Sunday, July 22, 2012


Helpful Buckeye is still feeling the thrill of this past week's climb up to and over Vail Pass in the Colorado Rockies.  The memories will stay with me forever!  More on that later....

About a month ago, we had an interesting discussion about the safety of your pet's food.  Not only was that one of our most-read issues, but also it prompted a bunch of questions from our readers.  As promised in that issue, Helpful Buckeye will now address what you should be feeding your pet and why.  As always, if you have any questions or have a comment to offer, please send it to:  and Helpful Buckeye will send you an answer.

Let's begin this discussion with a few basic facts and informational certainties:

Raw Diet or Commercial Pet Food?

The three main feeding choices for pet owners: raw diet, cooked food, or commercial pet food....

Adapted from:

The topics of raw diets and home-cooked pet food will be addressed in our next food-related'll understand why when we get to that issue.  This week's presentation deals solely with commercial pet food.  That includes pet food sold in the grocery store, department store, pet store, farm feed store, online via the Internet, and by your veterinarian.

FDA Sets New Priorities for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently released the Foods and Veterinary Medicine Program's Final Strategic Plan for 2012 to 2016.

The plan highlights seven strategic "program goals" to better orient the U.S. food supply toward science-based food safety and labeling standards. It also includes nearly 100 initiatives to help achieve those goals....

...The goals, as outlined in the plan, are to....:

...4. Provide accurate and useful information so consumers can choose a healthier diet for their pets and reduce the risk of chronic disease and obesity....

...The program hopes to work with industry and consumer groups to improve the nutritional information on not only human food products, but animal foods as well. The end goal is to allow consumers the ability to make healthier decisions about their diet (or their pet's).

Adapted from:

Pet Points: A pet's diet demands attention
…Consumers should try to purchase foods from name-brand companies that have quality control, and list the scientific formulation of their product. This is difficult, as even top-of-the-line products have had quality-control issues and subsequent recalls of both food and prescription products. This is distressing to both veterinarians and consumers who struggle to find substitutes….

…There are hundreds of different foods available to feed pets, but not all are scientifically formulated. They vary in price and quality. Many of the benefits people see in feeding a raw meat homemade diet could also be accomplished by feeding a better or different commercial diet, or by adding supplements or probiotics. Animals do have sensitivities and allergies to foods, and limited antigen diets can be successful to treat their problems. Trial and error is often needed to find a good diet for a specific problem or pet….

Adapted from:

With "hundreds of different foods available to feed pets," how do you, as the pet owner, make the right decision on what to feed your dog and/or cat?  Here are several well-thought out suggestions provided by veterinarians and pet nutritional specialists:

Pet Food Is Confusing, Help Me Dr. Watts!

...Choosing a pet food is a difficult and confusing proposition.  The nutritional fact labels on the bags and cans make the task even harder.  You will usually only find minimum or maximum levels of a select few nutrients....

...The first thing I do is look for is the manufacturer's name.  Store brands and generics will usually have a distributor name or a statement that the food was manufactured for the store.  It will not have the manufacturer's name.  Store brands look the same every time, but may have very different formulas in each bag....

...The second thing to look for is the AAFCO statement.  The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) regulates pet foods.  This statement should be labeled for the appropriate life stage of your pet.  Categories include growth, maintenance, and pregnancy/lactation.  Some are evn labeled, "for all life stages."  Be sure to buy a food approved for the correct life stage.  The AAFCO label statement should also include the words, "animal feeding trials."  This means that after the food was formulated, it was actually fed to animals for a period of time to ensure it met their nutrient needs.  Since this method is expensive, it also mean manufacturers are unlikely to change formulations frequently.  If the words. "animal feeding trials" are not on the label, the company is likely to use "book value" formulation, which gives that food a lot less credibility....

...In recent years, small specialty pet food companies have grown in market share.  Some of these companies are just too small to run animal feeding trials on all of their diets.  While these companies may use high quality ingredients and have the best intentions, I still prefer diets that have gone through more rigorous testing.  Without a feeding trial, your pet may well be the first one to eat that particular formula. 

