We love them - and they love us. For many people, life wouldn't be complete without pets. They are friends, companions, sources of amusement, reminders that we share the world with other species. And they require - and deserve - the best care and keeping we can give them. Here are some points to keep in mind as we head into summer.
Pet food is now a billion-dollar industry, and a lot of serious research goes into making food that will be nutritious as well as pleasing to the pets' palates.
Selecting food for you pets may be something of a trail-and-error procedure. But consumers should pay attention for pet food labels, advises David Dzanis, a veterinary nutritionist with the Food and Drug Administration.
Pet food labeling and content is regulated by both the FDA and under model regulations developed by the Association of American Feed Control Officials.
The first rule to keep in mind is the "95 percent" rule, which applies to products consisting primarily of meat, poultry or fish. If they have at least 95 percent of the named ingredient, exclusive of water for processing, they can use just the ingredient name - "Beef For Dogs," for example.
A second rule, the "25 percent" or "dinner" rule, applies to many canned and dry products. If the named ingredients comprise at least 25 percent of the product (exclusive of water for processing), but less than 95 percent, the name must include a qualifying descriptive term, such as dinner, platter, entree, nuggets or formula.
Rule three is the "3 percent" or "with rule." This allows a manufacturer to point out the presence of minor ingredients as long as the product contains at least three percent of these foods. Beef Dinner for Dogs, "with bacon and cheese," for example must contain three percent bacon and three percent cheese.
And the fourth rule is the "flavor" rule. Under this rule a specific percentage is not required, but a product must contain an amount sufficient to be able to be detected - Beef Flavor Dog Food, for example. Pet foods rarely use artificial flavors, other than artificial smoke or bacon flavors sometimes added to treats, but they may use what is called "digests," materials treated with heat, enzymes and acids to form concentrated natural flavor. Stocks or broths are sometimes added; whey is used for milk flavor.
Ingredients are required to be listed in their proper order of predominance by weight, so you can check ingredient lists to see just what is included.
Also look for the statement that the food is "complete and balanced," which means the food meets nutritional standards.
Many pet foods are labeled as "premium" or even "superpre-mium" or "ultrapremium." Some may be listed as "gourmet" or "natural." But none of these terms have any official FDA or AAFCO regulatory standing. They are not required to contain any different or higher quality ingredients, nor are they held up to any higher nutritional standard than are any other complete and balanced products.
In feeding your pets, keep these tips from the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition in mind:
- Dogs are creatures of habit, so don't vary their food or feeding greatly.
- If you need to adjust your pet's diet, do so gradually, mixing the new food with smaller amounts of the old familiar food.
- Feed your puppy three to four times a day, since its stomach is small. An adult dog should be fed once or twice daily.
- Cats like a clean, quiet place to eat and food served at room temperature.
- Feed a diet with high-quality ingredients and high digestibility to ensure adequate nutrient availability and smaller stool volumes.
Weight, body fat, calories. They're not just for people, anymore. For dogs, an extra pound or two can be a significant hazard to health.
Animal obesity is becoming an increasing problem. "Obesity is the No. 1 nutrition-related disease among dogs," says Char Bebiak, animal behaviorist for the Ralston Purina Company. "In fact up to 60 percent of all adult dogs are overweight or likely to get that way due to age or activity level."
Bebiak cautions that just a few excess pounds can affect the quality of a dog's life. "Few owners realize that excess weight in dogs can be associated with certain conditions, such as heart and respiratory ailments, diabetes, skeletal stress and gastrointestinal disorders. Obesity can be just as serious for dogs as for humans. Yet, it can be difficult for people to determine just how much extra weight their dogs are carrying."
One way to check is to give your dog a "healthy hug." Place both thumbs on the dog's backbone, running the fingers along the rib cage. If the bony part of each rib cannot easily be felt, the dog may be getting plump and may need to lose weight. June 8 has been designated as National Rib Check Day, but you should perform the check periodically.
According to Merry Crimi, president of the American Animal Hospital Association, the best way to keep your dog fit is to combine in-home monitoring with regular visits to the veterinarian. "Owners are with their dogs every day and can spot a problem before it gets out of hand. The health issues related to overweight dogs are serious."
