Archive for October, 2008

24th Oct 2008

Congestive Heart Failure in Rats

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a disease in which a weakened heart muscle is unable to effciently pump blood through the body. CHF can be caused by hypertension, cardiomyopathy, diabetes, coronary artery disease, heart attacks, or defective heart valves. CHF is common in some breeds of dogs or older pocket pets such as pet rats and is often treated with conventional medicine. However, CoQ10 and L-carnitine and other supplementation may support conventional treatment regimen or can be used for prevention purposes.
[Note: Ask your veterinarian if he approves giving these supplements to your pet.]

L-carnitine transports free fatty acids into the mitochondria where they are used for energy. Coenzyme Q10 is essential for the production of ATP which cells use as energy. Because of its high energy demand heart cells have an intense metabolic activity and the highest density of mitochondria. Boosting the levels of L-carnitine and CoQ10 can therefore improve the heart’s pumping activity. D-ribose is another supplement that supports ATP production and improves heart function in both rats and dogs. Nutritional interventions with vitamin D3 and omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish or fish oil can prevent the development of congestive heart failure in rats prone to developing this disease.

Posted by Posted by Heidi Junger, PhD under Filed under Home Remedies & News Bits Comments Comments Off

24th Oct 2008

Natural Causes of Respiratory Disease in Rats

The Natural Research Council lists the following causes grouped according to importance:

Mycoplasma pulmonis
Sendai virus
CAR bacillus
Streptococcus pneumoniae
Corynebacterium kutscheri

Rat coronavirus
Sialodacryoadenitis virus
Pneumonia virus of mice
Pneumocystis carinii
Klebsiella pneumoniae
Mycoplasma collis

Pasteurella pneumotropica
Bordetella bronchiseptica
Adenovirus

This alone explains why symptoms of respiratory disease in rats are often hard to treat. One of the other reasons is that some respiratory problems may be heart related.

Posted by Posted by Heidi Junger, PhD under Filed under Home Remedies & News Bits Comments Comments Off

24th Oct 2008

Diabetes

Chamomile tea is famous for its calming effects, and other health benefits such as improving sleep and cold symptoms. Japanese researchers found that daily consumption of chamomile significantly suppresses blood glucose levels and prevents the progression of hyperglycemia and diabetic complications in rats. For this study, rats with diabetes received hot water extract of chamomile with meals for three weeks. Kato et al. (2008) J Agric Food Chem 56(17):8206-11.

Posted by Posted by Heidi Junger, PhD under Filed under Home Remedies & News Bits Comments Comments Off

24th Oct 2008

Itching

Itching is often caused by food allergies, contact allergies, eczema, or parasitic infection. If you have excluded these causes or if you want to provide temporary relief from itching for animals that can’t scratch themselves (e.g., older rats with hind limb weakness), here are some natural home remedies for topical application.

Peppermint wash/bath

Honey and cinnamon paste (1:1)

Oatmeal in Luke warm water

Apple cider vinegar in water (0.5:1)

White vinegar in water soak

Aloe Vera (food grade): Out of the fridge, this often brings immediate relief.

Coconut oil and lime juice

Vitamin E (liquid)

Mixture of Aloe Vera, cod liver oil, lemon juice, vitamin E (liquid)

Neem oil

A good way to avoid food allergies is to avoid foods which contain ingredients that are not species-appropriate. An example for an ingredient that is not species-appropriate is animal fat in rabbit food – you may think I am exaggerating, but this is unfortunately sad reality thanks to one large pet food company. Other potential food allergens are isolated ”food fragments” such as gluten, grains that have not been properly prepared for carnivores, and in general ingredients of low quality which includes genetically engineered (GE) foods and conventional (i.e., non-organic) ingredients which are laced with toxins. Introduction of GE soy has been implicated in the significant occurrance of food allergies in Great Britain.

Note: The skin absorbs most topically applied substances. It is therefore advisable to only use organic topicals to avoid introducing new toxins that may aggravate the problem or cause other health problems for your pet.

Note: Most vitamin E supplements are derived from genetically engineered (GE) soybeans. GE soybeans have been shown to cause allergies in both humans and animals.

Note: Always check with your veterinarian to confim that a remedy is appropriate for your pet.

Posted by Posted by Heidi Junger, PhD under Filed under Home Remedies & News Bits Comments Comments Off

02nd Oct 2008

Pet Food Marketing Tricks

1. Exaggeration of the overall quality of product:
Terms such as ‘premium,’ ‘natural,’ ‘holistic,’ ‘healthy,’ and ‘natural’ are sometimes used to describe pet foods of extremely poor quality. So, why do some manufacturers use these terms misleadingly. Well, first and foremost, because they can. But more commonly, these terms may be employed simply because they might omit the most toxic chemical preservatives. They still may use low quality (e.g., ‘feed-grade,’ ‘meat meals’) or unhealthy ingredients (e.g., refined, overly processed ingredients or processing methods) and synthetic additives which are associated with several health risks and nutrient depletion. Due to the lack of regulation and legal definition of these terms, many pet food companies use these terms freely and without constraint to increase their profits. Don”t feed any Frankenfoods to your pet.
(I apologize to McCoy, who is featured here in his Frankenstein Monster costume, but this one was just too tempting!)

2. Abuse of the term ‘organic’:
The only organic claim in the pet food industry that must, by law, be valid and verified by an unbiased third party is ‘USDA certified organic.’ Claims of ‘organic’ alone are not currently regulated or subject to oversight, and this fact makes it perfectly legal for pet food companies to market their conventional products as ‘organic.’ Many pet food manufacturers abuse the general lack of oversight, regulation, and enforcement, as well as the all-too-common confusion over precisely what the various claims of organic being made actually mean. Unfortunately, this situation has important implications not only for your pet’s health and your pocket book, but also the honest companies that go the extra distance to create food products that are healthier for your pet and better for the environment.

If you don’t see the USDA organic seal and the name of an organic certifying agency on a product’s label, quite often you’ll be buying something that isn’t really organic, i.e., there isn’t a USDA certification to verify its legitimacy. A little known fact that’s important for careful consumers to know: one can also request an organic certificate from the particular company in question. Genuine USDA-certified organic producers must have such certificates on hand and available for every product that is marketed as ‘certified organic.’ Even if a company states that they use 100% organic grains, for example, without an organic certificate to back up this claim, it simply comes down to trusting the word of that manufacturer alone. And, believe me, trust alone isn’t good enough in a rabidly competitive marketplace.

