How To Understand Pet Food Labels: Know The Red Flags

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If you’re anything like me, you may be starting to worry that there isn’t a healthy pet food that you can trust. It seems like each week there’s a new “pet food recall” notice. And with brands bragging that their food is “made with real beef or chicken,” it makes me wonder what the other food is made of?! 

DSC06727Dog food has a “3% With Rule” which states that any food that claims to be made “with chicken” only needs to consist of 3% chicken to make that claim true. For example, “Honest Jack’s Dog Food With Chicken” only needs to consist of 3% chicken in order to meet guidelines. Crazy, right?! 

Pet food labelsI’ve been working on my own research to clear up some of the controversy that’s on peoples’ minds about pet food, but it’s incredibly difficult to find concrete answers to my questions and concerns. It’s proved to be close to impossible to get a straight answer about pet food truths and lies. The confusion about which pet foods are healthy and which ones are fooling us can’t be clarified as easily as I’d hoped. It’s going to take more than one post to get some of this confusion sorted out, so stay tuned!  

Why It’s So Important To Research Your Dog’s Food

DSC06728We have the responsibility to research dog food brands ourselves and learn as much as we can beyond what the companies are telling us on the surface. Almost every aspect of our dogs’ health starts with their diet. A healthy diet can make all of the difference in the world for your dog throughout her entire life.

DSC06730So what should you look for when reading pet food labels? Should we buy labels that say “gourmet, premium, natural, or organic?” Or do companies know that these words are going to trigger us to purchase and they’re using them as marketing techniques?

The government’s rules and regulations on pet food have nothing to do with the advertising and marketing claims that these companies use. That means they can say anything they want regardless if it’s true. Has the Blue Buffalo controversy come to your mind yet? 

 The FDA’s Regulations: Do They Protect Our Pets?

The FDA “establishes standards applicable for all animal feeds: proper identification of product, net quantity, manufacturer’s name and address, and proper listing of all ingredients.” Seems pretty bare minimum to me… so what about the company’s claims to us that they are a superior brand? No regulations on that?

The FDA states on its website: “Pet owners and veterinary professionals have a right to know what they are feeding their animals. The pet food label contains a wealth of information, if one knows how to read it. Do not be swayed by the many marketing gimmicks or eye-catching claims. If there is a question about the product, contact the manufacturer or ask an appropriate regulatory agency.”

So what I get from that explanation is that we’re pretty much on our own to learn how to read labels in order to understand what we are purchasing. Now that’s a hefty task… 

AAFCO Regulations: Do They Protect Our Pets?

Not all states require the FDA to enforce their labeling regulations. Many of the states have adopted the pet food regulations established by the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). These regulations are more specific and “cover aspects of labeling such as product name, the guaranteed analysis, the nutritional adequacy statement, feeding instructions, and calorie statements. 

 The AAFCO website provides a lot of contact information from state to state, but it says little about what the committee does. It does state that, “AAFCO’s Pet Food Committee has created a great tool for small pet food businesses to learn what is required when they wish to make pet foods and treats. Though this information is very beneficial in explaining what is necessary for a company to start up their business, it is just a tool. For further information regarding what is required by the state where you live, contact your State Feed Control Official.”

The words “it is just a tool” was a red flag for me. They also state that, “While AAFCO doesn’t help consumers directly, AAFCO has clearly stated in its philosophy regarding feed regulations in the Official Publication that “The most important aspect of feed regulation is to provide protection for the consumer as well as the regulated industry. A major function of feed regulations is to safeguard the health of man and animals. Another important function of feed regulation is to provide a structure for orderly commerce.” We also use expert nutrition opinions to establish nutrient standards (profiles) for dogs and cats.”

Look For The AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy Statement On The Pet Food Bags

The AFCCO states that the nutritional adequacy statement is quite possibly the most important thing to look for on the pet food bag. It will state that the food meets AFCCO standards.

IMG_1931Nutritional adequacy statements may look like any of the following examples:

  • “___________ is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for ___________.”
  • “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that ______________ provides complete and balanced nutrition for _____________.”
  • “_____________ provides complete and balanced nutrition for ___________ and is comparable to a product which has been substantiated using AAFCO feeding tests”

 Nutritional adequacy statements that do not meet AFCCO standards that you should beware of will look like these:

  • ““A nutritional or dietary claim for purposes other than those listed above provided the claim is scientifically substantiated”
  • “This product is intended for intermittent or supplementary feeding only”

Don’t Trust “Gourmet” or “Premium” Food Claims

You may be surprised to know that the FDA has no regulations or guidelines to protect consumers from misleading claims like “gourmet” or “premium.”

