My Food Is Your Food?

Animal Scene - - THE 411 -

Is there a dif­fer­ence be­tween feed­ing pets or­di­nary pet food, sci­en­tif­i­cally cre­ated pet food, and ta­ble scraps?

Com­mer­cially man­u­fac­tured pet food from U.S. com­pa­nies are sci­en­tif­i­cally for­mu­lated and nu­tri­tion­ally balanced to en­sure that pets re­ceive all of the nu­tri­ents they need for a healthy life. Vet­eri­nary re­searchers have iden­ti­fied be­tween 42 and 48 es­sen­tial nu­tri­ents for cats and dogs. These nu­tri­ents in­clude pro­tein, fat, fiber, vi­ta­mins, min­er­als, and amino acids. For­mu­la­tion of com­mer­cial pet food is a com­puter-driven process. Com­plex cal­cu­la­tions are nec­es­sary to en­sure ap­pro­pri­ate amounts of each of 40+ es­sen­tial nu­tri­ents are pro­vided.

(Our food is healthy, so doesn’t it fol­low that it will also be healthy for our dog/cat?)

Cre­at­ing nu­tri­tion­ally com­plete pet food is a com­plex process and will be dif­fi­cult to do at home. So when pets are con­sis­tently fed a diet of ta­ble scraps or left­overs, these pets are sure to be miss­ing out on sev­eral es­sen­tial nu­tri­ents in the quan­ti­ties needed for long-term health and well-be­ing. Even home-made pet food may be de­fi­cient, based on a clin­i­cal re­search study con­ducted by the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­ni­aDavis which an­a­lyzed home-made dog food recipes found on the web (Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Vet­eri­nary Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion in June 2013, “Eval­u­a­tion of Recipes of Home-pre­pared Main­te­nance Di­ets for Dogs”). Some of the diet de­fi­cien­cies, par­tic­u­larly those re­lated to choline, vi­ta­min D, zinc and vi­ta­min E, could re­sult in sig­nif­i­cant health prob­lems such as im­mune dys­func­tion, ac­cu­mu­la­tion of fat in the liver, and mus­cu­loskele­tal ab­nor­mal­i­ties.

In con­trast, most com­mer­cial pet prod­ucts avail­able in the mar­ket are care­fully for­mu­lated to be “com­plete and balanced,” which means they are de­signed to pro­vide all the nu­tri­ents a pet needs for a long, healthy life. The reg­u­la­tory re­quire­ments of cat and dog food from the US ex­ceed the reg­u­la­tory re­quire­ments of hu­man food (with the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of in­fant for­mula), so pet own­ers can be as­sured that US pet food prod­ucts have been ex­haus­tively tested to be whole­some, truth­fully la­beled, and free of harm­ful sub­stances. Prod­ucts that do not pro­vide com­plete nu­tri­tion will be la­beled that they are in­tended for sup­ple­men­tal feed­ing or for spe­cial use (such as for pets with par­tic­u­lar health is­sues).

(Can I add things to spice up my dog’s/cat’s diet, like treats from my ta­ble? They seem to like it so much!)

Since pet food is de­signed to be the sole source of nu­tri­tion for a healthy dog or cat, sup­ple­ment­ing a pet’s diet with left­overs or other foods for peo­ple is not nec­es­sary and may cause health prob­lems. Many left­overs or ta­ble scraps con­tain too much su­gar, salt, fat or other in­gre­di­ents that are not good for pets. Some foods, like cho­co­late and onions, can ac­tu­ally make a pet very sick. Pan­cre­atic prob­lems can re­sult when fat in­take is too high—of­ten a re­sult of feed­ing pets the same poul­try skins and meats com­mon in hu­man foods. Fur­ther­more, feed­ing pets ta­ble scraps may pro­mote beg­ging and other un­de­sir­able be­hav­iors in pets.

Pet own­ers who are hav­ing trou­ble choos­ing the right pet food for their pet should seek the ad­vice of a vet­eri­nar­ian. Those who wish to make their own home-made pet food should con­sult with a cer­ti­fied vet­eri­nary nu­tri­tion­ist to en­sure that it the diet is healthy and balanced. It would not be ad­vis­able for pet own­ers to rely heav­ily on recipes from the In­ter­net -- the best source of ad­vice about pet di­ets is a vet­eri­nary nu­tri­tion­ist, and the sec­ond best source is their vet­eri­nar­ian.

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