Something else that you should be aware of: most organic consumer associations do not discriminate, in their buying guides, websites, or elsewhere, between companies with USDA organic certification and those that merely proclaim organic status on their labels and in their promotional materials (including websites. So, it is critically important that consumers take a big drink from the educational ‘firehose.’ The easiest way to obtain clear and unbiased information is to check out the USDA website or to simply call or write to one of the USDA-accredited organic certifying agencies (e.g., Oregon Tilth, Quality Assurance International or QAI for short).

Unlike certified organic pet food products, pet foods that carry stand-alone organic claims (i.e., no USDA certification) may contain perhaps a small number (perhaps just one) of organic ingredients and, say, a dozen or more conventional ingredients. Why would a professed organic pet food manufacturer use some high quality organic ingredients mixed in with conventional ingredients? Well, quite simply, this is a half-baked way to legitimize a claim of organic status, and, at the same time, save a lot of money! You should be aware that legitimate, USDA certified organic pet foods cannot use conventional ingredients when organic versions are available, and for the most part, they are. There are a few conventional-grade (i.e., non-certified organic) ingredients that, by necessity, are allowed because organic varieties are simply not available yet. These include fish and certain additives with preservative properties, such as calcium carbonate.

If a pet food company tells you there is such a thing as a certified organic ‘byproduct,’ quite simply they’re selling you a line. Organic certification simply does not allow the use of ingredients which cannot be sourced to their origins. Period. End of story. If a manufacturer declares their byproducts are healthful parts such as liver, heart, gizzards, etc. why wouldn”t these manufacturers name these organ meats openly instead of using this strange, indefinable word ”byproduct”?

3. Use of the terms ‘USDA-approved facility’ or ‘USDA meat’:
These terms are applied in cases where human foods are manufactured in a food processing plant used expressly for production of human foods and that the meat referred to is fit for human consumption, respectively. Since the terms ‘USDA-approved facility’ and ‘USDA meat’ are reminiscent of ‘USDA organic,’ some companies may use these terms intentionally to elicit the association with USDA certified organic products. Some manufacturers may also deploy the terms ‘organic ingredients,’ ‘hormone-free,’ ‘antibiotic-free,’ and ‘GMO-free’ to strengthen this association. But take note that USDA certified organic products are by law—and through strict verification—free of antibiotics, hormones, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

4. Use of the OTA seal:
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is not a USDA-accredited organic certification agency. Like other trade associations, membership is based on the payment of a membership fee. Presentation of OTA membership, whether on a product label or website, does not mean that a given member uses organic ingredients in their pet foods. Since few consumers are aware of this, the OTA seal is often used to elicit the impression of a certification entity for unverified (i.e., non-certified) organic claims. With all due respect to the OTA, third parties may often carry their seal to legitimize a claim of true organic status. On the face of it, this does not reflect poorly on the OTA—they’re a legitimate trade association and don’t represent themselves as a certifier. Rather, it suggests that a number of companies out there may be using the OTA seal as a marketing tool, a tactic that is perfectly legal, but not necessarily demonstrative of a high ethical standard.

5. Claims of sustainability or of being ‘green’:
Some companies may purchase packaging that is made from recycled paper and market themselves as green on this basis alone. What they don’t explain, of course, is that the packaging was imported from far-flung countries such as China, and the energy and resources used to transport it were prodigious—and anything but green! Many companies proudly display a ‘Coop America-approved’ seal, implying a green ethos. Now, unquestionably, Coop America is an organization that attempts to promote green values. But some of the companies that carry this insignia are not necessarily truly green. The Coop America application process is done via paper application or by phone; no substantiating documentation for green claims concerning, for example, sourcing of materials, fair wages, or organic ingredient claims is required. Certainly, the examination of application materials involves nowhere near the scrutiny of the process for certifying organic products such as pet foods. As is the case with the Organic Trade Association, ‘Coop America’ members pay an annual fee.

6. Claims of USA-sourced ingredients:
Such claims are often soft, but obviously quite useful, in these times of widespread and disastrous pet food recalls. Be aware that only USDA certified organic ingredients can be sourced to specific farms, whether in Montana or China. The USDA-accredited certifying agency has access to the names and locations of all ingredient suppliers and therefore can trace the source of any organic ingredient. The records that certified organic manufacturers must make available to these certifying agencies necessarily demonstrate that any organic, fair trade, or human-grade claims can be substantiated. Here’s a counter-example: if a US company states that it uses organic kelp that is harvested in the US, just walk away: currently, there is no source for certified organic US-grown kelp. If a company makes this claim, you can be pretty sure that their other claims are similarly exaggerated or just plain bogus.

7. Claims that the conventional ingredients used are as good as organic:
Hmmm . . . an interesting claim, but how could any company possibly substantiate it? If a company can demonstrate that the ingredients in its products have not been treated with toxic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, and that they are not genetically engineered, well they might have a case. But any or all of these treatments and conditions might render the ingredients in question inferior in quality compared with certified organic varieties. So, if a company cannot provide any evidence to back up a claim of equivalence in quality of conventional ingredients and organic counterparts—and right now, without USDA organic certification, no company can—then that claim is simply worthless.

8. Claims that pet foods would be raw or raw dehydrated:
Sometimes apparently well-respected pet food manufacturers “forget” to mention to their customers that they dehydrate ingredients that have been previously cooked. If there is no explicit statement about how each ingredient was processed before dehydration, ask the manufacturer. Although the manufacturer can theoretically still serve you an outright lie as an answer, this at least alerts them to the fact that pet guardians are more attentive than they’ve hoped! Unfortunately, these ‘minor’ processing details and claims are also not enforced by any government or unbiased third party agency – EXCEPT if you are dealing with a certified organic pet food where an organic certifying agency inspects each processing detail for each ingredient used. In brief, organic certification assures that ‘raw’ or ‘dehydrated raw’ claims and promises made on the pet food package are true. Without organic certification these claims are unsubstantiated.

