The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

January 29, 2013

Ryan Richardson: Not all pet food created equal

Veterinarian encourages pet owners to check food nutrition labels

— My dog weighs all of 10 pounds soaking wet, but she eats like she’s a 60-pound Labrador. While I am secretly jealous of what appears to be a world-class metabolism, this means I have to keep her stocked up on dog food, and the cost of those bags adds up over time.

The tipping point came Tuesday morning, when I woke up to find my dog inside a big bag of dog food that I forgot to put in the pantry. While it was cute to see her head pop out of the bag when I said her name, it made me think of why my dog never seems to get enough to eat. And that led me to think about what I am feeding my dog and what exactly is on those labels. Does “100 percent beef” mean my dog is truly getting what equates to a steak in a bag, or is this an issue of misleading labels hoodwinking consumers?

After delving into the subject on the Internet, I decided to call in the big guns and ask a professional. Main Street Pet Care veterinarian Dr. Pam Helm spent time this week wading through the facts and fiction of what goes into an animal’s stomach.

“The first thing you, as a consumer, should notice is that protein source,” Helm said. “Be careful of anything that says ‘100 percent,’ because that usually is not going to be the case, especially in wet food,” she said.

According to Helm, wet food will usually be comprised of about 78 percent water. The remaining 22 percent can run the gamut from filler materials such as corn and rice to real meat, all the way down to meat -flavoring, which can be distinctly different than what it is supposed to be.

“The labeling system is required to list the crude protein, fat, fiber and moisture and the actual ingredients in a most-first format,” Helm said. “It’s similar as to what human labels have, but you have to be extra careful in evaluating. A lot of times you’ll see the top list as chicken or lamb, but then there are four different kinds of rice behind that. Technically, the rice components will outweigh the actual meat composition. You want that balance because animals need that balance just like humans, but you have to make sure they are actually getting that balance.”

In addition to the label on the bag, Helm encourages consumers to look online for the source of the products found in their pets’ food.

“Evaluating the guaranteed analysis is where you can figure out where your meat comes from,” she said. “You’ll see if the meat is coming from actual meat or byproducts that were left over. If the websites do not have the information, contact the manufacturer to have them send you a copy.”

After evaluating your pet’s diet and deciding that a change does need to be made, Helm suggests a gradual changeover to prevent upsetting the pet’s diet.

“Start your pet off with a 75/25 percent mix of the old food and the new food and then slowly switch over,” she said. “Changing diets cold turkey on a dog can make more of a mess for you in the short-term, and they may not get the nutrients they need.”

Contact Ryan Richardson about this column or other topic suggestions at rrichardson@joplinglobe.com or 417-627-7363.

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