Pet Food Storage and Spoilage

Burton's BlogAll foods spoil, though some degrade faster than others. This is a fact of life. Still, there are people who would disagree with this incontrovertible statement. We’re not sure, but these may be the same people that believe the world is flat. You’ve bought great food. You’ve done the easy part, but paying attention to handling and pet food storage at home is one of the most important ways to help maintain the long-term health of your pet.

We’d have to take a poll. It would probably even behoove the manufacturer to be more forthright in explaining how quickly food can deteriorate through oxidation because it would encourage people to buy smaller bags of food more often. Instead, food manufacturers push their larger bags of food by advertising new packaging and “natural preservation procedures” that claim to be better at preserving the food you buy. Most of the sales on pet food also occur on the 40 lb. bags. These sales are designed to look good in the accounting books but generally do not encourage better pet health. As a rule, you shouldn’t buy more food than your pet can consume in one month. For most breeds of dog, 40 lbs. is well beyond their consumptive capacity.

food bins - food handling and spoilage

Two examples of food container storage.

Air, moisture, temperature and chemical composition all play independent roles in food spoilage. Over time, there are thousands of chemical reactions that affect food, to both its nutritional detriment and benefit, and through this article we hope to offer a few simple explanations about food chemistry and the processes that most directly apply to pet owners.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS RELATING TO PET FOOD STORAGE

Life on earth cannot exist without moisture. It is therefore no coincidence that moisture breeds bacteria, molds and yeasts – all of which happen to be notorious agents of organic decay. The greater the moisture content, the greater the presence of organisms that accelerate spoilage. An open can of wet food spoils much faster than kibble. The proteins degrade rapidly; putrefaction can be detected in a matter of hours. Dogs, as we’re probably aware, will eat just about anything. Slightly rotten food? No problem. Bring on seconds! Cats, however, are much pickier about the freshness of their meals. This contrast in mealtime behavior is almost surely a result of their differing paths to domestication. Dogs first co-existed alongside man as scavengers surviving off the scraps of human detritus (but that doesn’t mean it’s good for them!) whereas cats have always been exquisite hunters employed by humans for activities such as rodent control.

People that buy large volumes of food because it is cheaper make a big mistake if the food is improperly handled after purchase. Dry kibble, left open, immediately begins to deteriorate. Proteins and fats oxidize to form free radicals which when consumed slowly, but persistently, wear down the body. Free radicals are highly reactive atoms or molecules containing unpaired electrons which catalyze chemical chain reactions that can damage cells. In abundance and over time, these free radicals can attack every cell in our and our pets’ bodies. Antioxidants have become a health buzz-word and for good reason – they terminate these detrimental chain reactions and inhibit further cellular oxidation. Raw fruits and vegetables (yes, even for your dog! But make sure you know which ones dogs can and cannot eat) are especially beneficial in providing antioxidants. Since cats are obligate carnivores, the availability of raw fruit and vegetables isn’t really a relevant discussion; instead concern yourself with the quality and freshness of the meat they consume.

TYPES OF PET FOOD STORAGE AND PRESERVATION

Chemical

This type of preservation protects against a myriad of possibilities, but what chemical preservation has in common with all other types of preservation is that it prevents oxidation. Ethoxyquin (a quinoline-based antioxidant used to combat the rancidification of fats) is a chemical preservative that has fallen out of favor because of suggestive ties to certain health problems; however, it is still one of the most effective. Acid preservation of meat is common, but also a fading practice as evidenced by the disappearance of pickled pig’s feet and eggs at bars and saloons. (For this we have no explanation, but it is forever a part of our curious culinary history.) More natural antioxidants such as Vitamin E, rosemary extract, and Vitamin C are currently more popular for pet foods. The bottom line is that the use of increasingly more natural antioxidants has reduced the shelf life of pet foods. While this may be better for the health of our pets, it also places an onus on the consumer to take an active role in preventing food spoilage.

Even cats would confess to being pickier eaters than their canine counterparts.

Drying

Another method of preservation involves the combination of salt and other chemicals such as bisulfites and/or sugar along with dehydration to preserve fruits and meat. You can find examples of this technique in any grocery, corner, or convenience store. This is the process by which all kinds of meat jerkies and dried fruits are created.

