Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dog Food Review: Purina Pro Plan Focus

I'm upset with myself about this one. I don't remember why I bought this food, but it was probably because it was on sale. I didn't look at the label until over half the food was gone and I was unhappy with what I saw. This oversight bothers me far more than when I lost my notes on a seven brand backlog of food reviews (which was the main reason it took me so long to get back to these). I really regret feeding Ebon this food, and I'll get into why as I go. Anyway, let's begin:

Purina Pro Plan Focus Large Breed Formula
Dog Food Advisor Rating: ★★½ This food is AAFCO approved for adult maintenance.*

Ingredients: Chicken, brewers rice, whole grain wheat, corn gluten meal, whole grain corn, poultry by-product meal (natural source of glucosamine), animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), barley, corn germ meal, fish meal (natural source of glucosamine), animal digest, fish oil, wheat bran, dried egg product, calcium phosphate, salt, potassium chloride, potassium citrate, Vitamin E supplement, choline chloride, L-Lysine monohydrochloride, zinc sulfate, ferrous sulfate, L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (source of Vitamin C), manganese sulfate, niacin, Vitamin A supplement, calcium carbonate, copper sulfate, calcium pantothenate, garlic oil, pyridoxine hydrochloride, Vitamin B-12 supplement, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin supplement, calcium iodate, Vitamin D-3 supplement, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), folic acid, biotin, sodium selenite. 

Items in italics will be discussed later.
Yes, I'm going to be talking about just about everything in this food. 

Bag's recommended daily feeding for a dog 76-100 lbs: 3 3/4 to 4 1/2 cups
Crude Protein: minimum of 26.0%
Crude Fat: minimum of 12.0%
Crude Fiber: maximum of 4.5%
Moisture: maximum of 12.0%
Calorie content: 396 kcal/cup, 3732 kcal/kg
Calculated amount to maintain Ebon's ideal weight (82.5 lbs): 4.21 cups or 0.45 kg (0.99 lbs)
Price per pound when buying the largest bag (34 lbs at $41.99): $1.235
Estimated cost of feeding Ebon per year on this food: $446.27 (10.628 of the 34 lb bags)
Ebon receives slightly less than the calculated feeding amount to allow for his daily treats
Ebon's overall health on this food: Disappointing. Energy levels low. Digestion could have been worse, but wasn't great. Coat had more dandruff and shed more than normal.

The kibble is large and typically shaped and smells vaguely of meat. The lack of chelated minerals isn't exactly ideal as the chelated form allows the nutrients to be more easily absorbed by the animal's body. I am disappointed by the lack of probiotics/microorganisms. These help maintain healthy gut flora, allowing for better digestion.

The company boasts that "high-quality" chicken is the first ingredient. And while this may be true, that is followed by a lot of extremely questionable inclusions, including things that I NEVER want to see in foods. The ingredients list reeks of ingredient splitting, where a company will shuffle things around to be able to say "look at all the meat!" when there really isn't that much. In this case, chicken is followed by brewers rice, whole grain wheat, corn gluten meal, whole grain corn. These are all starchy grains and lumped together, due to their high placement on the ingredients list, this means the food is really mostly grain. And I'm not even including the other grain ingredients! Also, since corn gluten meal, whole grain corn, and corn germ meal are all listed instead of just "corn", it's likely the company wants to hide how much corn is actually in the food by shifting it down the list. This is classic ingredient splitting. Not only that, but corn gluten meal is a high protein plant product that brings the quality of the food's protein content into question. Plant proteins are not complete, lacking many essential amino acids that animals need to function. I don't like to see protein boosters such as this since Ebon has a history of not doing as well on foods with significant plant-based protein.

Even more troubling to me are poultry by-product meal, animal fat, fish meal, animal digest, fish oil. These are all unnamed ingredient sources, which I NEVER like seeing in a food. Though poultry and fish are at least provide the barest amount of specificity, "animal" is very concerning. This could literally be any animal and there has been evidence of roadkill, among other things, winding up in generic "animal" ingredients, which doesn't bode well for ingredient safety, let alone quality. One of my basic requirements for me to be comfortable with a food is that all of the ingredient sources are identified. It's not just fish, it's salmon. It's not just poultry, it's turkey. And it most definitely isn't just animal, it's beef or chicken or lamb or duck or venison or kangaroo or whatever. In addition to all of that, "animal digest" is not just a mishmash of who knows what, it is a coating sprayed on the exterior of the kibble to make it smell and taste more appetizing. The food should be appetizing on its own without the need for such tactics. Much like Hill's, there are very good reasons why I've written off Purina as a brand that just really can't make a truly good food.

What amazed me most about this food was Ebon's reduced energy levels. Since it's moderately high in protein he should have done fine on it, so I honestly chalked it up to aging. However, as soon as I started switching him to a food with an ingredients list that I am content with he really perked up. He is back to his old self, excitedly nudging me to get pets and gleefully galumphing after his favorite toy. He's still almost ten and he still doesn't have the endurance of his youth, but he doesn't need to lose his spirit too. Because he's getting older, the last thing he needs is crap food. You get out what you put in. I am not going to make this mistake again.

