Downeast Dog News
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Reflections on 20 Years as a Pet Care Professional – Pet Food and Nutrition – Part 1

By Don Hanson, ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA | Nov 02, 2015

My wife Paula and I have been part of the pet care services industry for over 20 years, and in that time, we have seen many changes. Last month, I wrote about dog training. This month I will begin to address pet food and pet nutrition.

Paula and I became interested in pet nutrition long before we purchased Green Acres. Gus, our Cairn Terrier puppy, joined our family in the spring of 1991. Within a year, he was exhibiting serious health issues that his veterinarian attributed to his diet.

Gus had recurring urinary tract infections aggravated or caused by crystals that formed in his urine. One type of crystal even formed into a bladder stone that was removed surgically. Gus’s case was further complicated by the fact that he had more than one type of crystal in his urine. One was normally found in acidic urine, the other when the urine was base. The pH of his urine would swing wildly throughout the day, from acid to base and back, which was very abnormal.

We were constantly in search of the “perfect” food for Gus. At one point, our veterinarian had us buying multiple brands of kibble and counting the numbers of each type of kibble we fed Gus on a daily basis, all in an attempt to stabilize his urinary pH. We eventually found, purchased, and read a book, Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, that included several recipes for making homemade dog food. Shortly after that, Paula was making food for Gus every week. By the time we moved to Maine, about 14 months later, Gus still had UTI’s and crystals, and we were still searching for a food that would cure him.

Changing Brands - When we became the owners of Green Acres Kennel Shop, we sold six brands of pet food. Our two biggest sellers were Hill’s Science Diet and IAMS/Eukanuba; however we also sold Nature’s Recipe, Bench and Field, and ANF. Eukanuba was considered to be one of the top brands, and the others were all better than what was available at the grocery store.

Green Acres no longer offers any of the brands of pet food we did twenty years ago. Pet foods and pet food companies change, like everything else, and not always for the better. We now offer seventeen brands of pets food from; Bravo, California Natural, Fromm, Eagle, Evanger’s, Evo, Holistic Select, Innova, Merrick, NutriSource, Natural Planet, Pro Pac, Pure Vita, Steve’s Real Food, Wellness, Weruva, and Wysong. Some of these brands were around twenty years ago and many were not. The brands we carry twenty years from now will depend on what happens with individual companies and brands. We are constantly evaluating the pet food marketplace and change products when we find something better.

Need for Knowledge - Based on our experiences with pet nutrition, we knew that knowledge was important, so we scheduled training sessions with representatives from Hill’s and IAMS within the first few months of ownership. That is when we first learned that the training that companies provided to retailers such as ourselves was essentially the same program they offered to veterinarians. Paula had received the same training while working at the veterinary hospital. We have continued our education about pet nutrition not only through training provided by the food companies but also by reading books and attending seminars. One of the biggest myths about nutrition, whether human or pet, is that we know all there is to know. The fact is things are changing all the time, and it is our goal to be current, so we can always provide clients with the latest information.

Premium, Super-Premium, and Ultra-Premium – Twenty years ago, pet foods were pretty much divided into grocery store brands and premium brands. The big difference, then and now, was that premium brands were made to a set formula whereas the ingredients in a non-premium brand changed with commodity prices. The premium brands typically used higher quality ingredients. Today, we also have brands that label themselves as super-premium and ultra-premium. The problem with all of these labels is that they have no legal definition, so one has to be knowledgeable about pet food, ingredients, nutrition, and the people behind the company in order to judge whether or not the way a brand labels itself is deserved.

Protein Choices - Most pet food that was made twenty years ago used chicken as its base protein. Poorer quality foods used poultry which just means there was more in the mix than just chicken. The first novel protein source was lamb, which was introduced as an alternative food for pets that were allergic to chicken. Unfortunately, most companies promoted their lamb based formulas as the “best new thing” and pretty soon many people were feeding lamb, and it lost its value as a novel protein source. That is why today we see things like duck, turkey, bison, venison, salmon, trout, whitefish, pork, beef, ostrich, and kangaroo as protein sources for pet food.

Industry Consolidation – It is estimated that 70% of all of the pet food sold in the US comes from one of three companies: Nestle, Mars Candy, or Smuckers. Most people do not realize the huge number of pet food brands owned by these three food giants. I believe that bigger companies seldom produce better products. These conglomerates own so many brands that it is difficult for me to understand how any of those brands differ from one another. Our preference at Green Acres is to offer foods that are made by small, family-owned companies that know their suppliers personally and that are committed to producing a quality product. Selecting pet food whether as a retailer or consumer involves trust, and I find it easier to trust the smaller companies.

It has not just been the food companies that have been merging and buying each other. We have seen the same thing happen with the distributors that sell the food to retailers like Green Acres. When we first bought Green Acres, three of the distributors we purchased pet food from were Maine-based companies. Sadly, today there are no pet food distributors in Maine.

Pet food and nutrition have seen many changes in the last twenty years. Next month I will discuss the proliferation in pet food formulas and SKUs, Pet Food Recalls, Misleading Advertising, Dietary Rotation, Raw Diets, and more.

 

Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor and the 2014 Association of Professional Dog Trainers Dr. Ian Dunbar Member of the Year. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, and Certified Professional Dog Trainer. He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Voice of Maine  (103.9FM, 101.3FM, 1450AM & woofmeowshow.com) every Saturday at 7:30AM and Sunday at 8:30PM. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.