For most, the rewards of canine companionship far outweigh the challenges. After all, dogs are part of the family and the responsibility of caring for them is generally considered a pleasure. Feeding is part of the caring process. But there doesn't appear to be consensus on how best to achieve the goal of optimum wellness where diet is concerned. When it comes to food and dogs, and what may be best for them, there exists a contentious argument concerning feeding them human food or table scraps. Many people have no qualms about doing so, and while there are general guidelines that should be followed, there appears to be no evidence as to why this habit shouldn't continue. There are various reasons that pet owners feed their dogs human food and chief among them is the belief that doing so is healthier and safer than providing processed foods. In reality this is somewhat true, given problems occurring in the manufacturing of dog food and pet food industry, as well as marketing practices that often are misleading, or even false. Yet, with a bit of effort on the part of the pet owner, a number of safe, healthy and nutritious foods may be provided. This article examines these issues, yet prefers to leave it up to the reader to decide what may be best for their canine loved one.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) appears to provide current recall information on pet and, more specifically, dog food. A cursory review of this information, however, found it to be quite convoluted and nonspecific. Regardless of this deficiency, what becomes quite pronounced upon visiting the site are the numbers of reported recalls having occurred in 1997. What should be alarming to all consumers, as well as pet owners, is that "The recall exposed previously hidden links between pet foods and human food supply... it was evident that pet foods are part of a global network for producing food for people and for farm animals, as well as for cats and dogs." (Nestle & Nesheim, 2010, p. 7) Animal and human food supplies have become increasingly interconnected, and as is advised by Nestle & Nesheim (2010) "...anyone who cares about the safety and quality of food for people, pets, or other animals also needs to care about how pet foods are made, used, and monitored." (p. 8)
Outside of the FDA, it may be advisable that the average concerned dog owner refer to a number of sources that report recalls. But it is important to distinguish between the types of recalls and how they are categorized by the FDA:
Class I: Dangerous or defective products that could cause serious health problems or death. For example... a dog food found to contain salmonella, molds or toxins.
Class II: Products that might cause a temporary health problem or that pose only a slight threat of a serious nature. For example... a drug that is under-strength but not used to treat life-threatening situations.
Class III: Products that are unlikely to cause any adverse health reaction but that violate FDA labeling or manufacturing laws. For example... a minor container defect and lack of English labeling in a retail food. (Sagman & Howington).
Apparently, the above classifications, along with the number of recalls prevailing in today's marketplace, remain little incentive for the majority of dog owners to be far more circumspect where food sources are concerned. Yet, it must be understood that producing most of today's dog food is a manufacturing process that is not tightly regulated and, as evidenced by the 2007 recall, sometimes subject to dubious, if not illegal, practices. For the reviewer who is only beginning to research those processes, and the ingredients used to produce the end product, how dog food is manufactured, and what goes into processed meals can be quite disconcerting. Beyond taste, dogs aren't necessarily particular about what goes into their food but, as cherished family members, a dog's owner should be. Plump whole chickens, choice cuts of beef, fresh grains, and all the wholesome nutrition your dog or cat will ever need. These are the images pet food manufacturers promulgate through the media and advertising. This is what the $16.1 billion per year U.S. pet food industry wants consumers to believe they are buying when they purchase their products. (What's Really in Pet Food, 2007).
It would seem that this article supports providing human food, or table scraps, as a replacement to what is being offered on the open market. While certainly not the case, the purpose of this article is to suggest that consumers be conscious of what it is that dog food manufacturers are offering these days. As evidenced by the fact that our food chain is shared by all creatures great and small, when consumers are vigilant about the processes and ingredients that go into the production of pet food, we are also becoming involved in the spectrum of how all food stuffs are produced and brought to the marketplace. This bears asking the question, which dog foods are the safest and most beneficial for our canine friends?
Determining a safe and healthy processed food for dogs is time-consuming and daunting. This may involve visiting websites announcing recalls, understanding individual production processes as well as the ingredients used. It is also necessary to understand where the ingredients come from in terms of the country of origin and the source. In terms of the source, nutritional supplementation may occur through whole foods, or through chemical processes. With just these three factors to consider, it becomes quite understandable that many people give up on such a quest and purchase what the dog will naturally gravitate toward.
It must also be understood that feeding canine companions human foods, or table scraps, is not without risk. Certain foods must be viewed in terms of their being highly toxic poisons. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) provides an extensive listing of foods that are dangerous to dogs, as well as other pets. Their list also accounts for other substances that place dogs at risk of harm and even death. More germane to this discussion, however, foods such as avocado, garlic, onion, chocolate and macadamia nuts pose grave consequences (Prevent Poisonings). Feeding dogs table scraps also runs the risk of weight gain, sometimes to the point of obesity. In this scenario, dogs are generally treated almost as if they are human. Kienzle, Bergler, & Mandernach, (1998) found that obese dogs suffered at the hands of owners who tended to "humanize" them, sharing more time and also food in the form of table scraps and other items which lead to adverse issues related to socialization and health. Obese dogs were more often fed kitchen scraps in addition to their meals. They were present more often when the owner prepared or ate his own meals and were fed tidbits then. These observations indicate that feeding of the dog was used by the owners as a handy and agreeable form of communication and interaction with the dog. (p. 2779S)
To gain an in-depth understanding of the nutritional requirements for dogs, some may wish to review the updated edition of Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats (2006), published through the National Research Council (NRC). The book provides lengthy recommendations that are based on various factors including stages of life and physical activity. Specific to the concerns of dog owners, Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats may be used as a source when making feeding decisions; providing specific nutritional needs, characteristics of different types of pet food and other factors to consider when deciding on what may be best to feed one's canine companion. If the decision is to either feed a dog a combination of human and pet food, or a strict diet of human food, the remainder of this article provides cursory information in order to proceed in a safe and healthy manner.
