Ask Eartha: When a doggie bag becomes Pandora’s Box
February 7, 2014
I am normally good about looking at the ingredients list on packaged foods that I eat, but it wasn't until recently that I looked at my dog's food and treats. Holy cow! Well, I'm not even sure it is cow. Can you give me some eco-eating tips for my pup?
— Daryl, Breckenridge
Most folks don't think to look at the ingredients in their own food, let alone their pets'. So I commend your commitment to having a healthy diet — for yourself and Fido. It's true that many of the preservatives and additives we try to avoid in our own food are added to dog foods and treats. Pet foods are made with their own litany of unpronounceable chemicals that are not allowed in human food.
Since animal fats are a crucial part of any dog food or treat, it creates an opportunity for spoilage. Companies combat this by using either natural or artificial preservatives to keep the food from going bad.
Natural preservatives are usually made from anti-oxidants such as vitamins E or C. They read as "tocopherol" or "asorbate" on the ingredients list. You might see something listed like "chicken preserved with alpha-tocopherol." These naturally occurring preservatives are considered safe and healthy by dogfoodadvisor.com and other sources.
Many companies use artificial preservatives in their dog foods and treats because it is less expensive to produce. Just like we can be affected by preservatives in our food, frequent consumption by pets has been shown to have negative effects.
Propylene glycol is a popular moisture preservative for many wet dog foods. As a near cousin of ethylene glycol, also known as anti-freeze, it can cause blood toxicity, and the FDA recently banned it in cat food. It is only a matter of time before it is banned across the board.
Ethoxyquin is another red flag to look for. This ingredient is used as an artificial preservative in some dog foods. It is a known toxic pesticide and a key ingredient in making industrial rubber. The FDA found that Ethoxyquin causes liver and blood problems yet it is still used in many popular dog food brands. It can even remain in the excrement and cause negative environmental impacts.
Our dogs are a captive audience when it comes to meal time. It is up to us to make sure the four-leggers in our lives are getting the proper care and nutrition that they deserve. A great way to make sure they are getting a healthy edge and keeping the environment clean is to read the ingredients on all packaged foods. The top chemical preservatives to watch out for in your dog's foods are propylene glycol, ethoxyquin, BHA, BTA, TBHQ and propyl gallate. For more information about these and other chemical additives check out the website dogfoodproject.com.
Try to find dog foods that have natural preservatives rather than artificial ones. Some folks go so far to make their dogs' meals at home. Be sure to talk to your vet and learn more about general canine nutrition before you take on home cooking for your canine.
A nice, easy and fun way to reduce the amount of preservatives entering your dog's system is to start by making dog treats at home. It's just like making cookies!
Eartha Steward's Simple Dog Treats
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chicken or beef stock
1/2cup hot water
Optional – bacon pieces, wheat germ, pumpkin or shredded cheese
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all the ingredients into a uniform texture and knead for about three minutes. Roll out to half an inch thick, then use the rim of a glass or a cookie cutter of your choice to make fun shapes. Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes.
Whenever you can make something at home, whether it is for yourself, your kids or your dog, you can be sure of two things. First, you aren't going to be using artificial or harmful preservatives in a homemade recipe. Second, you are not adding to the carbon footprint of shipping and distributing packaged food from miles and miles away.
Take care of yourself, your animal companions and the environment by being ingredient aware.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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