Why Can’t I Eat Dog Food?

A balanced diet. Yum.

My shopping cart overflowed with bread, eggs, ribs, chili, Potato Buds, frozen pizza, cookies, salad in a bag and diet soda–all for me. For my dog Annie, 70 pounds of Lab-pit bull love, I had one bag of kibble, three cans of chopped meat, and a box of Milk-Bones. Her food cost $20; mine cost $80. Her food took no preparation time; mine averaged a half hour.

Her food was designed to provide complete nutrition, giving her strong bones and muscles, a shiny coat, and fresh breath. Mine was mostly fat, sugar, salt and preservatives. Eating this stuff has made me overweight and sluggish while 10-year-old Annie still streaks across the yard with a perfect physique and a devilish sparkle in her eyes. As I watched the numbers add up on the checker’s computer screen, I had to wonder, Why can’t I eat dog food?

I’m serious. In the past, dog food had an unsavory reputation, as in, “I wouldn’t feed this slop to my dog.” While the people who make dog food insist that today’s canine chow is as healthy as anything else on the supermarket shelf, animal activists still maintain that dogs get all the animal parts we won’t eat, laced with substandard grain products and questionable additives. But they say that about the all-American hot dog, too.

Dog food has gone gourmet. Manufacturers boast of all-natural ingredients. They offer kibble in a dozen flavors, a different canned food for every night of the week, and snacks ranging from Milk-Bones to doggie pretzels and fruit-flavored chews.

Dogs even have their own delis now, places like Three Dog Bakery based in Kansas City, Missouri; the Gourmutt Bakery Company in Tempe, Arizona, and Rick’s Dog Deli in Orlando, Florida. Their offerings look so appetizing I wish I could buy some for myself.

Why not? Much of what I eat looks like dog food. My granola resembles Annie’s kibble, my meat loaf and corned beef hash look suspiciously similar to her chopped beef, and what is the difference between Lorna Doone cookies and Milk-Bones? They look the same.

Companies that sell so-called health foods for dogs boast that they use the same ingredients that are in our food, that they wouldn’t offer a dog anything they wouldn’t eat themselves. Exactly. Aren’t my dog’s insides pretty much the same as mine? If it wouldn’t taste good to me, why should she eat it? And if her food is healthier than my food, why shouldn’t I switch? Annie never seems to complain of heartburn or indigestion. She just wants more.

Think how simple my life would be if I only had to buy some cans and bags for Annie and the same for me. I’d be looking buffed and sparkly, and my breath would be great. My friends would ask, “Hey, what’s your secret?”

“Purina.”

It turns out several major manufacturers of people food also make dog food. Among them are: J.M. Smucker—Milk Bones; Nestlé–Alpo and Mighty Dog; Del Monte–Kibbles n Bits and Snausages; Colgate-Palmolive–Hill’s Science Diet Pet Food; and Mars (Snickers bars and M&Ms)–Pedigree dog food.

A newspaper blurb about Valentine cookies for dogs notes that they look just like people cookies, but lack sugar, salt, chemicals, artificial preservatives and animal fat. Wouldn’t that be good for us, too? It’s the ultimate low-carb diet.

I asked the makers of Milk-Bones, Annie’s favorite treat, whether they were safe for humans to eat. Their consumer relations rep, “Debbie W.,” responded, “Our products are made using similar processing methods as ‘people food,’ and this processing results in a safe product. But we still discourage you from eating pet food or treats because while they’re perfect for your dog, they’re not designed for people.”

What does that mean?

Iams communications manager Lara Strazdin said, “Our products are perfectly suited to dogs and cats–which means that humans will likely find them quite bland and unappetizing. We humans like lots of salt, sugar, onion, garlic and other flavor enhancers in our foods–none of which are good for our canine and feline companions.”

Okay. But how do dog food manufacturers know what dogs like? If a dog is hungry, she will eat almost anything (plastic, paper, poop), but given a choice between her kibble and my nachos, Annie will always go for the nachos.

Dog food and people food weren’t always different. In the Bible, Matthew wrote, “The dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” That was pretty much the story for thousands of years. Dog biscuits were reportedly invented in the late 1800s when a baker accidentally made a batch of cookies that tasted horrible to him and discovered that his dog loved them. Until commercial pet foods started being mass produced in the early 1900s, dogs ate table scraps and the occasional wild animal. And they lived. So why does man’s best friend eat different chow now? And why can’t I eat what she eats?

I suppose it all depends which side of the Milk-Bone you’re on. Annie wants my ice cream while I’m looking at that bag of senior dog chow promising “vibrant maturity” and thinking we should switch bowls.

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