You should insist on purchasing food by a reputable manufacturer that has used animal feeding trials to ensure the food meets the needs of the appropriate life stage.  The manufacturer's name and AAFCO label will give you more information about the diet than everything else on the bag put together....

...Corn really does get a bad rap...Cooked ground corn is a highly digestible source of carbohydrates, protein, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids.  Unfortunately, the niche market pet foods have demonized it to a point that I don't even waste my breath with with clients anymore.  Either a client will take my educated recommendation or they will ignore me, while listening to "Dr. Google" or propaganda from specialty pet food manufacturers....

...The other thing to know about many niche diets is that your pet is literally the first one to eat it.  The diet might very well balance on paper, but most don't do animal feeding trials to measure actual nutrition performance.  A few organic brands have gone through animal feeding trials for some of their foods, but most have been presumed to be balanced based solely on book values....

...In addition, many veterinary therapeutic diets are actually superior for treating specific conditions than anything that can be found over the counter. However, the ingredients lists are formulated by board-certified veterinary nutritionists and other scientists...not by the marketing department of that company....

Question from a client:...OK, it goes something like this...After we adopted our first dog, I went to the pet supply store and wanted to get him the best food.  Yes, I asked some of the minimum wage workers what the "best" was.  They told me the "best" foods are priced higher and they claim "no corn, no soy, no wheat"...yada yada.  So one thinks, "hmmm, I guess corn, soy, and wheat is no good."  I had never heard this before, but read that wording on those packages and I was sold.

The thing is after I started feeding the dog the organic food, he started looking good.  Within the first few months or so, I had people on the street asking what I feed him because his coat is so shiny.  Then, I go back to the pet store and they happen to have the food rep there who tells me the feeding portions are smaller because it has less filler.  The dog did have smaller poop!

Now, the AAFCO statement...I thought because it was written on the package, we were good to go.  It's confusing to consumers!  How am I supposed to know there are two statements they can make?  I figured it passed that test, but I didn't look carefully enough.  I misunderstood.  It's annoying!

I do Internet searches on "best dog food," "high quality dog food" and yes, it's annoying because you get bombarded with all sorts of marketing and conspiracy theorists...But I figure if the food is mentioned on multiple sites, I might be alright....

Answer:...I also find the information on pet food bags frustrating.  I almost always need to consult other sources of information to get the data I need to analyze the details of a particular food. 

As for the size of the feces, that is directly related to the amount of fiber in the food.  It does not necessarily indicate better or worse nutrition for a particular pet.  In fact, some have problems with diets too low in fiber.  The shininess of the coat has to do with the fatty acid composition of the food.  You could feed your pet straight Crisco and they would have very shiny coats, but still poor nutrition.

My solution for you is to find a knowledgeable veterinarian that you trust.  If they can converse comfortably and knowledgeably about nutrition, listen to what they have to say and then ask questions.  If one of your pets needs a therapeutic diet, chances are the one that kind of veterinarian recommends is going to be superior for your particular pet than anything you will find at a pet store--no matter what the Internet, the store employees, the dog trainer, or the bag of food might tell you.  There is nothing wrong with seeking a second opinion, but be sure the person whose opinion you seek is well-educated in animal nutrition.

Adapted from: several articles by Dr. Michael Watts, a practicing veterinarian in Virginia, which can be read at:

If you're either still in doubt or just a bit confused about your pet food choices, here is some helpful information from a clinical specialist on pet nutrition:

Myths of Pet Nutrition

Dr. Lisa Freeman, a professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary medicine, speaks on optimal nutrition for pets. 

Freeman's lecture centered on exposing the myths of pet nutrition and educating pet owners on how to select an optimal diet for their pet.  "It's a really difficult area for people to deal with because there are so many mixed messages coming out for our own nutrition," she said.  "You look in the newspaper, on the Internet, in the magazines, every single day there is something on nutrition, and then usually the next week there is something contradictory."

