Tag Archives: Health

Help, My Dog Has Megaesophagus!

My Dog is Regurgitating Food!

My mom’s dog, Oscar, who passed away at the beginning of 2021, lived the last few months of his life with megaesophagus. We were able to keep weight on Oscar and help him feel his best with this disease. In this post, I am going to discuss what megaesophagus is, its causes, treatment, and what we did for Oscar.

Regurgitation, Not Vomiting:

While not the most pleasant topic, it is important to differentiate between regurgitation and vomiting. This was one of the major issues we had when determining what was wrong with Oscar. We initially just thought he was vomiting his food, and this seemed more likely because of Oscar’s kidney disease. It took us several weeks before we realized that Oscar’s food wasn’t even reaching his stomach; instead, his food was sitting in his esophagus. Oscar wasn’t retching or making any of the normal motions dogs make before they vomit, he would simply get a confused look on his face walk away from us, and all the food will come back up. This would occur within minutes of eating his meals.


Most of the time, the cause of megaesophagus is unknown. This was true in Oscar’s case. Some dogs are born with megaesophagus, and others, like Oscar, develop it later in life. Sometimes, it is caused by another disorder, such as: myasthenia gravis, cancer, Addison’s disease, etc. It is important to treat an underlying cause, if present, as a component to handling the dog’s condition.


Once we figured out that Oscar was regurgitating food, and not vomiting, we were pretty sure of his megaesophagus diagnosis. Still, we got an X ray to visualize the dilation of his esophagus and confirm the diagnosis. X rays seem to be the most common diagnostic tool used for this disease. As stated above, since certain conditions can cause megaesophagus, it is important to do blood tests to rule out any of these other causes, such as myasthenia gravis or Addison’s disease.


One of the most common complications associated with this disorder is aspiration pneumonia. Because the dog regurgitates food so often, it creates a situation where they are very likely to end up with some food particles in their lungs. This is potentially life threatening, so it is important to firstly, make sure you are doing everything you can to stop the dog from regurgitating food, and secondly, taking your dog to the vet at the first signs that they may have aspiration pneumonia.

Signs of aspiration pneumonia include (https://www.lakecross.com/site/blog-huntersville-vet/2020/10/22/signs-symptoms-pneumonia-dogs):

  • Coughing
  • Irregular breathing
  • Runny nose
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • High fever
  • Nasal whistling
  • Difficulty exercising
  • Lethargy


Treatment for megaesophagus consists of figuring out what food consistency is easiest for the dog to consume, and keeping the dog upright for 20 to 30 minutes after meals. From my research, most people recommend either feeding food in a small meatball form or grinding the food down to gruel. Also, dogs with megaesophagus tend to do better with three to four meals a day as opposed to one or two meals. Medications for an underlying cause are imperative if a cause of the disorder is determined.

Keeping the dog upright after meals can be one of the trickiest aspects. Many dogs do not like being kept upright while eating, as it’s an unnatural position for them. If the dog is small, he could be held by the owner for 20 to 30 minutes; this is what we did for Oscar while we awaited his Bailey chair (https://www.baileychairs4dogs.com/). After ordering and receiving the Bailey chair, Oscar still required supervision while he ate his meals and while sitting in the Bailey chair, as he would try to hop out of the chair if left alone even for a second.

In Oscar’s case, we discovered that grinding his food down and mixing it with beef broth seemed to help him the most. Oscar was on a prescription kidney food for his renal failure. While I cooked fresh food for Lady when she developed kidney disease, Oscar was not able to get the fresh food down with his megaesophagus, so we switched over to the commercial prescription diet. We would grind his kibble, grind his canned food, mix them together, and add enough beef broth to make the mixture very liquidy.

While many dogs with megaesophagus seem to do best with four meals a day, for Oscar, a four meal a day regimen did not work well. Oscar actually did better with three meals a day; breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

In addition to the above steps, Oscar’s veterinarian also prescribed sildenafil to help treat his condition. This medication really did help reduce the number of times Oscar regurgitated his meals, and I would recommend anyone caring for a dog with megaesophagus to give this medicine a try.

There is alot of trial and error when figuring out what works.

Oscar would make quite a mess at mealtimes, so we started putting a bib on him to make clean-up easier.


Many of the articles I have read talking about this condition say that the prognosis for megaesophagus tends to be poor. Still, it is possible to find stories of many dogs living long, happy lives with this disorder. The most notable story is Gremlin’s. Gremlin was diagnosed with megaesophagus at one year of age. His devoted owner has helped him cope with his condition, and he did very well with his condition. I am not sure if Gremlin is still alive, but he certainly lived beyond the one year the veterinarians predicted he would live. Included here is an article talking about his story.


In summary, if your dog is showing signs of megaesophagus, you need to get an accurate diagnosis. Generally, an x-ray will show if megaesophagus is present. Blood tests will likely be needed to determine if an underlying cause is present.

For treatment, your dog will need

  • A chair to stay upright. Bailey Chairs work well for this: https://www.baileychairs4dogs.com/
  • 3 – 4 small meals a day.
  • Sildenafil, if it helps.
  • Food needs to be either fed as “meatballs” or as a gruel, whatever works best for your dog.
  • Treatment of underlying cause, if present (ie, Addison’s disease)

Remember to monitor for signs of aspiration pneumonia, and keep close track of your dog’s weight to assure they are getting enough calories.


Oscars megaesophagus was difficult to manage, but it was very, very rewarding to see him be able to keep his meals down. He was able to maintain his weight, which was very surprising to us, considering he had megaesophagus and kidney disease, both diseases that cause weight loss. Oscar lived several months with his megaesophagus diagnosis, and passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. Initially, I was worried that he possibly died of aspiration pneumonia, but from reviewing what symptoms are present with this complication, I do not think his passing was in any way related to megaesophagus or pneumonia. Oscar was approximately 15 years old when he passed away, and he was able to live out his last few months very happily even with the diagnosis of megaesophagus.

Which Sport Dog Food is Best?

Which Sport Dog Food is Best?

In recent years, many sport dog food formulations have become very popular. These products generally boast a higher percentage of protein and fat when compared to the average dry dog food. The most recognized brands that create these products include Purina Pro-Plan, Eukanuba, and Victor. Several other lesser-known brands also have sport formulas, including Kinetic and Inukshuk. This post will look at these products, looking closely at Pro-Plan, Eukanuba, and Victor, and touching on some of the rarer sport products on the market. While some of the companies have canned products in addition to their kibble lines, we will be focusing on the kibble varieties only for this post.

Purina Pro-Plan Sport:

Pro-Plan Sport dog foods are probably the most well known of all the high protein, high fat commercial diets available for dogs. Pro-Plan is owned by Purina, which is owned by Nestle. Nestle is the biggest food company, not just in the USA, but in the world.1 Nestle acquired Purina in 2001.2 Purina Pro-Plan first came on the market in the 1980s, but Purina had been in the pet food market decades before this.As such, they have a reputation as a long-standing, established producer of pet foods.

Many pet owners like that Pro-Plan is produced by such a huge corporation, as large corporations can spend more on product testing when compared to small companies. Also, Pro-Plan is widely available, so it is easy to find when traveling. While perusing dog forums, I found that owners often state that Pro-Plan Sport is the only food that keeps weight on their dogs during the most intense portions of the season.

Purina boasts on its website to be the only brand to fuel 95 of the top 100 show dogs.3 I believe that this is largely due to marketing. Years ago, as I sat and watched dog conformation shows on animal planet, it was Eukanuba that was considered the best of the best, the food fed most to champions. There must have been a shift in advertising, as Eukanuba is not nearly as promoted at dog shows as it once was. While it is a decent dog food, I really believe that so many people feed Pro-Plan because of marketing, but that is my opinion.

Some more holistic minded people view Pro-Plan as one of the worst dog foods on the market, since it contains corn, corn-gluten meal, and by-products. I don’t like that they use corn-gluten meal in their products, but I don’t have a problem with Purina using by-products in their formulas (see this post where I discuss by-products). Corn-gluten meal is a plant protein concentrate, and plant proteins are not as bioavailable to dogs as animal protein sources. Still, Pro-Plan appears to have a decent amount of meat used in its Sport line.

It seems that many Pro-Plan Sport foods have actually went through feeding trials to assure that these products meet the needs of puppies, as opposed to simply meeting minimum requirements per the AAFCO. This is a plus for many owners, especially owners of large breed dogs, since nutritional deficiencies in these animals can have devastating effects on skeletal development. Many pet food companies have not done such feeding trials, so it is noteworthy that Purina spent money to conduct this research.

The Pro-Plan Sport line features meat as the first ingredient, along with poultry by-product meal as the meat concentrate in the food. Another plus is beef fat being used as the main source of animal fat in the products. Most of the formulas are 30/20 (with 30% crude protein and 20% crude fat), but they have a few which are 27/17 (the small bites recipe and the turkey and barley diet), and one which is 26/16.

