The dawning of a New Year results in resolutions by people to eat healthier and get into better shape. Although many often break those declarations before month-end, perhaps you and your pet can become healthier together, thereby sticking to your resolution and helping your pet stay healthier and happier in the process.
Just as people need nutritious foods to keep them healthy, so do our pets. Just as there are a wide variety of foods we can choose to eat or not, so, too, are there many types and brands of foods from which to choose for our pets. Whether you go to your vet’s office, shop at a grocery or big box store, or buy your pet food from a pet supply store, you are bombarded by the many flavors, brands and special diet foods. With the numerous options, it can seem overwhelming to tackle the question, “What should I feed my pet?”
Pet food recalls make pet lovers recoil and question what companies to trust and what those companies are putting into our pets' food. The best way to combat doubts and questions is to research. Look at the brands in the store and discuss with the store staff. Inquire of trusted friends who are pet owners what they feed their animals, and of course, talk with your vet, especially if your dog or cat has a health issue, such as diabetes. Then, get on the Internet and read about the company from their website as well as learn more about pet food from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (http://www.petfood.aafco.org/). Ask your pet food supplier for samples to try as you learn what food is best for your furry friend.
You can read the labels, however, the order of ingredients on a pet food label is often based on the precooked weight (water and its contributing weight), not on the finished product weight. For example, if chicken is listed as the first ingredient, which we all think is good thing, how much chicken is really in the kibble? Processing chickens to create dry dog and cat food takes the moisture out of the meat and carcass. What is the percentage of chicken actually in the product – 10 percent, 25 percent, 40 percent, more than that? How much corn meal or wheat does the product contain? Some pets are allergic to wheat and corn. Are there synthetic vitamins and minerals in the food? Pets cannot always completely digest synthetic materials. And where is the food processed? Remember the pet food recall involving melamine and China in 2007?
In addition to food selection, here are a few other tips to keeping your pet healthier and happier this year:
With spring upon us and summer around the corner, many of us know the problems associated with allergies. A few of us even know the heartbreak of discovering someone in the family is allergic to the household pet. A large number of people give up the beloved dog or cat, while others take steps to delineate the allergens – from thorough cleanings and keeping the pet from the bedroom to taking allergy shots. Animal dander is not the only allergy from which people suffer – pollen, dust, and other allergens impact our bodies. Did you know our dogs and cats can also be affected by allergens? And, it’s not always a food allergy.
Many pet owners are concerned about corn in pet food products; some even stay away from all grain products. “Grain-free” pet foods are popular around the country, but it may not be rice, wheat, or corn to which your pet is allergic. Environmental allergens, such as pollen, fungus, even bugs can cause your dog or cat problems.
When Greg and I adopted Mary a few months ago, we were told she most likely had an allergy. Her foster mom, to be proactive, fed her a grain-free, salmon dog food. Mary didn’t seem fond of the food so when we brought her home, we put her on a grain-free venison product. However, her allergy situation didn’t abate, so our vet recommended we test Mary to be sure as to what she’s allergic to, so that we weren’t guessing as to the type of food to feed her.
We received the results of her allergy test in April. To our delight, Mary has only four food allergies (one being salmon – the others are corn, white potatoes, and flax). To our dismay, her primary problems are environmental. Among MANY other things, Mary is allergic to five types of grasses, a plethora of weeds (such as ragweed and lambs quarter), several trees (including elm and maple), mosquitoes, feathers, and cotton (is there a towel or blanket NOT made of cotton?!) So, Mary, like many people, undergoes allergy shots. We recently started her second series.
I am so glad we listened to our vet and pursued the discovery to what she’s allergic – we also received a results booklet explaining her allergies in greater depth. I never would have guessed my dog would be allergic to our elm tree in the back yard and the cotton towels used for bathing. Knowing we can treat her allergy problems for, in essence, less than $20 per month is a relief ($195 for the first year and $160 thereafter). Greg and I are committed to helping Mary endure these goofy allergies. Though we won’t cut down our elm tree, I found some non-cotton towels (which I even take to the groomer)!
Just like people can experience and then solve their allergy problems, so, too, can we discover and solve our pet’s discomfort. Some experts estimate more than 30 percent of pets’ skin irritations can be attributed to allergies.
As pet owners, we are responsible for the health of our dogs and cats. If your pet’s feet are discolored, they scratch their ears a lot, or have bald spots on the skin, talk with your vet and consider having an allergy test run. The initial outlay can be a bit overwhelming, but when you break down as I did a per month cost, it’s in essence a Starbucks a week; I can give up gourmet coffee to keep my pet healthy and happy – I’ll enjoy an extra cup at home with my beloved animals instead!
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.