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April 16, 2015

Pet Food 101 ~ Part 1

Many of our canines and felines weigh more than they should. There’s no argument about that! Whether our very own dogs and cats are overweight – well, downright fat – that’s a lot different. MY dog is just large boned.

We have a hard time even knowing whether our pets are fat. Owning up, and learning to see the problem, is the first step in helping your dog or cat live longer.  If we do, our pets will avoid some of the most common diseases that eventually shorten their lives.  It’s a lot easier than taking the weight off our human bodies: our pets only eat what we give them.

Do you leave food out for your dog and cat? This is one of the most common causes for obesity. Pick up that food. Another is feeding too much. That’s what this series of posts is about.

It is truly confusing to try to sort out commercial foods. What’s with all the diet food? What’s the difference? What’s best for your pet?

In the very simplest approach, your pet needs to eat the amount of food that meets his needs and no more. The chart below shows you a range of activity levels and life stages and calories needed for each, daily. If you know the amount of calories he needs, you have a place to start.

So……your 50# moderately active, medium age dog needs about 1145 calories per day. There are many ways to meet that need. You can use dry food, or canned food, or frozen food, or one of the array of dehydrated and freeze dried foods. You can make food at home, using our book, Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, as a guide.

In this first segment, we’ll look at dry foods.

Foods made for all life stages are appropriate for the overweight – they just need to eat the right amount.  Often, a real measuring cup is needed more than a new food.

Diet foods have a reduced calorie count, achieved in a number of ways. Less fat, more fiber, more grain (thus less fat) and sometimes even not-so-nice additions like a hefty amount of peanut hulls. Stay away from that one. We think that these foods are more for the humans than for the dogs and cats. The humans get to hand out more diet food – since it has fewer calories, the serving is bigger. But this bigger serving has a cost: more metabolically inappropriate starch, and less fat. The natural diet of a dog or a cat would have about 20% fat, and those would be really good fats. We prefer that you use foods for all life stages. Consult the package carefully to see what the calorie count is. If it isn’t there, check the website, or call the company. Below are examples of good quality dry foods, with the calorie count for one cup. That is an official, LEVEL

DRY MEASURE CUP.

Canine Caviar Adult                                      599 kcal

Canine Caviar Venison and Split Pea        596 kcal per cup

Fromm Chicken ala Veg                               370 kcal per cup

Fromm Salmon ala Veg                               405 kcal per cup

Horizon Adult                                                415 kcal per cup

Merrick Cowboy Cookout                             359 kcal per cup

Mulligan Stew Chicken                                 480 kcal per cup

Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken                 391 kcal per cup

These “all life stages” foods range from 370-599kcal per cup. Clearly, all dry food is not alike. Some all-stages foods have 325, a few have even more than the heftiest of those above.

Your dog might get 3 cups of food a day, or a little less than 2 cups of food. If you don’t do the calculations, you may have a very chunky dog in no time. You might think that there is something wrong – when it’s just a question of too many calories.

Which food agrees with your dog or cat is another topic entirely, but if you at least take the time to figure this part out you’ll have a good idea of how much to start with.

The directions on the package may or may not reflect the way the food performs in your dog’s body. In young skinny dogs, people often feed more and more in the hope that their pet will put some weight on. Like young humans, they might just burn up the extra food – or they may poop it out (these are BIG poops) until the day comes that they start to pack it on as fat.

The dogs and cats we’re talking about here have the opposite problem. If you find that you are having to feed your dog much less than the package directs, there is a good chance the they are not getting the proper amount of nutrients. The food is planned so that the directed amount provides the appropriate nutrients.

Many obese pets (ok, a little fat) in our experience cannot handle high-grain foods and do much better on species-appropriate, real food diets, with a more appropriate balance of protein/fat/carbohydrate than can be provided by a regular pet food.

It is tempting to try one of the “grain free” dry foods, marketed to be the next best thing to real food, but they are much denser foods, with far more calories. We didn’t use any of these as examples above. The serving size is smaller and there is no water to help the body process these foods. We’re not big fans of these foods in general, though they can have a place in a rotation of dry foods.

If your pet seems to be one of those that gains on a very small amount of food, real food is probably a better choice. More exercise certainly helps, but real food AND exercise is the best choice in this situation. A frozen diet can be a good choice, or a home-made one. Canned food can provide an appropriate fat/protein/carb profile, but canned food has even more choices and a broader calorie range.

 

Pet Food 101 ~ Part 2

What’s important in pet food

  • Feed a diet as close to the natural diet of that animal as you can – a meat and vegetable diet. Simple food is best.
  • Rotate ingredients and brands frequently.
  • Choose foods made from human edible ingredients – this minimizes poor quality additions + byproducts.
  • Good food is not cheap. Good food = healthy dogs and cats.
  • Keep it safe once you get it home.
  • Exotic meats and ingredients are not needed. Novel proteins are only needed by the truly allergic.
  • Dry food does not clean teeth!

