Pet Foods Good Enough to Eat
Concerned that Joe and I may be inadvertently feeding roadkill — or worse (see Pet Foods and Mystery Meats) — to our cat, Keebee, I visit with Julie Phye, co-owner of Leash on Life pet supply in Iowa City, Iowa. Although we’ve been relying on grocery-store pet foods for Keebee, Phye shows me that there are a wide variety of other choices available. Some are made with “human-grade ingredients.”
“What do you mean by human grade? Could a person eat it?” Not that I’d want to, but I’m curious.
It turns out we could, if we were so inclined. “It probably wouldn’t taste real terrific,” Phye says, “because a lot of them are meat flavored. But it’s a much higher quality of food than [grocery store varieties].”
She points to one of the brands she carries. “The meats that they use are human grade ingredients, a lot of the grains are human grade. And the whole fruits and vegetables that are used in treats are an addition that, from the holistic standpoint, provides them with their minerals and their vitamins through whole foods instead of a synthetically manufactured form.”
The baseline, Phye tells me, is to check that the pet food meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards. “AAFCO standards represent the minimum standards for animal food regulations, standards and policies. These pertain to all types of animals, from domestic pets to farm animals. They’re also useful in terms of providing a uniformity in regulating the sale and distribution of food from one state to the next,” she adds. “The foods we carry are high-quality foods that are designed for companion animals. They exceed the minimum standards and, in fact, are made with human-grade ingredients. That said, you always want to make sure the food you feed your pets [at least] meets AAFCO standards.”
The word natural, as applied to pet foods is defined by AAFCO as limited to unprocessed products from plants, animals, or “mined sources.” Natural pet foods can’t contain any additives or “processing aids.” In other words, they have to be real foods. That sounds healthier than a lot of foods we humans eat.
Doreen Hock, DVM, of the Healthy Pet in Eugene, Oregon, agrees that AAFCO provides the yardstick for pet foods. “If a pet food label claims the food is ‘organic,’ by AAFCO standards that would mean all of the ingredients have to be certified organic. If only some of the ingredients are certified, then the pet food can’t be called organic; it might be considered ‘natural’ or ‘holistic,’ instead.”
Asked what the term holistic means in pet foods, Hock says, “Holistic foods are healthy foods. The grains are whole instead of fractionated. The meats, fruits, and vegetables are fresh. As a vet, I use the term holistic differently in medicine than in foods. In medicine it refers to treating the whole animal, not just one system. And it means using a whole range of modalities to treat them.
“There aren’t many truly ‘organic’ pet foods,” Hock says. “It’s very expensive to make. I sell one bag that costs about $80 for 40 lbs — but I don’t sell very many of them. It would be awesome if we had more choices. Just getting from foods that are not fit for human consumption to human-quality ingredients is a huge step.
“Traditionally,” Hock adds, “people have thought that we can give our animals “any type of junk to eat and that all we need to add is love.”
I mention to her what I’ve recently learned about meat by-products in pet foods from Food Pets Die For: Shocking News About Pet Foods, wondering if she will agree or tell me that I’ve been misled.
“If people could find out what you’ve just found out, they’d stop in their tracks and find healthier foods to feed their animals,” Hock says. “You have to wonder if what we’re feeding our dogs isn’t what causes so many of them to get cancer at only 10 years of age. Most people don’t get cancer at 10.”
Good for What Ails Them
When I ask April Monigold, a pet groomer at Healthy Pets [no connection to Hoch's Healthy Pet] in Pensacola, Florida, about the pet foods they carry, she says, ‘We like to offer different choices and in different price ranges. None of them are ‘better,’ just different. But they’re all human-grade pet foods, and almost all are made of fresh foods — meats and vegetables.”
“Is it really worth the extra money to buy human-grade pet foods?” I want to know.
The payoff, according to Monigold, is the animals’ well being. As a groomer, she sees pets with a variety of skin conditions. And, she points out, there are different foods that work best for different health problems. “If you have a dog with dry skin, give it a food with fish oil or a fish diet to get the fatty acids. It’s good for people, and it’s good for pets.
“Cocker spaniels are notorious for their bad skin, ears, and toes; and that’s often caused by eating foods they’re sensitive to. If you have a dog with chronic ear infection,” she adds, “it’s almost always caused by a corn or wheat allergy.”
The healthy effects of higher-quality pet foods seems to be a theme. Phye tells me, “I have a basset hound who had irritable bowel disease, and getting her onto a food that is organic has made a big difference for her. It spurred me to find what kinds of foods are available.”
Not all of the brands Phye carries are organic, but they’re holistic or natural. “They don’t have any grains in them. From an allergy standpoint, that’s terrific. And there are no sugars to increase excitability or hyperactivity of the dog.”
She also shows me various products to help with specific ailments. For example, Hip Action, from Zukes, provides glucosamine and chondroitin to help dogs with arthritis. (Sounds like a food I should be taking.) Phye gives her lab “a couple a day. That’s a therapeutic dose for her. She thinks she’s getting a bedtime treat, and I’m happy knowing that she’s getting a good level of glucosamine and chondroitin.”
Cats Are Carnivores
“But what about cats?” I want to know. “What should we be feeding our cat?”
“Cats do wonderfully on a raw diet,” Monigold says. “Feed them raw meat, then supplement with foods specific to cats. Remember, cats are carnivores.”
Keebee, has been vomiting more lately. I ask if changing her to a holistic food might help.
“Cats with sensitive stomachs often react to chemicals in pet foods,” Monigold suggests. “But check your pet food. You may be giving corn to a cat, who is a carnivore.”
I check the label. Keebee’s food has modified wheat flour, corn starch, and soy flour and soy protein concentrate. So, if she’s a carnivore, what are we doing feeding her like an omnivore?
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Part 1: Pet Foods and Mystery Meat
Part 2: Pet Foods Good Enough to Eat
Part 3: A Raw Diet for Your Pets