Four Rules to Help You Understand Pet Food

Four Pet Food Rules

Have you ever wondered whether a food labeled “tuna dinner” is better for your cat than a food labeled “with tuna?”  Pet food companies like to find creative and appealing names for their products, but these names may be confusing.  Four easy to understand rules about how pet foods are named can help you to understand what’s really in a product.

Four Rules number 1: The 95% rule

This rule applies to pet foods with a limited number of ingredients.  At least 95% of the product must be the named ingredient.  For example, a dog food may be named Chicken for Dogs.  If there are two named ingredients, then they must total 95% of the product.  The ingredient that makes up the larger percentage must be named first.  A company can’t market a product as lamb and rice, for instance, if rice is actually the main ingredient.

Four Rules Number 2: The Dinner Rule

Some foods, especially cat foods, are labeled as a “dinner.” If the named ingredient makes up at least 25% of the product, but less than 95%, then the company has to give it a name like “dinner,” “platter,” or “entree.”  There are many different types of names that may be used.  For these products, the named ingredient has to make up only 25% of the product, and it is likely not the main ingredient.  As an example, a “chicken formula” could also contain fish, and could contain more fish than chicken.  It’s important to check the label on this type of food, especially if your pet has a food allergy. Remember, the ingredients are required to be listed in descending order of predominance by weight.   If there are two named ingredients, then they must make up 25% of the product together.

Four Rules Number 3: The 3% Rule

Sometimes a pet food manufacturer may want to point out a special ingredient on the label, although it only makes a small percent of the food.  In this case, the name might be “Chicken Dinner with Cheese.”  The special ingredient only has to make up 3% of the food.  So don’t be confused.  Dog Food with Beef is not the same as “Beef Dinner for Dogs.”

Four Rules Number 4: The Flavor Rule

The last rule may be the trickiest.  There aren’t any rules for the amount of flavor that must be included.  The flavor simply has to be detectable, generally by animals trained to detect the flavor.  And, the flavor may contain the named ingredient, or it may not.  “Liver Flavor” could contain liver, or it could contain a mixture of other ingredients that taste like liver.

As the four rules demonstrate, pet owners should always read pet food labels carefully.  This is the first in a series of articles about pet food labeling and ingredients.  Next up:  The Truth about Byproducts.  You may also learn more about labels here. 


Confused About Dog Genetic Tests? This Database Can Help

A host of companies promote dog genetic tests to pet parents, breeders, and veterinary healthcare providers.  The number of choices can be overwhelming.  A new database will make the choice easier.

The problem

The recent proliferation of laboratory tests analyzing canine DNA has opened up a world of new information for researchers, breeders, veterinarians, and pet parents.  But there are no harmonized, mandatory standards for the diagnostic laboratories running veterinary tests.  Accreditation via different agencies is voluntary.  Without harmonized quality standards, the performance of tests from different labs may be very different, and some tests may not be reliable.

The invention of testing methods has also outpaced the availability of the underlying research to the general public.  As a result, pet parents, breeders, and veterinarians may not have all the information they need to make a decision about which tests to use and how to interpret the results.

The solution

In order to help the animal health community make informed decisions about genetic testing, the International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD) has created a database of 18 genetic testing providers (GTP) and 300 specific genetic tests.  The database provides information about the quality standards, accreditation, and expertise of providers.  Users of the database will also find detailed information about the clinical use and background for each specific genetic test.  The database will help the user to understand the science that supports the genetic tests.

How it works

Users of the database may search by breed, by specific test, or by laboratory provider. The IPFD recommends that you get familiar with the site before running your first search.  On the left of the home screen (circled in the screenshot below) you will find links to information about how to use the database, types of accreditation, breed-specific health recommendations, and basics of genetic testing.

genetic testing for dogs, IPFD, database,dog genetic tests

Dog genetic tests have great potential to improve the health and well-being of dogs.  Knowledge about genetic mutations in individual dogs can lead to better preventive medicine, more effective treatments, and responsible breeding practices.  The IPFD is working to harmonize quality standards to make the promise of genetic testing for dogs a reality.

