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Are Grain Free Foods Harming Our Pets?

Posted on Thursday, September 6, 2018 by Laura Amiton




I recently had one of the most incredible experiences of my career. I was invited, along with some other pet supply owners and pet professionals, to western Pennsylvania to learn how one pet food company, Answers Pet Food, does what they do.

I’ve visited and toured other manufacturing facilities, but this was different. We weren’t just shown where the finished product ends up, in a clean room facility getting packaged. Rather, we were taken to several farms to watch how the chickens, goats, cows, and pigs lived. We saw where they grow their organic vegetables. And we met the farmers who did all of it.

We learned how they are a part of Global Animal Partnership (GAP), an organization, in summary, of farmers, scientists, retailers, manufacturers and animal advocates whose main purpose is to make sure the animals are treated with respect from beginning to end. GAP farms comply with strict regulations that allows the animals a humane experience, being able to come and go freely rather than being penned their entire existence. They are also fed species appropriate diets. The cows, for example, are grazing and eating grass that is not treated with pesticides. The chickens get to forage for bugs in the fields for hours at a time. Ultimately, the end result is a humane life, treated with respect until it’s ended for pet food. For that and many other reasons, Answers is arguably the best pet food in the country.

What we were able to experience is a “farm-to-bowl” movement. Answers Pet Food was the first of it’s kind to deliver this sort of product to the pet food consumer. Anyone who has watched Pet Fooled, the documentary that came out in 2016, or the famous Super Size Me from 2004, might be surprised that there are companies like Answers today. These films highlight how much our country has shifted how we grow food for humans and our pets. Natural, organic agriculture has made way to the mass-production, pesticide-laden, animal cruelty existence that has become our new normal.

Just after returning from this trip came news that the FDA is investigating taurine levels in dry pet food. They are trying to determine if foods high in vegetable starch, such as some grain free foods, could be contributing to Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM), a potentially deadly disease for dogs and cats. We all agree that dogs and cats are carnivores with high amino acid requirements. The amino acids necessary for longterm survival are only found in animal protein, including muscle, heart, kidney and liver.

To allow a dry (kibble) food to cook appropriately, it cannot be 100% meat, so starch of some sort must be added. In the more recent past, corn, rice and wheat were predominantly used, but then about a decade or so ago there became a big push to remove glutens from the diet, realizing that our dogs and cats cannot process them. This is when we began to see foods being made with other starch binders such as potato, sweet potato, peas, lentils, garbanzo beans and tapioca starch.

It’s very important that this research is completed and the foods that are deficient are either fixing their mistakes or are taken off the market. What I am seeing, however, are blanket statements that “grain free foods are bad for pets” and “boutique pet foods are contributing to Dilated Cardiomyopathy”.

We are getting many questions from concerned pet owners every day about this and I can see why. Honestly, it comes down to reading and understanding pet food labels. It is agreed in the pet food industry that foods high in vegetable starches rather than animal proteins are not species appropriate. In other words, dogs and cats, without a doubt, need a food high in good, quality animal proteins and low in starch. When the first ingredient is not a high quality (by-product free, meal free), the food is not adequate. The ingredients are listed in order of weight, so you need to see animal protein as the first, hopefully second and even better yet, third ingredients in the food. If vegetables, such as peas, lentils, potatoes, tapioca, rice, wheat or corn are listed in a number one spot, avoid this food, as it will have less high quality protein.

So, it’s my assessment that the issue here is not specifically about grain free foods. The concern is about quality of ingredients inside that bag. Because grain free foods are now the predominant food on the market, particularly in natural pet food, the news is confusing the pet owners in to thinking that every grain free food is inadequate. This isn’t necessarily true.

We see our role in our animal community as educators and is the exact reason we exist with two natural pet supply stores. Feeding our beloved pets species appropriate diets is not just important, but it’s our duty as pet owners to understand what it is they need to live long, healthy lives.

The pet food industry is not unlike other industries, as there are excellent companies and then there are those attempting to capitalize on pet owners. It is my opinion that there are brands trying to fool the pet owners in to believing their foods are high quality, when in reality, they are exactly the opposite. These are the foods to be concerned about.

