by Mark F. Magazu, II, MPA, JD, President & Chief Executive Officer of Saint Francis Veterinary Center.
While I have had the honor of working for my Dad, Dr. Mark Magazu – our Chairman, in his animal hospitals since the age of six, I am not a trained medical professional. I am your average pet owner, susceptible to all the TV commercials and shiny, colorful dog food packaging in the grocery stores. My experience with my dog “Boomer’s” nutritional needs is limited only to what I have seen in his overall health as I have explored new foods over the course of his life.
It wasn’t until I attended a lecture given by Dr. Mark Newkirk, Director of our Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine, that I came to fully understand why I’d seen the dramatic improvements in Boomer’s health following a switch in his food a few years ago.
A little background on Boomer. Boomer was rescued in 2003 as a puppy from a dog-fighting operation in Brooklyn, New York, by the amazing police officers there who dedicate their lives each day to saving animals and putting abusers behind bars. Animal Planet followed Boomer’s story as part of their show Animal Precinct. His abuse was substantial and thanks to incredible medical care, including facial reconstructive surgery by our Chairman (my Dad!) Dr. Mark Magazu, Boomer has lived a normal, happy and rambunctious life since his adoption in 2003.
But right around when he turned 8 years old or so, I noticed that he was losing weight, his coat was becoming dull and his energy level was lagging. He wasn’t sick or unhealthy, but I could see that he just wasn’t himself. He slept a little more than he had in the past, and it just seemed to me that he lacked that old ‘spark’ even though to most people he seemed pretty normal.
I wouldn’t want to list here what food I’d been feeding him, but it was one of those that is regularly seen on television and that has all the pretty pictures on the bag.
We switched his food to Taste of the Wild – Salmon, and Boomer’s improvement was dramatic. His energy level immediately improved and his coat regained its shiny, healthy look. He gained a few pounds of muscle and all those subtle personality quirks returned. Boomer just ‘looked healthy’ to me again, and as his owner I could see the improvement was significant.
Back to Dr. Newkirk’s lecture. As your average pet owner lacking any substantial understanding of animal nutrition, all I knew was this food seemed to be healthier for Boomer. Now I know why – I learned how to read the ingredient label! What I learned was shocking! The old food I had fed Boomer most of his life was riddled with byproducts and sugars. All the pictures on the bag of healthy looking meats and vegetables was, for lack of a better word, baloney. All those years I thought I was doing everything I could to provide the best for my beloved pup turned out to be a lie.
Armed with new knowledge of how to read the dog food ingredient label, I took a look at what I was now feeding Boomer and it became perfectly clear why he had bounced back as a healthy old dude. All the proteins were whole and healthy. All the carbohydrates came from the kinds of ingredients that you or I would choose for ourselves – no byproducts, no complicated words hiding unhealthy sugars, just great ingredients.
Boomer is now 12 years old and healthy as a horse. He’s got the gray fur on his muzzle now and he puts himself to bed around 9:30pm every night, but I am certain that it’s because of the healthy diet he’s eaten for four years now that he enjoys outstanding health in his elder years.
I wish I had known long ago how to read the pet food ingredient label, because I would have made different choices for Boomer’s nutrition. What’s pictured on the bag isn’t necessarily what’s IN the bag. It’s a lesson all pet owners should learn, because what our pets eat each and every day is probably the most important determining factor in their overall health over the years. Think about it – if you ate bacon, donuts and lollipops for breakfast every day, you might be ‘living’ but you certainly won’t experience optimal health. And that’s what many of these major grocery store pet food brands are doing to our dogs.
Here’s hoping for many more years of loyal companionship from my pal, Boomer. As I write this, he’s laying on a leather couch in a local shop in our hometown enjoying the company of passersby, so all in all I suppose he doesn’t have it too bad. We’re watching the Flyers and the Phillies at the same time, and it’s fun to have him around with the guys for moments like these. He’s my sidekick, and as long as he’s with me I’ll be paying close attention to what he eats.