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6 Things You Didn't Know About Being A Pet Parent

As a pet parent, you may have overlooked some crucial parenting skills that could cost both you and your pet in the long run.

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As a pet parent, you may have overlooked some crucial parenting skills that could cost both you and your pet in the long run. We caught up with Carlos Herrera, CEO of, to shed some light on a few important points to make the journey longer and more enjoyable to both pet and parent.

1) Pet owners feel better when they are around their furry children. Why is spending quality time with pets beneficial for people’s health?


Humans and animals have an amazing ability to bond. The human-animal bond is backed by lots of research and, in fact, there is an organization called Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), which publishes research on the many benefits that occur due to this bonding.

Some of the benefits that occur when humans and pets interact include better health (in part due to increased activity for pet owners), as well as lower levels of stress, reduced feelings of depression, and a sense of purpose and responsibility from actively caring for and nurturing the pet.

2) According to ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters every year. Why should people adopt pets from animal shelters?


Pets who are without a home are usually perfectly suitable for anyone who is considering adding a pet to their household. A large percentage of shelter and recue pets are displaced due to no fault of their own. Rather, their prior owners were either unable to continue caring for them due to illness or age, a change in living situations (e.g. moving to a non-pet-friendly home), and in some cases, just poor ownership like in the situation where the pet parent thinks having a dog or cat requires little or no commitment.

Whatever the case, most of the pets in shelters and rescues are quite loving and deserve a place to call home. For those who are looking for a specific breed and think that they must ‘buy’ their pet, this is simply not true. There are many breed specific rescues that help foster pets. These organizations will typically pull pets out of the kill-shelters and provide them temporary foster homes and medical care until a forever home can be found.

Sadly, of those 7.6 million pets in shelters each year, 2.7 million of them end up being euthanized. Any family who is considering adding a dog or cat to their family should first check the local rescues and shelters before deciding to purchase one.

3) Explain the 1st ingredient rule to the pet owners. How does this analysis lead to uncovering lower-quality recipes?


The first ingredient rule is a very simple rule that states that the first ingredient in a dog or cat food should be meat. The basis for this rule is that because ingredients are required to be listed in the order of their overall weight in the complete recipe. Thus, the ingredients listed early in the ingredient list are, by weight, more predominant in the recipe that those listed later.

Although true, this rule alone will not help a pet owner determine if a food is appropriate or of high quality. On average, there are near 40 ingredients in a dog or cat food recipe. A pet parent who would like to scrutinize a pet food recipe will need to dig deeper than just the 1st ingredient to do so.

Foods that contain whole, named protein sources as well as fruits and vegetables for vitamins and minerals, are the most desirable. Foods high in protein and moderate to high in fat are also more appropriate for dogs and cats than the carbohydrate heavy recipes that are so prevalent in the stores.

There is also a little ‘trick’ that some food brands use to make it appear that meat is the predominant ingredient in a food when it might not be. This is called ingredients splitting. The pet food recipe can be manipulated to make it look better than it actually is by splitting apart inferior ingredients into two or more different ingredients which can ‘move’ the meat to the top of the ingredient list while moving down the inferior ingredient. Here is an sample list of ingredients from a made-up food: Chicken, Rice, Rice Bran, Wheat, Wheat Gluten, ….

By splitting the rice and wheat ingredients into two separate ingredients, the manufacturer can satisfy the label requirement even though it is quite probable that the food contains more rice and wheat than it does chicken!

4) Some owners don’t pay attention to their pet’s diet and keep their bellies full. What are the costs of having a fat pet?

As if shortened lifespans and lower quality of life are not enough reasons to keep a pet trim, perhaps the realization of how costly it can be to have an overweight pet can be the impetus to change pet owner behavior for the betterment of their pet and their bank account.

In 2009, a study at the Michigan State veterinary hospital and funded by Hill’s Pet Nutrition, was conducted to determine the annual treatment costs associated with common canine and feline diseases and disorders. The results are shown in the Tables below.


The cost to treat a pet with any one of these disorders is obviously significant. These are estimated annual costs, which means that a pet’s total treatment costs over a lifetime could easily exceed $10,000 depending on the disease and age at diagnosis. Even worse, an overweight pet might develop multiple diseases due to their weight problem raising the treatment costs even higher.

An overweight pet is more susceptible to disease and orthopedic disorders. In fact, virtually all of the conditions listed above are more likely to occur in overweight pets than in properly weighing pets. The primary health risks of overweight pets include:

•Heart and Respiratory Disease

•High Blood Pressure (hypertension)


•Many Forms of Cancer

•Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes

•Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury (ACL)

•Kidney Disease

•Decreased life expectancy (up to 2.5 years)

5)Are there some pet food ingredients that should be avoided because they provide little benefit or might have a negative impact on a pet’s health?