Freezing

This method slows the process of oxidation but does not eliminate it. The colder the freeze, the more effective the preservation. This means that that really choice filet you’ve got stashed in your freezer from the Carter administration isn’t still edible. We’re sorry to break the bad news to you, but your Kenmore is not equipped for advanced cryogenics. When buying frozen raw diets at your pet store, make sure the pet food storage temperature is 0ºF or below.

Barrier Bags

Paper bags provide very little protection, yet manufacturers have used them for decades because they’re a cheap alternative to our modern barrier bags used to package better foods. But as more truth emerges about the relationship between packaging and food decay, manufacturers have been forced to create better bags. Even human cereal is protected by a wax paper barrier to keep the product fresh. Pet food companies have introduced new barrier bags made of petroleum products; these are very good at keeping air and moisture out while the product is stored on retail shelves. The paper bags used for cheaper foods are particularly oxygen-porous which greatly diminishes the longevity of the food. It is only in the last fifteen years that these oxygen and vapor tight barrier bags have begun appearing on shelves. These bags are expensive but are very good at their job; however, their effectiveness does not extend beyond the moment you open the bag. It should be noted that some of the best advancements in packaging techniques such as barrier bags, nitrogen packing, and vacuum sealing are taking place with small animal and bird foods. Don’t pass up those crinkled vacuum packed bags just because they look a bit odd. Vacuum packaging retains freshness. The consumer needs to look beyond the aesthetics of the bag; this is exactly the goal of companies that skimp on product quality but spend on excellent marketing and graphic design because the latter is much less expensive.

Canning

Canning involves the combined talents of a couple of preservation methods: heat and airtight containers. Extreme heat kills harmful organisms and an exclusion of air prevents re-inoculation. This technique has been around since the invention of the glass jar with a screw on lid in 1858 by John Landis Mason. Those that do their own canning know that acidic fruits and vegetables are easier to preserve than more alkaline foods. Improperly canned products of lesser acidity can result in botulism because the acidity negates the effect of the bacteria that produce the botulism toxin. This is why tomatoes are the perfect canning vegetable whereas the green bean, an acidic lightweight, is a poor candidate. Commercial canners add salt to many canned vegetables to compound the preservation, but they still have to be diligent about their methods. Botulism is bad news, and even though dogs are relatively impervious to the toxin, they can still contract dangerous maladies from spoiled and rotten foods.

Fermentation

Yogurt is milk acidified by bacterial action. Bacterial groups of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria produce so much acid during the fermentation process that other molds and bacteria find it nearly impossible to invade the culture. Fermentation is also a natural nutritional aid. Take for example the nomadic Mongolian warriors of Genghis and Kublai Kahn. This army conquered most of the known world while drinking the fermented milk of the animals they rode into battle. Now that is efficiency. There are numerous types of beneficial vitamins and enzymes produced in the fermentation process. In moderation, beer and wine are also good for us.

STORING PET FOOD AT HOME

Kibble has a shelf life of various durations for a few reasons: we allow food to be exposed to varying amounts of air, fluctuating temperatures, high temperatures, and moisture. Maintaining low moisture and antioxidant levels blocks the effect of incompletely oxidized fats and proteins (these are those pesky free radicals again). In cars, the incomplete combustion of gas results in certain nitrogen products and carbon monoxide emissions. This is why we have platinum catalytic converters – to provide an environment for chemical reactions whereby toxic combustion by-products are converted to less-toxic substances. The prevention of kibble oxidation involves a similar exercise in chemistry. And you probably never thought you’d read a conversation comparing kibble to car parts. You’re welcome.

When a bag of pet food is purchased, as we’ve said, don’t buy more than your pet can consume in a month. If you do make it a practice to buy foods in bulk, think about freezing all but a 30-day supply. Remember, the quality of the food begins to deteriorate rapidly the minute that bag is opened. Manufacturers like Eagle, Wysong, Merrick, Solid Gold, Wellness, Eukanuba, etc. all use vapor proof bags that preserve the food much better before it is opened.