Unfortunately, in our modern, highly competitive world, compacts based solely on trust do not mean much any more.
Naked greed and legal loopholes encourage very bad behavior. So, don’t fall prey to empty claims. Inform yourself before buying that pet food in the pretty packaging with high-flying claims. Where claims that sound great can’t be verified, at best, you’re not getting what you think you’re paying for, and at worst, your pet is being short-changed nutritionally and otherwise. Be a careful, educated, and vigilant shopper: your pet will thank you. And, not to be forgotten, the ethical manufacturers out there that try to do the right thing will survive another day to create products that are good for your pet and the planet we all share!

Posted by Posted by Heidi Junger, PhD under Filed under Regulations Comments Comments Off

02nd Oct 2008

Pet Treats

Pet treats are food products which are supplemental to a pet’s regular diet. They are given as reinforcement during training, as rewards for particularly good behavior, or just to cement the human-animal bond. However, treats should not only serve as rewards for your pet, they should also provide healthy nutrition.

In general
A healthy pet treat is natural in its composition and should not contain sugars, artificial additives, colors, preservatives or synthetic flavors. The ideal pet treat is made from whole food components that supplement your pet’s usual diet with nutrients he or she doesn’t normally get. Some commercial treats are supplemented with a premix of isolated synthetic minerals and vitamins that, in our opinion, are less-than-ideal for supplementing regular diets. Pet treats should be made from ingredients that supply a variety of natural nutrients, and should not contain any artificial ingredients that came from a chemistry lab.

The ideal
The best natural treats are those in which foods supply the nutrients. These foods should contain what the animal, given a choice, would normally eat. Natural pet treats should therefore be formulated specifically for particular kinds of pets. Herbivores, such as rabbits, would enjoy predominantly plant-based snacks, whereas most omnivorous rodents would find grain-, seed-, and/or nut-based snacks particularly tasty. As obligate carnivores, cats would naturally enjoy animal-based treats; however, some felines would also enjoy the occasional vegetable and/or herbs snack, given a choice. A particularly unusual snack, such as the occasional insect that a cat might catch, could really stimulate the senses and provide a great deal of fun as well. Dogs enjoy an even wider variety of fruits and veggies in addition to their animal-based staple. Although unprocessed raw fruits and vegetables may not always be fully digestible by carnivores like cats and dogs, the textures and smells of these treats can make for an invaluable contribution to an animal’s sense of pleasure, and this in turn can benefit the animal’s wellbeing via an enhanced immune system. At a fundamental level, the gut bacterial populations, which are of crucial importance to a healthy immune system, will get a special boost from supplemental plant fibers.

The reality
Most commercial pet treats don’t even come close to being healthy. These treats are produced as almost an afterthought to the main pet food varieties. They do more to supplement manufacturers’ earnings than any animal’s diet or overall wellbeing. Cheap, often unhealthy, ingredients are often processed using excessive heat, which renders the resultant treats little more than calorie-dense, nutrient-poor blobs at best, and outright unhealthy or highly allergenic at worst. Baked treats for cats and dogs that are based on white flour are a far cry from what these animals should actually eat, even if given only occasionally as rewards. Most pet treats are composed of refined ingredients, such as white flours, which are now clearly associated with the epidemic rise of such chronic diseases among pets as obesity, diabetes, and heart problems, to name a few.

To make matters worse, some manufacturers now recognize that supplementation with certain addictive ingredients can bump up sales significantly. Some of these addictive ingredients include sugars, sweeteners, salt, and synthetic flavors which are as unhealthy for animals as they are for humans. If you think that this is simply unsubstantiated exaggeration, please rest assured that the addictive properties of sugars, for example, have been clearly demonstrated many times in animal experiments. Some treats include such an extensive mixture of unhealthy additives (e.g., artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, etc.) that it’s difficult to identify a single ingredient with any nutritional value whatsoever.

Why would manufacturers produce such clearly unhealthy treats? In a nutshell, it’s the profit angle. Many pet food companies get away with this because, first, their marketing budgets can more-or-less buy consumer trust and second, the lack of available information on nutrition and diet-based preventive healthcare leaves some major detective work concerning quality of food ingredients and processing methods entirely up to the consumer.

Is your pet”s treat species appropriate?
Any truly natural treat should be formulated to take into account specific aspects of an animal’s constitution. For example, animals like cats do poorly on dry diets simply because they may not drink as much as they should after eating dry food, and dehydration can cause a variety of health problems (this is not the case for dogs, birds, or rodents). Therefore, for cats, a good natural treat would be something moist, like certain vegetables, some grass, or even fruits. Such treats can have great health benefits, even if felines can’t digest them entirely. On the flip side, one of the worst examples of ignoring the importance of formulating pet food composition for specific species are those products that are clearly marketed for herbivores, yet contain animal-based fats and proteins.

The formulation of natural prepared pet treats should always take into account these seemingly obvious facts. The ingredients in any natural treat should be healthy, which simply means that they should present no problem for the pet (i.e., they shouldn’t include any known allergens) and are formulated specifically for the constitution and dietary needs of the animal that will eat them.

Even treat ingredients should be healthy and safe – Best bet: Choose certified organic
In general, the best ingredients to be found in pet treats are those that have been certified organic. Such certification guarantees that no agricultural toxins (e.g., pesticides, fertilizers such as sewage sludge, herbicides, or insecticides) are present in the food ingredients. Furthermore, certified organic ingredients must be verifiably free of genetically modified organisms (GMO-free), hormones, antibiotics, or synthetic food additives. Since GMO-based ingredients have been implicated in such disorders as allergies and growth and reproductive problems, sticking to certified organic food products could actually help your pet avoid such problems later. Organic certification also guarantees that no toxins were used during the manufacture of a given treat and that neither the treat nor its ingredients were sanitized by gamma irradiation, the effects of which on food qualities and health are currently in dispute. Toxic chemicals, such as corrosive sanitizers, pesticides (which are routinely used to fumigate food and ingredient storage areas to prevent insect infestation), and detergents, are routinely used in the manufacture of conventional (i.e., non-certified organic) food products for both pets and humans; these are strictly forbidden in the production of certified organic products.

Is my pet”s treat organic?
When a label for a particular pet food product states that some or all ingredients are organic, you need to make sure that the claim is substantiated. This is simple: just look for both the USDA organic seal and the name of the certifying agency on the label. These are the only indications that a product is indeed certified organic. Keep in mind what a compliance officer at CDFA (California Department of Food and Agriculture) said in September 2008: “ … It is a buyer beware of any pet food product that does not show that it is certified by one of the NOP [National Organic Program] certification agents.” Why? Because, in the pet food industry, only organic certification guarantees that organic (GMO-free, hormone-free, and antibiotic-free) claims made by manufacturers are actually true.

