Interview With Dr. Lisa Weeth
Lorien Clemens: Welcome to Pet Lover Geeks my fellow pet parents! I hope you are having a fabulous Saturday thus far. I’m so excited you’ve joined us for today’s show. Our topic for the day is the science of pet food, specifically dog food. You know, for many pet parents, what we choose to feed our dogs is a really personal, even emotional thing, and I’ve seen more passionate discussions and down-right arguments on social media about the choices of pet food than anything else, except for maybe our most recent election, frankly. And, you know me, I’m a passionate gal, but I am really passionate about the science behind things, so today, I wanna dig in and explore the studies behind pet food, I wanna look at the science that’s there, veterinary science that tells us why we are feeding our dogs what we’re feeding. So that when we get to that pet food aisle, we have a little bit on an idea of what we’re looking at. But before we get into that, I wanna go back in time just a little bit, I wanna talk about how we got started with this whole idea of commercial pet food.
So, back in the 1850s this dude from Cincinatti named James Spratt was in London selling lightning rods, of all things, and he came up with an idea how to make money. He decided that he was gonna take the stuff that’s called, you know, “hard tack”, it’s these biscuits that are used by sailors. It’s essentially like flour and water and salt and he decided to turn these into a dog biscuit to make money off of the really quickly growing market of urban dog owners. So, in 1860, he launched what’s called Spratt’s Patent Meal Fibrine Dog Cakes and the pet food industry was born. Now, skip forward to today. It’s more than just dog cakes, it’s more than just biscuits, as we all know. The pet food industry this year in the United States is on track to make 24 billion, that’s billion with a B, dollars in the US alone, and that accounts for more than a third of the money that was gonna be spent on our pets this year. It’s incredible! And when I went to look, just today, on dogfoodadvisor.com, there were over 700 main entries for dog foods, and each of those entries had anywhere from 4 to dozens of sub-entries of styles and flavors and stuff. I mean, there are so many choices and so many options now-a-days and there’s a ton of really heavy hitting marketing out there, it can be downright overwhelming.
So, to help us navigate the dog food aisle and to also help us navigate the wilds of internet opinion about pet feeding, I’ve invited noted veterinary nutritionist Lisa Weeth to the show. By the way, you can check out her terrific website, it’s called Weeth nutrition, that’s W-E-E-T-H nutrition.com, I’ll make sure that that link is on our Facebook page and on our website later today, to hear about all of the incredible stuff that she has to share with pet parents. Dr. Weeth, welcome to the show!
Lisa Weeth: Thank you, thank you very much for having me.
Lorien Clemens: I’m really excited to have you on. As I mentioned, the pet food aisle can be really confusing. I remember when I was kid, there were maybe a handful, two, three, four brands at best that were out there at the grocery store, and you just basically had to choose from puppy food or adult dog food. Now the choices are overwhelming. Where does one even begin to know where to start? You’ve got “Premium” and “Complete & Balanced” and “Grain Free” and “Natural” and a whole slew of other marketing terms. And I wanna know, when I’m looking at this really cool looking bag that I’m pulling off the shelf, is it really meeting my dog’s nutritional needs? How do I know?
Lisa Weeth: Well, you know, the one thing I would say is that we’ve come a long way since Bratt’s biscuits and since the early dog food industry and pet food industry. And at the time that those [inaudible] were developed, the field of nutrition was just in its infancy. So, people didn’t even understand basic nutrient requirements for humans, let alone dogs, cats, horses, pigs and all the other animal species that we keep and feed on a regular basis. So, the idea of having one fixed form that meets everyone’s needs was a novel concept for our current society, basically. And the early dog foods — there was a lot of gaps and there were a lot of deficiencies and the industry as a whole has progressed as the field of nutrition has expanded, and as we understand what the amino acid requirements are and the vitamin and mineral requirements are for dogs in general, and there’s a lot that we’re still discovering, we’re learning that the field of nutrition is learning and understanding the role of fiber and diets and probiotic and prebiotics and some of the fitonutrients that come in from fresh fruits and vegetables. And that is still — the field is still developing. But the one thing we do know is what the basic requirements are for dogs and that’s been known since about the 1980s. So I would say, anything you find on the shelf that’s labeled as a complete and balanced food for whatever life stage, puppy or adult dog is meeting all of the basic nutrient requirements for the dog. Puppies have higher energy requirements and higher requirements for things like protein and certain vitamins and minerals, and so a puppy diet is going to be balanced and designed to be fed to a grown puppy. You can feed it to an adult if you want to, it’s just more a healthier — it’s just more nutrients that they absolutely need. I mean, it typically [inaudible] a slightly higher price tag as well, because of those added nutrients. So, anything that you find on the counter, whether you buy it at a pet store or a specialty boutique or at the grocery store is going to meet all of the basic nutrient needs. Now, ‘premium’ is a marketing term purely. It means absolutely nothing in terms of the quality of food. A lot of people want to, you know, have it applied to a specific quality of ingredient or quality of a finished product, but really, ‘premium’, from a marketing standpoint just means something that costs 20% over the market average. So, when you see the words ‘premium’ on the package, you’d automatically, as a consumer, as a pet owner who’s looking at the shelves, if it says ‘premium’, you’re paying for the package.
