Interview with Joe Cocquyt by Linda Arndt, the Great Dane Lady

By Linda Arndt

In 1990, I approached several dog food companies with the results of the National Bone Survey which in the end involved over 5200 cases of veterinarian diagnoised Developmental Orthopedic Diseases (HOD, OCD and Pano). Based on the the information gleaned from the survey, I asked them to look at the data turned in regarding nutritionally caused bone diseases in the giant breeds. It was very obvious some company needed to develop a high quality premium food with moderate protein and caloric density in order to slow down the growth process for the first year of development. Most companies were not interested in looking at the results of the "Bone Survey". It was a "dead-end" everywhere I turned.

One day I received a call from one of the owners of EaglePack Pet Products, Inc. He said he was interested in taking a look at the data from this National Survey. I met with the owner, Mr. Joe Cocquyt and Mr. John Marsman, half way between us in a Denny's restaurant in Kokomo, Indiana. Mr. Cocquyt was very interested in what breeders were reporting to the survey and he felt they could be of assistance. It was a very educational meeting and, a few weeks later, I spent a day with Mr. Cocquyt and Mr. Marsman at the Eagle Pet Food plant, where the, so graciously, answered all my questions and agreed to let me put the interview into print. I am sure the readers will find the discussion, regarding the pet food industry and the "Eagle" philosophy quite educational. The interview was held in 1991.

The following is Part 1 of a conversation with Joe Cocquyt, an owner and Export Manager of Eagle Pet Products, Inc.; John Marsman, Marketing Director of Eagle Pet Products, Inc., professional breeder and past AKC judge; and Linda Arndt, noted Author, Nutritional Consultant and owner of Blackwatch Great Dane Kennels.


Q:Linda: First, let me say how much I appreciate you taking a whole day out of your schedule just to discuss the bone survey results and the concerns of the breeders across the country. I can not tell you how much it means to have someone in the pet industry treat breeders with some respect for a change. From what I understand, Eagle Pet Products, Inc. was the first one to develop a complete line of extruded pet foods with no soy and high caloric features, is that so?

A:Joe: Yes, we began developing these types of products in 1970. These were our Hy-Ration products. They were low protein, low fat diets. The reason we began marketing those types of diets is we saw benefits that were associated with the complete nutrition of the animal. We found when we stopped incorporating soy in the diet, we got more performance on the animal. The characteristics of feeding the animal improved on a subjective basis.

Q:Linda: I noticed your literature states you formulate the "Eagle Pack" product to meet the requirements of the animal "based on breed, environment and activity". How do you go about doing that?

A:Joe: Long before we make a product available to the market, we design a product for a specific application. Then we do a field evaluation that takes anywhere from a year and half to two years, trying to identify characteristics in the food that we think should occur. One should be the physical condition of the animal, that we don't compromise that quality. We are trying to reduce the amount of protein you have to feed your animal through a multiple protein source product (meat, chicken and fish base). What we recommend to people that are switching from another brand of food … let's say in a 30% protein … that you use a step down in Eagle Pet Products. Our product tests have shown us that we can do a lot more with our lesser percentage protein products due to the extreme care we take in the source and quality of proteins used in the Eagle Products; meaning higher digestibility.

Q:Linda: Yes, I have seen this evidence in the last year of running my own tests on Eagle Pet Products. I was using another brand of maintenance food at 26% protein, 15% fat and switched some of my adults to the Eagle Pack Maintenance at 20% protein, 12% fat. Not only did I get better results in coat, color and condition, but also the muscle tone in the animals was much harder and defined - not a soft mushy muscle. I was amazed to see the calorie count was comparable to the old brand and the amount I had to feed was less. In fact, I am maintaining my two older bitches (5 and 6 years old {145 pounds and 158 pounds}) on 4-5 cups per day as opposed to 6-7 cups. These are fairly active old gals, too. Their vitality - that was the biggest shock.

A:Joe: If you look at the information that we have determined, we actually have a higher digestibility on our 20% protein than other products have at 30%. This is due because of our highest quality of protein and the kind of carbohydrates (rice) we have chosen to incorporate into the product. By introducing a number of sources (3) of protein (meat, chicken and fish), Eagle Pack is able to get these terrific results.

Q:Linda: Earlier this morning, when we went through the plant, I asked you about your thoughts on the necessity for specific breeds to be fed certain foodstuffs depending on where the breeds originate - for example, dogs from the Northern climates needing things different from dogs originating from Africa. I have often wondered, Danes being Boar Hounds, might they do better with a food that was pork based.