According to Freeman, nutrition is an incredibly powerful area because it is one thing that pet owners can actually control.  The $17 billion pet food industry--and the advertising that goes with it--does not help in debunking those myths.  Freeman emphasized that one pervasive myth in particular--the belief that the pet food industry is not regulated, which exploded after the 2007 pet food recall--is not true.  The AAFCO serves two crucial purposes: the AAFCO has pet food regulations that set the standards for individual states, and it also establishes nutrient profiles.

But how is this useful for the average pet owner when it comes time to select food?  Freeman expressed her disbelief at the number of options in the grocery or pet store aisles, where each brand aims to convince owners that its food best for the animal.  "The key is that a pet food label is an advertisement as well, and it has to appeal to us as consumers," Freeman said.  "Unfortunately, when I talk to owners, what they base their decision on is the advertisement, not the legal part."

During the lecture, Freeman asked audience members which pieces of information on pet food labels were most important.  According to Freeman, the most common answer given is the list of ingredients, but this is yet another myth.  "The...most important thing is the manufacturer," she said.  "You would absolutely be shocked at the variability in the quality of different companies."  Freeman explained that at least one full-time, qualified nutritionist, a research and development department, self-operated plants and internal quality control standards are essential for any reliable manufacturer.

"You would be shocked at how many of these pet food companies do not have a nutritionist.  I also don't want them to be spending all of their money on marketing.  I want research and development so they continue to enhance their own foods, to enhance our knowledge collectively about nutrition."

The second-most important fact on the label, Freeman said, is the nutritional adequacy statement, which reveals three essential pieces of information: whether or not the pet food is complete and balanced, how the company knows that it is complete and balanced, and the intended life stage of the food.  "If you're feeding this to your pet, you want it to meet all the nutrient needs for that animal," Freeman said.  "The best way to decide that is with feeding trials.  AAFCO has regulations, and they make sure that animals fed these foods actually stay healthy on these foods.  And finally, the intended life stage--who it's marketed for can be really different from who it meets the requirements for.  That one little statement tells you a tremendous amount of information."

Freeman presented images of pet food labels representing various brands, reading the nutritional adequacy statements and testing her audience as to whether these statements were reasonable.  One particular label for cat food that Freeman showed listed flaxseed--which can be metabolized in humans and at low efficiency in dogs, but not at all in cats--as an ingredient.  According to Freeman, this is an indication that the company does not know a lot about nutrition.  "They used it for us, because we see flaxseed and think it's great.  That is marketing to us.  People get really deceived by the ingredient list.  But that's how I use it--to look for red flags that say they don't know very much."

According to Freeman, pet owners make the process more difficult than it needs to be.  She advises customers to be skeptical of marketing, as most of the "stuff" on the label is just advertisement and has little to do with quality.

By now, you should feel more comfortable about what to look for when considering the varieties of pet food.  Some final advice on the choices you have to make comes in the form of some questions and answers from a veterinarian, who is board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition:

Food Choices Are Tough To Swallow

By: Sharon L. Peters

The array is dizzying.  Visit any pet store (or any supermarket or Walmart, for that matter), and you'll find dozens and dozens of brands and varieties of dog and cat food.  Lots of individuals and companies are duking it out in the lucrative feeding-our-pets arena, some with brand-new products, some with "new and improved" offerings, most packaged and/or marketed with emotion-invoking verbiage, all knowing that never have so many been so willing to devote so much money and energy to making the right choice....

...But readers contact me with many questions about pet food.  So I found someone who doesn't pitch a particular brand and also has credentials that literally span continents.  Denise Elliot, the above-mentioned board-certified veterinarian and nutrition specialist, offers some interesting information by way of these questions and answers:

Wet or Dry?  "There's no one answer for every pet," she says.  It depends on the animal's "age, lifestyle matters and convenience."  She recommends going wet "if weight control is a problem," since it's easier for owners to cheat with dry food, measuring out heaping cups instead of flat-tops or tossing extra kibbles into the bowl.  Can size is can size, and giving more actually requires opening another, something few people with pets on weight-management programs will do, she says.  Also, she says, cats with urinary tract issues often better on wet food. 

