By Amy Kennard
We’re all a little guilty of running through the drive-thru. French fries. Burgers. Breakfast sandwiches. Fast food is, well, fast. It’s convenient, cheap, and tasty. We don’t eat it for every meal, though, because it’s just not good for us. If we ate fast food every day for years on end, we’d likely not feel very good and develop some serious health problems.
Many pet owners, though, are feeding their furry friends what could be considered the equivalent of fast food. It’s inexpensive, easy to find, and our pets chow it down every single day. What are we really feeding them? Nilla’s Tub is on a mission to educate pet owners about the ingredients in pet food and ways to improve their pet’s diet so our four-legged friends can live a long and healthy life.
Committed to your pet’s health
Nilla’s Tub is part do-it-yourself dog wash, part health food store for dogs and cats. Located at 211 Landmark Dr. in Normal, owner Karley Eash is passionate about helping animals. With three dogs of her own, all adopted from different shelters, she also fosters dogs on a regular basis, helping to place them in “forever homes.” Karley is committed to helping pet owners who are wanting a healthier and longer life for their pets.
Nilla’s Tub was founded on the belief that proper nutrition and a non-toxic environment for dogs and cats is crucial to their health and wellbeing. Everything in the store — from the food, treats and supplements to the bathing products and toys — meets Karley’s own strict requirements.
The food and treats Nilla’s Tub carries are GMO-free, organic where possible, whole food, without any dangerous or hidden ingredients, like artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, animal-by-products, fillers, or chemical additives. “We work with mostly small companies who are dedicated to sustainable practices, the ethical treatment of animals, and are meticulous about the sourcing of ingredients and the manufacturing process — which is a crucial factor in food safety and quality,” says Karley.
The trouble with kibble
Dogs and cats are carnivores, biologically designed to eat a primarily meat-based diet. Dogs are actually omnivores, meaning they do best on a varied diet that includes meat, bones, organs, fruits, and vegetables. Most pet owners feed their dogs dry food, which is a relatively recent innovation, created during World War II when a moratorium was issued on using metal for canned dog food.
The process used back then to make kibble is essentially the same method that is used today. The ingredients are mixed together, cooked several times at high temperatures, then pushed (extruded) through a machine to create the little brown balls that we recognize as kibble. This process creates a few problems; for one, it’s dry food, which can make it difficult for animals to digest it properly. Second, the heat processing effectively kills many, if not most, of the nutrients, which then need to be added back in the form of synthetic or chemical vitamins and minerals. Finally, a significant amount of carbohydrates or starches are needed to make the ingredients stick together into dry kibble. Dogs and cats don’t have a nutritional need to consume so many carbs, and many experts believe this is one reason for the growing problem of obesity and other diseases in dogs and cats.
So, are we hurting our dogs by feeding them kibble? Not necessarily. It’s OK to feed your dog or cat kibble, but quality ingredients are key. “If there are quality ingredients to begin with, and the processing is minimal to keep the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients intact, your pet will get the complete nutrition they need, especially if you add in some fresh food,” explains Karley. “We really like Nature’s Logic brand because it is one of the very few minimally-processed, whole-food kibbles that has no added synthetic vitamins and minerals.”
The real issue with dry food is that most brands — even those that are considered “premium” — contain poor-quality meats, rendered byproducts, cheap fillers, and synthetic vitamins and minerals — not the healthiest diet for man’s best friend. Misleading marketing and confusing ingredient labels make it difficult for pet owners to know what’s really in their pet’s food. “People often think they are feeding a really high-quality food, but when you actually look at the ingredients on the label, it’s not,” Karley says. “In fact, people often say that they chose a certain brand because of the picture on the bag or because they’ve seen it advertised.”
Tricks of the trade
Choosing what pet food is the best for your four-legged friend can be a daunting task. Commercial pet food manufacturers often use a little “creative license” when touting the nutritional benefits of their brand. “Meat is the number-one ingredient,” is a claim that is based on the meat’s pre-cooked weight. Raw chicken, for instance, contains about 75 percent water, so once the water is cooked out, the food may actually contain very little meat.