Categories of pet food:

Frozen and Canned foods are the closest thing to the natural diet of dog’s and cat’s bodies.

  • Canned food is COOKED, highly processed, and has a lot of water due to the needs of the canning process.
  • Frozen is minimally processed usually RAW, and usually has higher food value – less water
  • The water content makes a big difference in cost to feed
  • Both are good choices for feeding alone, or for feeding with dry food to improve the carbohydrate level
  • The goal in using these foods is to reduce carbohydrate level — choose foods with no starch or very little starch
  • Nutrient percentages to look for: Protein 9%/Fat 6%.  Frozen: Protein 12%/Fat 6% – look for @ twice as much protein as fat

Dry foods are highly processed, starch-based products, with a very wide range of composition and quality

“Regular” foods usually have about 50% carbohydrate, between 350-400 calories per cup.

Best choices are single protein source foods, with simple starch ingredient lists.

When you rotate, choose foods that have different proteins AND different starches. To do this, you probably will have to use different brands. To rotate brands (proteins/starches) is good, except one side effect is that different brands buy from different sources so possible toxic problems don’t add up so fast.

Meat/protein choices: meat and meat meals – simple is best

NO soy, corn, gluten meal of any kind, better to skip vegetable proteins or at least rotate

Starch choices: NO corn, wheat, NOT MUCH oat, barley, rye all can become problems for digestion and allergy development

Okay Starches: Rice, millet, and various seeds, millet, potato, and often from MANY sources

“Grain Free” dry foods are NOT starch free. They are @ 40% carbohydrate – 400-440 calories per cup. Foods are often higher in calories. This is fine except serving size must be decreased.

Foods that use Peas and Beans as starch:

  • Proteins: Meat and meat meal. Protein is often boosted with protein from legumes or potatoes
  • Starches: Beans and peas of all kinds – these are not complete proteins, not easily digestible
  • If these foods agree with your pet, rotate with other non-bean choices
  • Marketing: low glycemic index. Useful info for humans, not good choice long term for dogs

Foods that use Tapioca as starch:

  • Proteins: Meat and meat meal, mixed or single. Protein boosting sometimes done with potato.
  • Starches: tapioca alone or with other starchy ingredients (jicama).
  • Tapioca has no protein, so it will not cause immune-mediated reactions

Foods that use Sweet Potato, Pumpkin, & Yams as starch:

  • Proteins: Meat and meat meal, mixed or single
  • Starches: Starchy Vegetables

“Dehydrated” and “Freeze-dried” foods are expensive but they are useful for travel or transition.  Some have similar composition to canned or dry foods, some are dry version of raw diets.  They are highly processed and not the same as a fresh or raw food diet.

“Specialty category” foods include special needs and life style foods: these are marketing tools.

Use a food made for all life stages and keep your dog lean.

Many “prescription” foods are made with poor quality ingredients – if you know what dietary needs are, usually they can be met with existing commercial foods that have better quality ingredients.

Many “specific condition” foods (joint formula, better coat, hairball) include low quality ingredients with some supplementation to address the condition.  Usually you can do this much better by using a supplement added to a good quality food.  Often the supplement quantity is not at a therapeutic level, wasted money.

Choose the best food you can afford!

There’s no reason to think that dogs and cats should be cheap to feed, no more than humans.  Pay for good food now, or pay your veterinarian to help you with unnecessary, chronic disease later.

TREATS should promote health and improve the diet –Meat treats are best

  • Use the same standards as you use for dry food.
  • REMEMBER that treats are not a complete diet! IF your pet gets substantial calories from treats he/she will be missing some essential nutrients.
  • Dental treats may be dangerous! Do not buy treats with gluten!

 

KEEP FOOD SAFE

  • Dry food is susceptible to food spoilage that can make your dog very sick or even kill him.
  • Don’t buy more than you can use in a couple of weeks, or store it in the freezer
  • Storage containers harbor molds and bacteria. Scrub yours every time you buy a new bag – or don’t use one
  • Keep food in the bag inside the tightly sealed container,
  • Keep it in a cool, dry place – NOT the garage in the summer!
  • If your dog says there is something wrong with the food – Listen!!
  • Sometimes food problems are invisible, but dogs can tell.
  • Throw it away or return it if you have bought it recently.

 

USE FOOD WISELY

  • KNOW how many calories are in your food: — foods vary, and feeding amounts must be adjusted
  • The feeding chart on the bag may have little relationship to your pet!
  • If your pet is overweight, he needs to take in fewer calories or different calories no matter what the bag says
  • Many dogs on starch based foods put on weight on minuscule amounts of food
  • This may be an indicator that this dog might do better on a meat-based food (and also is an indicator that you might need to check with your vet about thyroid function).

 

ABOUT CATS

For a long and healthy life, cats need to eat almost exclusively wet food.  This is the opposite of what most of us were taught!  And cats don’t necessarily agree!

Contact Us for further information: The Puddle ~ Pet AquaFitness & Nutrition  (630) 883-0700.