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Floating High, feather

There is a new pet food ingredient heading our way…feather meal.  The pitch to consumers and veterinarians has begun.  Brace yourself, feather meal might be coming to a pet food near you very soon. ~ Truth About Pet Food

This is a LONG post, so I will give you the highlights and hope that you return to read more…

  • Royal Canine announced using feather meal as a protein source in response to dogs with severe protein allergies.
  • I wonder if dogs are allergic to proteins or if they’re having a reaction to low quality kibble.  Have these dogs been tested for allergies?
  • Although there have been trials for feeding kibble with feather meal (as the protein source), these trials don’t share the long term impact of this new diet.
  • Just because a dog can survive on this new kibble doesn’t mean that the dog will thrive on this kibble.
  • Dog owners are ultimately responsible for what our dogs consume – although there are many veterinarians who promote Royal Canine, there are many other diets (not just raw) that are superior.

I’m just a bit disillusioned and frustrated.  If you read my blog, then you understand how special the Human-Animal bond is to me.  My dogs are my babies (my cats too) and I want to do what’s best for them.  I don’t know everything and I’m not perfect, but I do try to educate myself by asking questions of people who are “in the know” and I share that information with you.

Royal Canin and Feather Meal

First off, let me say that I’m not writing this to attack Royal Canin.  Although Royal Canin is the catalyst for this LONG blog post, I’m more frustrated by the information, misinformation, and contradictory information being shared about dog health and nutrition.  It’s too confusing and makes it harder for dog parents to make good choices for their dogs.

The Forbes article that started it all.

I recently read an article on Forbes about Royal Canin’s use of feathers as a protein source to combat dog allergies.  Although I’m trying to keep an open mind, I’m still frustrated by some of the changes made by the pet food industry, because they raise more questions they they’re answering.  My first question is (1) will the use of feathers be disclosed in the ingredients? (actually, yes – you can see it on their page here) and my next question is (2) how will the breakdown of the feathers impact the dogs?  What chemicals are being used to break down the feathers and what impact will those chemicals have on our pets over time?  Given all the shocking ingredients that are said to be acceptable for dog food, can you blame me for being skeptical about this new one?

Feather meal is being pitched as the new best thing in pet food. ~ Truth About Pet Food

I have to say that I’m stunned that so many people are supporting this option and don’t seem to be questioning if feather meal or the processing that turns feathers into meal is safe.  I’m starting to think that I’m in a small group of dog parents who has stopped trusting the pet food giants and I don’t want to be on this island; I want to believe that they understand that it’s good business to care about our pets.  But right now, I think everything they say comes with the stench of double talk aimed at getting us to trust that their food is best for our dogs.  It’s up to us as dog parents to ask the question “is this food best or is there something better?”

State of Health, 2013 – Banfield Pet Hospital

At BlogPaws, we learned that we’re seeing a rise in cancer, flea infestations, allergies and obesity in our dogs.  Personally, I think it’s due to the food we’re feeding them and the chemicals (like topical flea & tick treatments) we use without following up with a detoxic.  Not only are their questionable ingredients in dog food, some pet food companies are rendering sick animals and feeding them to our dogs, some pet food companies are using harsh chemicals to preserve the food, giving it a longer shelf life, e.g. ethoxyquin – a chemical linked to serious illness.  Are we surprised that our pets are getting sicker?

Per the Banfield Pet Hospital report, the average lifespan of dogs has increased by 4%, which I attribute to education, which is leading to more responsible pet owners.  But with that win, we’re still seeing…

Banfield Pet Hospital - State of Pet Health

Source: Banfield Pet Hospital – State of Pet Health

 

But, there have been feeding trials using feather meal.

“Just because the machines say it tests well doesn’t mean it performs well in the body.  You could feed me donuts fortified with all the vitamins and minerals I need and a 6 months feeding trial wouldn’t show many health losses.  But, check on me in 6 years, I guarantee my health will be failing.  Feeding trials aren’t mean to test that much far out.” ~ Dr. Cathy Alinovi, HoofStockVet

But are you going to do the food trials yourself?  Some of us don’t feel that we have a lot of options when it comes to trusting pet food ingredients, which makes it more frustrating that we can’t count on the industry we’re keeping in business to help us out.

It’s easy to ignore the stats flying around about dog health, because these numbers can be manipulated.  But we can’t ignore what’s happening at home.  I know too many dog parents dealing with cancer, allergies, and obesity.

Feeding Our Dogs Feathers is GREAT!

“It’s not only nutritious but can also be made very palatable to dogs. Feathers are broken down to an amino acid level and don’t have much of a taste. Then we add palatizers for taste. In this case, we have to be very careful not to provoke an allergic reaction. That’s why it took so long to develop this particular food. We’re looking for lots of different sources of protein for our foods: hydrolyzed soy; for some of our foods in China we use worm meal. I tried some kibble made with worm meal once – it tasted very good. So our approach goes way beyond feathers.” ~ Keith Levy, Royal Canin

Maybe I’ve been drinking the raw food for dogs Cool-Aid for too long.

