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Dorothy Hunter eats dog treats as part of her month-long pet food diet

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Dog food for dinner? Dorothy Hunter believes people could eat worse. In fact, she suggests many probably do.

To encourage pet owners to scrutinize nutrition labels – both for what they feed their animals and for what they consume themselves, Hunter is embarking on a month-long dietary challenge to eat nothing but pet food.

Hunter, who owns pet food stores in Richland and Kennewick, Wa., has been subsisting on kibble, jerky and other cat and dog food since June 19. She says her diet is a testament to the quality and nutritional value of the premium pet foods she stocks at her Paw's Natural Pet Emporium. Her suppliers use organic, high-quality ingredients and do not use artificial preservatives, which is more than can be said for many foods produced for human consumption, she says.

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"Hopefully it's a chance for people to realize not all pet foods are equal," she says. "And maybe if we're lucky enough, people will read the ingredients on the...pre-packaged food that they're buying."

Her mission to encourage people to examine nutritional labels may be admirable. But labels can be tricky to decipher, says Jim Berry, president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. Some ingredients can be off-putting, depending on the way they are described. For instance, vitamin C can be listed as "ascorbic acid" or, more appealingly, as "natural rose hip oil."

Further, he adds, "byproducts" and "filler" may sound bad, but actually are not. "Byproducts" could simply mean using bones to make stock, while "filler" can refer to soluble fibre, which is good for digestion.

"Advertising is deceptive," he warns. "They're playing to trends. They're playing to perceptions that may or may not be true."

Big name pet food brands invest in research and high-quality manufacturing to ensure their products are safe, palatable and nutritionally balanced, Berry says, so it is hard to go wrong buying pet food from a reputable company. "They're all going to be manufactured to fairly high standards."

If in doubt about your pet's diet, consult your veterinarian, he advises.

While Hunter says she has felt no ill effects of her challenge so far (she believes she is actually consuming fewer complex carbohydrates and far less salt than usual), neither she nor Berry recommend that people actually eat pet foods. A cat's diet, for instance, which is rich in fat and low in fibre, is inappropriate for other species – humans included.

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But while Hunter has found that pet food tastes bland, it is not as unappetizing as one might expect, she says. "It's not disgusting; it's not like I'm sitting down having a steak dinner either."

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