single source commercial pet food puts pets at great risk

Issues involving foods and supplements. Questions, answers, theories, and evidence.
Should pets be limited to one brand of food?

single source commercial pet food puts pets at great risk

Postby guest » Tue Sep 09, 2003 1:07 pm
Quoting in small part, and snipping in *large* part:
Researchers are strongly arguing that to feed a singular commercial processed diet, day in and day out throughout an animal’s life, puts that animal at great risk. The principles of food variety and freshness and wholeness and naturalness apply to animals (perhaps even more so since they are less removed from the wild) and to us as well.
When we recommend to pet owners that they not only cycle among different dietary formulations but also add fresh whole foods to the diet, this is done using the principle that food variety not only helps ensure nutritional adequacy but helps prevent the possibility of chronic toxic excess. As obvious as this is, the advice is often dismissed as obscure by animal owners and veterinary professionals who have been brainwashed by the “100% complete and balanced” processed pet food myth.
We are, however, no longer alone in our warnings. A quote by Dr. Paul Pion, who originally reported dilated cardiomyopathy in cats from taurine deficiency, should be soberly heeded by all animal owners who trustingly feed a commercial product day in and day out:
“The conclusion that cats fed a single commercial food exclusively were at greater risk for developing taurine deficiency and DCM than cats fed a variety of foods is not unexpected. This and other examples of diet-induced disease should serve as a warning to veterinarians who prescribe or endorse the feeding of 1 food exclusively to any animal, especially for maintenance.”
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, July 15, 1992: 267-274

single source commercial diet containing lamb taurine DCM

Postby guest » Fri Oct 31, 2003 12:01 pm

of the American Veterinary Medical Association
© 2000-2003 American Veterinary Medical Association.

October 15, 2003 (Volume 223, No. 8)

Interpretive Summaries


Taurine deficiency in Newfoundlands fed commercially available complete and balanced diets

Taurine status was investigated in 19 Newfoundlands related by environment, diet, or breeding to a dog with dilated cardiomyopathy and taurine deficiency. Diet histories were obtained, and blood, plasma, and urine taurine concentrations and plasma methionine and cysteine concentrations were measured. In 8 dogs, taurine concentrations were measured before and after supplementation with methionine for 30 days. Ophthalmic examinations were performed in 16 dogs; echocardiography was performed in 6 dogs that were taurine deficient.

Plasma taurine concentrations ranged from 3 to 228 nmol/mL. Twelve dogs had concentrations < 40 nmol/mL and were considered taurine deficient. For dogs with plasma concentrations < 40 nmol/mL, there was a significant linear correlation between plasma and blood taurine concentrations. For dogs with plasma concentrations > 40 nmol/mL, blood taurine concentrations did not vary substantially. Taurine-deficient dogs had been fed lamb meal and rice diets. Retinal degeneration, dilated cardiomyopathy, and cystinuria were not found in any dog examined for these conditions. The taurine deficiency was reversed by a change in diet or methionine supplementation.—R. C. Backus et al (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2003;223:1130–1136).

Taurine deficiency in dogs with dilated cardiomyopathy: 12 cases (1997–2001)

Medical records of 12 client-owned dogs with low blood or plasma taurine concentrations and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) were reviewed. All 12 dogs were found to have been fed a commercial dry diet containing lamb meal, rice, or both as primary ingredients. Cardiac function and plasma taurine concentration improved with treatment and taurine supplementation. Seven of the 12 dogs that were still alive at the time of the study were receiving no cardiac medications except taurine.

Results suggest that consumption of certain commercial diets may be associated with low blood or plasma taurine concentrations and DCM in dogs. Taurine supplementation may result in prolonged survival times in these dogs, which is not typical for dogs with DCM. Samples should be submitted for measurement of blood and plasma taurine concentrations in dogs with DCM, and taurine supplementation is recommended while results of these analyses are pending.—A. J. Fascetti et al (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2003;223:1137–1141).

pet food claims insufficiently supported by research

Postby malernee » Thu May 20, 2004 6:06 am

Health claims in dog and cat feed]
Tijdschr Diergeneeskd 128[24]:785-7 2003 Dec 15

Beynen AC
The number and diversity of health claims for dog and cat foods have increased markedly over the past few years. There is no explicit legislation as to these claims. Many claims are insufficiently supported by research and are vague and suggestive. In order to inform pet owners and veterinarians properly and to enhance honest competition among pet food producers, rules for the application of claims should be developed. For the time being, the veterinarian will have to take a stand by critical assessment.
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single source raw BARF diet puts pets at risk study

Postby malernee » Thu Jun 03, 2004 5:18 am

A Winn Feline Foundation Report On ...

