The choice of the brand or the type of food we feed our pets with is something we sometimes take lightly, in general we don't bother reading the ingredients carefully without going further of the front side of the package where the supposed main ingredients are mentioned. But for some in this choice there are more factors to take into account, is common for a vegan or vegetarian to ask him-or herself, should my pet live under my food choices or habits? And, would it be healthy for my pet to carry a diet free of animal protein?
The pet food industry is currently a multimillionaire market and therefor is highly competitive, is not by chance that everyday a new brand appears on the market. Usually this industry is linked directly with the one that produces human food, being the by-products of the later the main ingredients in the first. In these cases pet food represents a convenient way to use the animal parts that are not normaly use in the making of human food, like heads, feet, bones, blood, intestines, lungs, spleens, livers, ligaments and fat trimmings, possibly diseased and cancerous animal parts, grains considered “unfit for human consumption” and other similar waste.
The statement of the ingredients in the packet and the detailed list are two things to take into account when you're choosing the food. Some of the main ingredients in pet food are:
Animal Protein: From different sources, mainly from cattle and poultry parts that are unfit for human consumption. The nutritional quality of these by-products may vary from batch to batch depending on the components of the mix. Some brands self proclaimed “premium”, “natural” or “organic” don't use by-products, however the parts they use are better quality leftovers. Currently there is not regulation in the use of dying, sick or disabled animals, which are forbidden in the human food industry.
Vegetable Protein: Most dry foods contain a large amount of cereal grain or starchy vegetables to provide texture and give an attractive shape. These high-carbohydrate plant products also provide a cheap source of “energy” that replaces expensive animal origin ingredients.
Animal Fat: Is the responsible for the odor when you open a bag of pet food. It is sprayed directly onto the food to make an otherwise bland or distasteful product palatable.
Vitamins and minerals: They are used to compensate the lost of nutrients when they cook the ingredients and the variability of the nutritional quality of the product.
Additives: Some chemicals are added to commercial pet food to improve the taste, stability, characteristics, or appearance of the food. These don't provide any nutritional value. Additives include emulsifiers, currently under study due to its possible negative impact in health, to prevent water and fat from separating, antioxidants to prevent fat from turning rancid, and artificial colors and flavors to make the product more attractive to consumers and more palatable to animals.
Preservatives: Are used to maintain the product fresh and appealing to animals. Syntethic preservatives include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and ethoxyquin. For these antioxidants, there is little information documenting their toxicity, safety, interactions, or chronic use in pet foods that may be eaten every day for the life of the animal. It is believed that ethoxyquin may cause diseases, skin problems and infertility in dogs, that's why some manufactures, listening to the petitions of their consummers, decided to use “natural” preservatives as Vitamin C (ascorbate), Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols), and oils of rosemary, clove, or other spices, to preserve the fats in their products. The shelf life is shorter, however — only about 6 months.
Due to the nature of the materials used, terrible things can happen, like the case in Venezuela, 2005 when many dogs and cats fed with contaminated Purina food died. Frequently the ingredients used are highly contaminated with a wide range of toxic substances, some of which are destroyed by processing. Some of the contaminants we can find are: bacteria (Is not recommended to mix dry food with water, milk, canned food, or other liquids because it may allow the bacteria on the surface to multiply and make pets sick), mycotoxines (From mold and fungi), chemical residue (pesticides and fertilizers) among others.
But the secrets of pet food industry are not only in the ingredients used, they also include testing on living animals. Some of the companies keep large colonies of dogs and cats for this purpose or use testing laboratories that have their own animals. These test are not required o demanded by any organism, but manufactures use them to perform palatability studies when developing a new pet food. Years ago was brought to light that Menu Foods performed tests on living animals in which these were deliberately fed tainted food. Days after the begining of the tests animals started to die painfully from kidney failure. Videotapes reveal the animals’ lives in barren metal cages, callous treatment, invasive experiments, and careless cruelty.
All of this makes me think, are we, pet owners, aware of all the animal suffering involved in pet food manufacturing? From the mammals and the birds, source of animal protein, to the cats and dogs used in the quality tests.
I've been a vegetarian for several years. The reason why I made that decision was that I didn't want to support the cruelty animals are put through in the food industry, however during these years I've being feeding my pets with by-products of this industry. This made me wonder if there are vegetarian alternatives and if these really have all the nutrients my pets need.
Doing some research I found that some vets don't recommend feeding your cat or dog only with vegetarian or vegan products. ABC published an article in which Tony Buffington, a professor of veterinary clinical sciences at Ohio State University, said that while it's technically possible to formulate healthy nonmeat diets for cats and dogs, but he would strongly advise against vegan diets for young, rapidly growing animals and those that are pregnant. He also says that for dogs is easier to adopt a vegan or less-restrictive vegetarian diet because their nutritional needs aren't as strict as those of cats.
For dogs is easier to keep a vegetarian diet, despite being mainly canivors because their diets are more varied. These could include eggs and other products of animal origin. Cats need nutrients like the amino acid taurine (Taurina deficiencies may cause heart conditions and blidness), vitamin A, iron, calcium and vitamin B. In the same article Mindy Bough says that she's heard anecdotally of healthy vegan cats, and that she suspects that those cats may be supplementing their meat-free diets on their own, hunting mices or birds. On the other hand the CEO of Evolution Diet Pet Food Corp. states that in the 20 years their vegan products have being in the market they've seen dogs over 19 years old and cats over 22 years in good health.
There are some vegan pet food brands, but they are available mostly in North America. Some of these are Human Choice, Evolution Diet and Amidog. They guarantee their products have all the nutrients needed and are healthy for cats and dogs. There are also supplements to adjust any need caused by the vegan or vegetarian diet. It is always adviced, if you made the decission to change your pet's diet, to ask a vet with strong knowledge in nutrition for advice (most have some knowledge on the topic but are no experts) to guarantee a healthy life to your pet and keep it under the vet's watch, because some of them don't tolerate this type of diet and it may cause vomit, hair and energy loss.
The diet of our pets must be one of our main concerns, regardless of your personal dietary preferences. You have to watch that their food has all the nutrients they need and that with time they don't result harmful for them. Also you should do some research on the manufacturer's background, I wouldn't like to feed my pet with a brand that has been tested on other cats and dogs without any ethics involved, and of course ask your vet when you're choosing the type of food.
Petting Day Dry Food 064 by Purrs & Paws of A.R.A.S under Creative Commons
Dog Eating Watermelon by dawgfanjeff under Creative Commons
Source on the ingredients of pet food and the secrets of pet food industry: What's Really in Pet Food