Family Grocery List Goes to the Dogs
According to a recent study published in the journal Agriculture and Human Values, consumers are becoming more aware of what they eat, with health consciousness linked to less illness, greater physical activity and even higher income levels. This awareness extends to what's served on the dinner table and what's poured into dog bowls. Some pet food manufacturers have responded by including ingredients in their foods that pet owners would recognize as healthy - chicken, egg, carrots, spinach and even certain herbs, such as rosemary.
"The idea is that, if we know spinach is good for me, or the flavonol [antioxidant compound] in broccoli is great, will that translate into it being good for my dog and cat?" asks Dr. Joseph Wakshlag, DVM PhD, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Wakshlag says that dogs are more similar to humans in terms of dietary needs than other pets, such as cats, but their requirements for amino acids, which are the building blocks for protein, are slightly different.
Doggie Dietary Needs
All commercially-sold dog food -- as well as other types of pet food -- is regulated under federal and state laws and must meet nutritional standards for a balanced diet developed by the Association of Animal Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), an industry standards body. Dog foods must meet strict testing criteria in order to carry the AAFCO's "complete and balanced" statement on the label. Dogs need certain plant or animal proteins to supply amino acids that build hair, skin, and muscles, among other features. They also need an assortment of minerals and vitamins, which help grow bones, produce energy and clot blood. Fat helps in the absorption of these nutrients. "If you look at any dog food that is commercially made, almost every one has a mix of vitamins and minerals. . .http://to meet every-day requirements," says Dr. Wakshlag. "Human food makers don't have that requirement. They can market any food they want and it doesn't have to be balanced. That's why Twinkies are on the shelves."
Classic Ingredients Revisited
In 1860, the first commercial dog food -- a dog biscuit -- was introduced in England. From that, several entrepreneurs went on to formulate their own combinations of grains, meats and vegetables into dry kibble. Now, some companies are putting the focus on these food ingredient staples, but with a modern approach and sensibility. The easily recognizable ingredients -- such as chicken, eggs, vegetables and fruits -- are more expensive to include in pet foods. Research already supports their benefits in humans, and now pet food researchers say that some of those same benefits may apply to your dog. Quality protein, such as chicken or egg, can help dogs build muscles. Carrots contain vitamins that improve vision. Antioxidants, vitamins and minerals in such vegetables as tomatoes can improve the immune system. Apples and beets can provide fiber necessary for healthy digestion.
How to Switch Kibble
It's not yet known whether these food ingredient favorites will ultimately lengthen your, or your pets', lifespan or keep serious illnesses at bay. One thing is for certain, however -- they can help to provide comfort for dog owners like you who want to know what's in the food you are feeding to your beloved family pet. If you'd like to learn more about how certain ingredients may help your dog, speak with your veterinarian. The ultimate test, however, may come down to individual taste. Dr. Buffington suggests giving your dog a choice between its old food and the new varieties featuring ingredients you better recognize. "I prefer to offer the new diet in a separate bowl and let the pet choose," he says. "If offered a choice, dogs seem to respond better than if you mix two foods together."