Role of Diet in the Health of the Feline Intestinal Tract and in Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Progress Report
Investigators: Angela G. Glasgow, DVM; Nicholas J. Cave, BVSc, MACVSc; Stanley L. Marks, BVSc, PhD, Dip. ACVIM (Internal Medicine, Oncology), Dip. ACVN; Niels C. Pedersen, DVM PhD, Center for Companion Animal Health,School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, California


The School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis has been a leading center for feline nutrition research, with pioneers such as Dr. James Morris and Dr. Quinton Rogers. Discoveries from University of California, Davis have led to several changes in the formulation of commercial cat foods to combat such disorders as dilated cardiomyopathy and feline lower urinary tract disease. In spite of the many advances in feline nutrition, our knowledge of nutrient requirements for cats is still incomplete. Unlike other domestic species, cats are obligate carnivores. The carnivorous diet provides cats with a ready dietary source of certain nutrients not supplied by an omnivorous or vegetarian diet, thus negating the need to synthesize them. Without evolutionary pressure to maintain the relevant metabolic pathways, cats have lost their ability to synthesize those nutrients within their bodies. For instance, cats have a greatly diminished ability to synthesize retinol (Vitamin A), arachidonic acid and taurine (MacDonald et al, 1984), because these micronutrients are amply present in the tissues of their prey animals. However, most household cats no longer hunt, but rather are fed commercially prepared foods. These foods are often rich in plant-derived nutrients because to supply cats with all-animal diets is significantly more expensive. The trend, therefore, has been to make foods with greater proportions of vegetable-based products and to supplement them with the necessary nutrients.

Modern commercial cat diets, even though they are "unnatural," are highly effective at providing the essential nutrient requirements of adult cats, growing cats, the fetus and the pregnant/lactating queen. Although nutrient deficiencies and excesses are still being discovered, these discoveries are becoming less common and the deficiencies less serious. However, one aspect of modern commercial cat diets that is now receiving substantial attention is the issue of adverse reactions to food.

Adverse reactions to foods are composed of a variety of sub-classifications based on the mechanisms of disease. The term food hypersensitivity (food allergy) is reserved for those adverse reactions that have an immunological basis. In contrast, food intolerance refers to a large category of adverse reactions due to nonimmunological mechanisms. The outward manifestations of food intolerances and hypersensitivities are virtually identical and include vomiting, chronic or intermittent diarrhea, flatulence and inordinately odorous stools, mucus-laden stools or blood in the stools. Gastrointestinal disorders may be accompanied by skin diseases, such as miliary eczema with scab like lesions, highly itchy lesions around the head and neck or a poor quality hair coat. Weight loss may be pronounced in severe cases of either type of disorder. In a significant proportion of cats with adverse reactions to food, inflammation of the intestinal lining is a prominent feature. Although inflammation is a common feature of many types of feline bowel disorders, the term "inflammatory bowel disease" (IBD) is reserved for those cases where no specific cause can be identified.

IBD, the most common cause of chronic vomiting and diarrhea in cats, is a disease in which diet may have an important role. The clinical course of IBD in cats may be intermittent at first, with periods of normalcy becoming shorter. The intestinal wall becomes thickened by an infiltrate of inflammatory cells, and the microscopic and gross surface folds of the intestinal lining are flattened, leading to a great loss of surface area. As the surface area is reduced, the ability of the cat to digest and absorb nutrients is reduced, leading to weight loss in the face of a normal or increased appetite. The stools often become looser and in some cases, more odorous. A sequel of chronic IBD can be intestinal lymphosarcoma (lymphoma). These tumors may occur because of the notorious habit of cats to develop tumors at sites of chronic inflammation.

The importance of IBD in cats has been an impetus for several studies at University of California, Davis. The role of abnormal immunological reactions to food components in IBD is the topic of research of Dr. Nick Cave in our Center for Companion Animal Health. Dr. Cave and his PhD supervisor, Dr. Stanley Marks, are measuring antibodies directed against dietary proteins in normal cats, and comparing those with antibodies measured in cats with IBD. It is suspected that in feline IBD, antibodies in the blood will be produced in significant amounts against the main dietary proteins. In a preliminary study, 20 healthy cats fed a commercial diet had measurable levels of food-antibodies in their blood. Whether this is a normal feature of cats or a peculiarity of consuming commercial diets is unknown. This leads to the second question, namely, to what degree does the commercial food manufacturing process lead to abnormal immune responses and could such processes be involved in the initiation or perpetuation of IBD in cats? This group will be addressing this issue by describing the immune responses in healthy cats to dietary proteins fed either raw, or as part of a canned diet.