Can we talk about the "myths" regarding the value of pork as a protein source? I know that this might be an issue for some people that do not understand that lean pork has more of the essential amino acids than does other meat protein sources. Let's face it, it is just a fact that the beef industry has "done a job" on the general public over the years in devaluing lean pork in terms of its nutritional contribution.

A:Joe: Let's talk about why Eagle Pack uses pork in their dog food. We spent 8 years developing the Eagle Pack Products. We tried and evaluated every type of meat protein available to the industry; beef, pork, lamb, chicken, etc. We even tried and evaluated some types of vegetable protein products other than soy.

What we found when we used all pure pork protein, the benefits were far above the rest. We had no preconceived ideas about what protein source we were going to use before we did the evaluations. But after the evaluations, it was pork - first it was abundantly available, so it was relatively inexpensive; it was a high source of quality protein; and it is more digestible than beef and easier on an animal's system. When the animal processes it, he receives more nutritional benefits from it.

Q:Linda: When I saw the industry chart on nutritional break down of protein sources, I was surprised to see the amino acid break down - is it that pork had more of the essential amino acids or was it that pork has a more complete amino acid profile? Most people don't realize how important those are because amino acids are the building blocks of muscle and tissue for animals and humans.

A:Joe: It is not that pork is more complete, it is that pork has more of the essential amino acids, which are the most important. This is what is referred to in the industry as "First Limiting". This means if you don't have a particular essential component, it doesn't matter what else you have; and in amino acids, more essential is methionine. If you do not have enough methionine, it isn't going to work.

Q:Linda: Do these amino acids have to work in concert with one another?

A:Joe: Yes, that is the essence of what you are trying to do - to lay the foundation so you can build the building. There is not enough availability of complete essential acid in one particular ingredient (with the exception of pure blood meal), therefore, it is important to use a variety of protein sources; that is why we use three.

Q:Linda: Now in order for a dog in the wild to get the necessary amount of the amino acid, methionine, in the diet, this would primarily come through the source of blood from the prey?

A:Joe: Yes, the first thing the dog would do is eat the viscera, the entrails and specifically the organs. When they kill something, it stops the blood flow and it concentrates in the organs and the heart. Now, when an animal is for human consumption, they bleed the animal first. In the wild the animal goes for the area of the prey that has the essentials - the concentrations of minerals, vitamins and all your enzymatic qualities related to proper digestion - they are all concentrated in the area of the organs. That is why they don't go for the hair or feathers.

Q:Linda: Those enzymatics (enzymes for digestion), that is an issue I am researching now along with probiotics (also called micro-organisms), because I feel this is a critical area that we overlook in regard to bloat and torsion.

A:Joe: Yes, both of these areas are important to us, and we address this in our product line by the incorporation of "friendly bacteria" (probiotics) and digestive enzymes.

Q:Linda: Besides an animal's overall condition, there are many things important to the owner or breeder, some in terms of ingredients, some in terms or specific benefits or results in the dog. First: how do you formulate a food for overall condition?

A:Joe: Again, by first insuring that there is an abundance of quality essential amino acids introduced through a tri-protein based food.

Q:Linda: How about for coat and skin condition?

A:Joe: We know that there are assigned values to certain key components. There are "nutrient profile characteristics" that you need. So what we do is specifically buy the highest quality ingredients that, again, have an abundance of those essential characteristics. This will insure we get good coats and healthy skin. Because if I go to Alaska and a guy determines that he is going to use a particular dog on his sled team or not, he knows what he is looking at - skin and coat condition. If they do not have good skin and coat, he has already determined from his previous experiences that the animal cannot function properly. The external manifestation of the animal's health is reflective in the skin and coat.

Q:Linda: It is what we refer to as that "bloom". Sometimes when I am at a dog show, I play this little game - called "Guess what brand of food that animal is fed". After many years, I have a pretty high success rate of guessing the correct brand name, just by looking at the coat, skin, pigment around the eyes, nose, mouth and anal area. It proves to be very revealing when I ask the owner what they feed their animals.

A:Joe: Let me relate to you a story. This happened in 1987 when I went to the Westminster Dog Show. One of our distributors happens to own a Portuguese Water Dog. Since she has been feeding our food, she had been doing extremely well in the show ring. Now, at that time, I was not familiar with the Portuguese Water Dog, but I was walking around the concourse at Westminster and I happened to sit 50-60 rows away from the ring where this breed was being shown. We were sitting there watching and I noticed there was one animal in the ring that was demonstrating better in external physical appearance, "bloom" as you say. He placed third that day and while most people go to congratulate the winner, exhibitors were approaching this owner, inquiring about the dog's physical condition and what food he was being fed. I walked up late and talked to the gentlemen and then found out that he fed our Eagle Pack feed - I picked out the animal from several rows back!

