Cumberland Times-News

Columns

February 15, 2014

People and pet food have lots in common

In our house reside one dog and three cats. I found Chapter 2 in Mary Roach’s “Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal” very interesting.

How do the different manufacturers of cat and dog food decide what to call the different varieties that line the shelves? It may seem obvious that certain pet foods contain beef, chicken, lamb or salmon so the flavor should match their main contents.

But most lists of pet food contents have a great number of chemical compounds. Most pet lovers note which pet food flavors attract their dogs: their bowls are empty in a matter of minutes.

Cats eat more deliberately, but even cats will eventually empty one bowl of a particular food while another bowl of different food is scarcely touched.

Other pet owners pay a lot of attention to pet foods additives, being attracted to foods that are gluten free or grain free. They hope that the kind of food Rover or Kitty consumes will give their pets a shiny coat, good behavior and healthy stools.

The big questions are how do the pet food manufacturers 1. Select the flavors? 2: Decide which foods will go on the shelves?

 During WWII, when much meat went overseas to the feed the troops, canned pet foods (of mostly horse meat) were gradually replaced by dry cereal based pet food (kibble).

Pet owners were delighted as dry pet food was not as messy and easier to measure out. But the dry kibble had to provide for the pet’s dietary needs, so animal fats, soy, vitamins and minerals were added to the grain base. But dogs and particularly cats are not grain eaters. So something had to be added to the kibble to make it tasty.

There was need for powdered flavor coatings to be sprayed or soaked onto the kibble so that both cats and dogs would eat the dry food. These coatings are called “palatants.”

The author of “Gulp” interviewed staff members of AFB International who design these coatings, which are labeled with names from human food (to make them appealing to the consumers (us). You may think that these coatings are despicable, preventing our pets from really tasting what they are eating.

The fact is: Many of our favorite processed foods include coatings to entice us to eat them. Cheese flavored chips without it’s powdered coatings “has almost no flavor.” The sauces included in our TV dinners provide most of the flavor, even on chicken.

Cats in the wild are pure carnivores (animal eaters), especially birds and mice. So dry cat food must have palatants that are very effective in attracting our indoor cats.

The best flavorings for cat kibble are pyrophosphates — three types have been developed by AFB. Their chemical formulae are trade secrets. It is important that saliva dissolves the coatings so they can get to the taste buds in animal or human mouths.

The best animal for selecting flavors is the catfish, which has taste buds all over its body. Mary Roach calls catfish “swimming tongues.”

Humans have taste receptors in our stomachs. voice box and upper esophagus but only our tongue taste buds send signals to our brain.

In addition to taste, the aroma of the food is important to both dogs and cats. An animal food researcher estimates that as regards dog’s food preferences, aroma counts 70 per cent versus taste at 30 per cent. For the more discriminating cats, aroma and taste are equally important.

In 1973, the Center for Science in the Public Interest published a booklet titled “Food Scorecard.”

A study based on housing projects (I lived in one for a few years in Florida) concluded that one third of the canned dog food purchased was eaten by humans.

A more recent study of the 36 common American protein sources were ranked by nutritional value including vitamins, calcium and trace minerals. Products containing corn syrup and saturated fats dropped lower in the rankings.

On a scale of 200, beef liver was rated at 172, chicken liver and sausage liver were at second and third place. Alpo canned dog food was rated at 30, above salami and pork sausage, fried chicken, shrimp, ham, sirloin steak, a fast food’s classic hamburger, peanut butter, pure beef hot dogs, Spam, bacon and bologna.

So if a poor family has dog food as their main entrée , are they getting more nutrition than a well–to-do family eating sirloin steak and a mixture of seafood as appetizers?

SKY SIGHTS AHEAD:  Tonight the moon rose just before 8 p.m. Each night, the moon will be rising about an hour later. So by Feb. 20, the moon will be rising just before midnight.

Late Feb. 19, the moon will appear near the planet Mars low in the eastern sky. The bright planet Jupiter is high in the south during the evening. The brilliant planet Venus is at her brightest in the eastern dawn. The planet Saturn rises before 1 a.m. in the southeast and is most easily spotted in the southeastern dawn .

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.

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