Don’t take the food from the bag. It may seem like a sound pet food storage solution to pour the food from the bag into a plastic storage container of some kind; however, if there is a recall, it is important to know the lot number of your particular bag so the offending ingredient can be tracked and you can have the piece of mind knowing that your particular bag of food has not been implicated. If the food has been contaminated, holding onto the bag means you also know to whom and how to respond. This goes for both human and pet foods. Additionally, foods removed from their bags typically have increased rates of oxidation when in a plastic container that is opened every day.

We suggest you keep pet food, once opened, in its original bag and then place that bag and its contents in a plastic container. Ideally you would take a week of food out at a time so that you do not continually expose the stored food to air and moisture each day. The less often food is exposed to moisture and oxygen, the less it deteriorates. Also do not store food in areas with rapid temperature fluctuations such as your porch, basement or garage. These environments increase condensation. Bags left on the floor, especially bags that are not vapor sealed, inhale moisture and deliver it directly to the kibble. Moisture results in the formation of molds that we don’t always see; molds can be especially damaging because they can produce a toxin called aflatoxin that will attack your pet’s liver (and even your own, if you’re not careful). The deterioration of food, especially in low-density fats like chicken and fish oils that are so healthy when produced from quality sources, causes those nasty free radicals, rancidity and protein deterioration that put great stress on primary organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys.

FOOD FRESHNESS KEEPS A PET EATING REGULARLY

Think about what it would smell like if you let a stick of butter or a chicken breast go rancid on your countertop. Now think about how your pets can smell at least 100 times better than we can. Is it any wonder why pets sometimes turn their noses up at their food? The processes that destroy the makeup in that piece of chicken are the same at work on the freshness of your pet’s kibble. So if your pet suddenly refuses a food he’s eaten for months or even years, it may not be time to completely switch foods… instead, maybe it’s time to improve your methods of pet food storage.

free radicals - food spoilage

 

Burton’s Blog: Class Action against Rachael Ray’s Nutrish

Burton’s Blog: Class Action against Rachael Ray’s Nutrish

Burton's BlogRachael Ray’s pet food has hit the news. The media (not surprisingly) seized the wrong talking point. They said the reason for a class action suit against the brand is that Nutrish claimed that it was all-natural. It was also stated that the manufacturer used Roundup herbicide. I don’t believe that. The class action suit brought against Rachael Ray’s Nutrish confirms what we already know about manufacturers and their “all natural” claims.

There were some herbicide residues on the grains used in Nutrish. That is true of most grains going into all manufactured foods. I have long told people that there is no such thing as a truly all-natural kibble. Some kibble manufacturers just exaggerate their wholesomeness more than others. In the case of Rachel Ray’s Nutrish, some of their foods contain soybean meal. This is the real problem. I would not feed soybeans to dogs for a couple of reasons.

Soybean production relies on Roundup to clean the fields of weeds. Because soybeans are a low-lying crop, weeds easily overtake the fields. RoundUp has been used for decades. The chemical found in food grown with Roundup is glyphosate, which also happens to be the chemical popping up in analysis of Nutrish kibble. Any foods using Round are bound to show traces of the chemical.

As far as I know, we’re still not aware of the possible health hazards caused by residues of this herbicide. I believe the class action suit will find it hard to declare and prove damages, but in my mind that is not the issue. I don’t trust contaminants, which is why I wouldn’t feed an animal a food containing soybean meal as a protein replacement. Being wary of the potential hazards of contaminants and awarding specific damages in a lawsuit is an entirely different matter. We need to make it clear to manufacturers that we won’t tolerate the contaminants. The only language big manufacturers speak is money. It is time that people became familiar with misrepresentation in the foods they buy. You’ve got to question everything on the package. Speaking of which, I wonder if tofu has been examined for herbicide residues.

I do not take “residues” seriously (in terms of legal ramifications) until we have evidence of medical issues resulting from the contamination, but I don’t want them in my food or my pet’s food either. The conundrum is that herbicides are used to grow food more economically. The price of food will reflect whether they’re actually using more organic methods for growing. It’s up to us to determine how we respond. Do we pay a little more per pound for the assurance that we’re not giving our pets traces of herbicide in their daily dish? Buying cheap food grown without herbicides or pesticides involves risk and reward. The reward is a few dollars in our pockets. The risk is the potential ramifications in terms of the long-term health of our pet.

