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Pet food labels are confusing

By Kathy Antoniotti
Beacon Journal staff writer

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The list of ingredients labeled on a can of pet food. (Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)

Today, I am going to open a can of worms — make that pet food.

We all want to protect our pets by giving them a nutritious, well-balanced diet that will help them thrive. But even with our best intentions, it’s difficult to know what is the best food to feed our animals.

Can we believe everything we read on a bag of pet food? And even if it’s true, what does it all mean in terms of the health of our pets?

“You would need two degrees to be able to read and understand a pet food label,” said Richfield veterinarian/dermatologist and allergist Alice Jeromin.

Like many of you, I have done online research and poured over nutrition and ingredient labels for many years. Personally, I have relied on the mantra of not feeding my dogs any food I can buy in a grocery store. Instead, I buy it online or at a pet store or a feed and grain store.

Also, I do not feed my pets anything that comes from China — remember the melamine scare from years ago and more recently, the chicken treat recall? And, while we are at it, we’ve been advised to stay away from wheat, corn and soy.

Last week, I learned everything I thought I knew about pet food is wrong. But it seems the cards are stacked against us from the start.

As an allergist, Jeromin specializes in discovering the reasons dogs and cats scratch themselves raw, cough and wheeze, have skin problems, stomach issues or recurrent ear infections. Sometimes, it is due to what they eat.

Generally, if a problem is due to a food allergy, it is caused by the meat protein in your pet’s food, Jeromin said.

So you can’t blame all your animal’s allergy issues on wheat, soy and corn found in many pet foods.

The bigger issue, said Jeromin, is the fact that some foods contain large proteins that are difficult for animals to break down when they are ingested, particularly beef and chicken.

In an over-the-counter sample of four brands of dog food labeled “venison,” all the test product contained beef and/or chicken, she said,

Jeromin has a few tips for helping you find a food to serve your canine and feline companions.

“Avoid generic pet food.” It has been shown to cause a zinc deficiency and produced poor growth rates in puppies, she said.

Do your research, Jeromin advises.

“Make sure the pet food company employes a veterinary nutritionist on their staff,” she said. And make sure all the manufacturing is done in one plant.

“If you are producing everything from one plant you have better control of the product,” she said, “a lot of these pet food companies don’t even have quality control,” she said.

Jeromin’s advice is the same for cat and dog owners.

“Also interesting is that fish is not a commonly eaten protein in cats — cats were originally derived from desert areas, no fish there! — but because it’s cheap, it was and is used in most cat foods. With cats, higher protein and high fat is actually best for them,” she said.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials, a voluntary nonprofit organization of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feed and drug remedies, is the only official body that governs pet food.

Stick with brands that have the AAFC seal of approval on the package or can, Jeromin said.

“If it’s not human-grade food, it can’t say it on the package,” she said.

Pet food manufacturer Honest Kitchen, headquartered in San Diego, claims it produces the only pet food in the U.S. with a statement of “no objection” from the Federal Drug Administration to use the ‘Human-grade” on its packaging.

Honest Kitchen pet food, made from whole food ingredients, which are sourced from the human food chain, comes to the purchaser in a dehydrated form. The company requires that all ingredients come from providers with a signed pledge that they are free of genetically modified organisms, do not originate from China, have not been irradiated and have been screened in accordance with human food standards, among other things.

As proof, the company advertises its employees are “taste testers,” who, along with their dogs, insure the products’ aroma and color as well as taste.

Jeromin cited pet food manufacturers Purina, Iams and Hills as producers of products that contain nutritionally sound ingredients.

Raw feeding, a method that has become popular within the last decade, is another alternative. Pets are fed a diet primarily of uncooked meat, edible bones, and organs. Jeromin said it may not be the best method of feeding pets, but we’ll talk more about that in a future column.

Let me hear your thoughts. Do you have a food you prefer for your animals? If so, why are you loyal to the brand and what are the benefits for your pet?

Other animals in the news

 • Akronite Gary Green and his dog, Luke, are finalists in the Beneful Dream Dog Park contest, sponsored by Purina, to win a $500,000 makeover of the Akron Dog Park at 499 Memorial Parkway with a video titled A Prairie Dog Park Companion.

Green’s video envisions a prairie-themed park with wide open spaces covered in lush perennial ryegrass and fescue. A log cabin would be built on the property to serve as a visitors center and covered seating would be available for dog owners to relax while their animals cavort with their friends. A water feature, lots of agility toys and separate areas for large and small dogs would be available.

Green, who is chairman of Better Akron Recreation for Canines (BARC), the nonprofit organization which funds, maintains and operates Akron Dog Park, is one of 12 national finalists for the award.

To see Green’s video and cast your vote, visit www.beneful.com/Dream-Dog-Park/Finalists-2012/Gary-and-Luke.

• Red, White & Bullies - National Pit Bull Awareness Day & Adopt-a-thon — 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today at Pawsibilities Humane Society of Greater Akron, 7996 Darrow Road, Twinsburg. Dogs over six months will be available for $55. Cats over six months will be available for $5. Adoptions are subject to application approval.

• Summit County Public Health Department’s 2012 Rabies Vaccination Clinic for Dogs and Cats ­— 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Green Recycling Center, 5383 Massillon Road. One- and three-year rabies vaccine (pet must be at least three months old) will be available for $6 per animal, cash or check only. No appointment necessary. All animals must be caged or leashed. Call Summit County Public Health at 330-926-5600 for more information.

• Animal behavior seminar — 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Akron Zoo, 500 Edgewood Drive. Zoologist and author Dr. Grey Stafford will present positive reinforcement-based training seminar. Registration is required and is $50. Register at www.ireinforce.com. More information at www.akronzoo.org or 330-375-2550.

Kathy Antoniotti writes about pets for the Akron Beacon Journal. She is unable to help locate, place or provide medical attention for an individual animal. If you have an idea or question about pets, write her at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; call 330-996-3565; or send an email to kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.


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