Overall, here are the Pros and Cons of this brand of sport dog food.


  • Established company with plenty of research behind their formulas.
  • Widely available at pet food stores, so easy to find when traveling.
  • Many formulas, making it easy to rotate between protein sources.
  • It appears that all Pro-Plan Sport foods are formulated for all life stages.
  • Feeding trials were used for many of the formulas.
  • Meat is the first ingredient.
  • Beef fat is used as the source of fat. Animal fats are always superior to plant oils.


  • Corn-gluten meal is in most Pro-Plan Sport formulas (The turkey and barley formula does not have this ingredient)
  • Multi-national corporation produces this food. If the buyer likes supporting smaller companies, this is a huge drawback.
  • By-products: Some people prefer foods without by-products. Most of the Pro-Plan Sport diets have by-products (The turkey and barley formula does not have by-products)

My Experience with Pro-Plan Sport:

Maple’s breeder feeds her dog’s Pro-Plan Sport, so that is what I started Maple out on upon bringing her home. I was using the chicken and rice formula per the breeder’s instructions. Maple’s system did not agree with this food, and she would throw up regularly after eating it. I switched her over to another brand, and she had fewer vomiting episodes. In Maple’s case, I think it was a combination of the food and her having a sensitive tummy, as she stills throws up occasionally. In addition to this, some of the dog owners in her puppy class said their dogs do well on Pro-Plan Sport overall, but that their dogs had issues with the chicken and rice formula like Maple did. As such, I would recommend trying one of the other Pro-Plan Sport varieties if someone wanted to give this food a try.

Link to website: https://www.purina.com/pro-plan/dogs/sport-dog-food?page=1


Eukanuba is another brand with a long-established reputation. Eukanuba is owned by Mars Petcare, the same parent company that produces Pedigree, Royal Canin, Iams, Nutro, Cesar, and other brands of pet products.4 Mars is also the owner of Banfield Pet Hospitals,4 something of which I was unaware of prior to writing this post. Before being acquired by Mars, Eukanuba was owned by Procter and Gamble. The food was originally created by Paul Iams, the same person who started Iams pet food.5 If memory serves me correctly, Eukanuba used to be the king of dog foods, considered the best of the best. Pro-Plan has now taken this place, but Eukanuba is still well known and respected in the dog community.

All of the performance products available through Eukanuba use chicken by-product meal as their chief and only source of animal protein, and for all but the 21/13 formula, it is the first ingredient. These products use wheat gluten and corn-gluten meal, which are plant protein concentrates. All of the formulas use chicken fat as the chief source of fat. There is a 21/13 formula, a 26/16 diet, a 30/20 diet, and a 30/28 product. Many of Eukanuba’s non-performance foods also contain egg as well as fresh chicken, and it is disappointing that the performance lines do not have these beneficial ingredients.

The Pros and Cons of this food are as follows:


  • Established company with long history of research in pet nutrition.
  • Chicken fat is used as the main source of fat.


  • Corn-gluten meal is included in the formulas.
  • Wheat gluten is in several of the formulas.
  • Chicken by-product meal is the only animal protein source in these foods. While I think by-products can be beneficial in dog food, I like to see non animal by-products and/or meals used as well.
  • Multi-national corporation produces this food. If the buyer likes supporting smaller companies, this is a huge drawback.
  • By-products: Some people prefer foods without by-products.

My experience with Eukanuba:

While not specific to the Performance line, something odd I discovered about Eukanuba’s puppy food is that it gave Maple a fishy odor. She loved the food and was doing well on it, but I didn’t appreciate her fishy smell! When perusing dog food forums, a few others noted that their dogs developed a slight odor when fed Eukanuba’s foods. This is odd to me, as I give my dogs fish oil, but only ever noticed a fishy smell in Maple while she was eating the medium breed puppy food. For this reason, and the lack of availability of this food in my area, I stopped feeding her Eukanuba puppy.

Link to Website: https://www.eukanuba.com/us/athlete-range


Victor Pet foods is based out of Mt. Pleasant, Texas. The parent company to Victor Pet food is Mid America Pet Food. In addition to Victor, Mid America Pet Food produces Eagle Mountain Pet Food, Wayne Feeds, and Nature’s Logic.6 The food is carried by many independent pet food stores, as well as Tractor Supply Company.

One of the really nice things about this line of products is that the company shows you how much of the protein is coming from animal protein sources. This information is readily available on the front of all Victor’s packages. In addition to this, a complete breakdown of the nutrients in the food is available on the companies website. Victor’s website states that most of their ingredients are sourced in their home state of Texas, but they do not specifically address whether or not they source some of their ingredients from other countries.

From their classic line, Hi-Pro Plus and High Energy are both suitable for active dogs, with Hi-Pro Plus also being suitable for growing puppies (excluding growth of large breeds). Their Grain Free Active Dog and Puppy formula is for dogs of all life stages, including growth of large size dogs. High Pro-Plus is a 30/20 formula, High Energy is 24/20, and Grain Free Active Dog and Puppy is 33/16.

All of Victor’s products marketed for active dogs use beef meal as the first ingredient. Other common ingredients in Victor’s products include chicken meal, chicken fat, and blood meal. Victor’s grain free options include peas and sweet potatoes, and the grains commonly used in the grain inclusive formulas are sorghum and millet. From my research, is appears that none of Victor’s foods contain corn, wheat, or soy. Also, the company does not list animal by-products on their ingredient labels.


  • Variety of animal proteins used in formulas.
  • Chicken fat is chief source of fat.
  • No corn, wheat, or soy. Grains used are gluten free.
  • Reasonable Price compared to many higher-end dog foods.
  • Texas based company.


  • No mention of organ meats.
  • No fresh meats, only meat meals. Some people prefer foods with fresh meats.
  • Grain free formulas appear to be high in peas, which may be problematic.

My Experience with Victor:

I tried Victor High-Pro Plus on Raina and Maple. Raina gobbled it right up, and her sensitive digestive system did pretty well on it, though it seems like the food might be a little low on the fiber side, as her stools were very small while feeding this food. This is great for many dogs, but Raina seems to feel best with a little more fiber in her diet. Maple did well on it, no stomach upset, but she really didn’t care for the taste of this food.

Link to website: https://victorpetfood.com/

Other, Lesser-Known Sport Foods:

Here are some lesser-known brands that have formulas geared toward active dogs. I have never fed any of these brands, but they are probably worth looking into for people who need to feed their dogs sport formulas. These foods are not widely carried in pet food stores, so ordering the products might be the only option. I have not fed either of these brands to my dogs, so I don’t have any first hand experience with them.

Kinetic Dog Food:

This is a brand of dog food I stumbled upon while researching for this post. As far as I can tell, this is a privately owned company based out of Cincinnati, Ohio, with the parent company being 3-Amigos Nutrition Group. Their products contain chicken by-products, but do not contain corn, wheat, or soy. It appears all formulas contain chicken meal, menhaden fish meal, and egg. The grains used include rice and sorghum. Kinetic has formulas suitable for adult dogs and a diet for puppies. The food is made in the US, but it sources some of the supplements in the food from other countries, as many companies do. The food is worth a try for those who don’t like corn, wheat, and soy, but like the use of chicken by-products.

Link to the website: https://kineticdogfood.com/.

Inukshuk Dog Food:

This food is produced by Corey Nutrition Company and is based out of New Brunswick, Canada. The company boasts of 40 years of producing quality products. The food is specifically geared to fuel the high needs of sled dogs in the bitter cold of Northern Canada. Their highest fat formula would probably be inappropriate for any dogs but sled dogs working tirelessly in freezing conditions, but their 26/16 formula is suitable for a wide range of dogs. Most of the diets feature chicken meal, herring meal, chicken fat, herring oil, and chicken liver, while the marine diet has no chicken. No by-products are used by this company. Three of the four Inukshuk formulas do contain wheat and corn, but it does not appear to have plant protein concentrates, so I personally would not see this as problematic unless the dog has allergies to these ingredients. The marine formula is free of corn, wheat, chicken, and soy.

I cannot find any information on this food meeting AAFCO standards, but since this is a Canadian company, this is understandable.

An additional bonus to appreciate about this food is the fact that all of Inukshuk’s formulas are GMO-free, which is important to many consumers.

Link to website: https://www.inukshukpro.com/

So, Which One is Best:

With dog food, it really comes down to what you are looking for in the product. Here, I will give my final thoughts on the products discussed.

