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Some people think a food that they eat is good for their pets. Not true. Some human foods, in fact, may be dangerous to pets. "Most pet owners simply do not know that small amounts of chocolate, onions, macadamia nuts and bread dough can be fatal if ingested by a dog," says Steve Hansen, D.V.M., senior vice president of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. "And cats, in particular, have a body chemistry quite different from ours," and so are susceptible to poisoning from a number of human foods.
Also because of their different body chemistry and nutritional requirements, cats should not be fed dog food, says Burkholder.
Feeding directions on pet food provide only a broad guideline. Nutritional requirements vary according to a pet's age, breed, body weight, genetics, amount of activity, and even the climate in which the pet lives.
Many owners are guilty of overfeeding their pets, and even a "light" food can cause weight gain if fed in excess of caloric needs. "It's estimated that about 25 percent of dogs and cats that enter a pet clinic are overweight," says Burkholder. Obesity can shorten a pet's life by contributing to heart and liver problems, diabetes, arthritis, bladder cancer, and skin disorders and it can put a pet at higher risk while undergoing anesthesia and surgery. Pet owners should consult their veterinarians for the appropriate amount and type of food to give their pets, especially those that are overweight.
A pet food can claim to be "light" or "lean" only if it meets AAFCO's standard definitions for these terms. These definitions differ for dog and cat food and also depend on the moisture content of the food. The words "light," "lite" and "low calorie" all have the same meaning.
The words "lean" and "low fat" also mean the same. But "less calories" and "reduced calories" mean only that the product has fewer calories than another product, and "less fat" and "reduced fat" mean the product is less fatty than another one. In both cases, the manufacturer must state on the label the percentage of reduction and the product of comparison.
Most pet food labels do not provide calorie content, but consumers can get this information by contacting the manufacturer, whose location must be on the label. Many manufacturers provide a toll-free number for consumers as well as their Web site address.
By Linda Bren U.S. Food and Drug Administration "FDA Consumer Magazine"