The History of Pet Food Part II

In Part I of the history of pet food we looked at how dry food or “kibble” came to be and why it might not always be a one-size-fits-all option. The pet food industry has boomed over the past couple of decades, with some incredible advancements in the last decade alone.  

We now have canned pet foods that are more edible than some canned human foods, freeze dried complete meals, kibble mixed with freeze dried foods and more frozen and fresh raw options than you can even begin to imagine. Trying to sort through some of these offerings can be daunting even for us as professionals, and takes a lot of time, investigation and patience. Having an open mind, and also knowing how to spot some of the deceiving tactics some manufacturers may use can be helpful.

The way consumers purchase their pet food has also changed dramatically. The majority of this change has been driving by the consumers need for convenience. Prior to the big box retail boom and online most people purchased their pet food from local feed and farm supply stores. These small family businesses generally provided quality products for an affordable price. These supply stores also hosted a variety of other products and were located centrally in town. As the shift of big box and online retail began to gain popularity many of these small business began to go out of business.

Online retailers have taken advantage of the convenience of automated delivery and 1-click ordering in this fast paced world we now live in. It is a fair statement to say that some pets have suffered as a result. Sometimes, but not always, these online and big box retails buy their products in bulk which can sit in warehouses for months, sometimes a year or more! Believe it or not, we have actually had instances of previous customers who decided to purchase online and received near expired, or expired food and then try and return it to us after they purchased it “on sale” from an online retailer! We turn around ALL of our product at least every other week, if not every week. There is actually concern with the sale of expired pet food, as it can become stale and potentially rancid, especially when not stored correctly or shipped through harsh non-climate controlled conditions. In another blog we will examine the dangers of stale and rancid pet food.

Your local pet supply store can introduce you to a wide array of local, all-American options. We even have a variety of Canadian and European options, which can have unique quality control options in comparison USA products. You won’t find a pet food label from China on our shelves, nor will you find a food with a recall dangerous recall history. There are many small pet food manufactures that are family owned that offer honest and high quality products without fillers….and many of them even have free samples!

The best advice I can give when choosing a pet food is twofold:

Learn how to read a pet food label Learn what each ingredient is and where it comes from. Also learn if your species of pet can actually digest the ingredients. Remember that cats and dogs digestive tracts are significantly shorter than humans, and therefore they are unable to adequately digest the amount of grains and carbohydrates in the “average” pet food. “Meat first” foods can be deceiving, because the ingredients are listed on the label in order of highest weight to lowest – before cooking! This means that since many proteins are approximately 70% moisture, they actually drop on the ingredient list meaning the second, third and/or 4th ingredient may become first. Unfortunately, this means the first ingredient(s) are often carbohydrates.  Meals (i.e. chicken meal, fish meal etc.) are not necessarily a bad thing. By-product meals are what you want to avoid. Having a whole protein ‘meal’ as your first ingredient means that ingredient stays 1st on the label through the cooking process.

Shop Small There are dozens of small pet food supply stores across Connecticut and many other states. Shopping small offers you many advantages:

  • Direct access to the owner who truly cares about the quality of product on their shelf and the pets they are feeding. In general family owned businesses have a unique sense of pride and have a vast amount of knowledge and experience in many brands and types of food rather than a sales associate at a big-box store who often are subjected to branded trainings and have sales goals. Small business in general do not have these types of processes deployed in their stores, this ensures each customer actually receives an individualized approach vs. one driven by a sales goal.
  • Small business can actually be more affordable. Big box stores have huge overhead – and investors. Unfortunately, these retailers have to answer to these investors, which are concerned with the bottom line. Many small businesses will meet or beat the large competitors price, and offer a buy 12-get-1-FREE program which can lead to pretty significant savings.
  • Many online retailers have shipping costs wrapped into their “low price”. We agree that sometimes these online retails offer convenience, however you may be surprised upon price checking at your local small retailers. Many small businesses will deliver also, sometimes even same day!  Thomaston Feed also delivers…for free!
  • Frequent buyer programs can’t be found through online retailers, and neither can our knowledge or experience.
  • Stores like Thomaston Feed, Thomaston Feed Cheshire have owners and staff that are college educated pet nutritionists. Some staff members also have additional certifications in pet nutrition which allow them to spend extra time to comb through ingredient labels, sourcing of particular products and vitamin panels finding the perfect food for your pet. We can even build balanced and supplemental diets for raw feeders, those who prefer home cooking and those with particular diseases processes.
  • Many small pet supply stores have an extensive knowledge and offering of nutritional supplements that can help support whole body health as well as help pets with many types of disease.
  • Small businesses also have exclusivity with many small companies that offer unique and local treats, toys, foods and accessories that just can’t be found online or in big box stores.
  • We LOVE to give back. We are often asked to support local sports teams, youth groups, music programs, senior programs, and of course rescues and local pounds.  We annually donate several TONS of food, often by the pallet to local rescue and municipal pounds. We also proudly feed several police department K-9’s, and service dogs throughout the state. We are humbled at the opportunity to give back whenever we have the reasonable chance to. Keeping business local, not only though your pet shops, but through all small business provides support for your community in a much greater way than you could ever imagine.

In our experience we find that every pet has the greatest health when they are viewed as an individual instead of an animal viewed through a protocol or a sales goal. The healthiest pets I have owned, and have had the blessing to meet have had a unique balance of traditional medicine, holistic medicine and wholesome nutrition.

This doesn’t mean that every pet should be eating a fresh, organic raw meat diet. While we highly advocate for this, it is simply not feasible or affordable for most. However, something as simple as adding fresh food to your dry food can make all the difference. We like to help all of our clients do the best they can without straining their wallet. For example, we all have scraps we throw away. We trim meat in our kitchen, chop vegetables, fruit etc. Why not throw a small handful into your pet’s bowl? Cats can be more difficult than dogs, as they sometimes require 2-4 weeks to implement change due to being naturally suspicious. Despite this, we feel it is worth a try with our feline friends as well.

In the next blog we will explore some simple, easy and affordable ways to kick-start your kibble as well as some of our favorite supplements that are worth exploring for almost any pet.

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