Pro-Plan leads the pack in animal feeding trials, scientific studies, advertising, and I feel availability. It is also nice that they have a variety of formulas, making it easy for owners to rotate protein sources. The feeding trials that back Pro-Plan Sport really set this food apart, as most foods are only formulated to meet AAFCO standards, but Purina actually ran feeding trials. Since this food is suitable for all life stages, including growth of large breed dogs, it would be very convenient for owners with multiple dogs of multiple ages.

Based upon ingredients alone, Inukshuk stands out the most, as it contains chicken meal, herring meal, and chicken liver. Liver is so nutrient dense; I feel it should be a part of any dog’s diet. When by-products are not included, I feel it is important for the pet food manufacturer to assure some organ meats are contained in the food. It is impressive that Inukshuk can boast only using non-GMO ingredients, and it is also refreshing that this food does not contain plant-protein concentrates. Since I have never fed this product to my pets, I cannot personally attest to how dogs do on it, but I think I am going to order some just to try it out on Raina and Maple.

Victor is a good quality product based in Texas. From what I have seen, it is one of the only higher-end dog food brands to still have a reasonable price tag. It also has decent availability, and good quality ingredients. I wish that the food contained some fresh meats, as I personally have found my picky dogs prefer foods with fresh meat listed first.

Kinetic dog food is notable for not using soy, corn, or wheat, while still using chicken by-products, making it a good option for people who want to feed a diet that contains by-products but that avoids corn, wheat, and soy. This is something I haven’t seen before in a product, and I think I will have to buy a bag to see what my little pack thinks of it. The downside is that all recipes rely on chicken, so this isn’t an option for dogs who don’t tolerate chicken well.

The Eukanuba Performance line is a little bit of a let-down honestly (just going off of ingredients). I have always liked that Iams and Eukanuba generally use a combination of fresh meat and chicken by-product meal as their protein sources, along with including egg in many of their formulas. Their Performance line only uses chicken by-product meal for animal protein. Based upon ingredients alone, I would try the other Sport foods listed in this article before trying Eukanuba’s Performance.

There are many types of dog food on the market today, and this is just a sampling of some of the available sport dog foods. Stay informed and do what works.


  1. https://www.foodengineeringmag.com/2019-top-100-food-beverage-companies
  2. https://www.purina-latam.com/en/car/purina/know-purina/history
  3. https://www.purina.com/pro-plan/dogs/sport-dog-food
  4. https://www.mars.com/made-by-mars/petcare
  5. https://www.eukanuba.com/us/why-eukanuba
  6. https://mapf.com/our-brands

Zignature Dog Food Review:

Zignature is a brand of dog food that is often sold in small, holistic pet food stores. The brand has a variety of kibbles and most of their foods seem to be limited ingredient diets, with only one source of animal protein being used in each. While this can be good for dogs with dietary restrictions, this brand has a couple of issues that may make it less than ideal for most dogs.

Lack of Animal Fats:

One of the biggest issues I have with this brand is the lack of concentrated animal fats. Currently, there is a huge emphasis on making sure the main source of protein in a dog’s diet comes from animal sources, but sadly such an emphasis on animal sourced fats seems to be missing in the dog food community. All of Zignature’s foods seem to be formulated with plant oils, chiefly sunflower oil. I believe their reason behind this is that they want to make their formulas with limited ingredients for dogs with food allergies. Many of the animal fats commonly used in dog food, such as chicken fat or beef fat, may present an issue for dogs with food allergies. For dogs with food allergies, these restrictions may be permissible, but if the dog has no issues, other commercial diets that list a specific, named animal fat are probably a better choice. Dogs in nature do not eat plant oils, they consume the fat from the animals they prey upon. Plant oils are unsaturated, but dogs are designed to consume saturated fats. The makers of Zignature pet food do not seem to understand this, as they boast on their website that their duck formula is low in saturated fats.

NOTE: Something to keep in mind is that per AAFCO definitions, when fresh meat or poultry is listed, fat may be included, not just muscle meat. This means there is most likely some animal fat present in Zignature’s foods, but there are plant oils in place of where a specific, concentrated animal fat is often listed on other pet food labels.

Beyond the issue of what a dog is designed to eat, from my research there seems to be issues inherent to plant oils. While I have not found research specifically comparing the effects of feeding plant oils to dogs vs feeding animal fats, research has been done to determine if humans should be consuming plant oils (https://www.medisinfagskolen.no/userfiles/files/kostholdsveileder/The_Truth_About_Saturated_Fat.pdf). In the linked pdf, the authors discuss the benefits of saturated fats and the dangers of plant oils. While this article is written with human health in mind, I believe it is fair to assume that if humans, who are omnivores, have issues with plant oils, dogs would as well, as canines are closer to being carnivores.

 From the above linked article, it can be seen that plant oils are generally high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are required by the body, but in limited amounts, and can be obtained from animal sources such as chicken fat. These fatty acids, when consumed in excess, create an inflammatory environment within the tissues and organs. Research also suggests that high levels of omega-6 fatty acids can predispose one to depressed immune function, cancer, and weight gain. In short, too much omega-6 can lead to inflammation, and inflammation in the body is detrimental.

With this said, it must be noted that Zignature uses flaxseed in their formulas as well. I assume this is to add omega-3 fatty acids to the diet. Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect and help balance out the effects of omega-6 fatty acids. But, to get omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseed oil, dogs need to convert the flaxseed oil in their body to a useable form, and dogs are not very efficient at this conversion (http://www.dogaware.com/articles/suppsoils.html#plantoils). For this reason, it is beneficial for dogs to get omega-3 fats from more bioavailable forms, such as fish oil. I assume Zignature avoids the use of fish oil in many of their formulas to keep the ingredients limited. This once again shows that this food should only be fed if the dog has severe dietary restrictions.

Overall, the sources of fat in Zignature’s line of kibbles are not ideal for dogs.

Heavy Use of Peas and other Legumes in Grain Free Varieties:

Peas and legumes have been tied to cardiomyopathy in dogs. There is an excellent article discussing the connection between legumes in food and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, which I will link here (http://www.dogaware.com/articles/wdjdcmanddiet.html#legumes). In short, issues have been found with limited ingredient diets, diets that rely on lamb as their main protein source, and diets that use lots of legumes in their foods. All of Zignature’s grain free foods are loaded with peas and other legumes.

Besides the DCM issue, foods with lots of legumes can contain less meat and still boast a high crude protein content on the label because of the high protein content in legumes. Even though Zignature’s diets all have animal ingredients listed first, these animal proteins are then followed by a whole host of legumes in their grain free line. Together, these legumes probably add up to a kibble that has more legumes than meat and derives some of its listed protein content from plants.

This protein boosting effect seems likely in Zignature’s grain-free foods, as they have some grain-inclusive formulas which can be used for comparison. For instance, we can look at Zignature’s grain-free turkey formula, which has a crude protein content of 32% (https://zignature.com/product/zignature-turkey-formula-dog-food/), whereas their grain-inclusive turkey formula has a crude protein content of 28% (https://zignature.com/product/zignature-select-cuts-turkey-formula/). Both formulas have turkey and turkey meal listed as the first two ingredients and principle sources of animal protein, but the legume rich grain-free variety has a higher crude protein content. Still, the grain-inclusive variety still has a good amount of protein, which is reassuring.

Pros and Cons of Zignature Dog Foods:

Here is a quick overview of all the issues discussed in depth above.


  • All of the formulas appear to only use one source of animal protein in each formulation, which can be helpful if the dog has allergies to certain meats.
  • The first ingredient in all formulas seems to be a named meat followed by a named meat meal.
  • All formulas seem to have a decent amount of protein, even considering the protein boosting effects of the legumes included.


  • No concentrated animal fats used, reducing the saturated fats available to the dog.
  • Plant oils high in omega-6 fatty acids appear to be the main source of fat in the food.
  • Flaxseed oil is used instead of fish oil; this is an issue as fish oil is more easily digested by the dog.
  • Many formulas rely heavily on legumes, which has been linked to cardiomyopathy.
  • Crude protein amounts on the grain free formulas may be unreliable since the foods use so many legumes, which are high in plant proteins, which are not as usable to dogs as protein from meats.  


Zignature is not a food I would recommend to someone who wants to feed the best diet possible to their dog. While it may be suitable for dogs with severe food allergies, there is no reason to feed this limited ingredient diet to dogs without dietary restrictions. The reliance on legumes in their grain free varieties along with plant oils being used as the chief source of fat in all of their foods make this a brand less than ideal for most dogs.

Zignature is the not the only food that uses plant oils in place of animal fats and loads up on legumes. Many brands that can be found in holistic and big chain stores also have these issues, such as Natural Balance and several of Taste of the Wild’s varieties of dog food. Sadly, to uninformed customers who have only been told to avoid corn and by-products in pet food, these brands seem like quality products. When choosing a commercial diet for your dog, look for brands that use named meats, limits the number of legumes, and use named animal fats. Your dog will thank you.