I wouldn’t feed pets Rachael Ray’s Nutrish for a couple of reasons. First, Nutrish is a grain-based food, and I do not believe in feeding a grain-based food to a carnivore. Second, I won’t feed anything made with soybeans. We’ve known for years that soybean meal is a poor protein replacement. Carnivores do not digest soybean very well. Plus, as we’ve learned from this individual case, soybeans are likely to retain traces of the herbicides use to control the inevitable weed growth in soybean fields.

It is inevitable that some herbicides or their metabolites will be present in our food. We’ve known it for decades. It is the reason organic foods have become more popular. Whether we take these herbicide and pesticide metabolites seriously depends on their effect on us. How will we know for sure? How can we gauge their long-term effects?

I don’t want them in my food or my pet’s food, but many people have fallen victim to the claims by some manufacturers that their food is “all natural.” Some foods claim “real chicken.” None of this means anything. Food labeling will never catch up with what we know about food because the manufacturers won’t let it happen. They need to keep people in the dark, keeping them buying food and thereby keeping their margins up so that they can continue to create new and innovative ways to lie to the public. Research into long-term food safety doesn’t pay. The best-case scenario is that they prove what we already know – that good food doesn’t come in a cheap bag. Let’s consider the biggest lie of all. If a food is processed, there is literally no such thing as “all natural.” Do you believe that dogs of yore wandered the fields and prairies in search of the elusive wild kibble?

Consider soybeans since they’re on my mind. In order to be put into a kibble as soybean meal, almost all of it is solvent-extracted to remove the oils. That is as far from “all natural” as you can get. Let’s look at the big soybean picture: Treat fields with Roundup, plant soybeans, harvest soybeans, process soybeans with solvent extraction. Anything left becomes the mean in our pets’ food, herbicides and all. As Rachael Ray would say, doesn’t that sound absolutely delish?

I believe Ainsworth (now General Mills) has done what all major brands do to sell their product. They blatantly misrepresent the quality of their food, and sometimes I think I’m the only one that thinks this needs to stop. Regarding the specific danger of Nutrish? I can’t begin to guess. We just don’t know what kind of damage this contamination could cause our pets. This is really an exercise for researchers. Even then we still need to question whether they’ve done a study to reflect the long-term exposure of ingesting trace amounts of herbicide day after day, year after year.

For now I’d recommend Ainsworth stop using ingredients grown using RoundUp. This would result in a price increase for the consumer or a lower margin for the manufacturer. The shareholders won’t like that, and you’re smart enough to know what’s probably going to happen in that case.

Burton’s Blog: Aquarium Kits and a Deadly Misperception

Burton's BlogIn searching for educational gifts for children we often look for kits that supply everything the child needs to start what we believe is a worthwhile endeavor. In the past 10 to 15 years, manufacturers and marketers decided they could make more sales by building these all-in-one aquarium starter kits.

Once upon a time, people would come into stores with their children. They would learn what they needed to know in order to begin an adventure in the aquatic hobbies. And then manufacturers like Marineland and Tetra put beautiful pictures on a box with a whole gaggle of fish swimming in a small tank. Just another example of misleading packaging – lies through over-simplification.

The more fish you put into the aquarium, the less time before they expire – if you don’t know what to do. The kit will not show you how to manage your tank.

These starter kits are essentially saying, “Here’s the tank, this is where the fish go, enjoy.

These kits provide a container that holds water along with a few supplies like gravel, food samples, and a plastic plant or two. Due to their misleading photos people think that this is all they need to create an idyllic and sustainable aquatic setup.

The marketing is all about price point. Even the “deluxe model” kits come with insufferably cheap heaters. All of this is misleading. The aquarium kit has destroyed the aquatic hobbies by giving people a false sense of security, like it’s all so simple and there’s nothing that needs to be known about water chemistry or simple marine biology. “But the manufacturer said it was all I needed in one simple box!” People want to believe them. People want an easy solution.

Did you ever consider what the manufacturer gets out of this convenient setup?

They get to pass their bottom-barrel equipment off as a premium “starter” setup. It’s a simple twist of phrase that shifts consumer perception from skepticism to false confidence. Meanwhile the manufacturer makes more money on this cheap equipment than they would have made by selling them individually – if they even bothered selling these items on their own at all.