Organic alone doesn”t make a treat healthy – Consider how the treat is manufactured
But consider this: even treats that have been manufactured using all certified organic ingredients can be rendered less than nutritious through a variety of processing methods. For example, no matter how cute a treat looks (i.e., little mouse-shaped biscuits for cats), over-processing at high temperatures, such as employed during baking or most extrusion processes, can render the best organic ingredients lifeless and diminish the nutritional value of the treat for your pet. The treat might look appetizing, but looks can be deceiving. Why would manufacturers do this? Again, to increase sales – somehow cute shapes seem to have a big impact on consumers’ buying habits. And processing using high-heat methods such as baking or extrusion allow for large-scale production, which can save a lot of money. This is also true for artificially colored pet foods and pet treats. Whether or not artificial coloring is implicated in health problems is almost beside the point; what is clear is that consumers often choose unusually colored products over untreated, naturally colored pet food products. But if animals such as cats or dogs were to choose, they’d go for virtually any shape or color as long as the treat tastes good and is healthy. Indeed, studies have shown that pets tend to choose foods made with organic ingredients over those made with conventional varieties.

In a nutshell
The best natural treats are those made from high quality, certified organic ingredients that are whole food-based, minimally processed, and finally, treated without heat. For a cat, the best choice for a processed natural snack might be a certified organic frozen treat, particularly if the treat can’t be prepared fresh at home. The same applies for other animals (e.g., treats for dogs, birds, and rodents); but since these animals tend to drink more water after eating dry foods, they may also do well with high quality dehydrated treats. Unlike high-temperature baking or drying, low temperature dehydration leaves most vitamins and nutrients such as fiber, proteins, and enzymes, intact. The preservation of the molecular structures of many nutrients usually means that these nutrients pose little or no risk of allergic response in your animal.

Here’s the bottom line:
If your pet isn’t the kind who catches his or her own treats, or if you can’t provide or prepare fresh natural treats for him or her, always choose natural, certified organic, whole food-based treats which are fresh, frozen, or dehydrated (i.e., processed only in low heat). These treats will truly satisfy and reward your pet, help contribute to his or her physical and psychological well-being, and, down the line, should help stave off the kinds of disorders that have become far too common among our animal friends.

Posted by Posted by Heidi Junger, PhD under Filed under Organic Pet Food Standards Comments Comments Off

02nd Oct 2008

Holistic Pet Food

Holistic pet foods are, often reflexively, considered by many to be the healthiest pet foods available. The term ‘holistic pet food’ floods the marketing materials of some very good—and not-so-good—pet food manufacturers and pet supply retailers. If you perform a Google search using the phrase ‘holistic pet food,’ you’ll get back about 425,000 results. But, the question still remains, what is the definition of ‘holistic’ and how is this term being applied in the pet food industry?

The term ‘holistic’ is derived from the Greek word ‘holos,’ which means ‘all,’ ‘entire,’ or ‘total.’ It implies that the sum properties of a system (e.g., a body, the universe, the environment, etc.) can only be explained adequately if all its parts are considered in unity instead of on an individual basis. Or, as Aristotle summarized it, ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ Truer words have not been written . . .

The principle of ‘holistic medicine’ has been recognized and applied intuitively by many cultures, from incipient complex Neolithic societies (and probably the Paleolithic groups that preceded such societies, though the evidence for this is lacking) to the present day. Although the holistic approach was eventually lost to the majority of people in the Western world for quite some time, eventually the concept was rediscovered, initially by ‘holistic’ physicians, who realized that one cannot heal the whole person if one considers only the part of the body that shows the most obvious symptoms of disease. Modern heath care systems in the West, which often consider drugs, developed by the pharmaceutical industry, to be sufficient to fight disease—or rather the most evident symptoms of disease—are certainly prime examples of the antithesis of ‘holistic medicine.’

In addition to holistic physicians, increasing numbers of veterinarians have come to see the importance of the holistic approach in the treatment of their animal patients. For example, what’s the good of recommending repeated administration of a stool softener to an animal that is chronically constipated without ultimately addressing and correcting the underlying cause of this symptom? In many cases, this would simply amount to evaluating the animal’s diet for possible causes of the condition. The same applies to other diseases, such as eczema, which are often caused by simple food allergens. In the case of eczema, why would one assume that a topical cream would resolve the underlying cause of the problem, when a common pet food additive, such as gluten, might be the real culprit? A topical treatment might indeed alleviate the major acute symptoms, but the afflicted animal is certainly more than simply its skin, and the irritation is obviously being caused by a factor that goes well beyond the overt imbalance expressed in the skin.

Holistic treatments look beyond the surface veneer of disease symptoms, and a good holistic veterinarian will always inquire about a pet’s diet in the course of a medical exam. A pet’s diet is one of the most prominent factors determining states of both health and disease. Considering that the vast majority of a vertebrate’s immune system is located in the intestines, it is understandable that diet is supremely important for maintaining good health in both pets and humans. Moreover, if the food being eaten regularly is loaded with toxins, eventually the body will be affected, organ-by-organ. Although symptoms may only become obvious in one location, it is conceivable—and even likely—that more than one organ will be knocked out of balance. Initially, the animal might become less active or perhaps more aggressive; then, the excretory, and perhaps other, systems might function differently than before; finally, the disease might present itself in the form of a symptom for which there is a name, and, along the lines of standard practice, some form of drug treatment will be initiated which covers the symptoms. Alternatively, one might consider the fundamental causes of the ailment and treat the animal holistically.

Here’s where holistic pet foods come in. As food is a major determining factor of pet health, the concept of a food that nourishes the entire system becomes not only understandable in light of this, but also extraordinarily important as a major means of disease prevention. Now, of course, any sincere attempts undertaken by pet food manufacturers to offer holistic pet foods is laudable—perhaps even the highest ethical endeavor in all of the pet food industry. Why do I use the phrase ‘sincere’ attempt? Well, quite simply, the term ‘holistic pet food’ is being exploited excessively, much as the terms ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ have been misused for some time. Clearly, the majority of pet food manufacturers that use these terms misleadingly know better. Here’s an example that illustrate this point:

A company claims that their products are holistic ‘because they know how dearly customers love their pets.’ However, if you read their ingredients list carefully, you’ll find that they use, among other things, meat meals (i.e., meals of chicken, pork, duck, lamb, fish), chicken fat, and egg products, combined with grains, corn, gluten (a cheap protein substitute for carnivores), and a slurry of synthetic vitamins and minerals which have been added so that the product can be called ‘complete’ or ‘balanced,’ as per AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) requirements (read more about the somewhat arbitrary ‘required’ nutrient levels at http://www.onestaorganics.com/blog). Before final packaging, this formulation is treated with high heat, either through baking or heated extrusion into treats and kibble.

