrient deficiency. It does NOT mean that the animals receive optimum nutrition to prevent illness further down the road, or that they will thrive.....only that the food will sustain life.

These short feeding trials are not indicative of how a pet will do in the long-term while being fed a certain food. Serious conditions such as arthritis, allergies, digestive dysfunction, dental problems, and premature aging are often caused by a poor diet beginning in the early years of you pet's life. The effects, however, may not show up for years. Other signs that your pet is not thriving on their current diet may include itching, hot spots or eczema, impacted anal glands, fatty skin growths, bad breath, loose or light-colored stools, or even personality disorders. A 6 month feeding trial is totally inadequate.

So, if the ingredients on the bag seem to be okay, why would the nutrients be lost? Let's look at the process by which pet foods are made.

Meats and proteins are typically rendered, which involves cooking at very high temperatures. This creates a fine protein and mineral rich "meal". Most dry foods are made by a machine called an extruder, or expander. The raw materials (meat meals, grains, vegetables, fruits, etc.) are blended, then fed into the extruder and steam or hot water is added. The mix is subjected to steam, pressure, and high heat as it is extruded through dies that determine the final shape of the product and puffs it up like popcorn. The food is dried, then typically sprayed with fats, digests or other flavorings to make it more palatable. A few foods are baked rather than extruded. This produces a dense, crunchy kibble that doesn't need added palatability, and pets can be fed about 25% less of these foods due to their density.

Most pet foods lose 50-75% of their nutrients during the manufacturing process. Think about that. If the ingredients are bad to begin with, as with many cheap commercial foods, the end result can only be worse! Because the ingredients are not wholesome to begin with, their quality may vary greatly by the time the final product is produced.

Dr. Randy L. Wysong, a veterinarian who also produces his own line of foods, is a long-time critic of pet food industry practices. He has stated "Processing is the wild card in the nutritional value that is, by and large, simply ignored. Heating, cooking, rendering, freezing, dehydrating, canning, extruding, pelleting, baking, and so forth, are so commonplace that they are simply thought of as synonymous with the food itself."

True, processing meat and by-products can greatly decrease their nutritional value. The cooking process, however, does increase the digestibility of cereal grains.

To make the foods nutritious, pet food manufacturers fortify the product with vitamins and minerals. In some cheaper, cereal grain-based, grocery store foods, this is still not adequate.

So, what do we do to ensure that our pets are receiving all the nutrients they need to thrive?

Raw food advocates will jump right on this as another reason that raw food diets are superior to any sort of commercial pet food. Others, who do not feel that the raw food diet is safe or balanced, promote the use of high-quality pet foods with superior ingredients. High quality natural foods carefully supplemented and balanced to the appropriate life-stage to ensure that your pet is receiving all he needs. Nutrients that were once thought to be destroyed by the cooking process are now supplemented in premium, high-quality foods...thereby making these foods as good as, or better than, a raw diet.

If you have been reading my blog all along, you are aware of the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to pet food ingredients. If you choose a premium food with premium ingredients, you can most likely be assured that your pet is receiving adequate nutrition to thrive. If you are feeding the cheap stuff, you may want to reconsider. You might save money on food for now, but you may have much higher vet bills in the long run.

For a list of top foods with superior ingredients, check out the website of the Whole Dog Journal.
They publish an unbiased list of the top recommended premium foods each year.

Trust me....your pet will thank you.

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