Maple May Where Did your Tail Go? The Docking of Australian Shepherd Tails.

So far, every single family member and friend to meet Maple has had the same question: “Where is her tail?” or my personal favorite, “Does she get a tail?” For anyone who doesn’t know, most Australian Shepherds do not have a natural bobtail, but are instead docked. Docking is performed on puppies when they are under 5 days old. Many common dog breeds are docked, including Dobermans, Rottweilers, Brittany Spaniels, Poodles, German Pointers, Schnauzers, Cocker Spaniels, Airedale terriers and others. There are many arguments on the ethics of docking and why docking is performed. In today’s post, we will look at why Aussies are docked while other herding breeds are not, the process of docking, whether or not docking is painful for the pups, and why docking is done in working dogs and pets.

Why are Aussies Docked but Border Collies are Not?

Australian Shepherds have been historically docked, with the argument being that Aussies are prone to injuring their tails while herding cattle. Some ask the question why Border Collies, a breed often seen as similar to Aussies, are not docked as well. The answer given to this is that Border Collies herd differently than Aussies and Border Collies are sheep dogs, no cattle dogs. It is easy to find videos of Border Collies herding sheep and Aussies herding cattle, and the difference is very apparent. Aussies get very close to the stock and nip the heels, whereas Border Collies mostly herd with their strong eye. As such, comparing the two is akin to comparing apples and oranges.

Still, Australian Cattle Dogs are not docked, so it would seem a dog can be a cattle dog without being at a great risk of injuring their tail. It could be that their herding styles differ enough that they are not at risk for the same kind of injuries. The difference in herding styles between Border Collies and Aussies is apparent to me just from watching a couple of videos, but I don’t know enough of working cattle dogs to see a great difference in the Australian Cattle Dogs and Australian Shepherds herd stock.

Process of Docking:

Docking is performed at under 5 days of age. One of two methods can be used: either a constriction band is placed to cut off blood supply, or a scalpel is used to remove the tail. When the former method is used, the tail falls off after a few days of the band being in place. Generally no pain medication is used because the puppies are so young when the procedure is done that use of local anesthetics would be dangerous. This differs from older dogs, as when an older puppy or adult dog requires tail amputation general anesthetic is required.

Does Docking Hurt:

Many argue that docking does not hurt puppies, as their nervous systems are not fully developed. I have watched videos of puppies being docked online, and let me tell you, the pups definitely seem to feel their little tails being chopped off. So, even if studies say their nervous systems are not developed enough for the puppy to feel anything, I wouldn’t believe them.

Often, I have read the argument made that because docked puppies quickly go back to nursing, they are not in pain from the procedure. I don’t take this as evidence that the puppy doesn’t feel anything, only that it is likely momentary pain. An adult dog with a fully developed tail would most probably be in much more pain than a 1 day old puppy, because the nervous system of an adult dog is fully developed. Still, this does not mean that the puppy feels no pain at all, but it only that they feel less pain than an adult dog or older puppy would with the same procedure.

In summary, as far as I can tell, yes, docking hurts. While it does hurt, the pain seems to be momentary, much like circumcision for a baby boy. Whether or not this momentary pain is justifiable will be discussed next.

For Working Dogs:

There studies on working breeds that show that dogs who are traditionally docked are at greater risk of sustaining injuries to their tails when undocked (http://theses.gla.ac.uk/5629/1/2014lederermvm.pdf). Still, others argue that working dogs are not at a greater risk of injury to their tails (https://petozy.com/blogs/about-dogs/dogs-and-their-tails-a-q-a). In addition to these more scholarly sources, simply perusing dog forums it is easy to find people speaking of their working dogs’ tails being injured in the field, so tail injuries do happen.

An interesting note is that some argue that docking of dogs was not originally done to prevent injury in working dogs, but instead to signify that the dog was a working dog. If the dog was a working dog, the person did not have to pay taxes on their dog, so owners would dock them to avoid additional taxes (https://www.australian-shepherd-lovers.com/australian-shepherds-and-tails.html). I have never been able to find a good source to decipher if this is true or not.

Since tail injuries in an adult dog can be so detrimental, to me it seems reasonable to dock working dogs’ tails if they work in such a way that they are at a higher risk than the average dog of sustaining a tail injury.

For Pets and Show Dogs:

For pets and show dogs, docking is cosmetic. Many in the dog show community are adamant that the docking of dogs is not harmful. From the Australian Shepherd Club of America’s (ASCA) website:

“The Australian Shepherd Club of America will not condone the policy of any individual, group, or proposed legislation which restricts the practice of tail docking or removal of dewclaws for cosmetic or health reasons. We find this policy to be a detriment to the welfare of the Australian Shepherd breed as a whole and an infringement on the rights of the owners, breeders, trainers, and exhibitors of all domesticated animals.”

While laws against docking would most definitely infringe on the rights of owners, breeders, trainers, and exhibitors who want docked dogs, I do not see how ending the practice of tail docking for pets and show dogs would be detrimental to Australian Shepherds. However, many breeders who show their Aussies also compete in herding trials with them, and many still work their dogs on their farms. In these cases, it makes sense to dock the dogs. Since breeders do not know which pups they will keep when they are only 5 days old, all pups from these litters would need to be docked in these situations.

When it comes to infringing on the rights of owners, I don’t know why the ASCA doesn’t allow for dogs with tails to be shown. If they really wanted owners of the breed to have the most freedom to choose what to do with their dogs, they would allow Aussies with tails to compete in conformation events. I believe their hard stance on the issue is most likely in retaliation to animal rights groups like PETA who want to end the docking of all dogs for any and all reasons.

My Opinion:

Docking is not a painless procedure, but for true working dogs the benefits of docking outweigh the pain the puppy feels when the procedure is performed. I do not support legislation that outright bans docking, but I believe the breed clubs of all docked dogs, including the Australian Shepherd Club of America, should rewrite their breed standard definition so breeders who do not wish to work their dogs have the option of leaving their tails intact while still being able to show their dogs in conformation. There is no point in cutting off a dog’s tail if the dog is going to be a pet or show dog.

By-Products in Dog Food: The Good and the Bad

For over a decade, by-products have gotten a bad rap in the pet food community. Some of this dislike of pet foods that contain by-products is backed behind the reasoning that foods that contain by-products often contain other unsavory ingredients as well. Many owners hate the idea of their beloved pet eating anything less than the best. Since by-products are by definition parts of the animal that people typically don’t eat, they are seen as inferior. But do by-products deserve this reputation? In this post, we will look at the definitions of various by-products, the pros, and the cons of these controversial ingredients.

For additional information on choosing a good commercial food, check out my post here that addresses more important things to keep in mind.

Definitions of ingredients:

Here are some of the definitions from the AAFCO’s website, which is the body responsible for establishing definitions for the ingredients used in pet foods. I am going to include some definitions other than just those for by-products, because I think the extra information is important for consumers to know.

So, first we will look at meat by-products:

  • Meat by-products is the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially de-fatted low temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hoofs. It shall be suitable for use in animal feed. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”
    To put it another way, it is most of the parts of the animal other than the muscle tissue, including the internal organs and bones. It includes some of the parts people eat (such as livers, kidneys and tripe), but also parts that are not typically consumed by humans in the US. Some by-products, like udders and lungs are not deemed “edible” by USDA for human consumption, but they can be perfectly safe and nutritious for animals not inclined to be swayed by the unappealing nature of these parts of animals. As with “meat,” unless the by-products are derived from cattle, pigs, sheep or goats, the species must be identified.”

So, meat by-products must come from slaughtered mammals, and the source must be named unless the by-products are from cattle, pigs, sheep, or goats. It must be suitable for animal feed; here, it is important to note that animal feed standards are not the same as the standards for what humans can eat. Animal feed standards are lower, which I will talk about briefly later in this post.

Next, we will see what poultry by-products means:

  • “Poultry By-Products must consist of non-rendered clean parts of carcasses of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, viscera, free from fecal content and foreign matter except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidably in good factory practice. If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”
    Similar to “meat by-products,” it is most of the parts of the bird that would not be part of a raw, dressed whole carcass. That may include the giblets (heart, gizzard and liver) but also other internal organs, heads and feet.

Poultry by-products must be from slaughtered animals as well, and contains all the parts that people typically don’t eat of chickens and turkeys and other poultry. It doesn’t contain muscle meat.

The note of meat by-products and poultry by-products being from slaughtered animals is important, because animals that died from other reasons can legally be used in pet foods. When meat comes from a slaughtered animal, that is more reassuring, as most of us wouldn’t feel comfortable feeding out dog an animal that died from unknown reasons.