The role of diet in IBD is difficult to study because there are many ingredients within each food that potentially contribute to the disease. A diet that may cause problems in one cat may be perfectly fine in another. Nonetheless, it is reasonable to speculate that cats fed a "natural diet" are less likely to develop IBD than cats fed "unnatural diets." The natural diet of cats does not contain wheat, milk, soybean, egg or many other ingredients commonly used. Nor does the natural diet of cats contain additives and preservatives such as guar and xanthum gums as food stabilizers, propionic acid and sorbic acids as preservatives, or carrageenan (made from seaweed and shown to cause intestinal inflammation in certain circumstances) (Strombeck, 1999). These ingredients, and many others, are added to commercial diets to improve their appearance to the pet owners and palatability to pets, but may result in an adverse reaction. The natural diet of cats is primarily small mammals, with a lesser proportion of insects, reptiles and birds. There is an obvious need for a "gold standard diet" against which to compare and study all "unnatural diets." Such a diet should be complete and balanced, relatively cheap, easily obtained and may need to mimic the diet consumed by cats during their evolution. The task to develop and validate such a diet was given to Dr. Angie Glasgow.

As with many frontiers of science, the public is often ahead of the game in their desire to provide more natural diets with less adverse food reactions. Many pedigreed cat breeders have long supplemented the diet of their cats with up to one-half horsemeat, noting benefits in growth, muscularity and coat quality over feeding commercial diets alone. Many pet cat (and dog) owners are now advocating feeding their animals a diet rich in "bones and raw food" (also known as "barf" diets). "Biologically appropriate raw food" diet is a more scientific name; several other less commonly used acronyms exist. One only needs to search the web using the keywords "barf diets" to get an idea of the immense following these diets have generated. People who feed these diets report that their pets have better coats and are more active (signs of better general health), with far fewer intestinal problems. With the increasing popularity of barf diets, it is time for a word or two of caution. None of these diets have been scientifically studied in domestic cats, a species known to have rather exacting nutritional requirements.

The remainder of this report is a summary of our attempts to create a "gold-standard" natural diet for cats. After some thought, we decided on a diet made up entirely of rabbit. Rabbits were readily obtained from a rabbitry producing meat for human and exotic animal consumption, and were of comparatively low cost. Mice may have been more appropriate, but procuring and processing this number of mice was not practical. Moreover, in places where rabbits are abundant, feral cats have been known to choose them as their primary prey (Molsher et al., 1999). Since cats eat most parts of their prey and essential nutrients are concentrated in different organs, the rabbits were not skinned, dressed or cleaned, but rather ground in their entirety. The ground whole rabbit diet was frozen in smaller batches and thawed prior to feeding.

Twenty-two purposefully bred cats were used for this study – 13 males and 9 females of two age groups (7 and 20 weeks). All of the cats were neutered during the course of the study. Cats were randomly assigned to one of two groups according to age and gender; one group was fed our raw rabbit diet and the second group was fed a premium brand of commercial cat food that had been tested for its ability to sustain normal growth in normal kittens. The cats were fed free choice with new food placed in their bowls twice daily to ensure that the food was always fresh. The amount of food was continually increased as the cats grew so that only a small amount was left in the bowl after each meal. The cats were housed in a colony with four cats per bay, sharing litter boxes and food bowls, mimicking the situation in many catteries and multiple cat households. The kittens and adolescent cats used in this study originated from a breeding colony that was known to have a number of common intestinal pathogens. Indeed, several different common intestinal pathogens (Cryptosporidia, Giardia and Campylobacter species) were present in the stools of virtually every cat. Most of them also had loose stools to varying degrees, although they were outwardly healthy.

The cats readily consumed both diets, but the palatability of the raw rabbit was noticeably greater; the cats ate it more rapidly and aggressively. After one week in the study, the cats on the rabbit diet all had significant improvements in their stool quality based on a visual stool grading system (developed by the Nestlé-Purina PetCare Company). After one month, the cats on the rabbit diet all had formed hard stools, while the commercial diet cats had soft formed to liquid stools. These differences persisted to the end of the feeding trial. The cats that were fed the whole rabbit diet outwardly appeared to have better quality coats, but objective measurements were not made. Interestingly, we could find no relationship between the type of diet consumed and: 1) the rate of growth, 2) degree of inflammation in the tissue lining the intestinal tract, or 3) the numbers of bacteria in the upper small intestine. The numbers of cats shedding pathogenic type organisms (Giardia and Cryptosporidia species) were on average slightly higher for the cats that were fed the raw diet. Therefore, it appeared that the raw rabbit diet did not have its beneficial effects on stool quality by reducing pathogenic organisms in the intestine, altering the numbers of bacteria in the small intestine or by diminishing the levels of inflammatory changes in the intestinal wall.

Although it appeared that the raw rabbit diet was significantly beneficial for the stool quality and appearance of health in the cats, the sudden and rapidly fatal illness of one of the cats that were fed the raw rabbit diet for 10 months was chilling and unexpected. The affected cat was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy due to a severe taurine deficiency. Moreover, 70% of the remaining raw rabbit diet fed cats, which appeared outwardly healthy, also had heart muscle changes compatible with taurine deficiency and could have developed heart failure if continued on our raw rabbit diet. For the remaining three months of the study, the raw rabbit diet was supplemented with taurine and taurine levels returned to normal.