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Why Is My Cat Sneering at Me? It’s Not Personal, It’s Flehmen

Why is my cat sneering at me?  Have you ever asked yourself this question?  Does your cat sometimes make a funny face that resembles a sneer or a grimace when smelling an object? It’s not personal.

The Flehmen response

If your cat appears to sneer, or grimace, with panting or open-mouth breathing, he may be exhibiting the Flehmen response.  The Flehmen response is a natural way for animals, including cats, horses, camels, and llamas to temporarily improve their sense of smell.

When an animal bares its teeth and curls its upper lip, it opens up two small ducts in the roof of the mouth. These ducts, called nasopalatine ducts, connect with a special olfactory (smell) organ in the nose.  This is called the vomeronasal organ.  This organ has different sensory cells than the ones found in either the nose or taste-buds.  The effect of using the organ is probably something between smelling and tasting.

Invoking the Flehmen response

The Flehmen response is usually associated with social or sexual interactions 1.  In cats, just as in other animals, the Flehmen response is associated with exposure to fluids.  Exposure to secretions from other cats most often initiates a Flehmen . Males use the Flehmen response more frequently than do females.  However, if female cats are left in a room with urine from another cat, they will use the Flehmen response.

So, if your cat is doing the Flehmen, it probably means he is sensing the after-smells of another cat.  If you work around cats during the day, your cat is very likely to give you the Flehmen when you get home.  Think of it as a “How was work? Did you meet any interesting people?” sort of interaction.  It’s definitely not personal.

You may learn more about the Flehmen response in cats and other animals at

Hart, B.L. and Leedy, M.G., Stimulus and hormonal determinants of flehmen behavior in cats, Hormones and Behavior, 1987.
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Is It Safe for a Dog to Swim in a Chlorine Pool?

Is it safe for a dog to swim in a chlorine pool?

It’s pool season, and dogs need to cool off as much as their humans do.   But is it safe for a dog to swim in a chlorine pool?  It is, but you need to follow some simple rules to keep your dog safe during and after water play.

Are dogs more sensitive than people to chlorine?

At the levels used to maintain pools, chlorine is most likely as safe for dogs as it is for people.  Because dogs have a more acute sense of smell than humans, some people speculate that dogs may be more sensitive to the effects of chlorine in pools.  There is no scientific evidence that dogs display a higher sensitivity to chlorine.

Should my dog drink pool water?

While it is true that some pools may be maintained at chlorination levels close to the maximum level (4 parts per million) allowed in drinking water, there are still some differences.  Some products of chlorine, called chloramines,  are formed when chlorine combines with compounds in skin, disinfectants, and body secretions.  Chloramines are responsible for the characteristic pool smell, and they are also largely responsible for red, burning eyes and itchy skin after swimming.  And chloramines stay in the water longer than chlorine.

Your dog will likely not become ill after drinking small amounts of pool water.  However, it is best to discourage her from drinking pool water, and always keep clean, fresh water available.

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Will swimming after eating cause my dog to bloat?

If your dog is a deep-chested or large breed predisposed to stomach bloat and twisting, a serious condition, you should always limit exercise within an hour before to an hour after eating.  Swimming does not appear to increase the risk of bloat over other forms of exercise.

Simple rules to keep your dog safe during and after water play

  1. Hose your dog off prior to letting him in the pool.  This cuts down on dander that increases chloramines.
  2. Always monitor swim time, and use a dog life jacket if your dog is not a strong swimmer.
  3. Never force your dog to enter the pool.
  4. Limit drinking from the pool.
  5. Hose your dog off after swimming to avoid skin irritation.  Be sure to dry his ears.
  6. Shampoo and condition your dog more frequently during swim season.  Chlorine can dry out the skin and coat
  7. Keep chlorine tablets out of reach of dogs and children.

It’s safe for a dog to swim in a chlorine pool. Swimming is among the very best exercises for dogs of all breeds, activity levels, and ages.  During the summer, it’s also a way to get your dog the exercise she needs while avoiding heat exhaustion.   If you and your dog are lucky enough to have access to a dog-friendly pool, get out there and swim!