Q:Linda: There are 5 different foods fed to these animals, that I can spot from a distance and the majority of the time I am correct, based on specific physical characteristics produced by these particular foods.

A:Joe: What we try to do is to have a comprehensive ingredient structure so that we can address what is best for the overall nutrition of the animal, not just coat.

Q:Linda: How do you formulate foods specifically for reduced skin allergies?

A:Joe: We incorporate higher levels of linoleic acid and things such as fish oils (source of Omega-3) - things that specifically address that particular problem, as long as it is not overall, detrimental to the health of the animal. Our objective is to do the best job that we can in feeding the animal.

Q:Linda: There are only a couple of companies that incorporate Vitamin C in their diets. When I asked one of the companies about the use of Vitamin C in their products, their nutritionists told me it was not really necessary, dogs make their own Vitamin C. How many times have we heard that? Now, I know Eagle Pet Products, Inc. has taken a definite stand on the necessity for Vitamin C in the animal's diet. Would you care to explain your philosophy on the Vitamin C issue?

A:Joe: Yes, definitely, we feel it is an important part of the diet. There are specific things that we want to accomplish in our diets. When we originally structured our diets, we wanted to test them in the maximum stress environment. In our opinion, that would be the environment of a sled dog. The distance running sled dog, like the Iditarod sled dog, runs approximately 100 miles a day.

One of the benefits that you get by incorporating Vitamin C is a tighter paw; thus, if the animal exposes less of the paw surface each time he puts it down, he has less of an opportunity to injure it and the interior parts around the pads. He is, also, less likely to accumulate snow and ice balls in the area between the pads; thus, we have found one of the things we get when we incorporate Vitamin C in the diet - the benefits of a tighter paw.

Q:Linda: Does that mean that the mushers have to use fewer boots on their animals?

A:Joe: Yes, we had a guy's team run Iditarod on only 500 boots, while usually people will use 1,500-3,000. It can be done through breeding and conditioning too, but it can also be done through sound nutrition and the incorporation of Vitamin C.

Q:Linda: You choose to incorporate some exclusive ingredient in the feeds, such as the reasons for your use of things like kelp?

A:Joe: One of the things we found when we spent years researching the market before this product, was that people were going into pet stores, getting $30 worth of food and then adding additional supplements to that food. One of the things that people wanted in their feed was kelp. We incorporate kelp because of its enzymatic qualities that help in coat development, and help maintain fertility in animals.

Q:Linda: Yogurt cultures or "friendly" bacteria (probiotics), in humans and in animals are important in maintaining a healthy gut and help to reduce gases which could, in my opinion, help in the reduction of bloat/torsion. Research in agriculture and in humans supports this idea. However, you are only one of two companies that feel these "good" digestive bacteria's are essential in the diet. What do you use and why?

A:Joe: We looked at what a veterinarian recommends when an animal is having intestinal problems. There are several things: one is to feed a bland diet often incorporating rice and yogurt to soothe the stomach. Thus, we began to look at why they worked and found that the yogurt and its "friendly" bacteria helped to correct the intestinal problem and restore it to normal health. We then began to address the issue of incorporating these live cultures found in yogurt into our feeds.

Q:Linda: You use lactobacillus acidophilus, which are found in yogurt as well as other things, what are they?

A:Joe: We also use enterococcus facium, which is used extensively in animal husbandry. One of the things that it has been found to do, and why it was introduced into our diet, was to help control and eliminate stress conditions in the gut - for example, in the show ring, sled racing and/or field trials. The way stress manifests itself for an animal is to have a loose stool; sometimes this produces a loose, bloody stool and this is the deterioration of the lining of the intestines due to the stress. Therefore, we have to stop this breakdown. How can we help to stop this condition from developing? Well, we found by adding lactobacillus cultures, we can address a portion of that, and by the use of enterococcus facium, we can help to control the diarrhea.

Then, we had to develop a process so these cultures were available to the animal (they are heat sensitive). It took a great deal of time and capital to insure that we had a system in which we could incorporate these types of products in our feeds for the animal to receive their benefits.