So, what to do now? If you feed a kibble, read the label. Feel free to come in and ask any one of us to help you decipher the ingredients, as we are more than eager to help you. We do this all day, every day and help give you ideas on what you can do to make any changes, be it a new food, a food supplement, or more.

We can help you with transitioning pet food from one brand to another, we can offer suggestions about adding taurine rich treats to add to the daily routine, and we can help you understand the role of raw food and it’s importance to your dog or cat’s diet, even if it’s not every day.

The cause is not lost. Rather, it’s us understanding and honoring the nutritional needs our pets have.

I applaud Answers and am eagerly watching other small pet food companies who are making great efforts as well. It is Answers, and others like My Perfect Pet, Open Farm, SmallBatch and Farmina amongst others, that take great care and pride in what they are creating for our cats and dogs.

Early Detection Can Save Your Pet’s Life

Posted on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 by Laura Amiton

Our pets are our family, so if they become sick it can be emotionally and financially devastating to us. We know our pets better than anyone else, and because they are reliant on us to take care of them, it’s our responsibility to recognize when they don’t seem themselves. Little issues can become major when we miss or ignore the signs.


The most common of the serious issues I hear pet owners talk about are urinary infections and blockages, digestive issues, kidney insufficiency and joint weakness that affects mobility. There are countless other illnesses that can and do occur, however, we’ll focus on the more common ailments and many of the tips here may apply if you’re dealing with something else.


Prevention is key. Take for example arthritis. Every pet, if they live long enough, may experience arthritis. It’s just what happens with age. If you start with joint supplements prior to symptoms, you may prevent the arthritis from ever becoming a debilitating issue. In addition, keeping your pets at an optimal weight will keep extra pressure off the joints. If your pet injures a joint, tendon or ligament, I recommend starting a joint supplement immediately upon recovery. My dog partially tore her Achilles Tendon as a 9-month old puppy. I started her on supplements immediately and now at 7 years old, her old injury doesn’t appear to bother her at all.


Early Kidney disease can generally be prevented by diet. A high-quality diet comprised of canned, raw or freeze-dried food free and of by-products, artificial ingredients such as colors, flavors and preservatives is one of the best choices you can make for your pet’s health. A diet solely of dry food, or kibble, can contribute, over time, to dehydration and kidney insufficiency.


Urinary infections and blockages are common and can become extremely serious very quickly. This affects dog and cats, however cats seem to be more prone to this disease. Dehydration is one of the first symptoms. If your cat is drinking more water than usual, keep your eyes peeled for another symptom: Frequent trips to the litter box, and/or urinating outside of the litter box. Cat owners tell me all the time that their cat urinated just outside the litter box, in a sink or bathtub, or on a pile of dirty laundry. This, I believe, is your cat telling you that something is wrong. Please do not ignore this, rather, make a vet appointment immediately. This can turn from what most people view as an annoying behavior to an extremely serious, even life-threatening condition in a matter of hours.


It is widely known that the digestive tract plays a major role in health for all animals, including humans. Digestive issues may indicate inflammation in the body and left untreated can lead to any number of issues. If your pet is experiencing chronic constipation, diarrhea or gas, consider this a warning for potential issues down the road if left untreated. Unless your pet is in obvious pain, I generally recommend giving their digestive tract a “rest”by feeding a very bland diet for 24 hours to rest their gut. A home-cooked diet of boiled meat and rice is a good way to start with dogs. For cats, a simple, natural canned food diluted with water can work. Adding a probiotic specific for dogs and cats may help. We don’t suggest using probiotics designed for humans, as our bacterial needs do vary. Raw goat milk,raw cow kefir and bone broths can be some of the easiest and tasty ways to add probiotics in to the gut.


Diagnosing digestive issues can be complicated and time consuming, however, should never be ignored. If your pet is not doing better after a rest period on a bland diet, see your veterinarian to rule out parasites, leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel or other issues.


Quick take-aways:


1). You know you’re pet better than anyone. If something is off, act on it before it becomes major.


2). Lethargy should not be ignored. Lethargy with a complete loss of appetite is a major sign to see your vet.


3). Cats that won’t eat for more than 48 hours do need to get in to the vet. No exceptions. Keep a close watch on your dog if they have stopped eating. If they become lethargic, see your vet.


