Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Chow-Down on Pet Food Ingredients

Last week, I had a discussion with a puppy parent who brought treats to class that contained 'propylene glycol'.  She purchased them from her vet, and when I told her what was in them, she was mortified.  Her beloved puppy is only 10 weeks old, and already she is unknowingly feeding him things that could possibly shorten his life.  She loves her puppy and only wants whats best for him, just like many other pet parents.  So, below is information that I have learned over the years, because I was just as shocked as she was when I learned what I was feeding my dog in the late 90s.  I am not going to tell you what to feed your pet, but rather give you a place to start researching yourself.  I like the website http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/ and also The Whole Dog Journal, as a starting point.  For my own education, and for the purposes of this blog, I also consulted my friend and fellow trainer, Anna Johnson.  She is a certified Canine Nutritionist, and her website is http://www.happyhealthypup.com/.  She is a phenomenal resource for nutrition consultations.

Here goes...
Educate Yourself
I urge every dog and cat owner to re-evaluate what you are feeding your pet. Please don't buy the grocery store brand because it is cheaper. You are doing your pet an injustice. Do research. Be informed. Study the labels on the foods that you are currently feeding your pet. On food labels, ingredients are listed in order of their volume percentages. For example, if chicken by-product is the first ingredient listed on the label, then chicken by-product is the major ingredient in your pet's food. The second ingredient is the second largest amount, and so on. And even if the first ingredient is Chicken, it doesnt mean there is a lot of chicken in it (as it contains mostly water).  You want to look at the other ingredients, too.  A word about ‘protein’ in pet foods: The 'Crude Protein' analysis on pet food labels is only a measurement of the amount of nitrogen in a food -- not the quality of the protein. Because of this, pet food companies can use the cheaper by-products of human food production, such as Rice Gluten Meal, Soybean Meal & Beet Pulp. Whole meats are always the best source of quality protein. Meat protein is absorbed and retained better and is higher in essential amino acids like methionine, arginine, and taurine. Ingredients such as ‘Rice Gluten Meal’ contain less than half the usable protein as other sources, such as whole Chicken, Beef, Turkey, Lamb, Fish, etc.
Species-Specific Variety
Many dogs and cats eat the same thing day-in and day-out for their entire lives. There is no variety, and most domesticated animals are fed a dry kibble. One could argue that this is the equivalent of humans eating only Pop-Tarts everyday for our entire lives. Dogs and cats are carnivores, and unfortunately, dry food kibble alone doesn’t give them all the species-specific nutrition that they need. The digestive systems of dogs aren’t made to digest anything but what they would eat in the wild. Their digestive tracts are much shorter than ours so food basically goes in and out. It doesn’t take as long to go through as a human. I recommend supplementing your pet’s dry kibble with wet food whenever possible, even just by a tablespoon. This will add more moisture in his system, which will put less stress on his kidneys and liver. Also, their saliva lacks the digestive enzymes amylase and cellulase that are essential to break-down raw vegetables. Most dogs love veggies and fruits, so if you add them, ideally they should be shredded, cooked, or steamed.
Dry Food Kibble
Dry dog and cat food can include a majority of grain and fillers. Therefore, by feeding your dog only dry kibble every day, you are giving him much more grain than he would eat in the wild, which is none. Dogs don’t need grain or traditional carbohydrates, but we are feeding it to them everyday.
Look for foods that have whole protein sources like Chicken, Chicken Meal, Turkey, Turkey Meal, Lamb, Lamb Meal, etc. If you see ‘chicken meal’ as the first ingredient, it is usually a good thing, especially if it’s followed by ‘Lamb Meal’ or ‘Whole Chicken’, etc. Premium foods use the whole animal to render as ‘meal’, and if it comes from high-quality sources, it can be very nutritious. Just because the first ingredient says ‘Chicken’ definitely doesn’t mean there is a lot of chicken in it.
There is a belief today that certain well-known national brands on the market are ‘the best’, when they are absolutely not. These brands are full of by-products and fillers, which can harm your dog’s long-term health and behavior. Another myth is that corn is an acceptable grain. Corn is very hard to digest and has little nutritional value for our pets, especially if it’s been cooked over and over to make corn meal. Also, although many vets are wonderful and are very knowledgeable (like mine!), some do not think nutrition is necessarily important in your dog’s health. Veterinary students only take one nutrition course their entire time in vet school (so I’m told by many of my veterinarians friends), and just as human doctors don’t know much about nutrition, some vets don’t either. Don’t take your vet’s word for it- investigate foods on your own and make an informed choice. If your vet sells it, it certainly doesn’t mean it’s good for your pet.
it's also a myth that higher quality foods cost more.  While they do cost more 'per bag' or 'per can', because there is more nutrition and less filler, they cost less 'per meal'... often by a considerable amount.
The Raw-Food Diet
The raw, species appropriate diet (can also be referred to as the BARF diet) does not contain grain products, which are not biologically appropriate for our pets. It is argued that to maximize your animal’s health, he requires protein from sources similar to his wild ancestors who derived their fats and essential fatty acid from raw meat and vegetables. In addition, raw food is a great ‘weight maintainer’. If your cat needs to lose weight, he’ll lose it while eating raw food. If he needs to gain weight, he’ll gain it- both with the same amount of food. These days, there are many dehydrated raw products, too, that make it easy to supplement dry food. You just add water and don’t have to deal with the bigger freezer.
Rotation Diet
Some say that the best diet for a dog is the rotation diet, which consists of rotating protein sources every month. A lot of animals develop food allergies, and this can be attributed to eating the same protein every day for 15 years. If you rotate the kinds of proteins you give your dog, you may reduce the chances of him developing a food allergy. All this means is you can feed your dog a chicken based food for a month, then switch to lamb or beef. Rotate and you can see major health benefits. It is a myth that you are not supposed to switch dog food!
Home-Made Diet
Some people may prefer to make their pets’ diet, which has now become even easier. There are freeze dried powders, including bone meal, vegetables, and supplements that you can add to raw or cooked meat to allow for your pet’s nutritional needs. It can be more cost effective than some diets, but can also be more time-consuming.
Animal By-Products
These are parts of an animal that are left-overs from the human food chain. They can include intestines, chicken heads, lungs, livers, kidneys, duckbills, chicken and turkey feet, feathers and bone. Ingredients listed as chicken, beef, poultry, and animal by-products are not required to include actual meat.
Ethoxyquin, BHA, and BHT
These are chemical additives used as preservatives. Ethoxyquin is FDA-regulated as a pesticide, and is now banned in Europe for both human and animal food. It is a known carcinogen. BHA and BHT are petroleum derivates and are also believed to be carcinogenic. The scariest part? If these chemicals are added by the meat packing plants to preserve the human leftovers before they are sold to the dog food companies, the dog food companies are not even required to list it on the label!
Propylene Glycol
Propylene Glycol is used as a preservative in many grocery store-brand treats. PG is an ingredient in anti-freeze (anti-freeze can kill dogs), brake fluid, lotions, hair products, etc.
Powdered Cellulose
Many dog food companies are jumping on the ‘grain-free’ bandwagon, and are indeed making foods that are grain free. But what they are using instead is equally as disgusting because it’s not even meant for consumption. Powdered Cellulose is ‘processed WOOD’!
Corn Gluten Meal (Think ‘Glue’) or Any ‘Gluten’
Corn Gluten Meal is the dried residue from corn after the removal of the larger part of the starch and germ, and the separation of the bran by the process employed in the wet milling manufacture of cornstarch or syrup. When added to pet food, it slows down the transition of rancid animal fats (think toxic waste). It helps holds waste in, making the kidneys and liver work overtime. Dogs may chew their lower backs, and feet may swell causing dogs to lick/chew on their feet.