DSC06710FDA labeling guidelines state, “products labeled as premium or gourmet 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.”

That bothers me, what about you?!

Beware of “Human Grade” Pet Food Claims

The AAFCO states that although many food companies have claimed to provide human grade ingredients, this term has no legal definition in animal feed regulations.

“Extremely few pet food products could be considered officially human edible or human grade.” The AAFCO also states that a dog food that truly met human standards would be extremely expensive.

There are official standards that must be met in order for food to be deemed “edible” by definition for human consumption. If these qualifications are met then “human grade” claims can legally be made even though there is no official definition for the term. However, a product created for a pet is very unlikely to be nutritionally adequate for human consumption. There are foods that humans can eat, such as chocolate, that are toxic to dogs. Therefore, “human grade” does not by any means indicate that a food is nutritionally safe for dogs. 

“Natural” Pet Food: While It’s Better, It’s Still Unclear

The word “natural” is being used on tons of food labels both in the dog and human food industries. It makes us feel good when we think we’re getting an honest product, and we hope that the label is telling us the truth. Some people confuse the terms “natural” and “organic” as being interchangeable, but they are absolutely not the same.

DSC06719PetMD veterinarian Dr. Hughes tells us that the word “natural” means that the FDA deems the product to contain no chemical changes to the ingredients. Of course we don’t want our dogs to ingest chemicals day after day. This can greatly deteriorate their health. Purchasing a dog food that can provide FDA certified “natural” ingredients should be part of your dog’s daily diet. 

DSC06722The AAFCO says that the word “natural” is a descriptive term that sounds positive, but there are misperceptions about the word. The term was undefined in the past by state and federal agencies, but in an effort to appeal to consumers, marketers have used the term for their food. 

The AAFCO Definition for “Natural” Pet Food: 

DSC06716“A feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal, or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subjected to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices.”

DSC06729However, the FDA labeling guidelines states, “the term ‘natural’ is often used on pet food labels, although that term does not have an official definition.” The FDA does recognize the AAFCO definition for natural. Unfortunately, it’s up to us to do the remaining research for us to be sure that the company’s claims to be natural are in fact truthful. Furthermore, not all states have adopted the AAFCO definition for “natural.” The FDA admits that ingredients can still contain trace amounts of chemically synthetic compounds and still be considered natural. 

Are you even more confused than before? Don’t feel bad, I am too! It feels like there still isn’t a concrete, defined, trustworthy answer to the natural vs unnatural debate. 

Don’t Believe “Holistic” Pet Food Claims

DSC06720There is no legal definition of the word “holistic” for pet food. Any manufacturer can claim their food is “holistic” regardless of the ingredients. To me, this word would be a red flag for ‘marketing scam!’

DSC06723

“Organic” Pet Food: Look For The Seal 

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, organic ingredients must be grown with only animal or vegetable fertilizers such as manure, bone meal, compost, etc. When a product has the USDA Organic Seal, it is certified to meet these standards. If the product does not have the official USDA Organic Seal, it’s claim to be organic has not been proven true by any official agency. 

According to the AAFCO, Organic pet food is “produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic engineering may not be used.”

 

Now that was a lot to take in! The pet food controversy is one that I believe is far from over. More consumers than ever are demanding answers from manufacturers, and I hope that in only a few more years we will be able to grab a bag of dog food off the shelves without all of these worries and concerns. Stay tuned for more information on reading pet food labels and understanding what all of the chemically-named ingredients truly are. 

Do you have a rule you abide by when picking out your pet’s food? Or is there a tried and true method you believe works when choosing a reputable manufacturer? 

Brain Foods That Will Extend Your Dog’s Lifespan

Brain Foods That Will Extend Your Dog's LIfe SpanEating healthy is about more than looking slim and trim on the outside. Most importantly, it keeps our bodies healthy on the inside – especially our minds! And our dogs are no different. Their overall health – mind, body, and soul – is greatly affected by what foods they eat every day. 

Watching our dogs age can seem like the quickest and most gut-wrenching process of life. We want them by our sides forever, and seeing their muzzles getting grayer or their energy slowly getting weaker can make us feel hopeless. 

The nutrients in your dog’s food help support her muscles, joints, and skin. But they also affect your dog’s healthy brain function, and the right nutrients can vastly improve her lifespan. Dogs are just like humans when it comes to experiencing degradation in brain function with age. Senior dogs can develop dementia and other forms of brain deterioration that diminishes their quality of life. 

The best way to support your dog’s healthy brain function and improve his quality of life is to make sure his diet consists of the proper nutrients.

healthy foods to improve your dogs life

Omega 3 fatty acids

A very common issue for aging dogs is canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) which is extremely similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Dogs will begin to forget how to do things they could do before, become disoriented, forgetful, and have accidents in the house.