So, what’s wrong with so-called ‘meat meals’ and ‘egg products?’ Well, even meat meals derived from USDA-grade meats are an indeterminate combination of parts of the slaughtered animal, and might include everything that even hungry animals would otherwise naturally reject. If problems such as widespread food-related disorders or food allergies should arise from consumption of a product containing the meat meal in question, it would be difficult—perhaps even impossible—to determine precisely what component of the meal was responsible for the problem or where the component in question came from.

Meat meals are cheap—even those derived from animals that have been raised for human consumption, because such meals are produced from the waste products of the human food industry. As you might imagine, the prime parts of slaughtered animals are sold for human consumption, and what’s left is ground up for the meat meals used by the pet food industry. Now, to get back to the example I mentioned above, the company I cited and,
indeed, all companies that use so-called meat meals—are certainly aware of the difference between what they use and high quality cuts of meat. This becomes evident when the company I cited as an example advertises one of their products that contains no meat meals, as containing ‘90% real meat!’

Why should it be necessary to include chicken fat as an ingredient in a product made with chicken meal? Doesn’t real chicken include fat? If the chicken meal used by many manufacturers even remotely reflected what was actually contained in a representative part of the chicken, why would there be any need to add chicken fat to a product—claimed to be ‘holistic’—that contains as its first ingredient chicken meal?

Use of the phrase ‘egg products’ means that entire eggs, including any adhering dirt and/or feces, are contained in this common pet food ingredient. Of course, in nature many animals would eat (almost) all parts of their prey, and they might even occasionally get exposed to some feces and dirt when eating an animal or egg. However, they certainly wouldn’t have to choose their prey or egg among the inhabitants of overcrowded pig, cattle, or lamb farms, or chicken and turkey batteries, where birds are not only kept in inhumane and stressful conditions, but also treated with prophylactic antibiotics and hormones, which negatively impact the quality of any derived pet food ingredient.

Some people might argue that animals in nature eat whatever they find and are still generally healthier than our pets, so why would it be bad if to include meals or their ugly cousins, by-products and rendered materials, in our pets’ diets? Well, again, in nature, animals don’t eat animals that spend their overmedicated, stressed lives trying to survive until they meet their all-too-often inhumane fate. Putting aside humanitarian concerns for a moment and taking a purely pragmatic view, the stress-induced hormonal changes such travails induce could easily reduce the quality of any pet food ingredients derived from farm animals raised under poor conditions. Since predators in the wild generally prey on other ‘wild’ species, these predators are not chronically exposed to the stress hormones and synthetic drugs found in many farm animals, and thus, are probably healthier than our domesticated pets.

The ingredients used by the self-proclaimed ‘holistic’ pet food manufacturer mentioned previously include grains, which are known to be allergens for many dogs and cats. Now, the inclusion of a high percentage of grains in cat and dog foods doesn’t sound particularly holistic, does it? Prepared grains and legumes have their rightful place in the hopefully very carefully balanced diets of vegetarian pets, and this clearly obviates any dilemma regarding the killing of one animal for the sake of another that happens to be a pet. Of course, the question of what to feed cats and dogs—animals that clearly evolved from carnivore species—does present precisely this sort of dilemma. Certainly, feeding these pets foods derived from certified organic, humane raised farm animals is healthier and, from a humanitarian point of view, more ethical than relying on conventionally produced, meat-based, pet food products.

Holistic claims in the pet food industry are becoming more common. One company claims to offer the ‘first true holistic pet foods’ and a ‘holistic approach to pet food.’ All of this sounds good when you first read it, but the fact is, this company uses chicken and fish meals, as well as not well prepared grains, in their dog and cat food products (they don’t use any organic or human-grade ingredients). All of their products are baked, heat-extruded, cooked, or canned. The fact that they also add chicken fat and chicken flavor to their products, which are largely based on chicken and chicken meal, would suggest that the chicken and chicken meal they use are derived from animals that don’t have sufficient fat to render their meat flavorful or even palatable. This is a plausible conjecture if you think about the taste of the typical, ‘over the counter,’ battery chicken products from your local grocery store. The pet food company in question attempts to improve the nutritional quality of their products by adding not only the slurry of premixed vitamins and minerals required to call their foods ‘complete,’ but also a mixture of purportedly bioactive bacteria. But, in the end, considering their choice of inferior ingredients, no amount of ‘after-the-fact’ supplementation will render this company’s products holistic in any sense of the term.

Another company claims to ‘use a holistic approach to prevent disease and to support the natural healing process.’ Let’s look at this company’s ingredient lists. Again, just more of the same: chicken meal, egg product, grains, added chicken fat and flavor. This company has a grain-free line of products for cats and dogs, but unfortunately, these so-called ‘complete balanced’ diets are meat meal-based as well. This company does offer a few certified organic, human grade ingredient dog products that might be considered holistic. Unfortunately, even these products contain some less than well prepared grains. But, considering the very limited range of choices, these products are certainly healthier than most.

Well that got boring fast. But the important take-home message here is that many companies use low-quality—even allergenic—ingredients in the products that they claim are holistic.

There are a few, perhaps marginally better, options when it comes to holistic pet food products, but these have drawbacks as well. For example, there is a company that claims to have a ‘holistic approach to pet care.’ This company offers what they say are the ‘world’s best natural pet care products for dogs and cats, which have been the “Gold Standard” in holistic pet care for over 20 years.’ The company further claims to ‘. . . use pure natural ingredients in optimum formulation to stimulate the body’s ability to heal and maintain itself.’ This certainly sounds like a great holistic endeavor. But let’s see if they live up to their claims. Although the company does not use human-grade or organic ingredients, they do use whole meats instead of meat meals, by-products, or rendered meats. All of their products are either baked or canned, neither of which represents the most wholesome preparation of pet food.