“Grain-free” is also widely used to indicate a “healthier” food. But the grains have usually just been swapped out for other starches like potatoes, lentils, peas, or tapioca that have as much or more carbohydrates than grains. In fact, carbohydrates will often exceed 50 percent of the total nutrients in “grain-free” foods! Manufacturers aren’t even required to list the carbohydrate level on the label.
To complicate matters further, “ingredient splitting” is a very common practice. This is when a more abundant, yet inferior-quality, ingredient is listed by different names which allows the meat to appear at the top of the list. For instance, a food label may include peas, pea flour, pea fiber, and pea protein. If all these smaller amounts of peas were put together, “peas” — which are essentially a cheap filler — would actually be the main ingredient.
“Feeding your pets healthy food is really no different than feeding yourself healthy food,” says Karley. “You need to do your research, read the labels, and know what’s really in the food you buy.”
In the raw
Raw food is the fastest growing segment of the pet food industry, in part because pet owners are realizing that a more natural, less-processed diet is healthier for their pets — just like it’s healthier for humans. Many pet owners become interested in a raw food diet because their dog or cat has chronic allergies, itching, or digestive issues. While there can be a number of causes, and you’ll want to consult your vet, diet is often the culprit. Some owners simply believe that better nutrition will help their pet live longer and lessen their chances of getting cancer and other diseases. According to Dr. Karen Becker, a nationally respected integrative veterinarian, “It doesn’t take much research to uncover the fact that dogs and cats are designed by nature to eat living foods — unprocessed, raw, nourishing foods. The benefits of a raw dog food diet include better digestion, healthier skin and coat, less poop, fewer allergy symptoms, and a general increase in energy and vitality.”
Commercial raw pet food is available in frozen patties or nuggets, so it’s easy and convenient to use and specifically formulated for complete and balanced nutrition. “Raw feeding isn’t a magic pill for good health,” says Karley, “But owners usually notice pretty quickly that their pets have fewer skin problems and their coats are shinier.”
The raw truth
So, you might ask: why doesn’t everyone transition to a raw food diet? “The biggest reason is probably cost.” says Karley. “However, the people who have made the switch believe the higher cost is worth it. If you can’t do 100-percent raw, feeding one raw meal a week, alternating kibble and raw, or even just using freeze-dried raw treats or a meal topper can make a difference.” She continues, “You can also give dogs people food — meat, cheese, carrots, eggs, berries — to add some fresh, whole options. Making even small improvements will be beneficial to their overall health.”
There is also a misconception that raw food is unsafe. “Of course, you need to take common-sense precautions when handling raw food,” says Karley, “but the belief that raw food is unsafe is completely false.”
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to feed your dog or cat. Whether you choose to feed your pet a 100-percent raw diet, incorporate some fresh food into their meals, or invest in a higher-quality kibble, you’re taking steps to improving your pet’s health and longevity. “And if you have questions, just ask,” says Karley. “We enjoy educating our customers and helping them get the information they need. We don’t tell people what or how they should feed their pets, but we encourage them to be informed and decide for themselves.”
Passionate about pets
Nilla’s prides itself on being one of the only holistic-focused pet health food stores in the area. They carry many brands that you won’t find anywhere else in town. If you are looking for a specific brand, they can often order it for you. “We’re a small business with a great customer base,” says Karley. “People like coming into a store that isn’t wall-to-wall pet products — that’s just too overwhelming. I really enjoy getting to know my customers and their pets and being able to offer them products and suggestions that will keep their pets healthy and happy.”
Karley’s passion for pets and knowledge of their care and feeding is what continues to make Nilla’s Tub popular with pet owners. “I love being able to make a difference in the lives of animals, and I believe in providing nothing but the best for my own dogs — in fact, my dogs eat better than I do! The greatest satisfaction to me is when someone comes in asking for help with a certain issue, or needing assistance with giving their dog a bath, and I can suggest some things that I think will work. When they come back again and they have seen a difference — that’s the ultimate reward.”
Nilla’s Tub is located at 211 Landmark Dr. Suite B-1, across from Sherman’s in Normal. They are open Wednesday and Thursday from 11am–6pm, Friday from 11am–5pm, Saturday from 10am–5pm, and Sunday from 11am–3pm. No appointment is necessary. For more information, call 309-451-9274, visit their website at NillasTub.com, and follow them on Facebook.