How could a wild type diet result in taurine deficiency? The raw rabbit diet we fed contained the minimal requirement of taurine and was therefore not considered deficient for a highly digestible diet. However, the amount of taurine available to the cat in a diet depends on a number of factors, such as the amount of protein, the quality of the protein, whether the diet is cooked or raw, and what other ingredients are present in the diet that might increase the amount of taurine needed (Backus et al., 1998) (Park et al, 1999). It is also possible that bacteria in the carcass of the ground rabbits or in the intestine of the cats broke down some of the taurine. Neither of these circumstances would be detrimental to diets containing excess levels of taurine, but would be detrimental if the diet was borderline deficient. Vitamin E levels in our raw rabbit diet were low and this can cause the meat to lose taurine as it is processed and ground (Lambert et al., 2001).

This study demonstrates positive and negative effects of feeding a whole ground rabbit diet for cats. The growth curves of cats on both diets were identical, indicating the raw rabbit diet supported normal growth. The single most positive aspect of the whole rabbit diet was the stool quality. Cats fed the raw rabbit diet consistently had extremely firm, non-odorous and well formed stools. By comparison, cats fed the commercial cat food never had stools as well formed, and usually had stools ranging from unformed to soft-formed. However, the reason(s) for the differences in stool consistency of the respective diets is unknown. Cats fed the raw rabbit diet appeared to have better quality coats, something already claimed by cat breeders feeding horsemeat supplements. The most negative aspect of feeding the raw rabbit diet exceeded all of the positive attributes, however. The raw rabbit diet should have been balanced, but nevertheless caused severe taurine deficiency over time in all of the cats fed this diet. Taurine deficiency not only affects the heart, but also the reproductive health of queens and viability of fetuses and kittens.

The results of this study have shed further light on the creation of an optimal natural diet for maintaining feline intestinal health. This represents a step towards the creation of a "gold-standard" diet that may be of benefit for the management of IBD in the cat. The key take-home message for cat owners and breeders is that a natural diet may not always be as healthy as imagined, and that even measuring nutrient values may not predict how a diet will perform after being fed for many months.

Furthermore, studies like this suggest that there is still much to be learned about the comparative effects of commercial diets and natural foods on stool quality and general well being. It is clear that the ideal commercial feline diet has yet to be developed for maintaining optimal intestinal health. In addition, caution should be heeded when feeding raw diets due to the potentially fatal consequences described with respect to creating a taurine deficiency.

Acknowledgements: The investigators are grateful for the generous support provided for these studies by the Leonard X. Bosack and Bette M. Kruger Charitable Foundation. Additional support was provided by The Winn Feline Foundation and George and Phyllis Miller Feline Health Fund of the San Francisco Foundation.

Backus, R. C., Morris, J. G., Kim, S. W., O'Donnell, J. A., Hickman, M. A., Kirk, C.A., Cooke, J. A., Rogers, Q. R. Dietary Taurine Needs of Cats Vary with Dietary Protein Quality and Concentration. Veterinary Clinical Nutrition, Summer 1998. 5(2): 18-22.
Kim, S. W., Rogers, Q. R., Morris, J. G. Dietary Antibiotics Decrease Taurine Loss in Cats Fed a Canned Heat-Processed Diet. Journal of Nutrition. February 1996; 126(2): 509-515.
Lambert, I. H., Nielsen, J. H., Andersen, H. J., Ortenblad, N. Cellular Models for Induction of Drip Loss in Meat. Journal of Agric Food Chem. Oct 2001; 49(10): 2225-30.
LeJeune, J. T. and Hancock, D. D. Public Health Concerns Associated with Feeding Raw Meat Diets to Dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2001 Nov 1, 219(9): 1222-1225.
MacDonald, M. L., Rogers, Q. R., Morris, J. G. Nutrition of the Domestic Cat, a Mammalian Carnivore. Annual Review of Nutrition. 1984, 4: 521-562.
Molsher, Robyn; Newsome, Alan; Dickman, Chris. Feeding Ecology and Population Dynamics of the Feral Cat (Felis Catus) in Relation to the Availability of Prey in Central-Eastern New South Wales. Wildlife Research. 1999. 26(5): 593-607.
Park, T., Rogers, Q. R., Morris, J. G. High Dietary Protein and Taurine Increase Cysteine Desulfhydration in Kittens. Journal of Nutrition. Dec. 1999. 129(12): 2225-2230.
Pion, P. D., Kittleson, M. D., Rogers, Q. R., Morris, J. G. Myocardial Failure in Cats Associated with Low Plasma Taurine: a Reversible Cardiomyopathy. Science. 1987 Aug. 14; 237(4816): 764-768.
Strombeck, D. R. Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets: A Healthful Alternative. 1st ed. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1999.
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phytoestrogens in commercial dog foods

Postby guest » Fri Sep 03, 2004 7:40 pm

Identification and concentration of soy phytoestrogens in commercial dog foods.
Am J Vet Res 65[5]:592-6 2004 May