Q:Linda: As a breeder of the giants, I feel this is so essential in helping to reduce the incidence of bloat and torsion. This is closer to the natural way in which an animal eats, since these bacteria are found in the viscera they would normally get in a wild kill. You have also introduced some other important cultures, producing digestive enzymes.

A:Joe: Yes, we incorporated bacillus subtillus and aspergillus oryzae into our diets. A lot of people were buying digestibility enhancers like K-Zyme. These digestive enzymes were built around the aspergillus oryzae fermentation solubles and the bacillus subtillus. We found we can introduce these into our diet, and what they do is improve the overall digestibility of the diet. Although it is only a small percent, the most important thing is that it helps to break down gases that may develop through incomplete digestion.

Q:Linda: Now I want to ask you about a very important question: That of minerals, or commonly called "trace minerals or micro-nutrients". These are so often overlooked - and most of all, by nutritionists and the pet food industry. There is definitely a difference in quality or bio-availability of a mineral. (What the animal can actually use); isn't that true? Would you explain the difference in grades of minerals used in the industry?

A:Joe: Yes, there are different forms: the oxide form, which is the most crude but the most stable. Then there is the refined or sulfate forms which have 98-100% utilization by the animal's system, but they are unstable. The difference is, unless you stabilize the sulfate forms, you cannot use them in the food formula.

Q:Linda: Why?

A:Joe: The activities of the minerals can be detrimental to the vitamin content. In other words, it is like the "Pac Man effect" - they, the minerals, will cannibalize the vitamins. What we had to do is find a system to be able to use the sulfates, which had 98-100% utilization to the animal, where the oxide may only have 50% availability to the animal. That is why we turned to use sequestered minerals. What the sequestering does is take the more useable sulfate form and encapsulate it. It is a protective coating that the only thing releasing the sulfate from the sequestered coating is the pancreatic acid released by the animal.

Q:Linda: So the animal can actually get greater value from the sequestered minerals than any other type because of that kind of delivery to the system?

A:Joe: This is correct. We are also assured, because of sequestering, that the sulfate forms have a greater shelf life in the food. A professional breeder will often purchase food in bulk - let's say 500 lbs. or more, primarily for a price break. What we have found in our market research was that breeders often purchased food to last them 30-60 days. The bad part of that is under normal circumstances, unless you stabilize the minerals, 19 days after manufacturing, you begin losing nutrient value. So if you have most food for 30-60 days, you do not get the vitamin and mineral value that was stated on the bag.

Q:Linda: That is why this processing of coating or sequestering the minerals is an insurance policy, in a way?

A:Joe: Yes, it is what I call an "absolute delivery system". We know we are introducing this much mineral value to the diet, and we know we are delivering an assimilation value of 98-100% to the animal's system.

Q:Linda: Tell me about the yucca schidigera extract (from the yucca plant) that is in the Eagle Pack foods. It seems to be something we have heard about quite a bit lately.

A:Joe: We have had it in our food since 1985 - we were 5 years ahead of the game. They extract the juice from the yucca plant, then dry the juice. The plant gives the benefit of helping control odors related to fecal and urinary emissions.

Q:Linda: Another thing that I have read about yucca is that it is beneficial for arthritis.

A:Joe: This may be true.

Q:Linda: To change the subject to something very important: what do you mean by tri-protein based foods … how do you formulate for this?

A:Joe: Essentially, it goes back to the amino acid structure we want to achieve. We can get a more favorable amino acid structure and control the amount of ash content by going to a tri-protein based food.

Q:Linda: I noticed one of the protein sources you choose to use is that of fish - why?

A:Joe: Well, the benefits have been known for some time in the animal feed industry, not the pet industry because it is expensive to use. But in the animal husbandry industry they have found positive growth benefits associated with incorporating fish meal into a diet. If you look at the amino acid profile, you will see that it becomes readily apparent that this is true.

The particular fish meals that we choose to use in the Eagle foods have enhanced our amino acid profile levels. For example, we can use chicken meal and fish meal, but if I introduce the same amount of fish meal as chicken meal, I double the availability of the critically important amino acid, lysine.

What we have also found, in our studies of feeding applications, is that the larger skeletal content of a fish does not have the benefits of fish meal, it has more of a flesh content. So we produce fish meal with more flesh content to increase the lysine and reduce the ash content, thus we have less fecal mass and more nutritional value.

Q:Linda: We talked about the idea that fish is an important part of the diet and particularly for the diet for the northern breeds. Would you like to speak about that issue?

