By Amy Kennard
If you have pets, you know that they are more than just animals; they’re a part of your family. Their companionship is comforting, their energy at times abundant, their love unconditional.
While the cost of care and feeding for our furry friends may add up, we tend to spare no expense when it comes to everything from toys and treats to medical procedures and vet visits.
Pet owners spend an average of $60 billion a year on their pets. Of that, more than $23 billion is spent on pet food. Television inundates us with commercials featuring adorable dogs and cats with owners professing that their pet “deserves the best” and that’s why they feed them brand X, Y, or Z.
Are you being fooled?
A recently released documentary has taken to task the commercial pet food that millions of us feed our pets every day. Pet Fooled shines a not-so-positive light on the commercial pet food industry and its lack of proper regulation, enabling brands to incorporate ingredients that are actually detrimental to our pets’ health. The 80-minute film delves into the issues surrounding the industry and asks the question, “Is what’s inside as good as the shiny outside label leads you to believe?”
Dr. Barbara Royal and Dr. Karen Becker are both integrative veterinarians and featured prominently in the film. Dr. Royal is the author of “The Royal Treatment,” an integrative guide to the holistic and natural ways to take care of your pet, and says that the commercial pet food selections are often confusing to customers. “The pet food industry tells us what to feed our pets based on what they want our pets to eat,” she explains.
For instance, in many commercial pet foods, one of the first ingredients is corn, chicken by-product, or wheat. Dr. Royal says these ingredients are cheap for pet food companies to use. “Those are the ingredients that cause diabetes, arthritis, skin infection, and weight issues,” she says, “and they can all be linked to one simple thing — diet.”
It started with kibble
During the war, there was a moratorium on using metal for canned dog food because metal was needed for ammunition. Processing food into kibble enabled it to be bagged, and no one realized that in doing that, they were robbing their pets of proper nutrition.
The rules guiding commercial pet food are generous to the industry. Any product containing the word “dinner,” “nugget,” or “formula” only must contain 25 percent meat. Add in the word “with” and the requirement is three percent. Throw in the term “flavor”? Little to no meat.
Even more shocking, those “by-products” you see on that pet food bag are what’s left over after an animal has been slaughtered and all the edible parts have been removed. The industry doesn’t have to disclose the source of the by-products, which can come from euthanized animals, road kill, or farm animals that simply died. These by-products are combined with other fillers and ingredients along with some vitamins and minerals in rendering facilities and sold as “quality” pet food.
In the raw
So, what should you feed your pet? “Raw food,” says Dr. Becker, who, in addition to being one of Chicago’s top vets, is an expert on wildlife rehab and pet nutrition. “Raw food is weird to a lot of people, but it will make a huge difference in your pet’s health.” She uses the example of dogs and how these carnivores evolved from the wolf. “Their DNA is 99.9 percent the same as wolves,” she says. “The only thing that’s changed over time is how they look, not their nutritional requirements that keep them healthy.”
Critics say that raw diets are hazardous and can make your pet sick, but according to Becker, they are unable to produce any research to substantiate their claims. “The research isn’t there on raw foods due to the cost to fund these studies,” says Becker. These critics cite that there are pathogens and bacteria in raw meat. Becker counters by saying that animals are equipped to process raw meat, and that their stomach acid can neutralize any pathogens or bacteria that could be present in the raw food.
The trend toward health
Royal and Becker are optimistic that more awareness will bring about change. “The big pet food players will remain — much like McDonalds,” said Becker. “But as McDonalds has stayed in business, health food stores like Whole Foods have grown in recent years. Same for the pet food industry.” Smaller pet food companies are beginning to thrive as the awareness grows and independent pet stores are able to offer raw, dehydrated, or alternative diets that aren’t found in the big box stores.
Be wary of foods claiming to be grain-free. If you're feeding a dry diet, it might be free of grains, but it can't be free of carbs, because carbs are necessary to form kibble. Conventional dry dog foods can exceed 40 to 50 percent in total carbohydrate content. This means that around half the dog's diet is composed of non-essential simple sugars. Carbohydrate content is intentionally left off pet food labels to deceive pet owners into believing many grain-free foods are healthier than other types of pet foods!
A healthy balance
There’s no argument that a raw food diet is costlier than commercial dry pet food. Becker says it’s a balancing act. “Feed your pet the best possible food you can. Consider one meal or a snack of raw, dehydrated or canned food. It’s not about perfect — it’s about knowing that you are increasing your pet’s health when you can feed it a biologically-appropriate diet.”
Pet Fooled is a wakeup call to all pet owners, and its content is educational and, at times, shocking. Nilla’s Tub has copies of the film to borrow and it is also available to view on Netflix, iTunes, Vimeo, and Amazon.com.
For more information about dog and cat food, stop in Nilla’s Tub DIY Dog Wash and Health Food Store, located at 211 Landmark Dr. in Normal. They carry a large selection of raw, dehydrated raw, dietary supplements, and treats, from small companies that you won’t find anywhere else in town. They have everything you need to bathe and groom your furry friend in a fun, relaxing environment. No appointment necessary, call 309-451-9274 or visit them online at www.NillasTub.com.
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