Next, we will look at by-product meals and other meat meals. Meals are produced when the original animal parts used go through the process of rendering. During rendering, the “materials are subject to heat and pressure, removing most of the water and fat and leaving primarily protein and minerals. You will notice that the term “meal” is used in all cases; because, in addition to cooking, the products are ground to form uniform sized particles.” (https://www.aafco.org/Consumers/What-is-in-Pet-Food) So, this is a concentrated form of the ingredient listed basically. Some people prefer meals, as they typically mean the food has higher levels of animals protein. A drawback to meals is the fact that it means the food is even more highly processed then when fresh meat is used.

Taking a look at meat meal…

  • “Meat Meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain extraneous materials not provided for by this definition. …. {the definition goes on to include the required mineral specifications and required nutrient guarantees}….. If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, composition or origin it must correspond thereto.”

    The rendering process is designed to destroy disease-causing bacteria, leaving an ingredient high in protein that while unappetizing to people appeals to the carnivore’s palate. Unlike “meat” and “meat by-products,” this ingredient may be from mammals other than cattle, pigs, sheep or goats without further description. However, a manufacturer may designate a species if appropriate (such as “beef meal” if only from cattle).”

The fact that this ingredient can contain animals other than cattle, pigs, sheep, or goats is something I really don’t like. I want to have an idea of what my dog is eating. Also, there is absolutely no specification that the animals used had to be slaughtered, so they could have died for any reason and be listed under this ingredient.

Similar to this, terms such as meat and bone meal and animal by-product meal are not specific enough for me, and the list of possible animals included by such terms is not available on the AAFCO’s website. For this reason, I don’t like these ingredients and I try not to give my dogs foods that use such ingredients.

Another common ingredient is poultry by-product meal:

  • “Poultry By-Product Meal consists of the ground, rendered clean parts of the carcasses of slaughtered poultry such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers except in such amounts as might occur unavoidably in good processing practices.….{the definition goes on to include the required mineral specifications and required nutrient guarantees}….. If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”
    Essentially the same as “poultry by-products,” but in rendered form so most of the water and fat has been removed to make a concentrated protein/mineral ingredient.

This is, as the AAFCO surmises, basically a concentrated form of poultry by-products. I like that it must be sourced from slaughtered poultry, for the reasons listed above.

Benefits of By-Products:

In nature, dogs would not only eat the muscle meat of an animal; instead, they would eat the heads, brains, internal organs and the like. I think much dislike and distrust of by-products comes from people humanizing their dogs and not wanting them to eat anything that they themselves would not eat. I personally used to deem any by-products and completely unacceptable in pet food, but I have softened my stance since I learned of the many nutrients that can be found in organs that simply are not found in high quantities in muscle meat. Liver, for example, is rich in B-vitamins, vitamin A, and iron. Bones contain minerals such as phosphorus and calcium, and calcium is not found in muscle meat to any great level, although there is likely a difference in the digestibility of raw, fresh bone and bone that has been cooked to oblivion in pet food.

Negatives of By-Products:

By-products are basically everything but the muscle tissue, and muscle tissue is a good source of nutrition for dogs, so a food should preferably have both. Also, I have read many point out that while by-products specify that feathers and fur should not be included, unless unavoidable by good manufacturing processes, how could a manufacturer remove these parts on 1000s of animals being brought in to be use in pet food. This I feel is a good point, so I would just assume by-products have these parts. Personally, I don’t see issue with by-products as long as the source is named.

It is important to note that when an ingredient such as “chicken” is listed, it is not limited to muscle meat. Instead, it can refer to muscle meat, skin, and bones. So, it is important to keep in mind that even when “chicken” is on the label, it is probably not referring to muscle meat alone, which is what most people think when they hear “chicken.”

Animal Feed Standards vs. Human Food Standards:

An excellent article on this matter can be found on Susan Thixton’s website, Truth About Pet Food, which I will link here: (https://truthaboutpetfood.com/the-truth-pet-food-vs-human-food/#:~:text=Human%20Food%3A%20Nutrition%20facts%20are,%E2%80%9CServing%20size%20approximately%E2%80%A6%E2%80%9D)&text=’Protein’%20and%20’fat’,%25%20fat%20(or%20more). In short, human food must pass USDA inspection and must be approved to be “human edible.” Meat used in pet food does not require USDA inspection, and just because a pet food states that their ingredients come from USDA inspected facilities does not mean the meat is fit for human consumption. The meat could have been deemed unfit for human consumption, and that is why it ended up in the pet food. Country of origin information is not required to be made available to the buyer of pet food; this is required for human food. Human food ingredient information must be free to the public, whereas to obtain the complete list of definitions for pet food ingredients one would need to pay over $100 to the AAFCO to receive their “official” publication.

There are more differences, and I highly recommend her website for people who want to stay up-to-date on pet food information. I don’t agree with all of her conclusions about what and how animals should be fed, but there is a wealth of information available on her site and she has done an amazing amount of research into pet foods which is commendable.

Pet food is the end of line place that parts not fit for human consumption end up. This is economical, and it does put the parts to good use. Whether this is ethical is an argument for another post, and Susan Thixton talks extensively about it on her site. I feel the main issue is that people assume if there is not by-products, than the meat or poultry is the same quality as the meat and poultry they buy for themselves, but this is not the case and consumers should be aware of this.

Foods that Contain By-Products:

There are many, many foods that contain by-products. I only know of one that specifies that some of the by-products used are organ meats alone, and this is Bil-Jac’s dog kibble. Several of their kibbles have decent ingredients, with some of these ingredients being organ meats. But, this brand sadly utilizes BHA to preserve it’s kibble line, and this preservative is thought to have a estrogenic effect in the body. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462476/). This isn’t a huge concern to me if the dog is only getting the occasional treat with this preservative, but I don’t feel comfortable feeding foods preserved with this day in and day out.

Most of the big name pet foods, such a Purina, Eukanuba, Iam’s, and Hills use by-products liberally in their foods. Iam’s and Eukanuba also seem to use decent amounts of meat in several of their formulas. Purina pro-plan also tends to use a combination of a named meat and by-products, as does Hills, but it seems to me that Iams and Eukanuba have more animal products on the ingredient label than either of the other brands.

I try to avoid these companies when I can for my dogs, because I prefer to support smaller companies, not large multi-national corporations. Thankfully, my dogs have always done better on brands like Fromm, Victor, and Wellness. But, I do have a cat who vomits any food other than one type of Fancy Feast canned food and Iam’s adult formula with chicken dry food. At the end of the day, you have to feed what your pet will eat and do well on.

So, my take aways…

  • Don’t think that just because a food does not have by-products means they are using only ingredients fit for human consumption. With the vast majority of pet foods, the ingredients are in the pet food because they didn’t make the cut for human food. If you only want human grade ingredients used, you need to either feed a food such as Honest Kitchen or Open Farm, or prepare your pet’s food at home.
  • I want to see a non-by-product, specific named meat listed before any by-products.
  • I personally in theory don’t have a problem with by-products being in the pet food, as long as the source is specifically named (such as beef by-products or chicken by-products).
  • In reality, since none of the brands I trust use by-products, I don’t typically feed foods to my dogs that contain by-products. But, if a brand I like, such as Wellness or Fromm produced a food with specifically named by-products, preferably organ meat being named in particular, I would happily purchase and feed the food to my dogs.
  • If I was going to feed one of the big name brands to my dogs, it would probably be one of Iam’s or Eukanuba’s lines, or possibly one of the Purina Pro-Plan Sport lines (most of the pro-plan products have too much corn-gluten for my liking). But, my dogs have always done better on smaller company’s foods or fresh diets.
  • I add liver and giblets to my dogs’ food when feeding commercial products, so they get the benefits of organ meats, or I mix in canned foods that have liver on the label. Organ meats are so nutrient dense, they should be a part of any diet as long as their is not a specific medical issue prohibiting their use.

Everyone has to feed their dog what they feel comfortable with and what the dog does well on. Stay informed and do what works!

Raina approves of the food in her toy

Don’t Feed your Dog Evanger’s Dog Food!

Don’t Feed your Dog Evanger’s Dog Food!

Evanger’s products are often sold in pet food stores in the section that includes better brands. The labels of this brand are certainly assuring, as the company markets their products as being made from high quality meats and as being very nutritious. But not so many years ago, the company experienced investigations and recalls that proved the products to be anything but healthful for dogs.

Are Recalls to be Expected?

Many brands have recalls at some point or another, often these recalls are for reasons such as E. coli or Salmonella being present on the food. Such contaminants aren’t good since the owners’ handling the food can become sick from these organisms, but many feel that dogs with healthy immune systems may eat them without any issues (these are animals that can bury something and dig it up and eat it three days later often without any issues).