The first food Ebon ever ate after I brought him home was Purina One. He didn't do so great on that either, but I didn't really know the reasons behind it until I started learning about pet food quality. Seeing the changes since he's been on better foods are amazing. I keep seeing adds for the "Purina ONE 28 Day Challenge" and I can't help but think back to my glee at his improved health when we left Purina behind all of those years ago.

* Note that "Adult" is defined as ages one through six. Though Ebon will be ten years old in January, I do not feed him foods specifically formulated for seniors and I have no plans to begin doing so any time soon.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Ebola: The Fine Line between Reasonable Concern and Needless Panic

A colorized electron micrograph of the virion that causes Ebola viral disease. 
As many of you are already aware, the United States recently had its first ever case of Ebola viral disease (formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever) to be diagnosed within its borders. Last month a Liberian native, Thomas Eric Duncan, tested positive for the virus in Dallas. Unfortunately, today it was announced that, despite aggressive treatment, he has passed away.

These events have raised serious questions about what is the most widespread outbreak of the virus to date. According to the World Health Organization, it has caused more deaths and cases than all previous outbreaks combined. The CDC lists the last known numbers at 8033 cases (4461 confirmed) and 3865 deaths. This is is a death rate of between 48.11% and 86.64%, depending on what number of cases are used: the total based on symptoms or only the lab-confirmed cases. Generally, the death rate for this outbreak has been given as "around 70%." Statements such as that are rather terrifying, and it's no wonder people are getting scared. However, there is a great deal of difference between being concerned in the right way and just panicking at the statistics.

Where Ebola viral disease has occurred
Except for a comparatively tiny number of cases, the current Ebola outbreak has been clustered in west Africa. Liberia has been the hardest hit, but Guinea and Sierra Leone have also had very large case numbers. Nigeria has had significantly lower numbers, though there have still been death, and all other places have minuscule amounts of cases compared to the three major countries of concerns. The disease originates in western or central Africa, and the main origin appears to be the bushmeat trade, with fruit bats believed to be normal carriers of the Ebola virus. In the past, Ebola has essentially been self-regulating. Since it is so deadly, the virus would "burn itself out" before spreading very far. Before this year, the largest number of cases in a single outbreak was 425 in the 2000 Ugandan epidemic, and the greatest death count was 280 in the first recorded Ebola outbreak: the 1976 event in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Condo.

This is why the current outbreak is so concerning. It has spread wide and killed many, with no real sign that it's stopping. Borders have been closed to try and prevent spread to more countries. People in west Africa are scared, and they have reason to be. HOWEVER, there are major traits about the disease that, under certain circumstances, make it quite difficult to transmit. These points are very important to emphasize. People can only become infected if they come in direct contact with bodily fluids of someone who is symptomatic. Note: Someone is ONLY infectious if they are CURRENTLY SHOWING SYMPTOMS. So, for instance, since the man who was diagnosed in the United States started showing symptoms after he was already in the country, he posed no risk to the people who traveled near him on his way over.

Researchers working with the 2014 Ebola variant
Perhaps the biggest issue with the regions that have been worst hit is that they do not have very good infrastructure. Health care workers that have traveled oversees to help in west Africa frequently report a lack of all sorts of supplies, including facilities and staff. Some areas do not have consistent running water, making sanitation more difficult. It can be harder to set up quarantines if the government does not have protocols on how to do so effectively. There have been cases of villagers refusing to cooperate with medical personnel, believing those who were trying to help them were the reason behind the deaths. Some victims have been afraid to look for help for similar reasons, putting those around them at greater risk of infection.

In west Africa, people have good reasons to be afraid. In the United States and other developed countries, the reason for concern is vastly lower. Sadly, I've already run across irrational panics and insane conspiracy theories (this one really takes the cake). Despite the death in the United States and the Spanish nurse who is now the first person to contract Ebola outside of Africa, the risks are not very big. We have the infrastructure that is lacking in so much of west Africa, which is why there have been infected people evacuated to their home countries for treatment. We can more easily prevent spread with quarantine laws, good facilities, and well-trained medical staff. This is the sort of thing that is needed oversees so that in the future widespread outbreaks can be prevented. It also wouldn't hurt if we could stop people from eating bushmeat, nipping the problem in the bud before it even starts.

The United States is now screening people who have flown in from countries where Ebola is active. This is not an unreasonable action, and is a step toward protecting US citizens. Unfortunately, it also means a big hassle if someone winds up sick with something less serious, but still has to deal with quarantine. The people at greatest risk of infection from Mr. Duncan have been quarantined, so with luck the number of future cases in this country will be few to none. I can only hope that Liberia, Sierra Leona, and Guinea will see a speedy end to the epidemic.

Sources are the WHO, CDC, and BBC (one, two, three, four, five, six). Images are from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons licenses or are copyright free: one, two, three