Lorien Clemens: [laughing] Good to know.
Lisa Weeth: Unfortunately. So ‘premium’ doesn’t have any regulatory or any enforcements, it’s just the marketing term. There are a lot of good foods that are labeled as ‘premium’ and there are a lot of good foods that don’t — aren’t labeled as ‘premium’. So, you know, it’s — so that’s that on marketing, complete imbalance of what you’re looking for. When you look at things like ‘grain free’ or ‘high protein’, a lot of that is marketing terms as well. If it says ‘complete balance’, it means it has all of the vitamins and minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, everything your dog needs. Now, when you’re looking at it, so everything — if you’re assuming everything is going to meet your animal’s needs, the next question is, you know, it meets the average dog’s needs, but does it meet my dog’s needs?
Lorien Clemens: M-hm.
Lisa Weeth: And so there are individual dogs that do better with certain ingredients in or out of their diet. I don’t think grains are necessarily bad for dogs as a whole, just like grains aren’t necessarily bad for people as a whole. And grains, whole grains especially have a lot of fiber in them and some dogs, especially larger breed dogs need more fiber in their diet, otherwise they have recurrent and constant intestinal upsets, which make owners upset ‘cause they’re cleaning up things that are even harder to clean up. So fiber does have a role and I, as I mentioned earlier, we’re just starting to scratch the surface on the healthfulness of having things like fiver in the diets.
Lorien Clemens: M-hm.
Lisa Weeth: So, if it — if an animal has an allergy or sensitivity to an ingredient, I absolutely try to avoid it and will avoid it in my recommendations, but I don’t — there’s nothing that I would avoid necessarily for a healthy dog.
Lorien Clemens: So, when you’re in the pet food aisle, then what are the key things for positive or negative that we should be looking for, that could kind of help us navigate and figure out which one is right for my dog? Unless my vet specifically said: ‘Use this.’
Lisa Weeth: Yeah, so I mean, if you’re — if you have a veterinarian that is recommending a particular formula, especially for animals that have medical issues, so the animal has a kidney disease or diabetes or a food allergy, then you absolutely will want to follow what that veterinarian is recommending, because those therapeutic diets are specific diets designed to treat a medical condition. And, and so it’s almost like I, I look at food in those situations as food that’s been used in kind of like a, any other drug or therapy. It’s being used to treat a condition, so we don’t wanna start changing things around too much. But if you have a healthy dog and you’re looking at all of the different options, then some of, you know, a lot of it comes down to personal preference. Are you looking for or you’re trying to avoid GMOs or do you feed, you wanna feed organic to yourself and your family, including your four-legged family? Are you trying to, you know, I’ve had a client who was allergic to tilapia.
Lorien Clemens: M-hm.
Lisa Weeth: Personally, so we had to avoid diets, commercial foods and this was a home cooked diet that included tilapia. And so, if you have individual owners or other family members that have issues, then I may avoid certain foods. I had another case during my residency, where the dog was allergic to chicken, but the cat was being fed a chicken-based diet and the dog would get in the cat food, so well, then everyone gets the restricted diet and that’s [inaudible due to bad audio] the cat didn’t have a problem, the cat had to eat…
Lorien Clemens: Right, exactly. Well, …
Lisa Weeth: Um, so then I looked at what are the needs of the individual animal.
Lorien Clemens: Right, and you just mentioned something that is huge trend right now, that organic stuff and everything that is everywhere, you see that. But the other trend that’s out there that I’m personally working with right now with my own dog with the help of my veterinarian is raw feeding. Can you talk a little bit about that? Tell me about a parent who might be interested in exploring that with their — there’s a lot out there…
Lisa Weeth: Yeah, so, there is and I think raw feeding and fresh food feeding has become more, I don’t wanna call it trendy or more popular, it’s getting more visibility with pet owners. The raw feeding started as, you know, kind of a little bit of — and I know you — one of your later guests is gonna talk about raw feeds, so I don’t mean this to be offensive, but it’s kind of this kooky fringe idea from about 20-30 years ago. You know, most people didn’t feed raw meat to their diets, and it was focused on a raw meaty bone profile. The concern I have with raw diets almost invariably comes down to the — two things: I wanna make sure that whatever’s being fed to my patients and dogs and cats at home is in complete balance, so it’s meeting all of their nutrient needs. With adult animals you can get away with a lot in terms of unbalanced diets, and it’s not, you know, the first week, the first month, even the first year of being on an unbalanced diet that’s a problem, it’s a few years down the road when something, you know, the animal gets injured or gets sick with something else and doesn’t heals and doesn’t recover well. So, I’m thinking about diet in terms of the entire lifespan of the animal, I wanna make sure that they’re getting all of their nutrients needs met. So if you take the diet balance out of the equation, say, absolutely you can make their raw — a diet that’s based on raw meat and other ingredients and make it completely balanced to meet all of their nutrient needs. Well, that’s great, but I still have the concern about raw meat itself and pathogen, things like salmonella or campylobacter, e coli. And there are ways that you can handle raw meat to decrease exposure for the animal, but the animal’s not the only one who’s being exposed to the raw meat, it’s the people who are handling it. And nothing is — when you’re talking about truly raw products, nothing is 100% safe.