Flax is a great brain food for dogs!

Flax is a great brain food for dogs!

Omega 3 fatty acids are linked to reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and have been used to treat mood disorders. Good sources of Omega 3 fatty acids for dogs include salmon or other fatty fish, flax, and krill.  

Vitamins C & E

Just like humans, dogs will experience changes in their brains such as beta-amyloid accumulation and oxidative damage causing cognitive dysfunction. Older dogs that are fed a diet high in antioxidants have shown improved learning and spatial attention within only two short weeks of the diet starting. The improvement was even greater when this was combined with mental stimulation through walks, housing with another dog, and training exercises. 

The antioxidants in vitamins C & E protect the brain from free radical damage. Diets that are high in antioxidants are believed to help delay cognitive decline. In a study conducted to test dogs’ spatial memory and ability to choose between two different objects, recognize items, and adapt to new situations, dogs on diets that were high in antioxidants tested far better than dogs that were fed a normal diet.

Berries, Kale, and Carrots are great sources of antioxidants.

Berries, Kale, and Carrots are great sources of antioxidants.

Dogs can find antioxidants in berries such as blueberries and raspberries, carrots, and leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, and broccoli. 

B vitamins

B-6 helps form neurotransmitters to help with healthy brain development. B-12 is an essential vitamin for brain and nerve function. It also helps form red blood cells and DNA.

We always have spinach in the house - and the dogs love it!

We always have spinach in the house – and the dogs love it!

Studies have also shown that consuming B-6 and B-12 has positive effects on memory. Dogs will ingest B vitamins from food when they consume:  most meats, sea food, chickpeas, and spinach. 

Luteolin    

This is a plant compound that tames inflammation in the brain which restores memory. It is found in celery, carrots, peppers, and rosemary. 

Celery gives your dog's food a yummy (healthy!) crunch.

Celery gives your dog’s food a yummy (healthy!) crunch.

 Introducing Brain Foods Into To Your Dog’s Diet

As with anything in life, prevention is always better than treatment. This means that you should start as early as birth with preventing cognitive disorders through a healthy supplemented diet. Your dog will live longer and experience a more enriched life if these brain disorders are prevented rather than treated once they are developed later on in life. 

Jem and Zoey Love Brain Foods!

Jem and Zoey Love Brain Foods!

A healthy lifestyle balanced with physical activity, socialization, cognitive-enhancing activities, and an adequate intake of dietary antioxidants will vastly improve your dog’s overall health, quality of life, and increase her lifespan. 

Remember! Always consult your veterinarian or pet nutritionist before making any drastic diet changes to your dog’s routine. Some pet foods already contain high levels of vitamins and antioxidants, so you don’t want to overdo it and cause damage. If you do make the decision to supplement your dog’s food after consulting with your veterinarian, introduce the change slowly so as not to upset his stomach. Most importantly when introducing human foods to your dog: familiarize yourself with which foods are poisonous to dogs! 

Learn more about brain stimulating tricks for your dog at Modern Dog Magazine!

URGENT: Some Peanut Butter Brands Are Deadly For Dogs

RadioFence.com reports that some peanut butter brands contain Xylitol which is poisonous to dogsIf dogs could talk, I’d imagine that most of them would say they’ve tried peanut butter before – and loved it of course! Whether their human used it to hide a pill, let them lick the spoon, or gave them a dollop to witness how funny it is when it gets stuck to their tongues. Peanut butter has kind of always been associated as a healthy treat for our dogs to indulge in. 

But what happens when the manufacturers change the recipe? Would they tell us? And do we always read the food label on the jar without fail before giving our dogs a taste? If you’ve been buying the same brand of peanut butter for many years the answer is probably no. You may think you know what ingredients are in your favorite peanut butter, because there’s no way it’s changed since you started buying it…right?

Wrong! Some peanut butter manufacturers have added xylitol to their ingredients! Why are they adding xylitol? Because they’re trying to lower the calorie count while still preserving the sweet flavor. Xylitol is a sugar substitute that you see most commonly in candy, desert, and especially gum. It’s even hidden in some vitamin supplements and medications. It’s a relatively newer ingredient in food items that is extremely poisonous to dogs, so we have to start being extra careful to read labels before feeding our dogs any human food. 