Ground Corn
Ground Corn is the entire corn kernel, ground or chopped. Corn (in any form) is the #3 most common cause of food allergies in pets. It is linked to hyperactivity, hot spots, itchy skin, and even behavioral problems.
Soybean Meal (or any form of Soy)
Soybean Meal is the product obtained by grinding the flakes that remain after removing most of the oil from soybeans. Dogs and Cats do not contain the amino acids needed to digest Soy, it is the #1 allergen of dogs and has been linked to bloat and gas.
Animal Fat
The origin of the contributing animals is never known. The oil is very low in both linoleic acid & essential fatty acids, which are important for skin and coat health. It is extremely difficult to digest and can lead to a host of animal health problems, including digestive upsets, diarrhea, gas, and bad breath.
Beef Tallow
Beef Tallow is obtained from the tissue of cattle in the commercial process of rendering. Same side effects of Animal Fat.
Chicken By-Products (Or any meat by-products)

Chicken By-Products consist of the rendered, left over parts of slaughtered chickens including necks, beaks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines. By-Products contain almost no nutritional value. They are linked to many deficiencies, allergies and overall poor health.
Poultry By-Product (Non-Specific By-Products)
Same as the previous ingredient, although the origin is from any fowl (turkeys, geese, buzzards, etc). Non-specific By-Products are less expensive and because the protein is never named, it can change at any time. Same side effects as above.