Lorien Clemens: Right.
Lisa Weeth: And so, and then I look at, you know, for the individual animal with commercial dry kibble, so it’s through the diets, they are less digestible than a fresh food product and the digestibility changes, so a fresh food product [inaudible] feed a raw meat-based diet that has — even if it has grains and vegetables in it and is completely balanced, it’s probably about 90-95% digestible, meaning 90-95% of what you feed is getting absorbed by the animal and only 5-10% is coming out of his poop.
Lorien Clemens: M-hm.
Lisa Weeth: Which is what most owners are concerned about on a daily basis too.
Lorien Clemens: [smilingly] Right.
Lisa Weeth: How much am I cleaning up in the yard and hopefully not in the house. And then, when you look at commercial drive foods, commercial drive foods are only about 80% digestible for an over the counted diet, and even therapeutic diets that you buy from the veterinarian are only going up to about 85%. And that’s just — has to do with the way the ingredients are handled, in the way they’re cooked together. It just decreases the digestibility and digestibility just mans hop much poop is made.
Lorien Clemens: Right. [smiles]
Lisa Weeth: So, [smiles], so when you’re looking at, you know, comparing the two diets, a fresh food diet, whether it’s cooked meat or raw meat is more digestible than a dry kibble. And often is more digestible than a canned diet too. And so there are some animals that do very well on anything you feed them – dry, canned, raw, cooked, it doesn’t matter, they’re easy keepers. And I have other patients that need a consistent diet and a diet that has a low water content, because otherwise they get diarrhea, and so feeding that dog dry food actually is the best match for the individual.
Lorien Clemens: Right.
Lisa Weeth: But I’ve also had patients and worked with dogs who need a more digestible diet, whether it’s a cooked-meat diet or a raw-meat diet, that’s just the best, indivi — you know, for that individual that’s the best diet match.
Lorien Clemens: Right.
Lisa Weeth: So I look at — if everything’s equal, what does that animal need, can we feed them anything as long as it’s balanced or do they need a very specific diet to meet their individual dietary needs?
Lorien Clemens: It makes perfects sense and we’re unfortunately running out of time, but I think that the most important…
Lisa Weeth: Yeah, [smiles] sorry.
Lorien Clemens: No, it’s fantastic, I think the most important thing that I’m hearing and I’ve heard you say it a couple of different times is that, it’s all about the individual dog, which means you need to have a great relationship, you need to communicate with your veterinarian,
Lisa Weeth: Yeah.
Lorien Clemens: ‘cause clearly, they’re gonna be able to help steer you in the right direction and it’s in the, you know, if we just go blindly — leading the blind it’s — could be a problem. But I wanna thank you so much for your time today, Dr. Weeth.
Lisa Weeth: You’re welcome. And then, can I add one more thing?
Lorien Clemens: Yeah, of course.
Lisa Weeth: and I would — the one thing I would add is when, you know, ‘cause I probably didn’t answer your question very clearly on how to pick diets, but, you know, if you — if an owner’s at a pet store, at a boutique store and something just looks fantastic, you know, absolutely, if your dog is healthy and you don’t have any restrictions – try it and see how your dog does for — give it — I usually give it three to four weeks. After three to four weeks, if they’re still looking good, if they’re still acting fine, rambunctious, playful, their stools are normal, their coats look good, continue for another month. After about three months you’ll start to notice if the coat starts looking not as lustrous and maybe even take a before and after pictures, or if you have any issues with stool, then that’s not the right diet and what I’ve — for that individual. And what I’ve come across in practice is owners who get very attached to a particular diet line or feeding style, whether it’s home-cooked or a particular brand of dry food, something they find at the store, they get attached to that brand, but their animal’s not doing well on it. So I’d say, always come back to how your dog is doing and if their normal stool — you know, it’s coming down as normal stool, happy, healthy, they look fantastic, then I would say continue — they — don’t change what’s working.
Lorien Clemens: Yeah, you know what I just love about what you just shared is, you’re basically saying ‘Let’s set up an experiment, let’s be scientific about it…’
Lisa Weeth: Exactly.
Lorien Clemens: ‘analyze the data.’ I love that, that’s perfect. [laughs] thank you so much for coming on doctor.
Lisa Weeth: You’re welcome.
Lorien Clemens: Really important stuff for us to hear. Gosh, I wish we could have spent the entire hour with you. But, you know, time is what it is. I would — Hang tight pet lovers, in the next segment, we are gonna dig around a little bit more into the — all these pet food things that are going on out there, the latest science’s driving changes out there and also gonna talk to a pet parent who herself has been digging into, experimenting with her pets and how she’s feeding them and some changes that have made big differences in their lives. Hang tight, we’ll see you in a minute.