A:Joe: What our thrust was as a company, was that we wanted to design feeds for a bigger dog, and the essential component of northern breeds diet was that of fish. We have already talked about the other benefits of fish meal - unidentified growth factors, then enhanced amino acid structure - and one of the things that we also noticed is that it is being proven, in human applications as well, that fish oil seems to enhance bodily organ functions. It is also, in the opinion of the sled dog people in Alaska, that it improved the overall performance of their dogs. Plus, there is some thought that it improves joint lubricity, more fluid around the joint, so that is why we use it. We feel it can help, possibly prevent or alleviate some arthritic conditions.

Q:Linda: You have been instrumental in working with several of the sled dog enthusiasts in Alaska and running feed trials—tell me about this.

A:Joe: Our feeling was, if we were going to introduce a product for the general consumer, that we want the most stringent evaluation that the food could be exposed to. We looked at the alternative applications: field trial, show ring and breeding. But the ultimate test was a 1,100 mile marathon race over an extended period of time. It has to be the perfect testing ground because you have a performance requirement, the animal has to be competitive and he has to be willing to run for several days for 15 hours a day.

Plus, the importance of effective food utilization - we couldn't have a sled dogger going down the trail carrying 150 lbs. of food - he had to have an effective means of feeding so he could carry a limited amount of food to reduce the overall sled weight. So that is why we went there: to develop and then incorporate a number of features in our product. One being the performance aspect, and the other being a reduced consumption for high performance.

Q:Linda: Did you directly sponsor any teams?

A:Joe: We, as a company, did not sponsor any teams in 1989. Yet, in 1989, 22 of the 49 teams chose to run their dogs on our food.

Q:Linda: This was by their own choice, no financial backing from Eagle Pet Products! That is very interesting and it says a lot. They understood the quality of the product in relation to the kind of performance they would achieve.

A:Joe: Yes, by their choice. They feed the Eagle Pack foods and paid for it out of their own pocket. They were chasing a $250,000 purse, but they made an independent decision to run this performance race and to choose Eagle Pack as their best bet to win the race. It is a tremendous voice of confidence.

I have to look at it another way. 5 racers only used the next commonly used food. Two of those were sponsored by our competitors (they provided the food for the mushers). If we had 22 teams, and the next level was only 5, a lot of people had tremendous confidence in the Eagle Pack foods.

One of the things that would somewhat affect the decision-making process was the cost of the food. We are less expensive, but 22 people did not make that decision based on cost, but on performance aspects.

Q:Linda: You must feel very good about the results and the numbers that have confidence in Eagle Pet Products, Inc. What is the picture like for this year?

A:Joe: This year we are being faced with an unusual situation. Other companies are becoming involved and are providing the mushers with free food, prize money and money for just finishing the race. Although we are losing some of the people because of these incentives, overall, I think we will pick up others and Eagle will still be the food of choice for over 50% of the teams in the Iditarod.

Q:Linda: So what you're saying is, through financial incentives, your competitors have made it unattractive to feed Eagle Pack for the race; but so many choose to feed it regardless of the fact that you are not putting any money up to promote the product. Plus, you got out of it what you wanted in terms of feed trials and research information.

A:Joe: That is exactly correct. That is primarily what we went after. In 1989, of the 22 teams that fed Eagle, we had 11 teams finish in the top 20. The food obviously did the job.

Q:Linda: And obviously your competitors are concerned. One of the hot issues right now among breeders is the use of artificial preservatives in the foods. That is not an issue that will go away as suggested by some of the competitors. I know several years ago that Eagle chose to take a firm stand against the use of the preservative ethoxyquin - this was rather visionary on your part, especially in light of the current attitudes of the majority of your competitors. What is Eagle's position on the use of the preservative, ethoxyquin?

A:Joe: Our position on preservatives, regardless of it being ethoxyquin or BHT, is that we want to incorporate as little preservative as possible into the food. The ultimate decision on ethoxyquin was made in early 1986. We looked at the levels of incorporation to accomplish a "given end" - to stabilize the ingredients that tend to become rancid. We found that we had to use less ethoxyquin than any other preservative to accomplish the same task. Well, some people would say that was a positive aspect … except that it was stronger so we could use less.

But the big issue was, what are the known consequences of the use of ethoxyquin on a continued basis?--this is an unknown. We found the use in dog food was not on the manufacturers "suggested use of the chemicals". We chose not to use it based on its use when originally introduced into the market. Because we chose not to use it, we had to figure out a way to formulate our product to incorporate an ingredient that had more human application, and still use it at the lowest levels to accomplish the task necessary of preserving the fats. What that entailed, on our part, was making a judicious choice of ingredient alternatives to stabilize fats. We found that through a selection of fats and a blending of certain fats, we could lower still the amount of preservative.

