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Beyond Chow

Don't your pets deserve natural foods, too?

By Umut Newbury, Mother Earth News

 

We are what we eat. Now, many are beginning to apply that same standard to their pets. The result: More and more people are buying natural and organic foods for their companion animals, especially cats and dogs. According to the Organic Trade Association, organic pet food sales are growing at nearly three times the rate of organic human food.

Pet owners also are finding an increasing number of options. More than a dozen brands of natural and organic cat and dog food are now available, as well as some foods for smaller animals such as birds and ferrets. You may pay more for these premium foods compared to conventional options, but you (and your pets) get what you pay for.

Natural pet foods generally are minimally processed and are preserved with natural substances, such as vitamins C and E. Whereas "natural" is an undefined and unregulated distinction, "certified organic" pet foods must meet strict standards set by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) that spell out how ingredients must be produced and processed. These standards do not allow the use of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, artificial preservatives, artificial ingredients or genetically engineered ingredients.

Phil Brown, a veterinarian who helped develop the formulas for Newman's Own Organics pet foods, says "natural" has come to mean that the food is free of chemical preservatives and artificial colors, but does not guarantee that the food is free of pesticides, herbicides or antibiotics.

"Natural pet foods can be good foods, but just how good is up to the company," he says. "I like organic because it has defined parameters."

 

Besides pesticides and hormones, natural and organic pet foods are free of other undesirable ingredients such as hair, blood, waste and "meal," all of which come from the rendered carcasses of livestock animals.

Southwest New Mexico sources for natural and other premium pet foods include:

The Pet Health Shop
Pinon Plaza, Silver City, 388-2150

Better Life Natural Pet Foods
365 Avenida de Mesilla, Las Cruces,
527-9265, www.betterlifepetfoods.net

Mis Amigos
11745 Hwy. 180 E., Arenas Valley, 388-4101

Silver City Food Co-Op
520 N. Bullard St., Silver City, 388-2343

Mountain View Market
1300 El Paseo Rd # M, Las Cruces, 523-0436

Solano Animal Clinic
537 N. Solano Drive, Las Cruces, 526-1672 (prescription foods only)

Dr. Andrew Weil, a longtime advocate of holistic medicine, helped start Pet Promise, a line of dry and canned foods for cats and dogs. He decided to get involved in the pet food industry because he wanted "really good food" for his two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Jambo and Daisy.

"The major problem with the content of conventional pet foods is the use of 'animal byproducts,' which are low-grade wastes from the beef and poultry industries," Weil says.

Weil says the optimum nutrition for pets comes from meat, poultry and fish of a quality similar to what we would eat. It should be "raised in sustainable, humane ways without added drugs and hormones, and with quality grains, fats and macronutrients."

Nutrition is just as significant for dogs and cats as it is for humans. "It is one of the most important determinants of health and resistance to disease," Weil says.

Those who want to give their companion animals better nutrition need to become informed about the ingredients in pet food and look for the best available products, Weil says. But some of the most expensive products are not necessarily the best, so Weil advises pet owners to learn to interpret ingredient lists.

Avoid pet foods that contain byproducts, chemicals and synthetic preservatives. If "meal" is listed, it should be from a specific animal; be wary of "byproduct meal." A specific form of meat or meal, such as chicken or turkey, should be the first ingredient listed. A good sign is a reference to the use of "human-grade ingredients."

"It gives assurance that it was handled properly," Brown says. "When I worked as a pet-food inspector, I saw dump trucks unloading materials onto a cement floor. 'Human-grade' on the label assures better ingredients and handling of the food."

 

Over the years through his veterinary practice, Brown says he has seen an increasing number of nutrition-related problems in dogs and cats, such as obesity and degenerative diseases.

"Animals age better with better care," Brown says. Inferior nutrition wears down animals' immune systems and incites skin and coat problems. "A lot of the wheat and corn allergies we see in dogs and cats might be from pesticides and hormones used in food," he says. "We know that even at low levels of exposure, pesticides increase the risk of cancer. If there is even the potential for a problem, why feed it?"

According to Brown, the future is bright. As pet owners become more discerning and discriminating about what they buy, better products will become more widely available.

"We've evolved from feeding our pets table scraps and generic diets, to premium and natural pet foods, and now to organic, which, to me, is the pinnacle of feeding pets properly," he says. "Our animals now live longer and healthier lives because of better care and nutrition. It's our charge to do the best for our pets."

 

Excerpted from Mother Earth News magazine, the original guide to living wisely. Read the full story at www.MotherEarthNews.com or call
(800) 234-3368 to subscribe. Copyright 2006 by Ogden Publications, Inc.

Illustration by Walter Chandoh

 

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