Preferably, a company would never have any recalls because their foods would never have any problems, but even companies with good safety standards can have mess ups. Even a company as dedicated to producing quality pet food as the Honest Kitchen had a recall in 2013 over concerns of Salmonella contamination (https://wayback.archive-it.org/7993/20170406075620/https://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ArchiveRecalls/2013/ucm340669.htm).

Some recalls should have never happened in the first place and, in my own opinion, are unforgivable. This is the case with Evanger’s dog food, which has had to recall lots of food more than once because of pentobarbital contamination. Pentobarbital is a barbiturate that is used in large doses to euthanize animals. The FDA requires that any pet food contaminated with this substance be pulled from the market.

Recalls of Evanger’s Due to Pentobarbital Contamination:


Company integrity is important to assure products are safe and healthful for our pets.

As a barbiturate, pentobarbital can produce adverse effects in animals that consume it. This was the case when 5 dogs from the same house all became sick after eating an affected Evanger’s product. The dogs developed neurological problems after being fed the food, and one of the dogs needed to be euthanized because of complications from the tainted food. This led to the contents of the can that was fed to the dogs to be tested for pentobarbital, which lead to further investigation. (https://wayback.archive-it.org/7993/20180907191822/https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/CVMUpdates/ucm542265.htm) Here is the list of pentobarbital contaminations that were caught in 2017 (from the FDA’s website https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/questions-answers-contaminants-pet-food)

Evanger’s False Claims about USDA Approved Ingredients:

Evanger’s proudly stated that their meats came from USDA approved sources. Yet the FDA found this to be completely false. Here is a portion of the FDA article from February 17, 2017:

In its recent press release announcing a limited product recall, Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company, Inc. stated that the beef for its Hunk of Beef product came from a “USDA approved” supplier. However, the FDA reviewed a bill of lading from Evanger’s supplier of “Inedible Hand Deboned Beef – For Pet Food Use Only. Not Fit For Human Consumption” and determined that the supplier’s facility does not have a grant of inspection from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. The meat products from this supplier do not bear the USDA inspection mark and would not be considered human grade.


In this same archived record, the report goes on to say that even though the contaminated dog food was advertised as “beef,” the product was found to also contain pork and equine. These amounts were under 2%, but none-the-less, the product was not all beef as advertised.

Evanger’s was dishonest on the account of advertising their product as being higher quality than it actually was, as well as not being honest about what meats were in their product.


Sadly, Evanger’s products are still surprisingly found in pet supply stores that tend to only sell higher quality pet foods. Evanger’s has been blatantly dishonest in the advertising of their products and has produced products that are unsafe for dogs. As stated above, certain recalls are to be expected at some point or another for even reputable brands, but false advertisement and the production of products that contain pentobarbital is intolerable. Evanger’s might promote themselves as a company that produces good quality pet foods, but informed consumers should not be fooled by the marketing tactics of a company that has proven from their actions that they are not concerned for the well being of pets.

Referenced articles:




Are Euthanized Pets Really in Commercial Dog Food?

Are Euthanized Pets Really in Commercial Dog Food?

A big question among many dog owners when they begin to research dog food ingredients is whether or not euthanized dogs and cats end up in pet food. The thought is disgusting to most people, as loving pet owners want to make sure they are only feeding their pets good quality foods; this does not include euthanized pets. While some sources are adamant that deceased pets are not in dog and cat food, others are just as passionate in their belief that some pet foods do contain such unsavory ingredients.

In this article, we will look at why some people believe that unspecific terms, such as meat meal, lead owners to believe that dogs and cats may be present in a pet food. We will also look at pentobarbital and why it is concerning if present in pet food.


If you want to give your dog the best commercial food possible, be sure to read the ingredient label, as many foods can have ambiguous meanings.

Who Determines what Ingredients on the Pet Food Label Mean?

First off, it is important to know who is responsible for setting standards for pet foods. Several different organizations have a hand in the world of pet food.

  • Definitions:
    • The job of defining pet food ingredients primarily rests in the hands of the AAFCO (Associations of American Feed Control Officials). On their website, the AAFCO states that the “AAFCO is a private non-profit corporation featuring a process for defining ingredients used in animal feed and pet food…”(https://www.aafco.org/Portals/0/SiteContent/Announcements/2019_AAFCO_The_People_behind_Animal_Feed_and_Pet_Food_082919.pdf?v20190926) While the AAFCO performs this task, it does not regulate pet food. Pet food manufacturers either choose to follow AAFCO guidelines or they choose not to (I have never come across a pet food that didn’t choose to follow their guidelines).
  • Regulations:
    • The agencies responsible for the regulation of pet foods are the FDA and local and state agencies. With this being said, the FDA’s website acknowledges that the “FDA and local and state agencies all play a role in regulating pet food and participate in the AAFCO”( https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/fdas-regulation-pet-food). Both organizations have separate rolls, but both work together to help determine the safety of pet foods for pets and the owners handling the pet food.
  • The speaker for the companies:
    • Another player to be aware of in the world of pet foods is The Pet Food Institute (PFI). On the about section of their website, the PFI states that they are the voice of pet food makers, as has been the case for about 60 years.

So, the AAFCO defines pet food ingredients, the FDA regulates pet foods, and the PFI is the voice of pet food manufacturers.

What Ingredients are in Question?

Obviously, no pet food on the market lists dog and cat on its ingredient panel. Pet food manufacturers want owners to believe that they make their foods with only the best ingredients (and many manufacturers really do use quality ingredients). Yet, there are many ingredients present in pet foods that are extremely vague in there meaning. Terms such as meat and bone meal, animal by-product meal, meat meal, and meat by-products are all items that appear on many pet food labels, and are all items that can mean a range of things. Directly from the AAFCO’s website (https://www.aafco.org/Consumers/What-is-in-Pet-Food), hear is the definition of the above mentioned ingredients:

  • Meat is the clean flesh derived from slaughtered mammals and is limited to that part of the striate muscle which is skeletal or that part which is found in the tongue, in the diaphragm, in the heart or in the esophagus; with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and portions of the skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh. It shall be suitable for animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”
  • Meat by-products is the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially de-fatted low temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hoofs. It shall be suitable for use in animal feed. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”
  • Meat Meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain extraneous materials not provided for by this definition. …. {the definition goes on to include the required mineral specifications and required nutrient guarantees}….. If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, composition or origin it must correspond thereto.”
  • Animal By-Product Meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain extraneous materials not provided for by this definition. This ingredient definition is intended to cover those individual rendered animal tissues that cannot meet the criteria as set forth elsewhere in this section. This ingredient is not intended to be used to label a mixture of animal tissue products.”
  • Meat and Bone Meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain extraneous materials not provided for by this definition. …. {the definition goes on to include the required mineral specifications and required nutrient guarantees}….. If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, composition or origin it must correspond thereto.”

Some have made the argument that terms such as meat meal, animal by-product meal, and meat and bone meal do not specify what type of animals are part of the rendering process (if confused on what rendering means, don’t worry, we talk about that below). The terms meat and meat by-products specify that the animals used are slaughtered mammals, which would rule out euthanized pets, but meat meal, animal by-product meal, and meat and bone meal do not specify that the animals used were slaughtered, leaving the possibility open that some animals that died by other means are part of the finished rendered product. The argument is that since the ingredient definitions are not specific enough, they could include dead dogs and cats in some cases.

As an interesting aside, the PFI talks about the definitions of pet foods on their website. When talking about AAFCO ingredient definitions, the PFI states “The AAFCO approves strict ingredient definitions, which are then published in the AAFCO Official Publication (OP). These definitions can be highly specific!” (https://www.petfoodinstitute.org/the-whole-bowl/a-to-z-of-pet-food-ingredients/) I think it is interesting that they specify and emphasize how specific definitions for pet food ingredients can be, but they don’t put the same emphasis on how completely vague others are.

What is Rendering and What do Rendering Plants have to do with Pet Food?

If you are unfamiliar with the term rendering, here is a definition from North Dakota State University’s website: “Rendering is the process of converting animal carcasses to pathogen-free, useful byproducts such a feed protein. In the process of rendering, the carcasses are exposed to high temperatures (about 130 C or 265 F) using pressurized steam to ensure destruction of most pathogens.”

Anytime an “meal” is listed on an ingredient panel, it means that the said ingredient was the product of rendering. This isn’t necessarily bad, as long as the meal is specified, such as chicken or beef meal. It is concerning when the rendered products are not specific.

While rendering is a way to create a concentrated protein source, the rendering process is also used to get rid of slaughterhouse waste products, animals unfit for human consumptions, and dogs and cats euthanized by animal shelters. In her book Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts about Pet Food, Ann Martin talks in depth about the whole process. In her investigation of what goes into pet food, she found that the possibility exists that euthanized dogs and cats may end up in pet food. All the details contained in her book are beyond the scope of this post, but I would recommend the book for those interested in what really goes into pet food (just don’t follow the recipes at the end of the book, they will NOT provide balanced nutrition for your dog).