Cerundolo R, Court MH, Hao Q, Michel KE
OBJECTIVE: To identify and determine the concentrations of phytoestrogens in commercial dog foods. SAMPLE POPULATION: 24 commercial dog foods, including 12 moist or dry extruded commercial dog foods that contained soybeans or soybean fractions and 12 foods without any soybean-related ingredients listed on the label. PROCEDURE: Foods were analyzed for phytoestrogen content, including 4 isoflavones (genistein, glycitein, daidzein, and biochanin A), 1 coumestan (coumestrol), and 2 lignans (secoisolariciresinol and matairesinol) by use of acid-methanol hydrolysis and high-pressure liquid chromatography with UV-absorbance detection. Phytoestrogens were identified and quantified by reference to authentic standards. RESULTS: Isoflavones, coumestans, and lignans were undetectable in diets that did not list soybean-related ingredients on the label. Only 1 of the 12 diets that included soybean or soybean fractions had undetectable concentrations of phytoestrogens and that product contained soy fiber. The major phytoestrogens were the isoflavones daidzein (24 to 615 microg/g of dry matter) and genistein (4 to 238 microg/g of dry matter). CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE: Soybean and soybean fractions are commonly used ingredients in commercial dog foods. Dietary intake of phytoestrogens may have both beneficial and deleterious health effects. Our results indicated that certain commercial dog foods contain phytoestrogens in amounts that could have biological effects when ingested long-term.

therapeutic diets issue

Postby guest » Thu Jul 14, 2005 8:23 am

The issue is that most therapeutic diets do not strictly meet the AAFCO nutrient profiles BECAUSE they have been modified for a particular disease state (protein, phosphorous, calcium, etc). The AAFCO nutrients profiles are quite excessive in most nutrients and have a "huge" margin of safety for the general pet population without feeding toxic levels. They are not in fact "minimums" as so often misstated. They are in fact quite high compared to actual physiological need. They are the legal allowable "minimums" which indeed is different than the true physiological need.This does not mean they are inadequate for long term feeding, and in fact I'm hard pressed coming up with a therapeutic that has not been successfully fed long term under the intended conditions. Some are very low in nutrients and work well until another or secondary problem occurs - then we see problems. Hill's u/d is my favorite example, 11% protein compared with the AAFCO min of 18%. Yet many dogs live on this diet for years - but if ever a protein losing dz should occur, there is no margin of safety and protein deficient will result.So most therapeutic diets have some nutrient concentration below the AAFCO regs but can and are fed long term. A food in tended for use by vets or under the direction of a veterinarian have only the choice of two "official" nutritional statements, either:"complete and balanced" if the food meets the AAFCO nutrient levels OR
"supplemental" if the food does not meet the AAFCO nutrient levels. The very nature and intended use of these therapeutic products is that they would not meet the AAFCO regs for a particular disease state - hence "supplemental" The companies have made you the monitoring system. That's one reason why they are sold only through vets and not on the local store shelves for people to self-Dx their pets. Near as I can tell this is a self-imposed rule by those companies selling therapeutic diets, because I know of nothing stopping them from selling the therapeutic diets OTC. They choose to sell only through Vets and rightfully so.

Choosing a pet food from among the cans, bags, and boxes

Postby malernee » Thu Apr 06, 2006 9:10 am

U.S. Food and Drug Administration
FDA Consumer magazine
May-June 2001
Table of Contents

Pet Food: The Lowdown on Labels
By Linda Bren

Choosing a pet food from among the cans, bags, and boxes stacked on store shelves can be a daunting experience. Which formulation of food is best? Is my dog old enough for "adult formula"? Does my cat really need "premium"? Will Fido be healthier on "natural" food and will Fluffy fully appreciate "gourmet"?

U.S. consumers spend more than $11 billion a year on cat and dog food, according to the Pet Food Institute. And pet food manufacturers compete for these dollars by trying to make their products stand out among the many types of dry, moist, and semi-moist foods available. Pet food packaging carries such descriptive words as "senior," "premium," "super-premium," "gourmet," and "natural." These terms, however, have no standard definition or regulatory meaning.

But other terms do have specific meanings, and pet foods, which are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), must carry certain information on their labels. Consumers can be confident that their pets are eating a nutritionally sound food if they understand the full significance of these labels.

The Right Stuff: Choosing a Good Pet Food
So how can pet owners choose the right food for their pets? CVM's pet food specialist William Burkholder, D.V.M., Ph.D., recommends examining three parts of the pet food label: the life stage claim, the contact information for the manufacturer, and the list of ingredients.

Pet owners should look for the word "feeding" in the life stage claim (found in the nutritional adequacy statement on the label). This means the food was proven nutritionally adequate in animal feed tests.