Interview With Kimberly Gauthier
Lorien Clemens: Welcome back, my fellow pet lovers! Today we are digging into the science of pet food. Like I said in the previous segment, it is a very personal choice, it’s a lot like what we feed ourselves and the humans that are in our families. Every one of us has really strong opinions about what’s right and what’s wrong for us and our family to eat. And for me, it’s not just, it’s not just about what looks good on the fee — on the shelf, it’s not just what somebody has said ‘Oh my God, this is the best food’, it’s about being knowledgeable about what I’m putting into my body and what I’m putting into my family’s body Not just blindly trusting what somebody has said – ‘Hey, this is good for you’. I’m a really firm believer in research, testing, using the scientific method, like what Dr. Weeth was talking about just a moment ago, about working to truly determine what works best for you, for your body and what’s good. And the same goes true for we approach feeding our dogs. And our next guest embodies this approach. Her name is Kimberly Gauthier and she’s a dog nutrition blogger. Her blog is called Keep the Tail Wagging and it’s a blog about raw feeding. Kimberly, I’m so happy to have you on the show.
Kimberly Gauthier: I’m happy to be here.
Lorien Clemens: Awesome. And I know that a lot of our listeners are probably really curious how one gets started down the path of raw feeding. Now, I’ve read your blog, I know a lot of the back story with your dogs and it’s filled with in-depth research, which I really love. So, tell us a bit about that, tell us — specifically about those resources and background stuff that first led you to start experimenting with raw feeding.
Kimberly Gauthier: It’s funny because I — actually it’s hilarious that raw feeding has been around for decades. I mean, it’s older than kibble is and I had never heard of it until, probably two years into my dog’s life and trying to understand why my dog had such bad allergies and what I can do better. And my boyfriend and I went to dinner with some friends and they were like: ‘Oh yea, we just feed our dogs raw chicken.’ And I was just like ‘What, what?’ and they’re like: ‘Oh, yeah, we just go to the store, buy a whole raw chicken, we throw it in the yard and all their allergies went away, they’re super healthy, the vet can’t believe it, they’re not on medications anymore, they’re acting like puppies again.’ And that was my first introduction to raw feeding and when I think back to that, I laugh, because that is like the worst way to feed raw to a dog.
Lorien Clemens: Right. [laughs]
Kimberly Gauthier: [inaudible due to laughing] to go to the store and get a whole chicken, which we all know a whole chicken doesn’t have all of the pieces to it, it’s just a meat and a bone, and feed it to their dog.
Lorien Clemens: M-hm.
Kimberly Gauthier: At the time I didn’t know and I wasn’t prepared to do something like that, so I started doing homework, because I’m a blogger. And fortunately, you know, because of the blog, I have access to a lot of resources that the average person may not realize that they have access to. So, I reached out and found a veterinarian in the mid-west who’s very — a huge proponent of raw feeding and started picking her brain in contacting raw brands and talking to them and it probably took me about six months of just talking to people and becoming more comfortable before I finally made my first raw meal and it was a complete disaster. All of my dogs got sick, they had diarrhea for two days and, um, I got the recipe from someone who was a raw feeder, you know, and “canine chef” and what I didn’t understand was: 1. I had every protein known to man in this recipe and it was way too rich, it wasn’t balanced, but — and it was expensive. I probably spent over $100 on this meal.
Lorien Clemens: Oh my Gosh, for four dogs. [both laugh]
Kimberly Gauthier: At the time it was just three dogs.
Lorien Clemens: Oh wow, it’s even worse. [both laugh]
Kimberly Gauthier: And, um, I realized: ‘Okay, so that’s not the route for me to go’, ‘cause I couldn’t afford that. And I got on the phone to local company here – Darwin’s Pet and I still remember the day, I was standing on the tarmac, getting on the sound of train heading up north to Everest. And they called me and this woman was so amazing and just basically talked me through the entire process [inaudible], what was in the food, why the food worked and I signed up right there and my dons ate Darwin’s for a year, until I became more comfortable with raw feeding and knew that I could actually provide a balanced meal for my dogs on my own.
Lorien Clemens: Well I’m really glad that you’re stressing that it was not just about throwing a raw chicken in the yard. Because, as one of our guests was talking about, Dr. Weeth, it’s about being complete and balanced. And she was also stressing that at the core, it’s important to remember that these dogs are individuals, they are all different and there isn’t “one meal fits all” that really truly fits every single dog. Now, reading your blog, I know that you have some pups with some very tricky issues and that you’ve actually done a lot of experimentation to find just the right combinations for each dog and I’m specifically thinking about some posts you’ve done about Rodrigo and all of his protein allergies. Can you tell us a little bit about the experiment that you did to find the best protein options for him.
Kimberly Gauthier: It was as easy as, you know, basically trying out a protein for a week, and then seeing how he does. Unfortunately for me, Rodrigo — if a protein doesn’t work for him, his body lets me know right away and he has really severe GI issues, digestive issues [inaudible] when a protein doesn’t work for him. And basically, what I did is, I knew that he did fantastic on Darwin’s, the entire time that we were on Darwin’s and what I found over time was that, you know, for him, he can’t have chicken; he actually can’t have any poultry except for duck, but one thing I learned was that it really depends on not only just the protein, but the source of the protein as well. So I have to be very particular about where he gets, you know, where I buy his food from, which is why I sort of drifted away from a lot of pre-made raw brands and make it on my own, specially for him. But it is, it’s just, you know, I have a calendar and I would basically do a poop watch and you know, this is how his poop looks today and this is — and so I can get a track of — okay, will his poop become soft and very light in color and huge when he’s on these proteins, but it’s perfectly fine. And he’ll never have, you know, ‘raw-fed poop’, which is basically, you have a big dog that is pooping out the size of cat poop.