Travel with a Pet: Plan Ahead for Success

Should you travel with a pet? This is not a rhetorical question. You should ask yourself this before every trip.  Not every trip is pet-friendly, and not every pet is travel-friendly.

If thinking about leaving your pet with another caretaker for a week or more leaves you with hives or a deep sense of guilt, remember that everyone needs a break now and then.  A short pause from the routine of pet care may be just what you and your pet need.  Even if you aren’t feeling overwhelmed, letting go of daily pet care for a short time can help you be a better pet parent when you get home

Should you travel with your dog?

Will your trip include activities suitable for your dog?  Dogs make lousy luggage.  If you take your dog with you, do it for the right reason:  to include your dog in the vacation.

Always check ahead to make sure that your destination is dog-friendly. If you are traveling to a National Park, for example, consider leaving your dog home.  Dogs are not allowed on most trails in US National Parks.  I recently visited Yellowstone and saw many dogs hanging out in the car while their owners hiked.  Trust me, your dog will not enjoy this, and as the summer heats up it will be downright dangerous.  (The trails can be downright dangerous for pets, too, especially while bears are active).

Should you travel with your cat?

This is entirely up to your cat.  If your cat doesn’t mind getting into a carrier and loves to experience novel situations, she may make a better travel partner than a dog.  If not, so many things can go wrong, including stress-induced illness or destructive behavior at your destination.

The best way to ensure that your cat is travel-friendly is to acclimate him to a carrier and car travel, just as you would crate train a dog.  This should be done slowly, making the experience positive and gradually increasing the amount of time he spends in the carrier and in the car.

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Road trip vs air travel

Are you considering taking your pet on a plane?  If your pet will fit under an airline seat, travel in the cabin may be possible.  If not, remember that travel outside the cabin is stressful for pets and can be dangerous. Unless your stay will be more than a couple of weeks, it may simply not be worth the expense and the risk to take larger dogs with you via plane.

If you are taking your pet as a carry-on, be sure that your pet is comfortable in the carrier.  If your pet is unable to sit quietly in her carrier in an unfamiliar environment for a couple of hours or more, she is not a good candidate for air travel.  Airplanes are close quarters, and you may be seated next to someone who fears or is allergic to dogs or cats.  And nobody wants to listen to a whining cat or barking dog on a flight.

If you travel by car, there are some things to consider.  If your trip will take  more than a few hours of driving, think about what you will do with your pet when you stop for meals.  You may need to pack a picnic lunch or use a drive-through and eat outside where your pet can join you.  Does your dog do well with long car rides?  if not, breaking the trip up into shorter drives may help.

Planning your trip

If you have carefully considered and planned a trip that includes your pet, the following planning tips will help you make the journey safely and conveniently.

Two to six months before you leave:

  1. Book a pet-friendly hotel.
  2. If you are planning foreign travel, check up on requirements to bring animals into your destination country.
  3. Plan several pet-friendly activities in addition to your human-centered vacation fun.
  4. Make arrangements for local dog daycare at your destination if you are planning any activities in which your dog can’t take part.

One month before you leave:

  1. Ensure that vaccinations and flea/tick/heartworm preventatives are up to date.
  2. If you are traveling out of the country, get your pet’s required health examination
  3. Have your pet microchipped if he isn’t already.  Keep your microchip information with you.
  4. Get an identification tag and make sure your pet wears it.
  5. Copy your pet’s medical records and license information to take with you.
  6. Identify a veterinary practice and emergency practice near your destination.  Save the contact information and keep it with your pet’s records.
  7. Refill medications if needed

Packing your bags

Bring these items to ensure hassle-free travel

travel with a pet travel with a dog, suitcase, dog travel, pet travel

  1. Food and measuring cup
  2. Food water bowls
  3. Portable water bowl for road stops and hiking
  4. Medications,
  5. Toys
  6. First aid kit
  7. Brush and grooming tools
  8. Your pet’s favorite blanket
  9. Travel carrier with a blanket or pad to go underneath
  10. Dog poop bags.
  11. LItter box

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