Another item to check on the label is the contact information. Pet owners should look for the manufacturer's telephone number. Only the manufacturer's name and address are required, but people should be able to call manufacturers to ask questions about their products, says Burkholder, and manufacturers should be responsive. "They will not tell you how much liver, for example, is in their product, because that's part of their proprietary formula. But they should tell you how much of any nutrient is in the product."

The ingredients list on the label is an area of consumer preference and subjectivity. Pet owners who do or do not want to feed a pet a certain ingredient can look at the list of ingredients to make sure that particular substance is included or excluded.

Some people prefer to pass up animal by-products, which are proteins that have not been heat processed (unrendered) and may contain heads, feet, viscera and other animal parts not particularly appetizing. But protein quality of by-products sometimes is better than that from muscle meat, says Burkholder.

"Meal" is another ingredient that some people like to avoid. In processing meat meal or poultry by-product meal, by-products are rendered (heat processed), which removes the fat and water from the product. Meat or poultry by-product meal contains parts of animals not normally eaten by people.

Some consumers try to avoid pet foods with synthetic preservatives, such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and ethoxyquin. Ethoxyquin, in particular, has been hotly debated. Current scientific data suggest that ethoxyquin is safe, but some pet owners avoid this additive because of a suspected link to liver damage and other health problems in dogs. CVM has asked pet food producers to voluntarily lower their maximum level of ethoxyquin in dog food while more studies are being conducted on this preservative, and the industry is cooperating.

Many products preserved with naturally occurring compounds, such as tocopherols (vitamin E) or vitamin C, are available. These products have a much shorter shelf life than those with synthetic preservatives, especially once a bag of food is opened.

Some animal nutritionists recommend switching among two or three different pet food products every few months. Burkholder says nutritional advice for people to eat a wide variety of foods also applies to pets. Doing so helps ensure that a deficiency doesn't develop for some as yet unknown nutrient required for good health. When changing pet foods, add the new food to the old gradually for a few days to avoid upsetting the pet's digestive system.

Pet Food Safety and Nutrition
No matter what choice they make, consumers can take comfort in knowing that pet food is manufactured under a series of standards and regulations. These regulations require some nutrients and additives, disallow others, and stipulate certain information that must be on the label. The labels of packages and cans of commercial cat and dog food must list five pieces of information: guaranteed analysis, nutritional adequacy statement, ingredients, feeding guidelines, and the manufacturer's name and address.

With the exception of a nutritional adequacy statement, these items must also appear on commercial food labels for other pets, such as gerbils, snakes, and parakeets.

Guaranteed Analysis
The guaranteed analysis specifies the product's minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat. It also gives the maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture. ("Crude" refers to a specific method of measuring the nutrient, and is not an indication of quality.) Although not required, some manufacturers also specify the percentages of other nutrients, such as ash and taurine in cat food, and calcium and phosphorus in dog food.

The amounts of crude protein and most other nutrients appear less for canned products than for dry ones because of differences in moisture content. Canned foods typically contain about 75 percent water, while dry foods contain only about 10 percent.

Nutritional Adequacy
The nutritional adequacy statement assures consumers that a product meets all of a pet's nutritional needs. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), an advisory body of state and federal feed regulators, develops recommended standards for nutrient contents of dog and cat foods. AAFCO also publishes ingredient definitions and regulations.

The FDA's CVM works in partnership with AAFCO to determine safe pet food ingredients and testing protocols. In addition to federal regulation of pet food, most state governments regulate pet foods and labeling through their agricultural departments. AAFCO has created a model feed bill that states often adopt in their own laws.

CVM gives scientific and regulatory advice to AAFCO and the states on pet food issues, and CVM representatives serve on AAFCO committees and meet regularly with AAFCO's board of directors. CVM investigators also team with AAFCO to check out questionable pet food ingredients or claims.

Manufacturers can show their food meets AAFCO's standards for nutritional adequacy by calculations or by feeding trials. Calculations estimate the amount of nutrients in a pet food either on the basis of average nutrient content of its ingredients, or on results of laboratory tests--but not animal feed tests. If the calculations show that the food provides sufficient nutrients to meet the specific AAFCO nutritional profile referenced, the pet food label will carry a statement like: "(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO (Dog or Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for (specific life stage)."

Feeding trials signify that the manufacturer has tested the product (or a similar product made by the same manufacturer) in dogs or cats under strict guidelines. Products found to provide proper nutrition based on feeding trials will carry a statement such as: "Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition for (specific life stage)."

Regardless of the method used, the nutritional adequacy statement on a cat or dog food label must also tell which life stage the product is suitable for. AAFCO has established two nutrient profiles each for dogs and cats--growth/lactation and maintenance--to fit their life stages.

Every product must meet at least one of these two profiles. A product intended for growing kittens and puppies, or for pregnant or lactating females, must meet AAFCO's nutrient profile for growth/lactation. Products that meet AAFCO's profile for maintenance are suitable for an adult, non-reproducing dog or cat of normal activity level, but may not be adequate for an immature, reproducing, or hard-working animal. A product may claim that it is for "all life stages" if it is suitable for adult maintenance and also meets the more stringent nutritional needs for growth and reproduction.