Lorien Clemens: M-hm.
Kimberly Gauthier: He will never have that because of his GI issues. But, you know, he will have healthier food than what he had on kibble. So, when his poop starts looking more like what it looked like when he was on kibble, when he seemed hungry all the time, we he has a lot of gas and, you know, just intestinal issues, then I know that he’s not doing well on a protein. And one thing that I love about raw is that I can adjust immediately, rather than, you know, throwing out a bag of kibble and starting all over again.
Lorien Clemens: Right, and that — you just mentioned you’re mostly doing home raw now, correct?
Kimberly Gauthier: Right.
Lorien Clemens: You make it all at home and like you said before, it’s not just about slapping a bunch of chicken and steak into the bowl and calling it a meal, it’s — you go to great lengths to create a really balanced diet for your dogs. I’ve seen some of the videos you’ve done when creating a meal, it’s quite a production.
Kimberly Gauthier: Yeah. [smiles]
Lorien Clemens: So tell us about your typical meal production, what goes in the bowl, how do you get there, what kind of tools are you using?
Kimberly Gauthier: Oh yeah, and actually today is — when I finish here, I’ll be starting my process today. But I basically have a wonderful meat grinder that I’m still so in love with ‘cause it does so well, it grinds meat and bone. But today I’ll be making duck. It won’t be an entirely duck meal, but you know, that’s where its base is. There’s duck wings, I’ll be grinding up 40 pounds of duck wings. I’m an accountant by day, so I love numbers and I do the math to make sure that I can get the 80% muscle meat, 10% bone, 10% organ meat. And what I’ll do is I will fi — either there’s actually a website that tells you how much muscle meat is in a duck wing versus a bone. And you start from there and you blend everything together. Ultimately, you know, most raw feeders try and balance their dog’s diet over time, it’s not always possible to balance every single meal, but I always tell people ‘Don’t worry about it.’ I mean, we as humans don’t eat a balanced meal every single meal, so it’s not the end of the world that our dogs don’t. But I try to get as close as possible with my dogs and so, it may not be — work out to be 80-10-10 when I’m finished, but it will be pretty darn close.
Lorien Clemens: And what kind of — like, you do the — a veggie mix and stuff like that, right?
Kimberly Gauthier: M-hm, yup, I still — it’s funny ‘cause we’ve all, well many of us have this discussion in the raw community about whether or not vegetables are necessary. Some feel like it’s just filler, dogs don’t need it, they’re not getting any benefit out of it, while others look at vegetables as a much needed source of nutrients, because, you know, the soil is degrading and becoming less nutrient rich and the animals who are eating the grass that has grown from that soil, you know, it’s basically filtering all the way to our dog’s dish. So, adding the vegetable is just basically giving them another source of nutrients. So, it is not gonna hurt them, you know, it’s gonna help them. However, you know, a lot of prey model raw feeders and basically that means that people who don’t add in vegetables and fruits to their dog’s diet, you know, feel that this is a risk — pancreatitis, by adding you know, vegetables to your dog’s meal. So, um, one thing that I found is just basically doing my own research and figuring out ‘Okay, is this safe, is this not safe?’ is to continue doing the 80-10-10 ratio of meat, bone and organ meat and then add in vegetables on top of that, sort of like as a food topper. Rather than, some people will reduce the amount of muscle meat they’ll add to their dog’s food and replace it with vegetables. I don’t believe that that’s right for my four dogs. And so it’s a yeah, I make a vegetable mix as mix with organic vegetables, bone broth and a few supplements that are all natural and mix it into my dogs’ meals every day.
Lorien Clemens: Oh fanta — I’ve seen your — the mixes. It’s not a pretty-looking mix, but it looks like it’s super healthy.
Kimberly Gauthier: Yeah. [both laugh] I know.
Lorien Clemens: One of the concerns that often is out there, in fact, Dr. Weeth brought it up, is about safe handling of meats and there are really a lot of pathogens that can be found in raw meat: Salmonella, Campylobacter, E-coli, Staph, those are just a few of them. So, how do you mitigate those legitimate risks to protect not only the health of your dog, but also you and everybody else that lives in your house?
Kimberly Gauthier: Well, you know, I think, one thing that I do is I bring meat home that’s frozen, so it comes from the farm or from the meat processing place or you know, from – I don’t know where else do I get it, the different places that I get it, like I get sardines from the Organ coast, it’s flash [inaudible] right after their cut, everything comes to my house frozen, rather than bringing it home thawed and then freezing it for a few weeks and hoping that I’ve killed the bacteria off. And then when I’m making food, I actually thaw out just a little bit and I start mixing up meals with meat that’s partially frozen. And that’s just my comfort level is easier to handle and deal with. And I’m — by the time I’m finished making food, my hands are pruning and dry, because I wash my hands constantly during the entire process. And then when I’m finished, I clean the kitchen from top to bottom and every single thing that I’ve used, you know, my dogs’ dishes go to the dishwasher. I try and be as clean as possible. There are people out there that are like: ‘Oh no, our dogs can handle the bacteria. You’re fine.’ Which I agree with wholeheartedly, I think our dogs — their systems are shorter — the digestive tract is shorter than ours, s it pushes the meat through or the — and gets the nutrients out before the bacteria has time to set up camp and cause damage. Of course, every dog is different, if you have a dog that has a compromised immune system, then, you know, this logic doesn’t necessarily, you know, fly.
