BY M. M. DONALDSON
The four-legged furry friends have gone from companions to stand-ins for humans. Dressing Fido in sweaters and Halloween costumes, carting lapdogs in baby strollers, spending big bucks on Fifi to get her fur fluffed and monograming pillows with pooches’ names are just a few ways of anthropomorphizing dogs.
Along with giving dogs human characteristics, pet owners are creating another behavior that may be considered less outrageous, but is a health hazard.
Dogs should not eat people food.
“They are not little people,” Hospital Administrator Ann Wortinger at the Animal Cancer and Imaging Center in Canton said.
Canine nutrition and human nutrition are specific to the species and should not be used interchangeably. Having written a textbook and countless articles on veterinary nutrition, Wortinger estimates that the growing percentage of overweight and obese dogs is similar to what humans are experiencing. The diet related diseases humans suffer from, such as heart disease, diabetes and skin diseases are affecting man’s best friend also.
With nearly 75 percent of Americans considered overweight or obese, according to the National Institute of Health, Wortinger has theories as to why the veterinary profession is seeing more diet related issues.
“We feed dogs with a bottomless bowl,” Wortinger said.
Being omnivores, eating both plants and animals, dogs find kibble and table scraps very palatable and in endless supply. Pet owners tend to use food as a way of showing love by giving extra kibble or scraps from the table. She said dogs are also getting less exercise and less mental stimulation, which sometimes can lead to overeating.
“Treats should never be more than 10 percent of the diet,” Wortinger said. The other 90 percent should be giving the dog the nutrients it needs.
Dog food or treats in cute shapes or fun colors may be satisfying for humans, but dogs, who are willing to eat many an unidentifiable object, are color blind.
As Wortinger is concerned with canine weight problems, she also finds that human fad diets make their way into canine diets. Grain-free diets, corn-free diets, gluten-free diets or raw-food diets, she said are unnecessary and do not provide canine nutrition that is complete and balanced.
Wortinger said she seeks out canine food companies that do original research, feeding trials and support nutrition education for those who work in the veterinary field. She recommends finding pet food that fulfills the nutrient needs of protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, water and carbohydrates.
In addition to eating too much, there are a number of human food items that are dangerous for dogs to eat.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which is also home to the Animal Poison Control Center, lists items that need to be kept away from clever canines.
Chocolate is perhaps the most commonly known toxin, but onions and garlic can do more than give bad breath. Alcoholic beverages and the ingredients in other forms, such as grapes or hops, can also be dangerous to a dog’s health. The list includes several other items with death being the worst-case scenario for the pooch.
In the quest to have healthy dog treat options, two teens from Morenci started Bow Wow K9 Tasty Treats business. The treats are sold at Ann Arbor-area farmers markets even though it is 60 miles from their home near the Ohio state line.
Bridgett Cox, mother of Dakota Moulton, 13, and Felica Cram, 15, stated it was a home-school project started in Oct. 2014 and by the end of May the next spring, they were licensed to start selling 90 different flavors of treats.
Moulton and Cram wanted to have snacks for their five huskies that did not have chemicals with names they cannot pronounce and have opted to use fresh ingredients, whether it is vegetables, fruit, eggs or meat.
Cram points at a bin of bone-shaped treats, that she calls Apple Jacks, as her favorite flavor. The very dense biscuit has a faint apple flavor but without the cloying sugar.
“Tastes just like the cereal,” Cram said.
Moulton and Cram don’t have a problem taste-testing all of their flavors. Cox said there are stricter rules to produce dog food than human food. Dog food or treats cannot be covered under Michigan’s current Cottage Food Law, but must be laboratory tested before gaining a license through the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
For the Bow Wow K9 Tasty Treats, sales were immediate and have not slowed down according to Cox.
Moulton offers a gingerbread boy cut-out treat for tasting, the Gingiebarks flavor popular with him and his huskies.
Remembering that canines and humans have different nutritional needs, Gingiebarks and Apple Jacks are best left for the dogs.
M. M. Donaldson is a contributor with The Voice and a journalism student at WCC. She has a bachelor of science in family and community services from Michigan State University, and has several years’ experience with nutrition issues affecting infants through older adults. Follow M.M. Donaldson on Facebook.