Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pet Nutrition: How to Tell the Sizzle From the Steak with Dr. Marty Becker

Dr. Marty Becker pet nutrition
Dr. Marty Becker
This post is sponsored by Purina. All opinions are our own.

We recently had the opportunity to attend a YouTube Live session hosted by one of our favorite veterinarians, Dr. Mary Becker, who helped debunk many of the common myths regarding pets foods and ingredients.  We found his thoughts and tips interesting and eye-opening and hope you do too! 

Read down for some of the highlights and be sure to read all the way to the end for some of the most commonly asked questions about ingredients such as by-products and grains and feeding raw.

Dr. Marty Becker YouTube Live
During our YouTube live session! 

Confused about pet foods?

The whole ingredient thing can be really confusing and it's no wonder. "Some companies are all sizzle and no steak... it's all marketing and packaging to fake people out to spend too much money," said Dr. Becker. "I want manufacturing prowess and nutrition, not marketing!"

Passionate about the importance of good nutrition, Dr. Becker says that with tens of thousands of products out there it's overwhelming for pet parents to choose the right product to fit their pet's unique needs, and a recent survey says that 50 percent of people say it's harder to understand their pet's nutrition than their own. 

Ask your vet

Dr. Becker says, "nobody knows more about nutrition than veterinarians." They can recommend the right food for your pet at their stage in life and for their lifestyle.  Vets should also be able to recommend the best food to fit your shopping lifestyle -- whether you buy your pet food at a grocery store, pet specialty or online.

Help your pet live longer

And speaking of the right food, the top things that are going to contribute to both length and quality of life are putting the right food in a pet's bowl, controlling how much they eat and how much exercise they get. If they stay at their ideal weight they going to live about two years longer, says Dr. Becker, who also points out that 56 percent of America's pets are overweight or obese.

Consider nutrients (and safety and quality), not ingredients

"Don't fall prey to just looking at the ingredient list or a fancy photo on the package," adds Dr. Becker.  "The fancier the package and the crazier the ingredients sound, the more it seems to intrigue people." The manufacturing, safety, quality and nutrients (a complete and balanced diet) are what's important, not the marketing or the fancy package.

Hungry like a wolf?

By-products are certainly one of the hottest topics and Dr. Becker shed some light on this topic as well. "Dogs share almost 98 percent of the DNA of the wolf and if you watch wolves eat, which I've watched several times, you'll see the alpha eats first and he doesn't go for the meaty thigh, he goes right for what we call the by-products, he goes for the heart, the kidney, the liver, the spleen. He goes to the most nutrient rich food sources. So if you had a wolf in a pet store, he'd be telling you your dog wants to eat these things," said Dr. Becker.

Read on for more about  by-products and other myths below.

Dr. Marty Becker Fear Free
Dr. Becker also is the founder of Fear FreeSM, an initiative to help prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety and stress in pets by inspiring and educating the people who care for them -- including vets, pet parents and pet trainers and other pet professional providers. 

Four dog food myths busted, by Dr. Marty Becker

Myth #1: By-Products are bad for my pet
Truth: By-products are often mischaracterized as low-quality ingredients in pet food when in fact they are commonly used in both human and animal food, and provide valuable nutrients for pets such as protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.

In the wild, cats and dogs instinctively eat organs first because they are nutrient-dense and highly palatable, so eating by-products is more natural than most people think. Additionally, by-products can provide more essential nutrients than regular muscle meat (which can be lacking in calcium and Vitamin A) but are naturally provided in by-products from the bones and liver.

Many pet food manufacturers use high-quality by-products such as beef, chicken or pork that may include hearts, livers, kidneys, lungs and spleens and is considered a part of sustainable food sourcing.

Myth #2: I should avoid feeding my pet grains
Through decades of nutrition research, we’ve learned that grains produce positive outcomes in dogs and cats. Gram for gram, grains deliver more complete nutrition than the ingredients typically used to
substitute for grains, such as potatoes.

In addition, grains are an excellent source of energy-rich carbohydrates and contain protein and antioxidants, including Vitamin E, and fiber to promote digestibility. Many pet food products are formulated with grains because they provide needed natural nutrients as part of a complete and balanced diet.

Dogs are omnivores in the wild, and you actually want grains in their diet, unless there's a specific food allergy.

Myth #3: I can feed my pet solely a raw diet
There are many trends and fads in pet food, such as raw diets. Some people believe pets should eat a raw food diet because it’s allegedly more like what they would eat in the wild. However, raw pet food may not provide all the nutrients a pet needs — and it can sometimes contain dangerous bacteria that is harmful to both the owner and pet when food safety regulations aren’t met.

The FDA maintains a “zero-tolerance” policy for salmonella in pet food because it can pose risks to human health when people who are ‘at risk’ (children, the elderly and individuals with comprised immune systems) come into direct contact with the contaminated pet food so raw diet may not always be the best choice.

It’s important to discuss the pros and cons of a raw diet with your veterinarian, and whether a solely raw diet is appropriate for your pet. If it's commercially available and 100 percent nutritionally balanced and complete then you can certainly consider it,  but I would say you are probably paying too much money.

Myth #4: The quality of pet food solely depends on the type of ingredients in the food
The quality and safety of pet food are equally as important as the ingredients themselves. When determining which pet food to purchase pet owners should go directly to the manufacturer’s website to learn more about what safety and quality standards and best practices are being used.

This includes learning about processes for conducting regular safety and quality checks; employing food scientists, pet nutritionists and other veterinary professionals to develop products; and understanding if the manufacturer is operating its own facilities and maintaining in-house testing laboratories.

Pet owners should also look at the manufacturing and ingredient quality standards of the brand to make sure they meet or exceed FDA and AAFCO standards. 

Bottom line? Ask your vet and choose a food that's nutritionally balanced and right for your pet at his or her specific stage in life and lifestyle. And, be sure to do your research! Check out which companies have had pet food recalls and look for those where the quality and safety standards are best in class.  For more information visit petfoodinstitute.org


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