Lorien Clemens: Right.
Kimberly Gauthier: But, you know, I figure, you know, why take the risk? I mean, how hard is it for me to wash my hands a few times and stay clean?
Lorien Clemens: Well not just for your dogs, but for you, I mean like…
Kimberly Gauthier: M-hm, exactly.
Lorien Clemens: We don’t have some of those safety things that the dog has. I mean, the dog might be able to handle something that maybe does have a little bit of salmonella or something in it and they might be no worse to the where it might be really bad for us, so yeah. Now, I know that though you typically make most of your dogs’ food yourself, you did mention Darwin foods, but there’s a couple other foods out there that are commercially made, that you use from time to time. And I know that when you’re evaluating a new food that comes to market, be it a treat or even the entire meal, you have a really strict criteria. So tell me about that. What do you do for that process?
Kimberly Gauthier: Yeah, I’ve become quite snob when it comes to raw feeding and it’s actually quite embarrassing, [laughs] because most new raw brands, you know, they hear about my blog, because I’m one of the few people that writes regularly about raw feeding, so of course they wanna talk to me about their food. And 9 times out of 10 it is not something that I would feed to my dogs or recommend to other people and the reason why is – when I’m working at a new raw brand, if the only protein they offer are beef and chicken, then I’m already [inaudible] [disapproving sound] and the reason why is because a lot of dogs have issues processing chicken. Chicken is a really cheap protein to get and it’s sometimes — the cheapness of chicken and then the cost of the raw food that they’re selling don’t quite equate. I mean, you’re talking about raw that’s 7, 8, 9 dollars a pound, versus chicken which is the cheapest protein on the market. So I’m a little, you know — that’s sketchy to me. And then also, you know, a lot of these raw brands are, of course, trying to create a balanced meal to bring to market, and as a result, they’re adding synthetic vitamins. So — which is kind of against the whole reason why we feed raw in the first place, we feed raw because our dogs can get their vitamins and minerals through the meat and if you have to add in synthetic vitamins, my question is – Well what happened to all the vitamins that were in the meat? Are you somehow…
Lorien Clemens: Right.
Kimberly Gauthier: through your processing, what are you doing to kill them off that you have to add in synthetic ones, which are harder for dogs to digest? So those are the two things that I’m seeing regularly and then less so, I’m seeing people come to market with ‘proprietary blends’. So they don’t wanna share exactly what’s in their recipe, which is another thing that’s a huge red flag for raw feeders. The whole reason why we feed raw is because, you know, if one of my dogs gets sick tomorrow, I can tell the veterinarian to the detail every single thing that they’ve consumed and if I have to count on a — the secret born in the recipe, then there can be something in there that’s causing a problem with my dog and I have no idea what it could be.
Lorien Clemens: Right.
Kimberly Gauthier: And so, that’s another thing and unfortunately, because raw is becoming so popular, we’re seeing more and more people jump in to the raw feeding industry to appeal to pet owners who want something more natural, more fresh and what they think it’s gonna be healthier for their dogs. And because this is such a great booming industry, pet owners really have to take a step back and just like they would with any kibble or canned food, they need to do their homework on the ingredients of any new raw brand they come across.
Lorien Clemens: Amen! I — you are preaching to the choir. [both laugh] I’m a marketer myself, I know what marketers do, I know that they’re trying to get you to buy stuff. So, I really thank you so much for coming on the show Kim. So tell everybody your blog again, so they can go and check it out.
Kimberly Gauthier: My blog is Keep The Tail Wagging.
Lorien Clemens: All right, fantastic! Thanks so much Kim. Coming up next, we are gonna talk to an industry insider who — she’s been on the front line of commercial pet food production about getting the proteins into those food and she’s gonna tell us about some of the marketing words that you might see used on those dog food labels by manufacturers. She’s gonna help us navigate those. We’ll be right back in just a minute, hang tight!
Interview With Rebecca Breese
Lorien Clemens: Welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome back! Now here we are in our final segment and I feel like I just need to give pet parents, dog parents just a few more resources on how to really pick the best food to suit your dog’s needs. I wanna help you a little bit more with specifically those on-the-spot decisions that you’re gonna make while you’re standing in the store aisle, you’re evaluating a potential new food or a treat, and you’re really just not sure how to read that label. So, I’ve got a guest here today, I’m really excited to have her. Much like Kim in our last segment, she actually got into the pet food arena after having dealt with a dog with allergy issues and she had limited treat and food options, and so, Rebecca Breese, who’s my next guest, she joined the pet industry to assist in product development and ingredient selection for a number of pet foods and pet treats that are out there. Welcome Rebecca, thank you so much for joining me!