Pentobarbital: Does it Suggest that Euthanized Dogs and Cats are in Pet Food?

As many pet parents know, pet foods are often recalled for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons pet foods are sometimes recalled is because of pentobarbital being present in products (Example: In 2018 the FDA recalled pet foods produced by the J.M. Smucker Company. Smucker produces several pet food products, including Gravy Train and Skippy. (https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/news-events/fda-alerts-pet-owners-about-potential-pentobarbital-contamination-canned-dog-food-manufactured-jm).) Pentobarbital is a drug used to euthanize animals. While horses and cattle are sometimes euthanized with this drug, many take the high levels that are sometimes found in pet foods as evidence that dogs and cats, which are very often euthanized with pentobarbital, are ending up in pet food.

It must be stated that anytime pentobarbital is detected in pet food, the FDA pulls the affected product from the market. The drug is not affected by rendering or other production steps in the making of pet food (https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/questions-answers-contaminants-pet-food), and being that the drug is used to euthanize animals, you can imagine that it is not an inert substance. Even though the FDA recognizes that food containing pentobarbital must be pulled from the market, it is concerning that the drug ends up in pet food in the first place, and that there may be instances when the FDA doesn’t catch contaminated batches.

Has the FDA Investigated the Possibility of Dead Pets being in Pet Food?

In 2002, the FDA released a report on research that the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) conducted to look into pentobarbital being present in dog food. The researches also investigated whether or not the amount of pentobarbital present in the food could be dangerous to dogs that consume the food. When checked for traces of pentobarbital, the researches did find that the some of the foods did have the drug, yet the CVM also determined that adverse effects of the low doses shouldn’t pose a problem.

Tests were also done that supposedly could detect dog and cat DNA in the foods as well: these tests showed no dog or cat DNA present. Interestingly, I have read some question how DNA of dogs or cats would be detectable after the extreme heat and processing that pet food goes through.

Referenced study: https://www.fda.gov/about-fda/cvm-foia-electronic-reading-room/food-and-drug-administrationcenter-veterinary-medicine-report-risk-pentobarbital-dog-food

Final Thoughts:

Personally, I am not completely sure whether I believe that dog foods contain the contents of deceased pets. Still, I only feed foods that use specifically listed ingredients, such as chicken, beef, pork or lamb. Also, I buy from companies that I trust and avoid companies that have bad track records (i.e. Evangers, any cheap, low quality products such as Pedigree, Ol’Roy, etc.). While the FDA found the levels of pentobarbital that can be present in pet food to be unlikely to cause adverse effects, I would rather my dog not eat any of the stuff. Thus, it is important to keep up to date on recalls so pet owners are aware of reported contamination, and it is equally important to feed reputable brands that choose quality ingredients for their foods.







Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts about Pet Food by Ann N. Martin



What to Look for in a Commercial Dog Food

Commercial Diets:

Most dog owners choose to feed their pets a commercial diet. If you are choosing a commercial diet to feed your dog, it is important to make your decision with care, as your dog’s foundation for a healthy life is largely based on the food that nourishes his body.

Many dogs do well on properly formulated, nutrient dense commercial dog foods. Make sure you only feed products that will benefit your dog’s health and well being.

Basics when Feeding Commercial Dog Foods:

Commercial diets really can’t be beat in the category of convenience. Many owners enjoy the peace of mind in knowing that all the nutrients that their dog needs to thrive should be included in his kibble, canned, dehydrated, or frozen food. When choosing a commercial product, it is important to keep a few things in mind that will be discussed below.

Commercial products on the market that are labeled to follow AAFCO guidelines must contain the the recommended amounts of protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals for the stated life stage. With this being said, foods that meet the basic requirements established by the AAFCO can vary greatly in their quality. Some things to help direct what food to choose are the following:

  • Pick a food appropriate for your dog’s life stage:
    • Puppies needs are different in several respects from an adult dogs needs. Growing puppies need more fat, protein, calcium (but not too much!), and phosphorus than adult dogs do. There are also all life stage products, which can be fed to puppies, adults, and senior citizen canines.
    • Large and giant breed puppies have even more unique requirements to prevent them from growing too quickly all at once (see https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/nutritional-requirements-of-large-and-giant-breed-puppies). Because of their special requirements, large breed pups really should be fed a food that is specifically labeled for them.
  • Look for products that use plenty of high-quality, specific animal products:
    • Better brands use specifically named meats. For example, a better brand will have chicken, turkey, or duck listed instead of a general term such as poultry. Also avoid foods that use generic terms such as meat, meat meal, or animal fat. These terms are too general and give very little information about what is actually in the food. Instead, opt for products that list beef, pork, or lamb.
    • By-products can contain very beneficial ingredients such as organ meats, but they can also contain hair, hooves, and feathers, none of which are of significant nutritional value to your dog. If the food does specify that the by-products are organ meats, it is probably okay to feed since organs are very high in nutrients. Also, if a food has muscle meats listed in combination with some by-products, this may be ok as well. For more information on by-products, check out my post discussing this issue further.
    • A general rule of thumb is to only pick foods that have a specific animal protein listed first. While this does by no means assure that the food is meat based, it is usually a good way to quickly weed out  extremely low quality foods.
    • An easy to remember tip is to look for at least two of the first five ingredients in a kibble to be high quality animal products. The thought behind this is that the first five ingredients make up the bulk of what is in the bag. Thus, the more animal products in the first five ingredients, the better the food.
      • Some argue that the ingredients leading to the first major fat source make up the bulk of the food. While this may be accurate, I feel that the first five ingredient rule is a little easier to remember and is also pretty reliable.
  • Be careful about what grain free food you choose:
    • In recent years, grain free foods have gotten a bad reputation because of connections made between them and dilated cardiomyopathy. Grains don’t protect a dog against this condition, but it does seem that feeding grain free foods may be tied to an increase in incidence of this disease. While many hypotheses have been made as to the cause of this, no one is quite sure what the connection is.
    • For quite some time, I was feeding my one dog a mixture of fresh food, canned food, and grain free kibble. After a while, I noticed that he was constantly bloated and seemed more sluggish, despite having no obvious issues on exam and having normal blood work from the vet. After stopping the grain-free food, the bloating and excess gas went away. If you are feeding your dog a grain-free food and he seems exceptionally gassy, trying a food with grains or one without legumes may solve the problem. It seems that the legumes often used in grain-free foods can contribute to excess gas.
  • Avoid foods that contain wheat or corn gluten:
    • Wheat and corn gluten can inflate the protein content on the package, allowing the manufacturer to get away with not putting as much animal protein in the food. Dogs can’t digest protein from plant sources as efficiently as they can from animal sources, so even though the protein percentage may seem high, its not protein that the dogs body can effectively use. If a food otherwise has many animal sources of protein listed, these ingredients may not be as big of an issue.
  • Add fresh foods when possible:
    • Fresh foods are a wonderful addition to a commercial diet. My article Dog Food on a Budget addresses how to add fresh food to a diet that is primarily commercial food.
  • A note about special health concerns:
    • Dogs with unique health conditions often benefit from foods specifically geared for them. Hills, Purina, and Royal Canin have all been in the business of making prescription foods for many years now. Recently, Blue Buffalo also created their own prescription line.
    • Prescription diets often won’t line up with the guidelines above, because specific health conditions require unique adjustments.
    • Many argue that many of the prescription products are made up of low quality ingredients. I understand this argument and I wish the prescription diets used better ingredients than many of them do. With this being said, if a dog has a specific disease that requires treatment in the form of diet modifications, those modifications need to be made. This can be often done with fresh, homemade foods. If a fresh diet isn’t a possibility, a prescription diet will still be better than a non-prescription diet in many cases.

Pay attention to recalls:

If possible, pay attention to recalls on whatever commercial foods you choose to feed. Some companies will email you recall information if you get on their email list, and this can be very helpful. Often times, recalls are for things such as E. coli or Salmonella contamination. Such contamination is often more dangerous for the people handling the foods than it is for the pet, but it is still important to be aware of such problems as dogs can become sick from such infections, particularly dogs with underlying health concerns. More seriously, pet foods may need to be recalled over nutrient content issues. Several companies have had recalls in the past because of toxic levels of vitamin D being present in their products, and the infamous 2007 recall saw pet foods containing ingredients laced with poison; such issues can causes severe illness in pets and can even lead to death.

The following websites frequently cover pet food recalls:


Choosing the appropriate food to feed your best friend is one of the most important things to assure a long, happy life. By following the above tips, you can feel confident in your choice of food for your best friend.

Epulis Tumors in Dogs

Epulides in Dogs:

What is This Thing in my Dog’s Mouth?