This is a shame. The aquatic hobby is the greatest hobby for a child curious about the world in which they live. As parents one of our jobs is to provide proper experience and guidance to help a child discover what they want to do with their lives in both avocation and vocation.

The aquatic hobby teaches us about ecology, water chemistry (what makes pollution), and animal behavior. It is a study in applied biology and science. Aquatics can teach us about amphibians, aquatic turtles, a myriad of plants, and thousands of fish species. Each animal is a different project unto themselves. Each animal has different needs. To give a child a hobby with live animals and no knowledge is to invite funeral services, heartache, and ultimately discouragement.

Nothing will kill a child’s enthusiasm for a hobby faster than literally flushing it down the toilet.

In past decades – before the Internet, before mass manufacturing – people would come to a store to talk with real people who lived the hobby. They could get you started in the right direction, with the right equipment, to minimize the avoidable casualties that almost always arise with kits sold by store clerks and websites just trying to make a buck.

Take a look around. There are so very few aquatics professionals or aquatic stores left. Let’s not just stop there. Let’s reconsider the scope of the argument. There are so few true professionals of any variety left in the retail sector. To work in stores today, you don’t need to know anything. The big national chains like Petco, PetSmart, Pet Value and Pet Supplies Plus have deemed information about the products they sell irrelevant. They want you to buy something and as long as you walk out of the store with a purchase, they’ve done their job.

What does this specifically mean for the aquatics hobby and industry?

Inevitably people and children fail to succeed in their new hobby – they fail to learn and they fail to experience the rewards of maintaining the basic needs of an animal. Parents get disgusted. Children experience the trauma of watching their brand new beloved pet die. And after all that, adults tend not to blame the stores that blindly sold them a pile of crap. They’re quicker to blame the children for not trying. How backwards is that? Fewer people seriously enter the hobby. Soon the hobby ceases to exist.

Any animal sold to a child as a hobby requires parental guidance. It’s become cliché at this point – parents telling their children that “pets are a big responsibility.” Most definitely. Pets are for people with responsibility, but kids are still kids. We need to show children how to do things and teach this responsibility – not just say that responsibility has to happen. The animal doesn’t teach responsibility. Either the parent knows the hobby or he/she works with their children and they learn together. The parent is involved with the child’s learning process. I had many such hobbies as a child, and my parents were with me all the way. As I progressed through high school I far surpassed their knowledge of the hobbies, and that investment in learning led me to my vocation and avocations.

My whole career in animal husbandry and animal behavior was rooted in my parents’ participation in my early-age hobbies.

My parents were children of poor, depression-era families. They didn’t have more than high school educations but they encouraged me at every step of my life to pursue knowledge. I am just as interested today as I was at eight years old about what makes animals tick.

One of my projects in which my father was particularly involved was hydroponics. That hobby resulted in a high school science project that took me to the finals in the Illinois State Science Fair in Chicago. We loaded up 10 basins with about 150 gallons of water and I hauled those basins and the tomatoes that I grew hydroponically to the fair at the Illinois Institute of Technology. My father made the basins out of sheet metal that were perfect for the experiment. In 1961 very little was known about hydroponics. It was a brand new horizon for agriculture. I got into it because I found nothing more than a definition of this new method and developed a hobby where there was none at the time.

The point of this discussion is that we need to talk to professionals that know their product. There’s a big different between knowing a product and selling a product. You won’t find that in most retail environments in 2018 and you definitely won’t find it on an Internet e-tailer. How does that change?

It changes with each of us. It changes when we as a community respect the notion that knowledge and experience have value.

Corporate stores hire people at minimum wage and just hope they show up. People with passion come to work and hope to inspire positive change. They want to work with you and guide you to the right thing even if it is not what you want to hear – even when it’s not the easy answer. Animal care cannot be an industry in which we just sell stuff. These are living creatures that require our care and our attention and our knowledge to keep them happy and healthy. It is about selling a hobby that can become a lifetime passion or even an occupation. I harbor nothing but disdain for marketers that sell pet products without care or concern for the welfare of the animals. False marketing and careless retailers lead unsuspecting customers to the cash register and ultimately failure – to the detriment of our pets and the enthusiasm of our children.