Rebecca Breese: Thank you so much for having me.
Lorien Clemens: Now, when a dog parent is standing in that aisle and they’re looking at all those fabulous brand new brands that are out there and there’s a ton of new foods that are out there and they all promise to be healthier than the other ones, what should they look for when they are reading an ingredient deck? What does all that mean on the back there?
Rebecca Breese: So, much like with human foods, you automatically go to the ingredients when you’re looking to buy your cereals and stuff like that. So the big call out that you wanna see is that protein listed as a first ingredient. And why that’s important is – much like human food, it’s listed based on what is the majority, down to the smallest, so, from weight, biggest to smallest. So, I always look for having a protein to be the first ingredient, most importantly, if you get lucky, a lot of protein could be the first three, whether it be a beef chicken, lamb, all good stuff. The second thing I look for is high-quality hiber hydrates. Now, obviously there’s some dogs out there that need to be aware of the gluten free, but if you’re looking for a dog that can have a more balanced diet, oatmeal and brown rice are great carbohydrates to be looking for. My final thing, I would say is make sure you can pronounce all ingredients listed on the deck. A lot of people will read things and not necessarily know how to say it, but just assume because they sound so fancy that it’s good for your dog. If you can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t be buying it.
Lorien Clemens: Right, if it’s — probably gonna be synthetic, not always, but a lot of times that might be synthetic. Tell me, so what are the other things that are listed back there near the ingredient deck? Is that guaranteed analysis, it’s on all dog food and cat food, things like Guaranteed Analysis, what’s that all about?
Rebecca Breese: So, a guaranteed analysis is similar to the nutrition facts you would find on your human food. Basically, what it says is the key things to pick out is the minimum levels, at the time of the expiration date that all of your dry matter and water content need to be at. So, a couple of key things to look at is that – to keep in mind, dry matter refers to after water is removed. So, [inaudible] proteins are 70% water, according to the FDA so when you’re looking at that, kinda keep that in mind and thinking at it it’s not gonna have a high water content, it is gonna have a higher dry content, because it is a [inaudible]. The other thing to keep in mind is that when you’re looking at the guaranteed analysis, the closest expiration date you are, the lower the level of matter that is gonna be in your dog food nutritional value that is gonna be in your dog food. So what you wanna keep in mind is maybe buy a dog food that is a little bit as farther away from the expiration date, than something that’s within a month of their expiration date. Not bad, it’s just maybe not gonna have any nutritional value that you’re looking for for your animal.
Lorien Clemens: So just like human food, pressure is better.
Rebecca Breese: Absolutely. And it’s sure as kibble, and unfortunately that sometimes gets forgotten. I mean, I know I had some cereal that’s a lot old. [both laugh]
Lorien Clemens: It’ll do in a pint, but you really don’t wanna do it.
Rebecca Breese: Absolutely.
Lorien Clemens: One thing that I know from shopping for food for myself, and also from frankly being a marketer, the whore ‘natural’, ‘all natural’, ‘made from nature’ – that’s all really a bunch of marketing ploy. It’s no — in no way a guarantee for good quality food. So, when a pet parent is looking at that, I would say: ‘Ignore that.’ but, when they see something that says ‘organic’, what does it really mean with the dog food?
Rebecca Breese: So, you’re absolutely right, so the interesting thing about dog food is it’s regulated by multiple agencies. So, for example, human food is regulated by the USDA. USDA sets the standard for organic food for humans. Now, dog food is controlled by the FDA and particularly by a group called ASCO. The ASCO is not technically a usual governing body, they’re an advisory committee that provides outlines that people who produce dog food and treats should follow. Now, certain states get a little bit more serious about these standards, such as California, for example, but a lot of states just kinda go: ‘Well, refer to ASCO and let us know how it goes.’ Now, the organic piece is interesting, because the FDA does not have organic regulations that ASCO puts out for dog food. And so what that means is that what they say in their manual is that you need to refer to the USDA outline for the organic — for human food. So where that gets tricky is is that, of course, human food and dog food don’t necessarily use the same type of product and you will not necessarily find organic requirements for things like heart, liver for human food. And so, there comes a very quick grey area for dog food. So, one thing when you’re thinking ‘organic’ – organic refers to the processing of the product, not the quality. And you can be buying a product that is processed in a way that has minimum synthetic ingredients, none preferably, and is also using wholesome ingredients to start with. The foods that aren’t necessarily considered ‘organic’, because they don’t feel comfortable making the call out on their label are processed equivalently to those products that are organic, or labeled organic, I should say, and therefore are probably cheaper, because they don’t have the organic callout, whereas the more sensible organic food is equal, but more expensive.
Lorien Clemens: Got it.
Rebecca Breese: Organic refers to processing, not product quality and not necessarily anything that is a firm, you know, marketing call — other than a marketing callout. And it kinda is frustrating a little bit. Now the USDA is looking into, with the FDA, on tightening up those standards to actually come up with an organic layout, but unfortunately, that isn’t on their [inaudible] for the 2017 year. So we probably won’t even see anything out on the market until 2018 and it typically takes two to three years for any sort of regulations to go into a fact.