I’m not a journalist, I’m a blogger.  So I have the pleasure of putting emotion and opinion behind everything I write.  I happen to think this is hogwash, but when I take a step back, maybe I’ve just been drinking the Raw Food Diet for Dogs Cool-Aid for too long and think everything can be resolved with some raw meat and bones.  But if dogs have severe allergies to most proteins, will a raw food diet work OR is their reaction to the highly processed proteins we find in today’s commercial dog food?

Even dogs on a raw diet have allergies.

“Many of our patients who have tried a wide variety of processed diets clear up within weeks of getting off the processed food.  It isn’t the processing itself which is inherently bad (we get food allergies in patients on raw or homecooked diets as well), but the common ingredients therein.  Corn, additives, preservatives…Those need to come out too for a truly “hypoallergenic” diet.  If it doesn’t contain ALL novel ingredients, and the ingredients aren’t rigidly controlled (preferably by the owner themselves) then it ISN’T a proper food trial!” ~ Carol of Healing Paws Veterinary Care

Dogs Allergic to Protein?

When did canines become allergic to protein?  Who the hell knows!  But it’s what some people have concluded when their much beloved pet isn’t getting better no matter what they do.  Some veterinarians change their diet and, Voila!, allergies resolved .

When did dogs become allergic to protein?

How do we know that dogs are allergic to proteins?  Were tests done?  Dr. Cathy Alinovi of HoofStockVet asked even more questions.  “Are we talking food trial or blood test?  The blood tests are notorious for being 50% accurate for food allergies.”  Dr. Alinovi goes on to ask “are we talking food sensitivity?” and tells us that these tests are new and only test on some foods.

Royal Canin isn’t Being Deceptive

As I shared above, they are disclosing that they’re using feathers in their food.  Of course, the first ingredient is corn (called maize starch) – I found this surprising, because we’ve been told that grains are on the top of the list of allergens for dogs.  The food that sparked this post is being created for pets with severe allergies; not for all pets.  They’re not suggesting that all kibble only contain feathers.  The snarky, over protective dog mom in me can’t help but add a “yet” to that statement.  Yep, I blame the Cool-Aid.

Yummm, ‘poultry by-products aggregate’ and ‘feather hydrolysate!’

The reason I question the disclosure is because the feather meal seemed to be initially called “hydrolyzed poultry by-products aggregate,” as confirmed by Carol of Healing Paws Veterinary Care , who is also a registered veterinary technician.  And because many of the ingredients are similar to what’s in their normal dog food, it makes me wonder if the food with feather meal is better for dogs with allergies.  Of course, I’m a blogger and not a dog nutritionist, so I don’t really know and that’s what I find frustrating.

It seems strange to go to all this trouble of hydrolyzing feathers in order to make a novel diet…

“It seems strange to go to all this trouble of hydrolyzing feathers in order to make a novel diet when you could just put the dog on a meat like ostrich or kangaroo that is every bit as novel.  It seems even stranger to do it without changing the other ingredients in the food.  If the dog is allergic to corn, or marigold extract, or fish oils, then what good does the feathers do?” ~ Carol of Healing Paws Veterinary Care

But then again, how readily accessible are alternate proteins like ostrich and kangaroo.  What about elk, venison and rabbit (not sourced in China)?

But like many other pet food companies, Royal Canin’s record isn’t spotless.  Kat from Bengal Cat Domination, shared the consumer complaints (Consumer Affairs Royal Canin Complaints) she discovered online.  I felt a little smug having read a few of the complaints, but then I asked “what have people said about Halo Pets?”  Nothing to date.  Whew!  But it was the push I needed to go fully raw.

People are quicker to lodge a complaint than they are to compliment.

But the flip side to these complaints is that we live in an anonymous, reality television world and people are quicker to lodge a complaint than they are to compliment; so we have to wonder if there was a “Consumer Affairs Royal Canin Raves” page, would there be an equal number of compliments?

My Response to the Forbes Article

“There has got to be a better way.  Reading a few of the comments, I was surprised at how far down I had to scroll to see that someone is questioning feathers as an ingredient.  Is this listed on the packages and if it were would people be so quick to buy into it?  Yes, this is a popular brand, but as a pet blogger who deals with daily promotions from people in the pet food industry, I’ve become adept and digging through the BS to find the truth and still feeling misled.

What has the processing done not only to the protein, but what chemicals are being added that are going to lead to long term health issues in our pets.

With regard to allergies, our dog allergies cleared up when I put them on a raw food diet.  I was hesitant to make the change, because I bought into the myths that it’s too messy, it’s unsafe, it’s too expensive, and that our dogs wouldn’t get enough nutrition.  All malarkey and its astounding how many companies will work with dog parents to not only educate them, but to help them feed this diet within their budget.  On the prey diet, dogs are eating the entire animal, including feathers – the difference I see is in the processing.  What has the processing done not only to the protein, but what chemicals are being added that are going to lead to long term health issues in our pets.

