On Saturday, November 19 Fur-Baby Boutique, Daycare, Spa & Hotel in downtown Milford hosted Rob Downey, creator of Annamaet dog foods, as he provided pet nutrition education to the local community. Keeping man’s best friend healthy is an important job and one that can be difficult for many owners presented with hundreds of choices from kibble, soft and raw meals.
Downey grew up raising hunting dogs and knew as a child that he wanted a career where he would work with the animals. Later in life, he got into sled dog racing, eventually winning the Bronze Medal in the 2009 IFSS World Championship.
“We don’t do the long races, like the Iditarod,” Mr. Downey said. “We do sprint mushing so our dogs go faster but for shorter distances.” Mr. Downey and his family own a cabin in Alaska, driving the 4,200 miles from their permanent home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a few times each year to race and train his dogs. Mr. Downey, who earned his undergraduate degree from Ohio State and his graduate degree at the Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, knew how important nutrition was for his dogs. He tried many types of foods, but could not find one that had everything he needed to keep his dogs strong and healthy.
Mr. Downey said he began creating his own dog food and testing it on one of his rescue dogs who was more of a picky eater than his sled dogs. It took four batches before they developed a formula that the dog would eat and it became his first product. The Downey’s named the company Annamaet after Mr. Downey’s mother, Anna Mae Downey and the first sale was on his mother’s birthday.
“That was 31 years ago and that first customer is still buying dog food from us today,” Mr. Downey said. “Interestingly enough, dog food production and labeling are far more restricted that human foods in some cases. I must be licensed in every state where I sell my products. Every label must be approved in each state. I can have the label approved in 28 states and the 29th will reject it for something. I can change it and then one of the first 28 states will reject it. It is why so many dog food labels have so little information.”
Mr. Downey explained that each dog has its own nutritional needs as there are many factors that can change what a particular dog needs to be healthy. He said that the species, breed, sex, age and weight of a dog are all factors in nutritional needs. He said that obesity was the number one health problem in dogs in the United States.
“Lean dogs live longer and have healthier lives,” Mr. Downey said. “As many as 50 percent of dogs in the United States are obese but only 20 percent of owners admit that their dog is obese. Obesity can shorten a dog’s life by two years, but most people who see a dog at its proper weight will consider that dog to be too skinny.” Mr. Downey explained that weight issues can lead to the same illnesses that people suffer when they are overweight, such as heart disease, diabetes and cruciate ligament tears.
Many of the weight loss plans for dogs included diets high in carbohydrates and fiber. Mr. Downey said that many people believe high fiber increases satiability, but it actually does the opposite. It can also interfere with nutrient absorption. Fiber also has twice the calories than carbohydrates or proteins.
“A high protein diet conserves lean body mass and satiability,” Mr. Downey said. “A dog who eats protein in the morning will stay full longer than if they eat a high fiber meal, much like people. It is important to note that just feeding less does not work as the dog is just hungry. Also remember that treats can be calorie grenades. People feed dogs healthy dog food but don’t think about all the treats they give the dog, which isn’t helping.
Although protein is important to dogs, Mr. Downey said that too much protein is not good for dogs. He said it can be filtered through the kidneys and stored as carbohydrates or fat. It can also end up in the colon fostering bacteria growth. It is often to blame for foul smelling gas in some dogs. Calcium is another ingredient to watch as too much calcium can lead to joint problems. Mr. Downey also dispelled some myths about dog foods. He said that a high protein diet does not cause bone disease. High protein diets in dogs do not cause kidney disease although dogs who have already been diagnosed with kidney disease may need lower amounts than other dogs. He also said that puppies do not need calcium supplementation.
“Restricting protein in older dogs can lead to neural and mental function loss,” Mr. Downey said. “For this reason, you should not restrict protein in older dogs.”
Mr. Downey said that dog food should be stored in its own bag, not dumped into containers as the containers could leach chemicals into the food. He suggested just placing the bag in the container. He said his dog foods can last up to six or eight months, so buying larger quantities even for smaller dogs would be fine.
“Our latest product, Sustain, was developed with sustainability in mind,” Mr. Downey said. “Sustainability is becoming a major concern. The cod used in Sustain is line-caught and includes a stable form of microalgae. The microalgae does not deteriorate like other forms of DHA and is completely sustainable.” Mr. Downey said they also offer cat foods along with their dog food products.
The company also makes treats using the same formula as their dog food.“The treats are our dog food,” Mr. Downey said. “We simply send them off and have them baked into biscuits.” Mr. Downey also said that when a dog has an itching problem, he recommends changing their food before trying anything else. He said it could be the dog simply has dry skin and needs a food with more oils.
Sign up for you free digital subscription of The Weekly Review, delivered directly to your email every Tuesday morning. A quick cover-to-cover read to catch up on the news of the week and experience great stories about our local communities. Sign up for your free email subscription below.