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Healthy Food Choices

by Heather Rothbauer-Wanish

For many people, their dogs are their best friends. They take their dogs with them when they go on vacation; they take their dogs for a walk; and they may even treat them as a member of the family. However, it is surprising to discover how few people really realize what they are feeding these pets. Food choices abound when it comes to feeding your dogs. In fact, the choices can be staggering, confusing, and almost limitless.

One local pet store, Pet Food Plus, thrives on helping people make informed decisions regarding their pets. “The quality of foods available today has increased and so has the demand for quality nutrition,” explained Kirk Sorensen, owner of Pet Food Plus. “I want to know that at any given time, I can point to the best foods out there today and know that we represent those well,” he continued.

While many pet foods today may appear to be organic, natural, or healthy, Sorensen explained that it is important to know several things before you decide on a particular brand of pet food. “I always want to know the main ingredient, the fat source that is used, and how the company operates,” he said. “I really like to know if the company buys the ingredients themselves and manufactures it themselves; it is also important to know if they are buying their ingredients regionally whenever possible. Those things tell me if the company is putting together a product they can be proud of,” Sorensen explained.

Laurie Mumm, a Certified Veterinary Technician and Program Chair for the Veterinary Technology Program at Globe University – Eau Claire, agreed with Sorensen. “Pet owners really need to investigate the ingredients in the pet food they are giving to their animals,” she said. Mumm recommends that pet owners also consider the age of their pets. “The life stage of the animal is important. Puppies have different needs than an adult dog or a senior dog,” she explained.

In addition to the life stage of the dog, Mumm recommends considering the activity level of the dog, as well as the optimum weight. “People tend to feed the amount of food that correlates with the dog’s current weight, rather than the food amount that should be given for the optimal weight,” she said. Understanding your pet and its unique needs can make you a better pet food consumer and ultimately leads to better nutrition choices.

In addition to organic pet food choices, many pet owners may be interested in a prescription diet, developed by veterinarians. “Prescription diets are ideal for pets that have specific, known issues,” Mumm said. While prescription diets may be beneficial to your pets, owners must also consider the monetary costs associated with this type of feeding schedule. Mumm cautions pet owners to always consult with your veterinarian prior to making any significant diet changes.

Dog owners should know that the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) helps to control the regulations that affect the pet food industry. According to the pets.webmd.com website, this regulating body helps to establish the minimum amount of nutrients needed to provide a complete and balanced diet. However, as quoted on pets.webmd.com, the AAFCO readily admits that defining what constitutes “natural” and “organic” in pet food is very difficult to determine.

Because she prefers to provide her own food for her dogs, Heather Mischefske, owner of emBARK doggie day care in Eau Claire, feeds her dog a raw diet. Currently, her oldest dog is almost 16 years old and has been fed a raw diet since she was only one year old. “Fifteen years ago, I did research and found out that the dog food I was buying had a lot of filler products,” Mischefske said. Mischefske then turned to a more biologically-appropriate raw diet that includes such items as vegetables, organ meats, and raw, meaty bones. “What you feed your dogs during the next 10-15 years probably has the biggest impact on their health more than anything else,” she explained.

When she first started feeding her dog a raw diet in the late 1990s, there were few options and people saw her approach as odd. “There are so many more organic foods and more choices now that make it easier to provide healthy diets to your pets,” Mischefske said. While she does feed her dog a strictly raw diet, Mischefske ensures that her pet receives a variety of food. From rabbit to buffalo, beef to venison, to vegetables and organic eggs, her pet is guaranteed a plethora of choices throughout a typical week. “My goal is balance and variety over time,” she explained.

For Sorensen and his staff at Pet Food Plus, helping people through the maze of choices is a top priority. “We try to find out what is important to the customer. We consider if their pet has a special need, if the customer wants the product to be locally-produced, or if the pet has any allergies,” Sorensen said. “After finding out as much information as possible, we try to work with them to find something that will also work within their budgets,” he continued.

When pet owners do find an appropriate food for their pets, it is important to remember that exercise is still a vital part of keeping pets and their owners healthy. “People still need to take their dogs for walks, exercise, and play time,” Mumm said. “Studies, articles, and life lessons tell us that pets help relieve stress, provide an emotional outlet, and give some people a reason for their day,” Sorensen added. And, Mischefske helps provide exercise, companionship, and play time through emBARK’s daycare business.

“Everyone needs to do the best they can and educate themselves to make better decisions regarding their pets,” Mischefske said. Ultimately, it is up to individual pet owners to decide what type of diet they provide for their dog. “It means a lot to me to know that I am doing something nutritionally good for my dog,” she continued.

One thing is for certain: no matter the organic, natural, or raw diet provided to our local canines, choices are plentiful. Investigate the options, ask local professionals, check with your veterinarians, and make an informed decision that will satisfy the taste buds of your pet. More importantly, choose an option that makes you feel like you are caring for these important members of your family.

Natural Pets Does your dog or cat beg at the table for people food?  If you are like most people, you may treat your four-legged friend to a little nibble once an a while. But do you know the risks? Most vets agree that the best food for your pet would mimic the food they find and eat in the wild—bones, raw meat and uncooked fruits and vegetables. Here are some natural food choices to help keep your pet healthy: Newmans’ Own Organic Pet Food: Canned and dry food for dogs and cats with human-grade and organic ingredients. www.newmansownorganics.comCastor and Pollux Pet Works: A great line of dog and cat food (and treats!) which uses only free range chicken. www.castorpolluxpet.comWellness: A line of gourmet food with human-grade ingredients and botanical extracts such as green tea. www.oldmotherhubbard.comHome Made 4 Life: This line offers tubs of BARF (Bones and Raw Food) made with human-grade chicken and rabbit. www.homemade4life.comPet Promise: Uses antibiotic-free and hormone-free raised meats.  www.petpromiseinc.com
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