4). Make sure you and your veterinarian are in alignment with your values. For example, if you are holistic minded, choose a vet who treats symptoms from that perspective.

Does your pet need to lose weight? You’re not alone!

Posted on Sunday, June 3, 2018 by Laura Amiton

It is estimated that more than 50% of dogs and cats in America are overweight or obese. There are several reasons for what has become an incredibly serious issue, leading to potentially life changing diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, dental and heart disease.


Pet food, in many cases, is the culprit. With extremely loose regulations on what ingredients can go in to pet food in our country, we find that many companies load their foods with cheap carbohydrate fillers and not enough high quality proteins. These carbs then break down to sugar, which their body cannot use so it metabolizes to fat. Foods with less than 25% carbohydrates are considered okay. Anything above 25% can lead to issues. Want to know what percent of your cat or dog’s food is carbohydrates? See below for a simple formula.


Food quality isn’t the entire story, however. For many pets, they are simply eating too many calories. What’s the best way to monitor calories? Always use the suggested feeding amounts on your pet’s food label as your guideline. If you feed a combination of foods, such as dry and canned, make sure you are taking into consideration the volume percent. For example, if you want your cat 50% dry food and 50% canned food, look at the feeding guidelines for daily feeding amount and half it on both.


How many calories does my pet need?
10 lbs.=180 to 200 calories
10 lbs.=200 to 275 calories
20 lbs.=325 to 400 calories
50 lbs.=700 to 900 calories
70 lbs.=900 to 1,050 calories
90 lbs.=1,100 to 1,350 calories


Carbohydrate calculator:
To calculate the percentage of carbohydrates in a commercial diet, subtract the percentages of protein, fat, moisture, crude fiber (an indigestible part of carbohydrates), and ash from 100. If ash isn’t listed, use 7% as an average.


Other things to consider are:


-Don’t give in! Begging can be cute, but it can also lead to overweight issues. Offer snacks that are natural and that you can understand the ingredients.


-Most commercial pet treats are equivalent to a bag of potato chips. Count the calories that  you’re feeding (adding calories of treats too).


-Add longer or more frequent walks, interactive toys for cats (laser pointers, wand-style toys).


-Introduce food dispensing toys. For dogs we love Kongs. For cats, Slim Cat Treat Ball and Indoor Hunting Feeder by Doc & Phoebe’s are exceptional ways to feed your feline.


Have questions or need help? We offer free nutritional consultation that can help you achieve optimal weight with your pet.

It’s THAT time of year

Posted on Wednesday, April 25, 2018 by Laura Amiton

Have any of you experienced fleas or ticks after taking your dog out this spring? Well, you’re not alone. In fact, many pet owners are talking about this after walking through the neighborhood or visiting our parks. The parks are not immune to these little critters, and neither are our own yards.


Fleas pose an issue all year long but become worse in Spring and Summer. Ticks are seasonal, showing up in Spring and Fall.


If you have ever had fleas in your home or on your pet, you may understand the gamut of issues that may result. Itchy, bumpy skin, hot spots from your pet chewing and tapeworms are not fun.


How do you know if your pet has fleas? One way is to use a flea comb. The fine-toothed comb, when brushed through the body, will pick up any fleas as well as what is generally called “flea dirt”. Flea dirt is dried blood and when added to a drop of water, it turns red. If one or both are present, you have fleas.


Without treatment, flea infestations happen quickly. In fact, every female flea lays on average 30 eggs per day. For every adult flea seen, 95 percent of the fleas are invisible to us, waiting to hatch. It’s known that to successfully treat them, we cannot ignore treating the environment. Traditionally, many of us have used “flea bombs” to fumigate our homes. Although somewhat effective, those are chemicals so there are downsides.


What to do if you have fleas? Natural flea control in the home & yard

Daily thorough cleaning, washing and vacuuming.


Bathe your pets. Completely lather the neck first to “trap” the fleas on the body. Use a flea comb to pluck off any fleas on the face and ears.


Pick up beneficial nematodes from local stores such as Al’s Garden Center, Backyard Bird Shop or Roots Garden Supply to name a few. These microscopic organisms feed off insect larvae. This only takes a few hours and your yard will be flea (and aphid) free in no time.


Natural preventatives that won’t hurt your pet or the environment

Flea comb daily. Dunk fleas in a bowl of soapy water.