The common rule from traditional information sources is for dog owners to adhere to a strict diet of processed foods made specifically for their canine loved ones. However, there are a number of foods specified as for humans that are safe and healthy for dogs to consume as well. PetDoc provides the following as a general rule of thumb. The idea is to select easily digestible foods such as cooked rice, boneless and skinless chicken or turkey, small bits of string cheese and well-cooked hamburger. Dogs love their fruits and veggies, too, so feel free to up their vitamin count with traditional canine favorites like carrots, apples and green beans. (AniMed.org)
The above may either be combined with traditional dog foods or used as primary sources of nutritional intake. However, it is highly recommended to follow certain guidelines when deciding either method. Introduced earlier in this discussion, Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats provides the necessary information that will guide the dog owner when considering a dog's nutritional intake. The book is not only a guide for the pet owner, but it is also used by the pet food industry for purposes of balancing all nutritional factors that comprise a diet considered "complete and balanced" by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO; Nash, 2008). While this may be viewed as contentious to some, the fact still remains that for a dog to thrive and remain healthy throughout its life, it is essential that it be provided with the following food ingredients that incorporate protein, fat, fat soluble vitamins, water soluble vitamins, and mineral supplementation (Nash, 2008) Considering these elements, a diet primarily, or entirely, comprised of human food is achievable, but it will take those that care for their canine companions much research into the subject in order to ensure that nutritional requirements are being met.
Providing nutrition to one's pet is not only for the sake of its survival and health, it is also an intimate affair that benefits the dog owner almost as much as his canine friend. As such, many concerned individuals prefer to feed their dog human food. There may be a psychological and emotional benefit to doing so, but a good degree of caution and preparation is necessary before committing to this type of diet. It is understandable that people prefer to have more control over their dog's nutritional requirements, considering the risks that are apparently inherent when purchasing commercial foods. Yet, effective research into processed dog foods is elemental when buying a safe and nutritious product off the shelf. The same is true for those preferring to feed their dogs foods viewed as traditionally served for human consumption, because it is also necessary to ensure each diet is "complete and balanced." There doesn't appear to be that much difference in the importance of these steps as we acknowledge that both dog and human share from the same food chain. Beyond the care, it comes down to the investment of time in order to become knowledgeable and capable of providing our canine loved ones with the best choices possible.
AniMed.org. (n.d.). Can dogs eat human foods? PetDoc.
Retrieved August 2, 2011, from http://petdoc.com/story/can-dogs-eat-human-foods
Kienzle, E., Bergler, R., & Mandernach, A. (1998). A comparison of the feeding behavior and the human--animal relationship in owners of normal and obese dogs. The Journal of Nutrition, 128, 2779S--2782S.
Melamine Pet Food Recall of 2007. (2010, November 29). U S Food and Drug Administration.
Retrieved August 2, 2011, from http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/RecallsWithdrawals/ucm129575.ht
Nash, H. (2008.). Dog food standards by the AAFCO. PetEducation.com.
Retrieved August 2, 2011, from http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2&aid=662
Nestle, M., & Nesheim, M. C. (2010). Feed your pet right: the authoritative guide to feeding your dog and cat. New York: Free Press.
Nutrient requirements of dogs and cats (1 ed.). (2006). Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.
Pet Food Recall Products List. (2011, May 16). US Food and Drug Administration.
Retrieved August 2, 2011, from www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/newpetfoodrecalls/#Dog
Prevent Poisonings. (n.d.). AAHA Healthy Pet.
Retrieved August 2, 2011, from http://www.healthypet.com/PetCare/PetCareArticle.aspx?art_key=655a2b98-fe3f-4162-b9e4-af262ec76c7c
Sagman, M., & Howington, B. (n.d.). Current dog food recalls. Dog Food Advisor.
Retrieved August 2, 2011, from http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/dog-food-recalls/
What's Really in Pet Food. (2007, May). Born Free USA. Retrieved August 2, 2011, from http://www.bornfreeusa.org/facts.php?more=1&p=359
Refer to http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/newpetfoodrecalls/#Dog
Recall resulted in federal indictments for a scheme perpetrated by industry insiders in China and the U.S. of imported products claimed to be wheat gluten, used in pet and human foods, and tainted with melamine. Refer to http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/RecallsWithdrawals/ucm129575.htm
For up-to-date recall information visit: http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/dog-food-recalls/ and http://www.dogfoodscoop.com/dog-food-recalls.html
For a relatively complete understanding of how dog food is processed, and ingredients used, please visit http://www.bornfreeusa.org/facts.php?more=1&p=359
Relatively unbiased reviews may be found at, http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/
According to Born Free USA, "Cooking and other processing of meat and by-products used in pet food can greatly diminish their nutritional value, although cooking increases the digestibility of cereal grains and starchy vegetables." Once diminished, the production process includes replacement. For a more complete understanding, please visit http://www.bornfreeusa.org/facts.php?more=1&p=359.
For the complete listing, please visit, http://www.healthypet.com/PetCare/PetCareArticle.aspx?art_key=655a2b98-fe3f-4162-b9e4-af262ec76c7c
Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats isan effort produced through the National Research Council (NRC) and its subcommittees: The Committee on Animal Nutrition and Subcommittee on Dog and Cat Nutrition.
More information, as well as an AAFCO table of required nutrients may be found at http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2&aid=662