When evaluating a pet food, it is just as important to know which ingredients to avoid as it is to know which ingredients are healthy for a pet. The list would start with common chemical additives.

Chemical additives are at best, risky to a pet’s health and at worst, can cause serious health problems. Although the industry is evolving and there are many more higher quality food choices available today than there were just ten years ago, there are still far too many pet foods that still contain these dubious ingredients. Below are three such ingredients to watch for.

Ethoxyquin. Used as a preservative in pet foods, Ethoxyquin is used as a pesticide and has been linked to liver and kidney cancer in dogs. Ethoxyquin can also be a hidden ingredient in the dog food recipe as it can be included in some meals (e.g. fish meal) without having to be explicitly called out on the food’s ingredient panel.

Propylene glycol. Used as a humectant and preservative in some dog foods (nut not cat foods), propylene glycol is an ingredient commonly found in anti-freeze. Need I say more?

Artificial colors and color protectants. Red #3 or #40, Yellow 5 or 6, or other artificial colorings, as well as chemicals that keep a food’s color longer, like nitrates and sulfates, do not belong in a dog’s food. Food dyes are used to make the food look more appealing to the human. Trust me, your pet doesn’t care what color the food is!

Some artificial colorings and protectants have been linked to cancer in rats and are linked to several health problems in humans and dogs including diarrhea, vomiting, and chronic allergic symptoms. Why would you risk the potential health issues just to make your dog’s food look more colorful to you?

Besides the chemicals listed above, a pet owner would be wise to avoid foods that contain non-specific meats (e.g. “meat meal” or “poultry meal”) by products, which are non-specific parts of animals, soy, and cheap fillers such gluten, corn, and wheat, which are not appropriate sources of nutrition for dogs and cats.

6)Some owners select diet plans for their pet based on the misconceptions. What are the myths surrounding pet food and nutrition?


There are many long-standing myths associated with pet foods. These myths were started many years ago and have been perpetuated by a combination of habit and naiveté. Three of the more common myths are:

Pets should be fed the same food their entire life.

Really? Imagine what it would be like for you eat the same food every meal every day. Boring to say the least.

First, feeding the same food for long periods of time can lead to food allergies or allergic symptoms as the pet’s body effectively overdoses on the protein sources in the food formula. What their body really needs is a break from the same food so that their immune responses can calm down. In some, but not all cases, the offending protein can be reintroduced over time with no ill effect if it is rotated in and out of the diet. According to, food allergies account for about 10% of all allergies in dogs and cats and are responsible for 40% of itchy skin in dogs and over 55% in cats.

Feeding your pet the same food for long periods of time can also lead to deficiencies in key nutrients depending on the specific foods you use. There are many reasons for this but the primary reason is that the pet food formulations, although labeled complete and balanced (according to AAFCO standards), are not necessarily so for any individual pet. Endogenous factors like the genetics and bio chemistry of your pet, as well as exogenous factors like the type of treats and table scraps, and amount and types of exercise they get, all make your pet’s situation unique.

The healthier strategy is to use a rotational diet which means that you should rotate foods, and especially the proteins, that you serve your pet. By rotating proteins and formulas, you will be more likely to provide your pet a balanced diet over time and less likely to oversupply them with the same proteins sources.

Diet foods are a smart choice for overweight pets.

The idea of a diet pet food makes little sense to me. Dogs and cats do not control the food choices nor the amount they are fed. Thus, the pet parent simply needs to dole out the correct amount of food and be done with it. Yet, pet food manufacturers have come up with weight management formulations that are targeted to pet parents who have overweight pets, which is a pretty large target market given that over 50% of dog in the U.S. are overweight or obese.

The problem with most weight control dog foods is that they tend to be higher in carbs than normal foods, which is not a smart approach to dealing with an overweight pet. Instead of choosing a weight control recipe, a pet parent would be far better off choosing a high quality food that is high in protein and fat and low in carbs, and then measure out proper portions. This combined with regular exercise, is all a pet needs to stay slim, fit, and healthy.

Senior pets should be fed low protein foods.

One of the longstanding myths about senior diets is that they should be lower in protein than diets of younger pets. In fact, the average senior dog food is markedly higher in carb content and lower in protein and fat than non-senior formulations.

According to many leading veterinarians and veterinarian schools, the current thinking is that older pets will actually require MORE protein than younger pets (see below for references). One of the leaders in this change in thinking, Dr. Delmar Finco, a veterinary nutritionist, discovered protein requirements actually increase as pets’ age and that higher protein diets were associated with greater life spans. Indeed, senior dogs need ample amounts of high quality protein in order to maintain muscle mass and proper organ and immune function.

Carlos Herrera is the CEO of, makers of the SmartFeeder, an app-controlled automatic feeder for cats and dogs.

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