Apply a natural, effective flea repellent to your pets. Flea Flicker! Tick Kicker! by Ark Naturals and Herbal Insect Repellent Spray by Mad About Organics are safe to use on both dogs and cats and can be found at many local pet supply stores.

Easy Ways To Improve Your Pet’s Health in 2018

Posted on Thursday, December 28, 2017 by Laura Amiton


It’s hard to believe that we are nearing the end of 2017! It was quite the year in weather, with our record-breaking cold, snowy winter and our long, hot, dry summer. Wildfires near and far and hurricanes that pounded our country have topped the news for months now. With all of the devastation, I find myself turning down the news and paying most of my attention to all of the good that happens around me in my daily life.

I find the close of each year to be rejuvenating to my soul. Reflecting on the ups and downs, the accomplishments and change, is invigorating. I welcome what’s coming next, knowing that I’m in control of most, but not all, of what’s to come in the next 12 months.

Due to the nature of my work, owning two small pet supply stores, finding good everyday is easy. In fact, at least one customer each day remarks on how fun my job seems to be. And, they are right! Helping people and their pets is beyond rewarding. Knowing that happy, healthy animals makes us happy and healthy too, I have made it my daily work and life’s mission to do all that I can to promote health and wellness in as many pet’s lives as possible.

The beginning of the new year marks an opportunity to invite positive habits into our lives and the lives of our pets. It gives us an opportunity to self-reflect and set goals for the new year. For many of us, our goals revolve around improving our health. So, why not extend that on to your pets as well?

Here are a few ways that you can improve your pet’s health and wellness in 2018:

Overall body detox: Twice a year, we all should be helping our body rid itself of toxins that can build. There are many ways we can do this ourselves, but what about our pets? By doing a detox, it helps clear your pet’s filtering organs, liver and kidneys, and help move out unwanted toxins out through the skin. Everyone should be doing this, but particularly those on medications, medicinal flea control or who show signs of itchy skin. Internal Gold Detox Kit by Amber Technology and Detox Blend by Animal Essentials are two products available that are easy to use and affordable.
Add some immune system boosters to your pet’s diet. There are many natural ways you can help your cat or dog’s system to stay strong and defend against toxins in the environments. We love Cod Liver Oil by Nordic Naturals. Cod liver oil is very high in Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a strong antioxidant and we are most susceptible to being too low in this vitamin in the winter months. Other immune boosters include Green Juju, a blend of organic vegetables combined with ginger, lemon juice and bison bone broth. Bone broths in general are an excellent source of enzymes and probiotics, all which help the digestive system stay strong. Caru, Plato, The Honest Kitchen and Answers Pet Food are excellent sources of bone broths that are formulated for dogs and cats.
Add more walking to the daily or weekly routine. Not only is is great for you, dog’s love all of the stimulation that they receive from being outside. Diversify the walks, finding new places to explore. This allows your dog to experience new sights and smells outside of the neighborhood which you live, thus helping physically and emotionally.
For cat owners, look for interactive toys for you both, such as laser pointers or wand toys. Playing with your cat increases your bond and helps them burn some extra calories while helping their cardiovascular system.
Remove foods with fillers and replace with foods that only contain animal proteins. Does your pet’s food contain corn, wheat, sorghum, soy or the like? Look for a food that lists the type of protein, such as beef, lamb, chicken, turkey or fish. Stay away from foods that are vague and list “animal meal”. These are not natural or healthy and add to weight gain and more.
Add more moisture to your pet’s diet. If you are feeding a dry food, add water to the kibble. Or better yet, add some high-quality canned or raw food. This will help with dry, itchy skin, weight loss, kidney and liver function and more!

Looking Forward To 2017

Posted on Sunday, January 1, 2017 by Laura Amiton

As I write this on the first day of 2017, I find myself excited for the year in front of TFS. I wish you could hear how motivated my team is to help our customers each and every day. The conversations and drive they have is very motivating to me. I find myself lucky. Because this isn’t just my dream, it’s our dream, to help people and their pets. We’ve gotten to know you and consider you family. So here’s to 2017-another opportunity to serve you, to get to know new people, and for us to find new ways to be creative and impress.happycat


Feed The Love, Laura Amiton, Owner