Although they do not include wheat, corn, or gluten among their ingredients, they do use other not well prepared grains and whole eggs, which can be allergens for dogs and cats and compromise their vitamin balance. Even their ‘natural foods for sensitive cats’ include grains.

In some products, this company seems to use essentially the a mix of vegetables (the same regardless of the type of pet for which the food is intended), instead of the usual vitamin/mineral mixtures. In other products, the typical vitamin/mineral mixture is used, sometimes in combination with a mix of probiotics. Interestingly, even in products where chicken is included, chicken fat is still added. Soy sauce is added—presumably to enhance flavor—as well as a few, not-too-horrible, preservatives, including copper gluconate. Copper gluconate is a common feed additive used to increase shelf life and provide copper as a nutrient. Although copper gluconate is considered to be safe, long-term ingestion at levels higher than those required for maintenance of normal metabolic status may lead to chronic hypercuprosis, a condition in which copper is accumulated in the liver until it is released into the bloodstream, resulting in acute vascular haemolysis and, potentially, death.

This example brings into focus the benefits and risks of adding isolated nutrients—many of them synthetic and of low quality—to pet food. Although the so-called minimum and maximum levels of such additives are based on what is believed to be required or safe, how do we know that long-term consumption of such supplementary ingredients is safe for a particular pet? Each pet is an individual, and as such, is different. Even siblings may differ in their metabolic requirements for nutrients. Exposed to the same levels of vitamins or minerals, some pets may be more prone to developing negative side effects due to vitamin or mineral overdose, while others may actually develop deficiencies while being on the same vitamins or minerals.

Critics will argue that there isn’t any need for pets to eat human-grade ingredients. A corollary of this argument is that it’s a terrible waste to discard animals that can’t be eaten by humans. First of all, one could ask why there are slaughtered animals that aren’t fit for human consumption in the first place. There is obviously something very wrong with the way these animals were raised if, at the end of their miserable lives, they’re too ridden with disease to be fit for human consumption. This state of affairs should be particularly troubling for a society that professes ethical and humane core principles. Moreover, the standards for human-grade ingredients preclude the use of very low quality ingredients such as byproducts, rendered meats, or animal fats (generally a concoction of fats derived from whatever animal can be legally used for animal feed; and here, the law allows for the use of tumors or animals euthanized at research labs and shelters). Conventional feed-grade, non-organic ingredients, such as eggs and meats, do not have to comply with USDA standards. Since both animals and chicken eggs may be raised specifically for feed purposes, it is reasonable to wonder precisely what the difference is between these feed-grade ingredients and ingredients deemed fit for human consumption. The source animals for feed-grade ingredients are certainly treated no better than animals used for human consumption, where at least the USDA may inspect feed lots and slaughtering houses, albeit not frequently enough. Here, it’s important to note that there are significant quality differences between feed-grade and human-grade produce, and such differences could determine whether particular products stimulate allergic responses in sensitive pets.

Why do I bother to highlight a company that calls its foods ‘holistic,’ but at the same time uses little or no certified organic ingredients? For one thing, it’s a good illustration of how misleading certain holistic claims can be. Given that organic ingredients are generally healthier (i.e., more nutrient-dense and less toxins) than their conventional counterparts, the holistic claims of this last company I mentioned—which doesn’t offer much in the way of organic ingredient-based products—should be interpreted as dubious at best. Most conventional ingredients contain toxic pesticide or herbicide residues, hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Organic agriculture embraces a much more ‘holistic’ philosophy of land use, and organic manufacturing processes are by definition less toxic than conventional ones (to read more about this, go to our website, www.onestaorganics.com). So, stated simply, to use conventional ingredients in products that are marketed as holistic is a contradiction in itself.

There are a few legitimately holistic pet foods made from exclusively human-grade ingredients that are not processed using high heat. Although, in many cases, these products contain the usual slurry of premixed vitamins and minerals, at least they are more in accord with a holistic approach. The companies that manufacture these foods generally offer grain-free options for both dogs and cats. And occasionally, they even use organic, or at least hormone- and antibiotic-free, ingredients. But, always keep in mind that, in the absence of USDA certification, such claims can be hard to verify.

In conclusion, both bad and middle-of-the-road quality pet food companies use terms like ‘holistic’ or ‘natural’ to describe their products quite often with the justification that they don’t add clearly toxic preservatives (which, by the way, are used quite widely in many conventional food products for pets other than cats and dogs). These would-be holistic companies ignore the fact that meat meals that contain certain organs (e.g., gall bladder) are not ideal for consumption by certain pets. They also ignore the distinction between human-grade and feed-grade ingredients and do not seem to worry that animals raised for the pet foods they produce often are treated inhumanely throughout their lives. They ignore the fact that, nowadays, many dogs and cats are sensitive to certain ingredients, such as grains, that can cause full-blown allergies. They ignore the fact that certified organic ingredients are demonstrably healthier and more holistic than conventional ingredients. They show little concern that refined ingredients and isolated nutrients may be very unhealthy for your pet. And finally, such companies ignore the fact that high heat destroys nutrients.

Why would companies that are legitimately interested in selling truly holistic pet foods ignore all these simple obvious facts? Well, the simple answer is that such companies are not particularly motivated by the promotion of your pet’s good health. Although some small pet food manufacturers may genuinely lack the information, the majority of manufacturers shy away from the cost associated with producing truly holistic pet foods. Let’s face it: ingredients that are human-grade, organic, whole food-based, and of the highest quality are more expensive than conventional varieties, and this added expense would decrease company profits. So, as pet owner, it is up to you to choose the foods that are best suited to your pet’s needs. If good foods are more expensive, you’ll just have to weigh the expense against the value of your animal’s health. But remember this: being thrifty in the short-run by buying cheap, poor quality foods for your pet will likely lead to great expense much later, when your animal—too long on a poor diet—needs to have more frequent veterinary care. When it comes to pet foods, you get what you pay for.

Pet foods that are truly holistic not only not do no harm, but actually support the body’s endeavor to remain fully functional, and in doing so, support the animal’s overall wellbeing and happiness.