I’m not commenting to bash Royal Canin.  If this is something that is working for them and their customers, then that’s great.  I know that feeding store bought food is an easier option for many dog parents and it’s beneficial to have brands that we can trust.  My only beef is with the disclosure.  I would like to see more brands sharing what is going into our dogs’ (and cats’) food and let us make the determination if this is okay.  I would also like to see more brands redirecting their marketing budgets into producing quality food, educating dog parents about reading and understanding pet food labels, and pulling away from sourcing in China (not that Royal Canin does, but others do).” ~ Kimberly Gauthier, Dog Mom, Keep the Tail Wagging

Other Responses to the Feather Meal

Jessica from YouDidWhatWithYourWeiner.com is a fellow pet blogger and I respect her down to earth opinions on both dog care and blogging.   She shared “I am not sure that the use of feathers themselves is a reason for alarm. They are broken down into the most basic amino acids which are the most basic building blocks for protein.

The source and processing of the feathers is what is a concern for me.

The source and processing of the feathers is what is a concern for me. Where do they come from? Are there chemicals involved in the processing that could leave a residue behind? Is this information disclosed on the package? I believe there is room for pet parents to make their own decisions about what dog food is right for their pet but it is up to the brands to ensure that they are able to make an informed decision.”

What Would Make Me Happy?

As a dog mom and an influential pet blogger, I would love to be able to have open, frank discussions with brands about what is in their food.  When I listen to a company’s pitch, getting excited, because ‘they get it! they understand the human-animal bond’ and this is a great option for me to promote to readers not ready to go raw, imagine my disappointment when I do my homework (and yes, I will Google You!) and find that no changes were made except to add veggies to the package and call it holistic.  Re-Branding is not change!

I would like to be able to go to a brand’s website and see not only a complete list of ingredients, even if I can’t pronounce them, links to the definitions, and where the ingredients are sourced.  I want to make a decision on which brands to give my hard earn money based on information, not adorable commercials of a man and his dog playing fetch.

And stop the double talk.  Recently, we learned that a Mars Pet Food location closed and 121 people lost their jobs.  The article stated the following to explain the closure:

“We’ve seen some changes in the market so we’ve seen a shift to smaller dogs which means less volume of dry pet food and then we’ve seen some of our retailers kind of diversify their operations and have many suppliers,” says Julie Lawless of Mars PetCare.  “We have 13 manufacturing facilities that make a variety of dry pet food, wet, and then the snacks and treats, and so some of the volume here will move to some of the other plants.”

Really?  Small dogs are all the rave so 121 people lost their jobs?   It’s not because dog and cat parents are becoming more educated and are demanding more for their pets?  It’s not because manufacturing and marketing poor quality pet food for a quick buck no longer cuts it in a world where we can Google anything?  Hey, I’m just a blogger, what do I know?

An Update – 6/19/2013 – Real Dog Parent Experience

I’m currently researching vegetarian diets for dogs and if this is a good idea and Dawn Gum of Raleigh, NC reached out to me with her experience with Royal Canin hydrolyzed protein, prescribed by her veterinarian…

“I own a 7 yr old Pharaoh Hound who developed a protein allergy about 2 years ago. She would break out all over in jawbreaker sized hives about an hour after eating. My vet tried several different animal protein options without success and finally suggested a soy protein option. My dog has been eating a hydrolyzed soy protein dog food (Royal Canin HP Hydrolyzed Protein dry & canned) for about a year now & hasn’t experienced any allergic reactions. She’s even gained back some weight she lost while we were trying to find a food she could tolerate. I also switched my 5 yr old Black Lab mix to the soy based food since they like to eat from each other’s bowls. Both dogs are thriving on the diet -their coats are shiny and they’re just as playful and engaged as they’ve always been. Until we started on the vegetarian diet I was extremely worried that we’d run out of protein options for her. So although the food is expensive, it’s worth knowing she can eat it without an allergic reaction.” ~ Dawn Gum

Please note; the soy protein food created by Royal Canine  that Dawn uses has animal fat, so it’s not a vegetarian diet.

But the Royal Canin HP doesn’t contain feathers…

“The HP ingredient list includes animal fats, hydrolyzed poultry liver, & fish oil. So although there’s a higher percentage of  soy protein in the food than animal proteins, it looks like it’s not a strictly vegetarian diet. No feathers listed in the ingredients, though.  They may only be in some of the Royal Canin products. Nevertheless, the HP has resolved my dog’s food allergy and vet visits for both dogs have all been good since switching them to the diet.” ~ Dawn Gum

 

So What Are Your Thoughts? 

Do you have a dog (or know a dog) who is severely allergic to protein?  Would feather meal be a viable option for your dog?  Please share, because this is way out of my experience with our dogs.


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