Lorien Clemens: So it’s a little bit a wild west right now with the whole organic thing and the pet food industry, is what I’m hearing. [smiles]
Rebecca Breese: Yeah, it is. It’s nothing short than a marketing ploy and unfortunately, being able to add a few more dollars to the…
Lorien Clemens: price tag.
Rebecca Breese: price tag.
Lorien Clemens: Yeah, and another thing that I know, you know, you mentioned it — if you conceive three ingredients being listed as protein, that’s gonna be better, but one of the things that I think is really confusing about protein listing is that sometimes you’ll see something like chicken meal or beef meal or meet byproduct. What does all that mean?
Rebecca Breese: Sure. So, byproduct is kinda the dirty word of the pet industry, I think. The interesting thing is that it is, to be honest, the pet industry, we’ve done this to ourselves, you know, there has been a lot of poor choices made in ingredient selection and I would say with confidence, in the last 10-15 years, ASCO has stepped in, USDA more importantly has stepped in and regulated that. So, whether USDA comes back in is that all protein that goes into pet food today has to start off at a USDA approved facility. And what that means is that your food, human food is goes to your steak, your chicken cutlets, all those go through a USDA facilities. Very stringent, they check everything. What a lot of people don’t realize is that your pet food, which comes through the same locations as your steak and your chicken cutlets, also goes through the USDA grading system and it has certain requirements that they need to meet. So, when you’re looking at byproducts, the reason why they aren’t more specific for callout is actually because of people being uncomfortable with writing exactly what is in the pet food, thinking that consumers will get grossed out. So, byproducts mean heart, livers, lungs, sometimes spleens, [inaudible]. Now, livers and hearts people are becoming more okay with, we’ve seen this with the raw pet food development. Some of the other organs, people are still trying to understand what those products are and what kind of nutritional value they’ll bring. A lot of people, when you say these things, they kinda have a panic attack and they think: ‘Oh my gosh, that’ horrible, that’s gross, that’s [inaudible] kinda thing’. So, when you’re looking at the sell, instead what the pet industry needs to do is be honest with the consumer and say: ’Listen, this is exactly what is in it. It’s okay to still buy this product.’ And I think it’ll be a grey area in the middle, but I think, once they go past at, they’ll get more specific and start labeling instead of saying byproducts what it is. Now…
Lorien Clemens: Right, another… Oh, go ahead.
Rebecca Breese: Oh, no, I was just gonna say, one thing that you can — to start, probable, a far ways off, what byproducts are not: they aren’t hosed, they aren’t haired, they aren’t nailed and [inaudible] animals, and that means animals that have diseased before to processing process are not included in the pet food process.
Lorien Clemens: That’s very good to know, ‘cause I think a lot of people come — sometimes think that all that stuff is there and it’s absolutely not.
Rebecca Breese: Yeah.
Lorien Clemens: One other marketing ploy that I know, that you can speak to is, you know, a lot of brands, they wanna put a US flag on the package, because the idea that this is processed or made or this belongs to the United States, it’s not an imported product is really important to people. But there’s a lot of recalls lately and people have been really, really scared about things that might be linked to China, particularly with a lot of the chicken treats that came out a few years ago. So, tell our listeners how to be discerning here, because there’s a big difference here between fully made in the USAA and packaged in the USA.
Rebecca Breese: Absolutely. So, …
Lorien Clemens: I know that we only have a couple of minutes left, so…
Rebecca Breese: As you said back, China has some treats sticking into the US that killed quite a few dogs nationally, to consume as as well. And one name that was kind of a huge spotlight went on is that people realized that the majority of their pet food and pet treats were actually being processed outside of the US. And after that happened, major retailers made the big, huge thing – we are only buying USA products. Unfortunately though, a lot of those retailers that had had these low bottom prices were quickly realizing that they couldn’t necessarily debt USA products, taking into account the USA wages versus international products and so they couldn’t have those bottom dollar prices and therefore could not supply the products that they thought. So, they kinda came up with [inaudible]. And basically what a lot of things and one of the biggest things that I say to a lot of people is: ‘You can put on your bag if you have packaged or you have 50% of your ingredients are from the US, you can cook meat in the USA.’ Now that 50% ingredients has become somewhat of a grey area, it could mean 50% of your packaging material, 50% of your actual ingredients in the products.
Lorien Clemens: So that’s really important to know, for a consumer, that you gotta be eyes wide open when you’re cutting in, ‘cause there’s a lot of marketing that’s used out there. And Rebecca, I hate to cut you off, ‘case we have some great stuff that you’re giving us, but we ran literally out of time. So, we’re gonna [both laugh], gonna wrap up today. Thanks so much for being here today. Like all the topics we have here, we could be doing this all hours and hours and hours. I wanna thank so much Dr. Lisa Weeth and Kimberly Gautier and you Rebecca for joining us on the show. Next week, please come back with our bathroom special. We’re gonna be doing a lot of potty talk and I’m not even joking about it. Come back next week to Pet Lover Geek. thanks so much for joining us today.
Tune into the episode The Science of Eating: Navigating the Pet Food Landscape