Nuts N More Contains Xylitol which is toxic to dogsNuts ‘N More, P28, and Krush Nutrition: Nutty By Nature brand peanut butters all contain xylitol. However, these are not necessarily the ONLY brands that contain xylitol, which means it is up to you to check the ingredients in the brand you are purchasing before you feed it to your dog. According to Dr. Kathryn Primm, dogs can’t properly process xylitol the way humans do, so it causes a drop in blood sugar and liver damage that are both life-threatening. Dogs that are poisoned with xylitol will stagger when they walk and collapse. If your dog is poisoned, it is critical that she is rushed to the vet. 

Most of the peanut butter brands that contain xylitol are the ones sold in health food stores that specialize in vitamins. For now most, if not all of the big-brand peanut butters are safe and so are our dogs. We’ve used peanut butter to give our dogs medication countless times, and we also use it in some of our homemade dog treat recipes.

Jem and Laci love Smucker's Organic Peanut Butter! Only 2 ingredients: peanuts and less than 1% salt.

Jem and Laci love Smucker’s Organic Peanut Butter! Only 2 ingredients: peanuts and less than 1% salt.

 As for any food or treat you give your dog, it’s always vital that you check the ingredients list for anything that could be poisonous to her. Make it a habit to read every ingredient on the list, and if you ever see a word you don’t recognize ask your vet if it is safe for your dog to consume. There is a long list of human foods that are poison to dogs, and it’s important to have these printed out on the refrigerator or some place where family members and guests that may not have experience with dogs can view it to remind them of what is acceptable and unacceptable to share with your dog. 

Buddy loves the occasional tasty peanut butter treat!

Buddy loves the occasional tasty peanut butter treat!

Spreading the word about what is safe and unsafe for dogs to eat can save thousands of lives! Make sure your friends know the rules :) 

Has your dog ever eaten anything she wasn’t supposed to?

 

Jerky Dog Treats “Made In The USA” Still Not Safe

RadioFence.com jerky treats made in the USA and china are not safe

By now we’ve all probably heard about the toxic dog treats from China that have caused so many tragic dog deaths and complications. Since 2007, that FDA has received more than 5000 reports of illnesses believed to be related to consuming jerky treats. Since these tragedies, there has been a mass movement to take all treats that are made in China off the store shelves and most pet parents have been paying attention to where the treats are made before giving them to their dogs.

jerky treats from china recalledBut come to find out… even if the treats have the “Made In The USA” sticker/label, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the treats are healthy for your dog to consume. One of the scariest facts about this whole issue is that the specific toxin or poison that has caused all of these illnesses and deaths hasn’t been determined. The FDA believes that there is an association between these illnesses and the treats made in China, but it has not been proven that this is the cause. The truth is that they still haven’t determined the cause of these deaths. 

china treats recalledThe FDA warns consumers that until they can determine which ingredients in jerky treats are poisonous, there may not be a single jerky treat brand on the shelves that is safe for consumption. “I don’t recommend pet owners feed their pets jerky treats until the FDA can actually tell us what in the jerky treat is actually causing the sickness,” said Studio City veterinarian Dr. Julio Lopez

Jerky treats at Petco - some make claims of their ingredients being sourced in the USA

Jerky treats at Petco – some make claims of their ingredients being sourced in the USA

The FDA warns us that jerky treats labeled “Made In The USA” may pose just as many health risks as the treats made in China because while many of these treats are “assembled” in the United States, they are likely to include ingredients from China. The Supervisory Veterinary Medical Officer for the FDA explained that “manufacturers do not need to list the country of origin for each ingredient used in their products.”

"Family-Owned Spot Farms" makes it known that the chicken is raised in Kentucky

“Family-Owned Spot Farms” makes it known that the chicken is raised in Kentucky

Los Angeles residents Henry Alvarez and Lynn Thanarajakool say they’ll never feed a pet a jerky treat again, no matter where it’s manufactured, after their beloved Dachshund Kingsley died within days of eating a treat from a package labeled “Made in China.” “I only gave him one treat and it was Wednesday night and he started feeling sick by I would say noon the next day,” Alvarez recalled. The veterinarian ruled Kingsley’s cause of death as kidney failure which is a consistent symptom that the FDA associates with feeding pets chicken, duck, or sweet potato jerky treats. 

The FDA is continuing to investigate all jerky treats and the causes of these illnesses and deaths. If you choose to continue to feed your dog jerky treats purchased in stores, the FDA warns:

  • Adhere to weight guidelines listed on the package: smaller dogs may be more vulnerable to health problems related to the treats
  • Monitor your pets for signs of sickness
  • Report any serious symptoms to the FDA and your vet 
  • If your pet gets sick, keep the packaging so the FDA can track the origin of the ingredients if your

For more information from the FDA on jerky treats, visit this website.

Homemade, organic, locally-grown, inexpensive, quick & easy... what more could you ask for?!