If your dog is on the pudgy side, ease into a fitness program, beginning with a visit to the vet to discuss your plans and ensure your dog has a clean bill of health. AAHA offers these tips:
- Begin by walking at a moderate pace for 20 minutes, three times a week. Gradually quicken the speed and increase the duration of each session.
- Maintain a watchful eye on your dog. If he starts lagging or pants excessively, slow the pace or stop for a short break.
- Monitor the weather conditions. Take the day off during extreme weather, either hot or cold. Be sensitive to his tender paws when the temperature dips, and give him fresh water every 20 minutes on warm days.
- On days when severe weather keeps you inside, try a few simple games that will be fun and also provide attention. For example, have your dog sit at the bottom of a carpeted (only do this on carpet) staircase. Throw a soft ball up the stairs and send the dog to retrieve it. Or, hide your dog's favorite toy and make him search for it by asking in an animated tone, "Where is it? Where is it?" Or, repeat obedience commands such as sit, down, sit, down. These pooch push-ups are an excellent warm-up or cool-down exercise.
- Watch your dog's diet. Be careful not to counteract your dog's hard work through exercise with poor feeding habits.
The flea wars are heating up. As hot weather arrives, pills, collars and baths are all being touted as the ultimate in flea control.
Lucky for us, fleas are not a major problem in Utah. The Hartz Mountain Corp. recently commissioned a state-by-state flea rating, and Utah comes in at No. 41, considered in the low-infestation range. States in which temperature levels of 70-85 degrees frequently coincide with humidity readings of 60-80 percent are - all other things being equal - the ones that get the high flea ratings (Arkansas, Alabama and Florida topped the list).
But veterinary consultant Robert Whitney, cautions pet owners in states with lower flea ratings not to become complacent, particularly if they travel. The fact that several of the states with the highest infestation are popular tourist destinations is a reason for caution. "These itinerant pets often return to their home states with enough fleas to contaminate what would normally be a low-infestation area," says Whitney.
The secret of controlling fleas is to break the cycle of flea infestation by eliminating both adult fleas and their eggs. The introduction of the so-called "flea pill" is a step in the right direction, but remember that it does not kill adult fleas, only their eggs. So you may need to supplement it with a flea collar. Flea collars are, in fact, the most popular method of flea control. But baths and dips can also be effective. Look for products that interfere with the reproduction cycle.
Pets are a favorite subject of family photos. And in recognition of that fact, CPI Photo and Fox Photo labs across the country, in conjunction with The Humane Society of the United States, are sponsoring an "All-American Pet Photo Contest." Winners will receive a number of prizes including a $1,000 cash grand prize. Deadline for entries is Aug. 31, 1996. Photos must be 5x7 or 8x10 and accompanied by an official entry form or a 3x5 card printed with your name, address and day/eve-ning phone number. No purchase is necessary, and the contest is limited to amateurs only. Entries can be dropped off at any CPI Photo, Fox Photo or One-Hour Photo lab, or mailed to "All American" Pet Photo Contest, c/o 1706 Washington Ave., St. Louis, MO 63103. Photos will not be returned.
In honor of the contest, or for pet lovers who would like to take better pictures of their pets, professional pet photographer Walter Chandoha offers a few tips:
- Study your pet's habits. Take pictures when he or she is likely to be most cooperative, not when you get the urge.
- Get down to their level. Generally, the most appealing pictures of pets are made with the camera at their eye level.
- Try for eye contact. If you make soft, subtle noises, tap or scratch the camera, the pet will look for the source of the sound.
- Bribe them with food. Dogs and cats look alert when they get a taste of their favorite food or snacks.
- Get close, but not too close. Follow your camera's instructions. If it says don't get closer than 18 inches, don't.
- Work with an assistant to help you keep the pet amused or confined to a pre-selected area while you concentrate on the pose or expression.
- Shoot, shoot, shoot. Most great animal pictures are lucky accidents.
- Keep backgrounds simple. Avoid clutter behind the pet.
- Avoid red eye, which occurs when pets look right at a camera with a built-in flash. Shoot at an angle rather than full-front.
- Keep your pet safe. No photo is worth putting your pet in a precarious position.