The best holistic commercial pet food choices are those that contain certified organic, human-grade ingredients, and are not heat-treated (fresh-frozen or gently dehydrated products are generally the best options). Avoidance of excessive refined grains and other potential allergens, combined with a confidence in the quality of ingredients to keep supplementation with isolated nutrients down to the absolute required minimum, would make for the best truly holistic pet food available today. Of course, such a food has yet to be created . . . but please stay tuned for developments at www.onestaorganics.com!

Posted by Posted by Heidi Junger, PhD under Filed under Holistic Pet Food Comments 1 Comment »

02nd Oct 2008

Advantages of Organic Raw Pet Foods

Depending on the processing methods employed to produce them, commercial pet foods fall into one or the other of the following two categories: heat-treated and raw.

So-called ‘heat-treated’ pet foods are processed using all-too-often excessive levels of heat. These foods are baked, cooked (canned), extruded, or heat-dried (often the case with kibble- or pellet-type pet foods). Diets based on such heat-treated pet foods are probably the least desirable in terms of maintaining the health and general well being of most animals.

Heat processing of food destroys all enzymes, many vitamins and antioxidants, and changes the molecular structure of proteins and even fibers. Attempts to replace nutrients that have been destroyed by heat with supplementary—and predominantly synthetic—nutrients can never compare nutritionally with the benefits and quality of natural, minimally treated nutrients. At present, there is no way to replace structurally altered fibers or denatured proteins. These alterations make heat-processed foods and their constituent nutrients less bio-available or beneficial, and certainly less effective in maintaining health, preventing disease, and helping the healing processes that normally follow injury. Structurally altered pet foods may actually contribute to health problems (e.g., food allergies or inflammation).

Mineral and vitamin supplementation is often used to comply with the American Feed Control official standards for balanced or complete diets. However, these standards can’t possibly reflect the actual nutritional requirements of every domestic animal species. Accordingly, Dr. Junger believes that animals should eat a variety of foods that provide a broad spectrum of natural nutrients. If animals are fed a variety of quality foods to begin with, supplementation with select high quality products can then be used to support good health at different life stages, to prevent age-related deficiencies, or to promote healing after injuries.

Today, with the availability of raw pet food options, consumers and their pets have good diet options. The best raw pet foods are fresh, consisting of raw animal products, plant material, or a combination of the two. Frozen raw pet foods are often a more convenient choice. If fresh or frozen raw foods aren’t available, dehydrated raw foods are a good second choice. The advantage of these dehydrated foods is that they can be stored easily for longer periods of time with little mess and no worry about short-term spoilage.

In terms of nutritional quality, not all dehydrated raw pet food products are the same. Apart from the ingredients used, the quality of this variety of raw pet food depends largely on the temperatures to which their ingredients were exposed during the dehydration process. Dr. Junger’s company, Onesta Organics, uses a truly gentle and slow dehydration process that preserves overall nutritional quality.

As with all pet food products, an important determinant of quality is the choice of ingredients used by manufacturers. Onesta Organics uses only human grade ingredients that are certified organic by a USDA-accredited organic certifying agency. This assures that the ingredients used are verifiably organic. USDA organic certification also ensures that Onesta Organics products are free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), hormones, and antibiotics, and that no potentially toxic or otherwise unhealthy synthetics are added to your pet’s food. It also means that all ingredients used are traceable back to their original source. Such sourcing is impossible in the case of conventional pet food manufacturers. Unlike the products of companies which state that their pet food is organic—and, in some cases, might even claim GMO-, hormone-, and antibiotic-free status—only USDA certified organic pet foods are inspected and scrutinized by an independent third party, which assures that all claims made are indeed true. Aside from the fact that Onesta Organics uses healthful, certified organic ingredients in their raw pet foods, unlike other pet food manufacturers, this company sees no point in adding ingredients that are known to be highly allergenic to its pet food products.

The folks at Onesta Organics believe that USDA certified organic, raw pet foods are among the healthiest choices for your pet. Moreover, it’s critically important for pet owners to provide their animals with a wide variety of food choices. In most cases, such a broad-spectrum feeding approach will minimize, or perhaps even negate, the possibility of the kinds of nutritional deficiencies and chronic diseases in pets we hear about all too often these days.

Posted by Posted by Heidi Junger, PhD under Filed under Organic Pet Food Standards Comments Comments Off

02nd Oct 2008

Why We Produce Human Grade Pet Food

We only use USDA human grade ingredients for our certified organic pet foods to assure the highest levels of quality and safety for your pet. Our use of USDA human grade ingredients guarantees that your pet will never be exposed to the kinds of low-quality ingredients of questionable nutritional quality and origin that are too often used by conventional pet food manufacturers to optimize their cost/profit ratio. Organic certification has the further advantage for the consumer that s/he can be assured that no cheaper, less healthy non-certified organic (conventional) ingredients are used if organic varieties are available.

Feed-grade ingredients include very low quality components, such as meat byproducts, which cannot even be traced to their original animal source. In other words, you don’t know what you’re pet is eating. When pet food companies defends the use of byproducts with the argument that dogs and cats in the wild are arbitrarily eating the remains of various animals, you really need to inform yourself more about what byproducts—and their ugly cousins, ‘animal meals’ and ‘rendered fats’—may actually contain. The answer is very distressing: euthanized animals containing the toxins used to put them down, as well as animals discarded after lab experimentation. This is no scary fairytale, but an actual fact. Both the USDA and FDA are aware of this, and you’ll find, listed openly online their unbiased information—and warnings—for pet food processors who choose to use these kinds ingredients about proper handling of these components. Other similarly untraceable ingredients include most so-called ‘meals’ (such as ‘chicken meal,’ which can include any part of a chicken other than muscle meat), ‘animal fat’ and ‘animal protein,’ both of which may contain mostly mixtures of fats and proteins from a variety of unidentified animal species, ‘vegetable oil’ which may contain mostly mixtures of oils from a variety of undefined plant sources. Probably the most startling revelation for pet owners is that these undefined pet food components cannot be traced to the precise source, should a health problem arise. For instance, if your animal became ill after eating a few meals, you might know what brand of food got him or her sick, but, if the ingredients used were of such low quality that they couldn’t be traced back to a particular farm, let alone an animal species, it’s possible that your pet’s illness would progress—even to the point of death—before the problem was identified or, at the very least, the products containing the tainted ingredient were off the store shelf and discarded from pet owners’ pantries.