Burton’s Blog 9/22 : Shopping Local – On Patronage

shopping local

 

If we go to a sit-down restaurant with professional cooks, we, as it is customary, tip the employees for jobs well done. The staff at these restaurants is incentivized to provide quality service, but it is not the business that rewards their generosity of time and patience. It is the customer. In fact, they are actually owed remuneration, as without our “gratuity” they cannot make a living wage.

The valued and essential concept of financially rewarding great service and information goes well beyond tipping your wait staff at meals. The problem is that not all service-related needs are considered equally.

Knowledgable Assistance Is Not Assured

Let’s relate this to the pet service industry. Customers often enter a pet supply retailer seeking professional service and knowledge. The service of any store clerk generally goes unrewarded and unrecognized. In this sphere of business, service is also demanded, but the customer is not expected to remunerate accordingly. The business pays the wage. Obviously this does not excuse rude or unhelpful clerks who are paid to provide said service, but consider for a moment the ways in which the expectations of each system realistically function to directly incentivize employees.

Customers often complain that customer service is lacking. There is good reason for that. Customers have the right to expect great service and information. The reward for great service and knowledge in retail is the repeated patronage of that business. That takes tenure and time.

What’s happening in 2017, however, is that many people will visit a business, obtain knowledge, buy a few items and then scour the Internet and grocery stores for the cheapest options. The repeat patronage (aka “the tip”) to reward the clerk and the business for services well tendered never takes place. The pet supply store provides the service while Internet merchants and grocery stores receive the repeat business.

The Realities of Business in 2017

Make no mistake – we’re realistic about the difficulties facing modern brick-and-mortar business – but we believe that sharing proper pet care information is essential to the transaction with our customers. We have an obligation not just to our customers but to their animals to provide the best pet care information possible.

Neither the online retailer nor the grocery store provides personal care. The customer often goes to these businesses with false information acquired from flashy television marketing or Internet hearsay.

Consider the difference between McDonald’s and that aforementioned sit-down restaurant. You don’t tip a McDonald’s employee for stuffing a soggy burger in paper, but you do tip a waiter or waitress that serves you repeatedly over the course of an hour, maybe more. They take your order, refill your drinks, bring your food, endure your jokes, check if you need anything, anything at all.

The grocery store is the McDonald’s of pet care. If you want a McDonald’s burger, that’s what you get. It’s not really what you want or what you should be eating, but it’s there and it’s for sale on the cheap. Customers find an inexpensive bag labeled “balanced,” something they saw on the television. They believe that it’s the best because Purina told them so, repeatedly. Nobody can talk back to the television, to tell them that what they’re doing is wrong. These companies get away with the kind of misrepresentation that should make us all ill.

Lies and Misinformation Cost More

When something goes wrong with their pet, do these same customers go back to the grocery store for help? Who’s there to help them, hopefully, solve some of their problems? The benefit we get for providing our experience is having you as a customer. That’s all we ever ask. We don’t receive or ask for tips or any other compensation. A customer that uses us for information, but does not give us their business attaches no value to that service – yet this very same customer likely tips 20% at a restaurant without thinking twice. With enough customers like this, they won’t have us around to provide that information for much longer because we’ll be out of business.

Recently a customer sought my help. I have helped her many times in the past. My information saved her hundreds of dollars, and she freely admitted it. She also told me I saved one of her dogs from euthanasia. The only benefit we got was her business, and obviously we asked for nothing more.

After the discussion I made an offhand comment that I hadn’t seen her in the store lately. She said, “No, I’m getting my food from the Internet so I don’t have to carry the bag.” She saw nothing wrong with that, nor did she think twice about telling me.

The Realties of Business in 2017: Part II

Look at this from our perspective. We have to provide a storefront and pay sales tax. Most Internet retailers run a warehouse and pay no sales tax. This is like doing business with one hand tied behind our back. In order to provide service and information, we have to pay quality, experienced people. This isn’t a restaurant where the owner can pay his wait staff insignificant wages. We also can’t be McDonald’s, merely stuffing unhealthy burgers in sacks.

ust because you and your pet are in a good place now doesn’t mean you no longer need service. Consider what’s going on in the pet service industry today. Four of our competitors – PetSmart, Petco, Pet Valu, and Pet Supplies “Plus” – have been opening stores by the hundreds. They also have people with virtually zero education in animal husbandry telling you what to buy and what to do. I wish I could compile a book containing all the dumb things people tell me they were told to do by employees at these stores.