Growth/lactation and maintenance are the only nutrient profiles authorized by AAFCO and CVM, so terms like "senior" or "formulated for large breed adults" mean the food meets the requirements for adult maintenance--and nothing more.

Snacks and treats that are clearly identified as such are not required to include a nutritional adequacy statement. But these foods, in all other respects, must meet FDA and state regulations for pet food labeling. Dog chews made from rawhide, bone, or other animal parts (such as pig ears) are also considered "food" since pets eat them. These products must bear a list of ingredients and provide the manufacturer's name and address, but they are not required to give a guaranteed analysis, nutritional adequacy statement, or feeding instructions.

Like human foods, pet foods are regulated under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and must be pure and wholesome and contain no harmful substances. They also must be truthfully labeled. Foods for human or pet consumption do not require FDA approval before they are marketed, but they must be made with ingredients that are "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) or ingredients that are approved food and color additives. If scientific data show that an ingredient or additive presents a health risk to animals, CVM can prohibit or modify its use in pet food.

Pet food ingredients must be listed on the label in descending order by weight. However, the weight includes the moisture in the ingredient, which makes it tricky to interpret. "A moist ingredient, such as chicken, which may be 70 percent water, may be listed ahead of a dry ingredient, such as soybean meal, which is only 10 percent water--yet the soy actually contributes more solids to the diet," says Susan Donoghue, V.M.D., owner of Nutrition Support Services, Inc., and past president of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition.

Similar materials listed as separate ingredients may outweigh other ingredients that precede them on the list of ingredients. For example, chicken may be listed as the first ingredient, then wheat flour, ground wheat, and wheat middlings. The consumer may believe that chicken is the predominant ingredient, but the three wheat products--when added together--may weigh more than the chicken.

Dietary Supplements
Just as dietary supplements for people are growing in popularity, so are animal food supplements for pets. "Many people treat their dogs and cats like replacement children," says Jennifer Kvamme, D.V.M., associate editor of Petfood Industry magazine. "They want the best for them, and want to give them the types of food and supplements that they would eat themselves."

The FDA considers animal food supplements that are not approved nutrients or GRAS to be unapproved food additives or unapproved new animal drugs. As such, they are not permitted in pet food. Nevertheless, consumers will see on some cat and dog food labels ingredients such as glucosamine and chondroitin, which are claimed to alleviate joint stiffness and pain, and St. John's wort, purported to treat depression and relieve stress.

Neither the FDA nor state feed control officials have the number of employees required to monitor every supplement and food manufacturer and prevent those using unapproved ingredients from selling their products, says Burkholder. "It's a matter of profit incentive versus likelihood of getting caught. The same forces apply for why police cannot write speeding tickets to everyone driving over the speed limit. That doesn't make speeding legal."

Burkholder cautions people to check with their veterinarians before giving their pets supplements, whether alone or in a food product. "Many persons do not appreciate that dogs and cats are not small furry people. They often think that a supplement that they may take themselves is good for their pet, but that may not be the case."

Table Scraps May Be Dangerous
Some people think a food that they eat is good for their pets. Not true. Some human foods, in fact, may be dangerous to pets. "Most pet owners simply do not know that small amounts of chocolate, onions, macadamia nuts and bread dough can be fatal if ingested by a dog," says Steve Hansen, D.V.M., senior vice president of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. "And cats, in particular, have a body chemistry quite different from ours," and so are susceptible to poisoning from a number of human foods.

Also because of their different body chemistry and nutritional requirements, cats should not be fed dog food, says Burkholder.

Feeding Guidelines
Feeding directions on pet food provide only a broad guideline. Nutritional requirements vary according to a pet's age, breed, body weight, genetics, amount of activity, and even the climate in which the pet lives.

Many owners are guilty of overfeeding their pets, and even a "light" food can cause weight gain if fed in excess of caloric needs. "It's estimated that about 25 percent of dogs and cats that enter a pet clinic are overweight," says Burkholder. Obesity can shorten a pet's life by contributing to heart and liver problems, diabetes, arthritis, bladder cancer, and skin disorders and it can put a pet at higher risk while undergoing anesthesia and surgery. Pet owners should consult their veterinarians for the appropriate amount and type of food to give their pets, especially those that are overweight.

A pet food can claim to be "light" or "lean" only if it meets AAFCO's standard definitions for these terms. These definitions differ for dog and cat food and also depend on the moisture content of the food. The words "light," "lite" and "low calorie" all have the same meaning.

The words "lean" and "low fat" also mean the same. But "less calories" and "reduced calories" mean only that the product has fewer calories than another product, and "less fat" and "reduced fat" mean the product is less fatty than another one. In both cases, the manufacturer must state on the label the percentage of reduction and the product of comparison.