Pluses for dry: It is more cost-effective and convenient, and you don't have to worry if it sits uneaten for a while. (Wet food is subject to spoilage and bacteria growth in fairly quick order, particularly in the heat.)  Contrary to popular belief, however, dry food doesn't necessarily reduce dental plaque, she says, unless it's one of the few specifically designed to do so (and even the special plaque-reducers accomplish little if your pet inhales the food rather than chewing it).

Is it necessary to buy premium brands or are some moderately priced foods from supermarkets OK?  "There are very good brands sold in supermarkets," she says.  "For the majority of animals, we can find something good that will provide complete nutrition at the lower price point."

How can you tell if your pet isn't eating the right food?  There are visual things such as dry, flaky skin or a coat that isn't glossy; there also may be gastrointestinal matters, such as excessive gas or stool that isn't normal, Elliot says.  All signal that the animal is "getting insufficient or the wrong food."

It's especially important, she says, that puppies get proper nutrition during their early months, when they're growing.  Larger breeds, in particular, can develop growth or bone disorders if they don't get food formulated for their extra needs.  Poor nutrition, in fact, can cause a variety of issues in all ages.  Your veterinarian is a good resource on that, she says.

What about much-maligned corn as an ingredient?  Elliot says there's a great deal of anecdotal chat about corn being problematic for many dogs, "but when we look to scientific studies, there's not one ingredient more likely to be implicated."  Some dogs may be sensitive to corn, but some may react poorly to chicken or other ingredients.  Moreover, "use of corn is variable, some may crack corn or extract nutrients," so some corn-containing products may be fine for a particular dog, and others may not.

Is homemade food best?  "I know the intent is good, but most recipes on the Internet aren't complete and balanced and, with time, can cause problems." 

What about the matter of treats?  When I shifted to that topic, I made a confession: I don't buy them and don't see any point in them once a dog is trained, particularly inasmuch as more than half of the nation's pets are, by all measures, too fat.  She laughed and congratulated me.  She doesn't give treats to her three Labradors, either.  She rewards each with the special things each finds wonderful: belly rubs, ball chasing, or special toys.  "Interaction time with you is what they see as the best reward." she says.

The whole treat-giving thing is often driven by "guilt."  Owners would do better--especially owners who have pets "that don't need the extra calories"--to establish "what the pet likes or enjoys" and provide more of that.

Now, even with all those choices of pet foods, you should feel a lot more confident about making the right choice for your dog or cat.  Later on this summer, Helpful Buckeye will address the topic of "What SHOULDN'T be for dinner." 

The LA Dodgers have finally put together a nice, 4-game winning streak...including a 3-game sweep of the Mets in NYC.  We're right behind the Giants, with a lot of baseball yet to be played.  Our 2 big stars are back in the daily lineup and our pitching has been getting better.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the AZ Cardinals open training camp this coming Wednesday.  Helpful Buckeye will be at several of the Cardinals' practices here in Flagstaff, with Desperado coming along for a few of them...she really got into it last year.

My bike ride over Vail Pass surpassed any expectations I had prior to the event.  The long grind of 30 miles uphill, the culmination of reaching the high pass at 11,400 ft, and the long descent of 10 miles down to 8000 ft in Vail were more exhilarating than I could have imagined.

I bought a T-shirt in Vail that has this message on it:
"You don't stop riding because you get old; You get old because you stop riding."
If that's the case, then I should never get old.... 

Several friends have already asked about going with us if we ever decide to do this ride again...after they heard about our experiences...that would be fun to do.

My next challenge will require a different type of training.  I'll still be biking a lot of miles, but I also will be working on another way of getting from point A to point B.  That event will be the 3rd week of September.

"Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning."--Gloria Steinem

All the dreaming, planning, and realization gave me these photos:

Dodger1 in Monument Valley

Monument Valley

A possible bike for the ride?

How about this bike?

...or this one?

Nope, Helpful Buckeye has Dodger1 and the route goes over the mountains in the distance.... 

At the top of Vail Pass, Black Lake marks the downhill start. 

The east side of Vail and Interstate70 below the downhill trail....

Re-hydration and celebration at a bistro in the village of Vail.... 

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

No comments:

Post a Comment