Having a big sign and flashy TV advertising doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. You’re buying stuff off of a shelf without the benefit of service. Grocery stores and companies like Purina and Pedigree rely on the widely held belief that all dog and cat foods are just fine and pretty okay.

I Cannot Write This Next Part Loudly Enough

*ALL* DOG AND CAT FOODS ARE NOT OKAY – just as all dog and cat food suppliers are not equal.

Maybe you can’t afford the very best products. That’s reasonable! But that doesn’t mean you can’t make real, substantive improvements in your pet’s diet without spending a lot of money. A quality, professional pet store provides service beyond that of a regular chain store that hires people with no discernible knowledge or skills. It takes years to learn how to properly care for animals.

Experienced pet people can suggest fresh new products that improve your pet’s wellbeing. An experienced pet person will keep you updated on the latest in practical care. We can be sounding boards for you to tell us about bad experiences and vent frustrations. We can recommend qualified groomers, pet hotels, or any manner of pet professional.

At Burton’s Total Pet, all you have to do is read the reviews on our website to see the difference we have made to pet’s lives. Burton has practiced professional animal husbandry for 45 years. 25 years as a mentor to pets in Pittsburgh, 20 years as manager of large livestock farms and operations manager at the Detroit Zoo. His life has been devoted to animal health from a practical perspective.

Experience Is Not Cheap, But It Is Free (To You)

The staff of our stores has a lot of experience as well. We have a parrot expert at McIntyre. Dog expertise at Cranberry, McIntyre, and Bridgeville. Professional fish expertise at McIntyre, Greensburg, Monroeville, Bridgeville, and Irwin. A reptile expert at Cranberry. To gain access to their experiences all you have to do is ask. We have five managers with over 20 years of experience.

It is for the above reasons and more that make our stores a valuable, community asset. Our existence relies on you shopping at our stores or at least giving us a chance to show you what we can do for your pet.

We are not looking for tips. We survive as a business because people recognize our worth to them and their pet and they bring their repeat business. We believe you deserve more than just a bag of food from our shelf.

Ask yourself what is our service worth to you? You likely think about that when considering 15% or 20% or more at a restaurant, but not when receiving service at a retail store. It’s not easy to put a value on years of invaluable experience, but in our stores you get it for free just by shopping here. Your patronage is your gratitude. Your patronage keeps us in business and allows to continue to serve Pittsburgh-area pets and their people.

Burton’s Blog: Talking Pot Bellied Pigs

Burton’s Blog 8/11: Talking Pot Bellied Pigs

blog banner pot bellied pigs
We don’t necessarily recommend pot-belly pigs as pets, but when they are small, they can be really fun. Some years ago we got talked into three so-called micro pigs. Their names were Fiona, Einstein, and Philbert. 
We acquired them not to sell, but for our customers enjoyment. Providing access to animals like these is an important service. We provided space for these pigs for as long as we had the ability to do so. Despite their name, these pigs can grow quite large. Fiona become almost 200 lbs! They were great companions, but a 200 lb. pig is a difficult roommate. They outgrew their modest temporary homes in our store and needed to move on to greener pastures.
 
We ultimately found really good homes for them where they could live happily ever after. Pot-bellies are not good house pets, unless you are not fussy about the destruction and mess that can come with an animal that is more like a small bulldozer. Put simply, they are an incredible challenge and only for people with ample outdoor space to explore their piggy natures.
 
The main point I was trying to make with them was to show people the intelligence of the animal. They are not just bacon. They have intellectual capabilities. During the 20th century, science didn’t want to recognize that animals other than humans had an ounce of sense. That is totally false and through researchers like Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey we have come a long way in understanding the cognitive abilities of other animals. Now Goodall and Fossey worked with primates rather than pigs, but their research led to a widespread scientific awakening about animal intelligence.