Beet Pulp
The sole purpose of Beet Pulp is to ‘firm up’ stools. When added to pet food it slows down the transition of rancid animal fats (think toxic waste) and holds the waste in. It has been linked to allergies, ear infections and intestinal problems.
Brewers Rice
Brewers Rice is a by-product of the alcohol industry. It is basically the mill floor sweepings and is a very low quality product that is void of nutritional value. It has also been linked to allergies, ear infections and intestinal problems.
Rice Flour/Wheat Flour
These flours consists principally of the soft, finely ground and bolted meal obtained from milling rice/wheat. It is a highly pre-processed ingredient. All of the naturally occurring vitamins have been leeched out by the processing that has already occurred. It is a dehydrating ingredient as well as an allergen.
While there are many different views on the pros and cons of all dog and cat foods, it's up to you and I, as the pet parents, to be informed. We all love our pets and want them to live long, healthy, and happy lives. What we feed them is just as important as how we train them!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dog Bite Prevention Conference Update

May is Dog Bite Prevention Month, and last week I flew to Atlanta to attend the first National Dog Bite Conference, presented by the State Bar of Georgia. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pleased to be able to go and learn more about people's perception of dog breeds and the way dog bites are handled by law enforcement.

There was a lot of great information packed into the one-day conference, and a lot of my fellow VSPDT’ers (Victoria Stilwell Certified Trainers) from across the country attended also.

The day began with an attorney, Claudine Wilkins, who has worked tirelessly for two years to change the dog bite law in Georgia. Along with a few others, including Dr. Gene Maddox, a state rep, lobbied and wrote and revised and re-revised and toiled until the law was changed to include a criminal penalty for dog owners who have dangerous or vicious dogs. From what I can tell, the law is similar to Colorado’s Dog Bite Law, pass├ęd in 2004. The best news? The Georgia law was passed on May 3- the day before the conference, so Claudine was happy to announce that it passed, very unexpectedly!

Next up- Victoria Stilwell, whose focus was on dog bite statistics and education about the rise in dog bites in the past several years. The first video was of Kyle Dyer on 9News, and the footage of her being bitten by Max, the Dogo Argentino. She discussed all the signs Max was giving and how the entire thing could have been prevented. She also spoke about certain TV shows that promote forceful and punishment-based dog training methods and how dog bites to humans have increased since those shows have been on the air. Victoria expanded on breed bans, and the fact that since certain breeds have been banned, dog bites have actually increased exponentially (perhaps not coincidentally since certain forceful dog training shows have been on the air). In the UK, dog bites have gone up 150% since pit bulls have been banned! Another statistic I found shocking is 50% of children are bitten by dogs by their 12th birthday… 70% are bitten by dogs that they know!
Other stats:
• An estimated 4.7 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year
• Nearly 800,000 dog bites require medical care
• Approximately 92% of fatal dog attacks involved male dogs, 94% of which were not neutered
• Approximately 25% of fatal dog attacks involved chained dogs
• Approximately 71% of bites occur to the extremities (arms, legs, hands, feet)

• Approximately two-thirds of bites occurred on or near the victim’s property, and most victims knew the dog

• The insurance industry pays more than $1 billion in dog-bite claims each year

• At least 25 different breeds of dogs have been involved in the 238 dog-bite-related fatalities in the U.S.

• 82% of dog bites treated in the emergency room involved children under 15 years old

• 70% of dog-bite fatalities occurred among children under 10 years old

• Bite rates are dramatically higher among children who are 5 to 9 years old

• Unsupervised newborns were 370 times more likely than an adult to be killed by a dog

• 65% of bites among children occur to the head and neck

• Boys under the age of 15 years old are bitten more often than girls of the same age

Reference- Humane Society of the United States

Next up was a victim of a horrendous dog bite attack, 8-year old Javon. He spent 9 days in the ICU and now has scars on his face and body. He and his sisters were playing on a playground, and 3 pit bulls, who were chained in their front yard 24 hours a day, got loose and went after Javon. The dogs were neglected, chained, frustrated, and had strong prey drive. This was a case of the owner being extremely irresponsible, not a case of dogs being inherently vicious. Javon is thriving and it was a pleasure to meet him!
Other speakers included Kevin Hearst, a DeKalb County Animal Control officer. Because many of the conference attendees were animal control staff from around the country, he presented information on how to prevent being bitten when going to a dangerous dog call. He was informative and hilarious and I hope he comes to the Denver Conference. Jim Crosby, a nationally known dog bite investigator also presented. I saw photos of bites I never thought were possible, including autopsy photos. So tragic- I will never forget those images.
Afterwards, the entire VSPDT group went out to eat and enjoyed some downtime.  Even when we can socialize like 'normal' people, we still talk about dogs!  We know that educating people about dog body language, calming signals, communication, and positive non-forceful training is key.  We know that helping people understand how to set dogs up to succeed is imperative.  We just have to figure out how to get the message out, and we'll keep trying until everyone understands- it's not about the breed. It's about how we interpret dog language, train our dogs with positive, non-forceful methods so they don't become aggressive, and how we educate parents and their children about dog bite safety.  A great place for more information is http://www.doggonesafe.com/
I had a great time in Atlanta and look forward to the Denver Dog Bite Conference in October... Details coming soon!