We all want to protect our pets by giving them a nutritious, well-balanced diet that will help them thrive. But even with our best intentions, it's difficult to know what is the best food to feed our animals.
Can we believe everything we read on a bag of pet food? And even if it's true, what does it all mean in terms of the health of our pets?
"You would need two degrees to be able to read and understand a pet food label," said Richfield, Ohio, veterinarian/dermatologist and allergist Alice Jeromin.
Jeromin specializes in discovering the reasons dogs and cats scratch themselves raw, cough and wheeze, have skin problems, stomach issues or recurrent ear infections. Sometimes, it is due to what they eat.
Generally, if a problem is due to a food allergy, it is caused by the meat protein in your pet's food, Jeromin said.
So you can't blame all your animal's allergy issues on wheat, soy and corn found in many pet foods.
The bigger issue, said Jeromin, is the fact that some foods contain large proteins that are difficult for animals to break down when they are ingested, particularly beef and chicken.
In an over-the-counter sample of four brands of dog food labeled "venison," all the test product contained beef and/or chicken, she said.
Jeromin has a few tips for helping you find a food to serve your canine and feline companions.
"Avoid generic pet food." It has been shown to cause a zinc deficiency and produced poor growth rates in puppies, she said.
Do your research, Jeromin advises.
"Make sure the pet food company employs a veterinary nutritionist on their staff," she said. And make sure all the manufacturing is done in one plant.
"If you are producing everything from one plant you have better control of the product," she said. "A lot of these pet food companies don't even have quality control," she said.
Jeromin's advice is the same for cat and dog owners.
"Also interesting is that fish is not a commonly eaten protein in cats — cats were derived from desert areas, no fish there — but because it's cheap, it was and is used in most cat foods. With cats, higher protein and high fat is actually best for them," she said.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials, a voluntary nonprofit organization of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feed and drug remedies, is the only official body that governs pet food.
Stick with brands that have the AAFC seal of approval on the package or can, Jeromin said.
"If it's not human-grade food, it can't say it on the package," she said.