Homemade, organic, locally-grown, inexpensive, quick & easy… what more could you ask for?!

 We make homemade jerky treats for our dogs because it’s much less expensive, we can be sure where the ingredients are coming from and that they are healthy ones, and our dogs have given us clear and obvious signs that they prefer their treats homemade – can you say spoiled?! Zoey was given a treat at a friend’s house the other night that was made by a family company in Texas and kept putting it in her mouth, spitting it out, putting it in her mouth, spitting it out, and so on. She only ended up eating it because the other dogs wanted it and were trying to take it from her! She didn’t want the treat, but she wasn’t going to surrender her treat knowing that another dog would get to enjoy it – typical alpha dog behavior. 

I’m confident that I can make homemade jerky treats for less money than the store-bought kind and with less hassle than going out to the store, so why would I take the chance on the store-bought treats when we don’t know what’s causing these deaths? Have you or anyone you know experienced anything out of the ordinary with treats or dog food? And do you trust the store-bought brands?

For more of our healthy homemade treat recipes:

 

 

Dog “Germs” Could Make People Healthier

Mabel and Kynley - Two Nieces In Our Family

Mabel and Kynley – Two Nieces In Our Family

You haven’t met the two little ones in our title image yet – Mabel is the newest furry addition to our extended family (Mabel is Zoey and Jem’s cousin). And Kynley is the sweetheart that Mabel is giving kisses to that we are happy to call family! 

We’ve probably all heard that having a dog has some great health benefits. Studies have shown that dogs reduce stress, anxiety, and lower blood pressure. Their incredible sense for our wellbeing goes as far as detecting low blood sugar, seizures, and even cancer. But the latest study is testing whether having a dogs in our homes actually boosts our immune systems and makes them stronger than they would be if we didn’t have dogs! 

Zoey loves kisses!

Zoey loves kisses!

Scientists at the University of Arizona are conducting a study to see if the natural bacteria that dogs have encourages the growth of beneficial microorganisms in people. They believe living with dogs could be causing our bodies to create enough microorganisms to reduce sneezing, itching, and hives from allergic reactions. Imagine if our dogs are the natural remedy we’ve been needing for our allergies!

Jem loves getting her "germs" all over our bed!

Jem loves getting her “germs” all over our bed!

I have a friend that has been severely allergic to dogs her whole life. She fell in love with a dog that sheds at the shelter, adopted him, and named him Meeko. She recently told me that she’s still allergic to some other dogs she’s around, but she seems to have built up a “tolerance” to Meeko’s hair and doesn’t have a reaction to him anymore! This has me thinking that our bodies really do create beneficial microorganisms as a result of being around them that fight against our body’s allergic reactions. Amazing!

Jamie and Meeko's first beach day - No allergies!

Jamie and Meeko’s first beach day – No allergies!

The study to test this theory is going to analyze the blood and skin samples of people and their dogs for three months to track health changes. Scientists believe that the deep connection we have with our dogs goes beyond the surface. We don’t just love them for their cute, fluffy, tail-wagging exterior. And they don’t just love us as a food-source and a door-opener to the backyard. The bond between us goes so much deeper than anyone can put into words – and this connection could be one that our health depends on. A doctoral student participating in the study says, “is it just that they’re fuzzy and we like to pet them, or is there something else going on under the skin? The question really is: Has the relationship between dogs and humans gotten under the skin? And we believe it has.” 

Moments like these are worth all the "germs" in the world!

Moments like these are worth all the “germs” in the world!

It’s completely understandable that dogs share their unique bacteria with us in our home over time. Households with pets have more bacterial diversity than homes without pets, which is great news for humans because exposure to a variety of microbes builds a stronger immune system. “We think dogs might work as probiotics to enhance the health of the bacteria that live in our guts. These bacteria, or ‘microbiota,’ are increasingly recognized as playing an essential role in our mental and physical health, especially as we age,” Dr. Charles Raison, professor of psychiatry at the university and the principal investigator for the study, said in the statement.

Buddy the rescue pup hasn't wasted any time sharing his "germs" with our family, and we love it!

Buddy the rescue pup hasn’t wasted any time sharing his “germs” with our family, and we love it!

Just when I thought I couldn’t love dogs any more than I already do… now there’s the possibility that they actually make me healthier! This is great news. I’m excited to see how this study goes and what incredible connections the scientists find between dogs and people. Researchers are still raising funds for the study and finding volunteers between ages 50-80. Looking forward to the results! 

We love Jem "germs" in this family!

We love Jem “germs” in this family!

The more germs the merrier in this family! All of our dogs get an overload of cuddles and kisses in this household.