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Food Patrol: What’s in Your Pet’s Bowl?

The pendulum has swung. From taking a laissez-faire attitude towards pet food, we dog and cat owners have become increasingly focused on the contents of our companion animals’ bowls.  And what with the resultant glut of information, it’s not easy to separate the wheat from the chaff — or decide whether our pets should even be eating wheat.

This week’s guest on Animal Cafe, Marcy Campion, PhD., a dog and cat nutritionist who currently serves as the Scientific Relations Managers for Iams/P&G Pet Care, discusses some of these issues with veterinary expert Dr. Lorie Huston.

This interview focuses on Iams’ new Healthy Naturals food lines, and as Lorie points out, not everyone will agree with all the assessments given — I’m not convinced, for example, of the effectiveness of AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials) — but I think it’s interesting that a mainstream company like Iams has gotten on the natural bandwagon to begin with.

Here are a few general principles that can be applied to whatever food you choose to buy.

Great grains!

An extension of the trend towards wanting to know where own food is coming from, we want our pet food to be equally healthy and well-sourced.

But several myths have crept into the conversation, including the notion that all grains are evil. As someone who includes brown rice in Frankie’s diet, I take exception to that notion — as does Campion.

“Grains in general are good sources of carbohydrates,” she points out. “They often add fiber.”  There is nothing inherently wrong with them.

Campion notes that some people believe that corn in particular causes allergies in pets, but refutes that notion. “Along with beef and dairy, wheat is one of the things that causes the most allergies,”she says. “Corn is very far down on the list, and wouldn’t commonly cause a food allergy in dogs.”

In addition, grains tend to be dismissed as filler, or food that has no nutritional value. But grains are often an energy source, according to Campion, and help promote healthy activity levels.

Cats and Carbs

Campion says that, “A lot of people think of cats as small dogs,” and assume that the two species have similar nutritional needs. Not so. Cats have evolved as carnivores, while dogs are omnivores.

But while cats should not be made into vegetarians, that doesn’t mean they can’t utilize carbohydrates, she says. Campion recommends that meat be the primary protein source, but finds no problem including fruits and vegetables in feline pet food formulas, as they provide antioxidants.

Not all by-products are created equal

While I don’t agree that it’s just a rumor that disgusting — as in diseased — by-products go into a good deal of pet food, at the same time, it’s clear that not all meat by-products that humans won’t eat are unhealthy for pets. Internal organs can be a great source of natural amino acids, Campion says, and cats and dogs eat them in the wild.


To learn more about pet food ingredients and about the new Iams line, which will be available at grocers and mass retailers, as well as at PetSmart, listen to the interview here.

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