This is the principal reason why we wouldn’t even consider using ‘feed-grade’ ingredients in our pet foods, and it is why we choose to use exclusively human grade ingredients. Here’s a real-life example of the importance of our choice. When I heard that even certified organic eggs are offered both as cheaper feed-grade-quality and more expensive USDA human grade-quality, I asked myself—and queried egg suppliers—what the difference was. Now, after I heard about the mere existence of feed-grade eggs, I had vague ideas about what the difference in quality might mean, but I never received any answers from suppliers. So I decided to go with human-grade eggs for any future pet food applications because I simply didn’t want to get into a foggy area where the health and wellbeing of peoples’ pets consuming such products (and the welfare of the producing hens) might be compromised just to save a buck and increase my company’s profits. In our eyes it is unethical to abuse and to inhumanely treat any animal that is raised for food for both humans and animals which we choose to keep as pets. Although USDA inspections are rare due to this agency’s ridiculously low budget and man power, the threat of fines and the possibility of inspections provide at least some incentive to treat animals according to the legally set rules. In our eyes, the use of human-grade ingredients that are derived from humanely raised and humanely treated animals, is the only responsible way to make pet foods that contain animal-derived ingredients.

Although the use of USDA human grade ingredients per se is absolutely no guarantee that the resulting pet food—or human food, for that matter—is healthy, it takes away some of the unknowns, examples of which I just described.

Some examples of unhealthy USDA certified, human-grade, pet food ingredients include the following:

Sugars, which can cause overweight and obesity and which can play havoc with your pet’s insulin production and overall metabolism. Honey is often added to dog and especially cat foods to increase palatibility and consequently product sales, however, the problems of routinely eaten honey are the same as with any simple sugar;

Artificial sweeteners, which in high doses have been shown to cause cancer;

Refined salts (e.g., your garden-variety table salt, or sodium chloride), which, among other things, can cause mineral imbalances;

Refined flours, which can cause excessive weight-gain and obesity;

Low grade synthetic supplements, which can be of so poor quality that the impurities accumulated during manufacturing alone can be toxic;

Isolated ‘food fragments,’ which can cause a variety of health problems, including allergies and chronic inflammation.

Obesity has become an epidemic among both people and their pets in the Western world. This epidemic is directly related to the far-too frequent choice of unhealthy foods, and is associated with a growing number of health problems, including diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, and even some types of cancer.

The 100% USDA human grade pet foods created by Onesta Organics do not contain refined ingredients. When we formulate our products, we are always mindful, not just of the importance of USDA certification of ingredients in assuring quality and maximizing safety, but also fundamentally what the right choices of ingredients are from the perspective of promoting good health and well being among the ultimate Onesta Organics consumers: your pets.

A prominent example of what’s wrong with the conventional pet food industry being whitewashed by the use of USDA certified human grade ingredients are dog foods made primarily from USDA certified human grade refined grain flours, as well as dog food products which include known canine allergens such as corn, gluten, grains, rice, or soy. Think about it: if a dog food manufacturer includes one of these known allergens in their product, they must not be terribly concerned about the possible negative impact on the health of many of their customers’ pets! The choice of such ingredients should send a clear warning to customers, even if a given company’s PR and marketing materials try to convey an honest and health-oriented intent. There is certainly at least one company out there that lists ‘100% organic grains’ as the first ingredient in their dog food. So, ask yourself: does this company think that all of their customers are ignorant of the fact that many dogs are allergic to grains? No, not likely. Certainly, even human grade grains are much cheaper than most high quality, non-allergenic sources of protein! The funny thing about this particular pet food company, which shall go nameless—you know who you are—is that, even as they claim that the grains they use in their organic dog foods are organic, they nevertheless fail to provide for public inspection an organic certificate for any of their products (or ingredients contained in those products) that would substantiate their organic claims.

The aforementioned pet food company provides a good example for the concerned pet owner of the various things to watch out for when looking for a human grade dog or cat food. To drive home the point even more solidly, I’ll just mention some other claims they make in marketing their products as examples of what to avoid. This company advertises that the produce they use is 100% GMO-free, and that the meats they use are both hormone- and antibiotic-free. Well, these are certainly big claims to make, particularly when one considers that not a single one of their products is certified organic, which would automatically guarantee that the ingredients used are free of hormones, antibiotics and GMOs. There is simply no way to substantiate their claims of ‘antibiotic-free,’ ‘hormone-free,’ or ‘GMO-free’ because no organic certificates for these ingredients—or any other 3rd party certification that could attest to these claims—is available for inspection. So, without any proof, this company’s claims about their pet foods may or may not be true. So, given an increasingly lucrative market for organic and human grade pet food products, would you trust this company and it’s claims?

So, here’s the essence of the foregoing discussion: the quality and provenance of human grade pet foods are only reliable when they are verified by unbiased third parties. In the case of organic certification, each ingredient used in the manufacture of a given pet food is inspected and its quality is checked with both the list of ingredients and any claims presented on the product label. Ingredients used for USDA certified organic pet foods cannot legally contain GMOs, antibiotics or hormones. The for the organic certification required complete disclosure of ingredients used and their sources will show whether USDA human grade or feed grade ingredients are contained in a given product. Since USDA-accredited certifying agencies are independent from the company submitting their products for organic certification, and these certifiers will look carefully at the product packaging and the claims presented therein, these certifiers will likely find out whether a company’s claims of human grade ingredients are actually valid.

In conclusion, the best USDA human grade pet food is also USDA certified organic, i.e., made with ingredients that are not only USDA human grade, but also healthy for your dog, cat, or other variety of pet. The food in question should not contain refined ingredients or known allergens. Neither low grade nor human-grade synthetic supplements are good choices for your animal. If a claim made on a label or in marketing materials looks too good to be true, and you don’t see any evidence to substantiate that claim, don’t purchase the product in question until you contact the company making the claim and ask them for evidence—such as third-party certification—to substantiate the claim. If you urgently need a good pet food product, buy one that presents you with up-front, solid evidence of superb quality and healthfulness; look at the ingredients carefully and look for the USDA certification and/or the name of a third-party certifier. Don’t forget that even humble USDA human grade pet treats should be as healthy as possible, even if you give them to your pet only occasionally. Remember: you—not a large pet food manufacturer—are the ultimate guardian of your pet and his or her good health and happiness!

Posted by Posted by Heidi Junger, PhD under Filed under Onesta Organics Pet Foods Comments Comments Off