Each year, 47 billion dollars worth of pet products and pet services are sold; half of that goes to pet food. With all the choices that are available these days–from organic and all-natural commercial foods–to home cooked or frozen foods, the decision about what kind of food to buy for your pet can be baffling. Food nutrition experts say pets can flourish on many diets, though they all require the same nutrients: carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids. So if your pet eats a variety of meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables, and grains, you will have a healthy pet.
Most commercial pet foods provide complete nutrition in one package. The FDA and the American Association of Feed Control Officials regulate pet food. That being said, commercial pet food is largely comprised of ingredients that humans wouldn’t eat. If you see the word “chicken” on your pet food label, that usually means deboned necks, backs, or wings. “Chicken meal” includes any leftover parts of the animal that have been rendered, dried, and ground. “By-products” mean brain, kidneys, lungs, intestines, and sometimes bones.
There are now pet foods on the market that include all natural, organic, all-meat, vegetarian, kosher, and even raw foods. Millions of pet owners are going organic these days. Sales of organic pet food have increased tenfold since 2002, according to the Organic Trade Association. The group reported a sales increase of 48 percent in 2008, the year after several commercial brands of pet food were recalled because of melamine contamination.
Some pet owners go the extra mile and make their pet’s food. However, according to many veterinarians and pet food producers, it can be quite hard to formulate an animal’s diet at home. Plus, there are many foods that pets can’t tolerate. These include, among other things, chocolate, onions, grapes, garlic, raisins, and macadamia nuts.
Many of the homemade pet foods include raw foods. This raw food diet is quite controversial. Proponents argue that raw food diets are healthiest for pets as this is what dogs and cats would eat in the wild. Opponents feel a raw diet is dangerous and can easily become contaminated. The FDA has stated that feeding raw meat to animals puts the public at risk since not only might your dog or cat get sick from Salmonella or E. coli in raw food, but while preparing their meal, you could get sick too.
I know some vegetarians who believe their pets should also be vegetarians. Experts caution that a vegetarian diet may be harmful to cats, who are carnivores. Their shorter digestive tract is designed to extract nutrients specifically from devoured animals.
An issue surrounding cat food is whether to feed your cat dry kibble versus wet food. I spoke with Mike Palmer, owner of Premier Pet Supply, who advocates for a wet diet for cats. According to Mike: “Dry kibble is a man-made creation that usually misrepresents an ideal ratio of proteins and moisture that is required to sustain a long, healthy life. Unfortunately, a majority of these dry food diets are way too high in carbohydrates and way too low in water content. The issue is that cats are strict carnivores and also have a low thirst drive. A cats’ normal prey contains approximately 70-75 percent water. Dry foods only contain 7-10 percent water whereas canned foods contain approximately 78 percent water. Canned foods therefore more closely approximate the natural diet of the cat and are better suited to meet the cat’s water needs.” If you still choose to feed your cats dry food, be sure to monitor their water intake. There are water fountains on the market that simulate a running faucet that may entice your cat to drink more than they would from a water bowl.
Whether you feed commercial or homemade, vegetarian or all-meat, many pet owners credit better ingredients with helping their animals live longer and make less trips to the veterinarian. Here are a few guidelines that experts recommend when choosing a pet food:
* Look for the named meat or fish to be the first ingredient (chicken, turkey, beef, herring, salmon, etc.) and avoid unnamed food ingredients (by-products, bone meal) and protein fillers (corn gluten meal, wheat gluten)
* Look for whole grains (rice, barely, oatmeal) and fruits and vegetables (potatoes, carrots, peas, apples, sweet potatoes, etc.) and avoid grain remnants, such as highly processed flours
* Look for named fats from quality sources (chicken fat, lamb fat, sunflower oil, herring oil, etc) and avoid fats from non-specific sources (animal fat, poultry fat and vegetable oil)
If you’re looking for a healthy commercial food to feed your pet, some great brands are Wellness, Karma, California Natural, Healthwise, Innova, and Wysong. If you do decide to switch your pet to a new food, veterinarians recommend transitioning to the new food gradually since changing foods abruptly can lead to vomiting or diarrhea. For example, if your pet usually eats 1 cup of food, start by replacing ¼ cup of food with the new food and increase this by ¼ cup every three days. If your pet develops diarrhea, stretch the transition out over a month.
Cat Adoption Discounts
From February 1 to 14, County Animal Services will be offering a 50-percent discount on cats who have been at Animal Shelter Assistance Program (ASAP) for more than 6 months.
Included in the adoption fee at ASAP is:
* Spay or neuter surgery
* Flea treatment
* Health evaluation, including testing for Feline Leukemia (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). Cats thought to be 10 years or older receive a full blood panel evaluation, thus assuring that the cat is indeed healthy and adoptable.
* Medical and drug coverage through ASAP’s vet for 2 weeks beyond adoption, if necessary
* Temperament evaluation
* Cat Carrier (you can save the County money by bringing your own)
ASAP is located at the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter, 5473 Overpass Road. Adoption hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit: asapcats.org
Lee Wardlaw, author of Won Ton, A Cat Tale Told in Haiku will be at Jaffurs Wine Cellars on Sunday, February 27, 2-4 p.m.. This touching book is a beguiling adoption tale of a wary shelter cat and the boy who takes him home. Author Lee Wardlaw and illustrator Eugene Yelchin will be on hand to answer questions and discuss this wonderful book. Twenty percent of the book sale proceeds will benefit Animal Shelter Assistance Program (ASAP), a non-profit organization that provides humane care for cats and kittens.
Adoptable Pet of the Week
Figgy, a petite short-haired torbie and white kitty, is looking for a new home because her former owners were very allergic to cats. This one-year-old is very active and mischievous and especially likes to play with toys. Her squeaky little meow is to get your attention so she can bond with a human sidekick. Figgy, however, must be the only cat in your life.
To learn more about Figgy, call the Santa Barbara Animal Shelter Assistance Program (ASAP) at (805) 683-3368 or visit their website at asapcats.org. ASAP is located at the S.B. Animal Shelter, 5473 Overpass Road (just beyond the Humane Society).
Regular business hours are (Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; closed Sundays).
Lisa Acho Remorenko is executive director of Animal Adoption Solutions, animaladoptionsolutions.com