Sunday, March 25, 2007

Why Consider Homemade Foods For Your Dog?

(Chapter #1: Homemade vs. Processed Foods)

First, and very simply, so that you know what your dog is eating.

Commercial-brand dog foods are not beholden to the same FDA labeling requirements as people foods. Per specifications, the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) establishes the federal standards, including proper identification of the product, net quantity statement, manufacturer's address, and proper listing of ingredients. Additionally, some states also enforce their own labeling regulations, many adopting model pet food regulations established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which are more specific in nature. These cover aspects of labeling such as product name , the guaranteed analysis , the nutritional adequacy statement , feeding directions , and calorie statements .

The product name is often a key factor in the consumer's decision to buy a product. As such, manufacturers will use names to emphasize a particular aspect. The percentages of named ingredients in the total product are dictated by four AAFCO rules.

The "95% rule" applies to products consisting primarily of meat, poultry or fish. As you might uess, at least 95% of the product must be the named ingredient (discounting the water added for rocessing). Counting the water, the named ingredient must comprise 70% of the product. Additionally, ingredient lists must be declared in the proper order of predominance by weight. If the name includes a combination of ingredients (such as "Chicken 'n Liver Dog Food"), the two together must comprise 95% of the total weight.

The "25%" or "dinner" rule applies to many canned and dry products. If the named ingredients comprise at least 25% of the product (again, discounting the water for processing), but less than 95%, the name must include a, "qualifying descriptive term," such as "Beef Dinner for Dogs." "Platter," "entree," "nuggets," and "formula" are just a few examples of such a descriptive term. Because, in this example, only one-fourth of the product must be beef, it would most likely be found third or fourth on the ingredient list. Since the primary ingredient is not always the named ingredient, and may in fact be an ingredient that is not desired, the ingredient list should always be checked before purchase. Also, unlike the 95% rule, this rule applies to all ingredients, whether of animal origin or not. Hence, a "Lamb & Rice Formula for Dogs" would be an acceptable name as long as the amounts of lamb and rice combined total 25%.

The "3%" or "With" rule requires only a 3% presence of the ingredient where the use of the word "with" is used. This was intended to apply only to ingredients highlighted on the package, but utside the product name to allow manufacturers to point out the presence of minor ingredients (such as "with cheese"). With recent amendments, however, this now applies to using the word "with" in the product name. As a result, "Liver Dog Food" and "Dog Food With Liver" have very distinctive meanings (and very distinctive applicable regulations).

Under the "flavor" rule, a specific percentage is not required, but a product, "must contain an amount sufficient to be able to be detected." In Beef Flavor Dog Food, the corresponding ingredient may well be beef, but is just as likely (if not more so) to be another substance that will give the characterized flavor -- such as beef meal,or beef by-products.

Guaranteed analysis means that, at minimum, a pet food label must state guarantees for the minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat, and the maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture. A can of Iams (Slow cooked with Broth Beef and Rice dinner) for example, reads:
- Protein: No less than 9%
- Fat: No less than 6%
- Fiber: No more than 1%
- Moisture: No more than 78%

The nutritionally adequate statement applies to any claim that a product is "complete," "balanced," "100% nutritious," or similarly suggests a product is suitable for sole nourishment. A product that does not meet the nutritional adequacy must state, "this product is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding."

Feeding directions instruct the consumer on how much product should be offered. Often, this would include such verbiage as "feed x cups per y pounds of body weight daily." The consumer needs to be aware that the directions should be taken only as rough guidelines. Breed, temperament, environment and many other factors can influence food intake. Further, the ranges offered tend to be lessthan-definitive, and may confound as much as instruct. A typical can,for example, reads thusly:
- Up to 10 lbs: 1/3 - 3/4 can per day
- 10 - 20 lbs: 3/4 - 1 2/3 cans per day
- 25 - 50 lbs: 2 3/4 - 3 3/4 cans per day
- 75 - 150 lbs: 3 3/4 - 6 1/3 cans per day

The best way for consumers to compare products and determine how much to feed is to know the calorie content. Dog foods can vary greatly in calorie content, even among foods of the same type. Feeding directions vary among manufacturers, too, so the number of calories delivered in a single meal may be quite different from another. However, until recently, calorie statements were not allowed on pet food labels. (Not allowed ?!?!?) New AAFCO regulations were developed to allow manufacturers to substantiate calorie content and include a voluntary statement. We were unable, as of this writing, to find any dog foods wherein the manufacturers opted to include the voluntary calorie counts on their labels. Some, however, do include calorie count among nutritional information on their websites (Pedigree and Iams, for example) So, while calorie content is the best factor for determining dietary needs, it can also be one of the more difficult to ascertain in commercial dog foods.

Additionally, many pet foods are labeled as "premium," "superpremium" and even, "ultra-premium" or "gourmet." Products labeled as such are not required to contain any different or higher quality ingredients, nor are they held up to any higher nutritional standards than are any other complete and balanced products.

Further, food labels often boast the term "natural." In terms of labeling-regulations, however, the term "natural" does not have an official definition. It can be construed as equivalent to a lack of artificial flavors, artificial colors, or artificial preservatives in the product. "Natural" is not the same as "organic." The latter term refers to, "the conditions under which the plants were grown or animals were raised." There are no official rules governing the labeling of organic foods, for humans or pets, at this time. However, the USDA is developing regulations dictating what types of pesticides, fertilizers and other substances can be used in organic farming.

Still, it does give one pause to think. The dog food manufacturers seem to be putting plenty of time and money into convincing us their products are natural and nutritionally complete with marketing gimmicks and eye-catching claims. That would indicate,
1) That is what consumers would like the product to be, and
2) That is what the product should be.
Doesn't it make sense, then, that we select food for our dog that we
know to be healthful and nutritionally sound?

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