Dogs can develop odd growths on any part of their bodies, and this includes the mouth. Epulides are (usually) benign, rather common growths that you can find in your dog’s mouth. Despite this, the growths can still create many problems for your dog, and it is important to take your pet to see a vet if you discover an abnormality of any sort in his mouth.

What Dogs are Most Likely to Get These?

Older dogs over the age of seven are also more prone to developing these as opposed to younger dogs. These tumors form in response to gum inflammation and trauma, which would lead one to believe that dogs with poor oral hygiene are affected more. Genetic predisposition can also play a large roll, as brachycephalic breeds are more likely to develop these, especially boxers. The shape of a brachycephalic dog’s jaw can allow for trauma to the gum to occur from misaligned teeth, and this is a likely cause of the increased incidence of theses breeds. A dog may develop only one or many of these tumors.

It is important to note that while brachycephalic dogs may be more likely to develop these, epulides can pop up in any dog’s mouth. My dog developed one, and she is not brachycephalic, and she has received good dental care since puppyhood.

Signs and Symptoms of Epulides:

The most obvious sign of an epulide is seeing one in the dog’s mouth. These tumors can cause many other signs though, including facial deformation, decrease in activity, bad breath, drooling, enlargement of the lymph nodes, bleeding from the mouth, difficulty eating, etc. The first sign my dog exhibited was repeatedly opening and closing her mouth as if she had something stuck to a tooth, but I didn’t discover it until she yawned one day when I was petting her.

When examining a dog with an epulis, the veterinarian will try to look at and may feel the growth. X-rays are helpful to see how large the tumor is and will also help the vet determine what kind of mass is present, but the only way to be sure of the type of growth is with biopsy.

Types of Epulides:

There are three types of Epulides that a dog may develop, and the only way to be sure what type an affected dog has is through biopsy.

Fibromatous epulis: This type of epulis often resembles a mushroom, as is grows as a tumor on a stalk. It can also be seen without a stalk. (www.veterinarypartner.com)

Peripheral odontogenic fibroma: These are very similar to fibromatous epulides, but these tumors have in osteoid matrix. While these can be more attached to the underlying bone, they normally don’t invade the bone of the dog’s jaw. (www.veterinarypartner.com)

Acanthomatous ameloblastoma: These are technically benign growths yet they are often described as have behaving “cancer-like.” This is because these tumors will invade the bone in the dog’s jaw. While it will not spread throughout the dog’s body, this invasion of the surrounding bone can be very damaging. While fibromatous epulides and peripheral odontogenic fibromas normally have smooth surfaces, acanthomatous ameloblastomas may be rougher in appearance and are often ulcerated. (www.veterinarypartner.com)

Treatment for Epulides:

Treatment for epulides is surgical removal. It is better to remove these growths when they are small to avoid them causing undo discomfort to the dog. If the epulis is an acanthomatous ameloblastoma, part of the surrounding jaw may also need to be removed if the growth has invaded the bone. Sometimes radiation is done if the mass can’t be removed, but this is not the treatment of choice.

Thankfully, tumors don’t usually come back as long as the entire tumor has been successfully removed.

If you are very lucky, your dog may take care of the problem herself. Raina had an appointment to surgically remove her tumor, but about a week before her appointment, I noticed the tumor was no longer in her mouth. She must have done some home surgery and bit it off herself. I took her to the vet just to make sure it was completely gone, and Raina was able to skip that surgery!


Certain types of dogs are more likely to develop epulides than others, but any dog can end up with one. While only one of the three varieties of this tumor is likely to invade the surrounding bone, all of these tumors should be removed if possible so they can be correctly diagnosed. Prompt removal also prevents an epulis from becoming so large that it causes the dog unnecessary stress and discomfort, as even a small one can be very bothersome to a dog and large ones can interfere with eating, drinking, and stop the dog from closing his mouth.


Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, 4th Edition



Commercial Diets for Dogs with Kidney Disease: Review

Feeding your dog with kidney disease:

Feeding a dog with kidney disease can be a challenging endeavor and requires much trial and error when discovering what your dog is willing to eat. Below are some of the commercial foods I tried while caring for my elderly dog who had kidney disease. I kept track of which ones she liked and which ones she vehemently refused to eat. Hopefully, the information below may help you find a product that your friend will enjoy!

Commercial diets for CKD:

There are several commercial kidney diets available for dogs on the market. These diets are available only with prescription from your pet’s veterinarian. If your dog is diagnosed with renal failure, it is important that her diet be changed to slow the progression of disease. Most of the time, this is done by using one of the prescription diets produced by Hill’s, Royal Canin, or Purina. Many believe that the companies listed here use inferior ingredients in their products, and they would rather not feed these foods to their pet. While the ingredients may not always be the best in these products, it is important to feed a reduced phosphorus diet to dogs with kidney disease, so if the owner cannot prepare low phosphorus foods at home for their pet, they should feed the prescription diets instead of feeding a regular commercial diet or an unbalanced homemade diet.

Below are reviews on some of the renal formulas from Hill’s and Royal Canin.


One of the major issues many people have with the commercial kidney diets available is their palatability. Oftentimes kidney disease diminishes a dog’s desire to eat. The best food in the world is worthless if your dog won’t eat it. It is important that your dog continues to eat, as going without food is hard on the kidneys. If your dog refuses to eat the prescription food, ask your veterinarian for suggestions on improving their appetite.

To get your dog to eat, you may have to be a little creative. While for healthy dogs I generally use a tough love approach, it really is important to keep a sick dog eating. I will handfeed Lady when she is being particularly picky. Sometimes I will mix a very small amount of something she really likes with her prescription food, just to give it an odor she likes. When I say a small amount, I mean small spoonful, or less. You just want enough to encourage the dog to eat. Some of Lady’s favorites are chicken gravy, beef gravy, Nutrisource dog treats crushed to a powder and sprinkled on top of her food, or a little Fancy Feast cat food. Once again, try to feed the food without these temptations, and always consult with your vet. If your dog has been eating pretty well for a while and suddenly starts refusing food, take her to the vet. Such changes could be indicative of the disease progressing, or of other problems/changes.

As far as the palatability of prescription diets, I must say from my limited experience of trying to feed my dog with kidney disease, they are not very palatable. Below are the products I have tried with Lady, and the verdicts on each of them.

Hill’s k/d stews:

The tastiest product that I have found (according to Lady, who is rather picky) is the stew varieties of the Hill’s k/d line of products. The ingredient list is also not terrible compared to some of the other cans available through other brands. Lady will eat both the chicken and beef variety by themselves or mixed with some of her dry prescription diet. Even though she eats these pretty well, if she gets commercial food of any sort for more than a few days, she will start refusing to eat.

One of the things that I think really helps with Lady’s willingness to eat this product is the fact that it is not sticky. For instance, the Royal Canin cans I tried with her did not work out, in large part I believe not because she did not like the flavor, but because the consistency was so sticky that is was difficult for her to eat.

Hill’s k/d kibble:

This is not Lady’s first choice for dinner. She will eat it with canned food, or by itself, but she does so begrudgingly. I always have a bag of this in addition to a case of the k/d cans on hand for when I run out of fresh food/ when I forget to thaw food for her. A trick that works to get her to eat it is this: I will hand a few kibbles to the other dogs in the house, who gobble it down enthusiastically, and then I offer her some. This normally works. Hand feeding also seems to make her more willing to eat this food. Any time she seems especially hungry in the afternoon after she has had her dinner, I give her as much of this hand fed as she will eat.

A note about this food: when Lady was initially diagnosed with renal failure, I fed her k/d kibble predominantly while I was trying to come up with fresh food to give her. The food gave her a very bloated appearance. I am not sure if this was because of the food, or if it was because Lady was not used to eating lots of kibble prior to her diagnosis.

Royal Canin Renal Support A Kibble:

I currently have a full bag of this product in my cabinet because Lady will not eat this food. Nothing I did would get her to try this, even when her appetite improved for food in general. My other dogs did eat this kibble without problem (I let them have a few bites hoping that would cause Lady to try some.)

Royal Canin Renal Support A and E Canned:

Lady ate both of these. She seemed to like the taste, but it was so sticky it was difficult for her to eat it. The scent definitely enticed her, so if your dog is reluctant to eat, you might want to give these cans a try. I did not buy them long term because Lady’s appetite picked up for her regular food once we made some changes in her supplements.


I hope this helps anyone who is trying to figure out what to feed their pet with kidney disease. It takes time and lots of experimentation, but it is usually possible to find a commercial kidney diet that your dog will eat. If no commercial diet works for you pet, you might want to try cooking for your dog with kidney disease. Consult with you veterinarian before doing so, so they can provide guidance. The sample diets that I used may also be beneficial (Sample Diets for Dogs with Kidney Disease).