Most pet food labels do not provide calorie content, but consumers can get this information by contacting the manufacturer, whose location must be on the label. Many manufacturers provide a toll-free number for consumers as well as their Web site address.

When a 'Food' is a 'Drug'
Statements that a product can treat, prevent or reduce the risk of a disease are considered drug claims and are not allowed on pet food. CVM also disallows claims such as "improves skin and coat," "prevents dry skin," and "hypoallergenic." Consumers may see phrases such as "promotes healthy skin" and "promotes glossy coat." CVM permits these claims, but any healthy animal that gets adequate nutrition should have these qualities anyway without eating a special food.

Recognizing the close link between diet and disease, CVM does allow certain health-related information on labels to help consumers evaluate pet foods. For example, while a product cannot claim to treat feline lower urinary tract disease, a concern for some cat owners, it may make the claim that the food "reduces urine pH to help maintain urinary tract health," provided data generated by the manufacturer and reviewed by CVM support the statement.

CVM permits some dental claims on pet foods. The jaw movement of animals as they chew on certain foods or treats, or some chemicals in foods, can help reduce plaque and tartar, so CVM allows claims such as "helps control plaque" and "helps control tartar." CVM does not allow claims to treat or prevent gingivitis or periodontal disease because these are drug claims.

Pet owners may see claims such as "improves doggie breath" on pet food or treats. These claims have no regulatory meaning; manufacturers use them simply to promote their products.

The phrase "recommended by veterinarians" also has no regulatory meaning, says Rodney Noel, Ph.D., AAFCO's pet food committee chair and a chemist at Purdue University. "There is no minimum number or percentage of veterinarians required for a company to be able to state its product is recommended by vets," Noel says.

CVM provides manufacturers some latitude in making health claims regarding a category of food known as veterinary medical foods, which consumers can obtain only through a veterinarian. Manufacturers design these foods to treat a particular disease or condition. Although not regulated as drugs, these foods may carry health information in promotional materials for the veterinarian to help them treat their patients correctly.

For additional regulatory information on pet food and labeling, call CVM at 301-594-1755 or visit


Keeping Pet Food Fresh
Always keep canned pet food refrigerated after opening.

If you store dry pet food in a container other than its original bag, be sure to wash the empty container with soap and water before adding food from a new bag. The residual fat that settles on the bottom of the container can become rancid beyond its shelf life (the date stamped on the bag). This spoiled fat may contaminate fresh food added to the container, causing vomiting or diarrhea when fed to your pet.

- -L.B.


Irradiation of Pet Food
In April, the FDA approved an irradiation process that can be used on all animal feed and feed ingredients, including pet food and treats. This process can reduce the risk of contamination from all strains of Salmonella bacteria. Salmonella organisms can cause gastrointestinal upset and diarrhea in people and pets.

Irradiation, which causes chemical changes, is already approved for use on a variety of human foods. Extending this process to pet and other animal foods will increase the safety of the food for both the animals consuming it and the people handling it.



Pet Food and the Risk of 'Mad Cow Disease'
No evidence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as "Mad Cow Disease," ever has been detected in horses, dogs, and other pets, such as birds, reptiles, and gerbils. However, a feline version of BSE, first identified in 1989, has been documented in domestic cats in Europe, mostly in the United Kingdom, according to the U.K.'s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

No cases of BSE or similar forms of the disease in cats, cows, or humans ever have been found in the United States. "The same precautions that the U.S. government is taking to keep BSE out of this country's cattle are also protecting our pets," says William Burkholder, D.V.M., Ph.D., the FDA's pet food specialist.

Scientists believe BSE is transmitted through animal feed containing certain animal proteins that may harbor the BSE agent. Since 1991, the United States has banned the import of animal foods, including pet food, containing ruminant (such as cattle or sheep) materials from countries with BSE. In 1997, the United States extended the ban to most of Europe.

In December 2000, the U.S. banned imports of animal proteins--from any species--from 31 countries that either are known to have BSE in their cattle herds or are considered at high risk for having it. This means that no meat-containing pet food can legally be imported from a country at risk for BSE.

- -L.B.


Making Sense of 'Light' and 'Lean' in Pet Food
The calorie and fat contents listed below are the maximum limits allowed in dog and cat food labeled "light" or "lean." These definitions are established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials and authorized by the FDA. Comparisons between products in different categories of moisture content are considered misleading.

Dry Foods
(< 20 percent water) Semi-moist Foods
(20-65 percent water) Moist Foods
(> 65 percent water)
Light, lite or low calorie

Dogs: 1,409 calories per pound
Cats: 1,477 calories per pound Dogs: 1,136 calories per pound
Cats: 1,205 calories per pound Dogs: 409 calories per pound
Cats: 432 calories per pound
Lean or low fat

Dogs: 9 percent fat
Cats: 10 percent fat Dogs: 7 percent fat
Cats: 8 percent fat Dogs: 4 percent fat
Cats: 5 percent fat


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