Q:Linda: You have your own rendering plant. Are you the only one that does?

A:Joe: Yes. There are two types of rendering plants: a continuous-process type and batch-process type. We have a batch process plant so we can produce smaller batches and, although it is more expensive to do it this way, we can customize the process and extract and select out the fats we want to use. We can sort out and blend them to meet our specific needs.

Q:Linda: Ah, designer fats?

A:Joe: Yes, exactly. And by doing so we can control the amount or type of preservatives. Our basic philosophy at Eagle Pet Products is, we do not want to introduce anything into our feeds that is not naturally appearing. We do not like to introduce manufactured components at all. That is why we use a lot of meat meal in a tri-protein based food.

For example: we see so many competitors far too concerned with stool size (as if that were the real indication of the digestibility of the food, which it is not). So what they do is, they strip the calcium and phosphorus from the meat or protein sources and then they add back with a process manufactured product with a lower ash content that manifests itself in a smaller stool.

Q:Linda: Yes, and so many times they incorporate lesser quality micro-nutrients or synthetics, or fractionated elements because it is cheaper. But in the end, the animal is the one that suffers because the nutrients are less available for the animal's system to utilize.

A:Joe: Yes, this is a problem. When we evaluated diets, we found that we got enhanced performance in the animal's feed from whole food sources of meat and bone meals, rather than if we introduced it into a supplemental manufactured form.

Q:Linda: Let's talk more about the issue of low volume stool versus high volume. The breeder/consumer has been duped, by the commercial dog food companies and their marketing departments, into thinking that a low-volume stool is of utmost importance. Obviously, this is a desirable characteristic when you have to clean up a yard or kennel (particularly in giant breeds).

But I have also noticed, over the years, that some of the very concentrated high caloric/high fat foods are difficult for the animal to pass. Plus, as we discussed earlier, a small stool is not necessarily an indication that the food is highly digestible. One of the things that I think is important is to re-educate the public regarding this issue.

A:Joe: The way Eagle Pet Products addresses that is this: On the bag it states, "dog food". We are selling "dog food" not "dog fecal matter". The predominant message on the bag is that we are trying to feed your dog. We, as a company, approach it in a way that we have to feed your dog right first. If we get a small stool in the process, that is great ... but that is not the most important issue. A lot of people in our industry, a lot of breeders or users are oriented in the wrong way. They are more concerned about what is on that ground than what is in the dog, or the value the animal has extracted from the foods.

Q:Linda: Again, because of using whole foods as a source of nutrients and not going to lesser quality fractionated food sources, you might have a larger stool; however more nutritious food-correct?

A:Joe: Yes, our first thought is to feed the animal properly, to provide complete quality nutrition - therefore we probably do not have the smallest stool.

Q:Linda: Isn't there methods of "faking" a smaller stool?

A:Joe: Yes, you can incorporate lower levels of fiber; the bottom line is that this is like everything else in life - there is compromise - and we have chosen to maintain the high nutritional value of the food in lieu of a smaller stool. There is such a reduction in consumption of food, that the actual stool volume weight over a 30-day period is actually less than our competitors on an overall basis. We also take into consideration the odor by the incorporation of our yucca schidigera product, which helps to neutralize odors

Q:Linda: As I had mentioned to you earlier, over the 18 years I fed one of the other well known premium foods on the market. When I switched to Eagle Pack, I found that I have been able to reduce the amount of food consumed per month by one-third.

A:Joe: That is one of the things we found in Alaska. The average sled dog, prior to the introduction of Eagle, consumed between 3-5 pounds of food per day. To be competitive, the sled dog must be able to run between 90 -100 miles per day. Based on the existing caloric tables, it is said to expend that much energy, the dog should consume between 5,000-7,000 calories per day. The dogs running on Eagle Pack used between 1 to 1-1/2 pounds per day and around 3,000 calories per day. What that proves, is it is not the total mass of caloric values, but the quality of the type of calories consumed that is important.

Q:Linda: Many owners supplement their dog food - Vitamin C, yogurt for friendly bacteria, enzymes, kelp, etc. How do you feel about tampering with the diets?

A:Joe: Well, first of all, I can see no sense in someone spending $25 to $35 per bag for dog food and then having to buy those things. Our philosophy is, as the manufacturer, we should be able to buy and incorporate those things into the diets (if they have any value), and we at Eagle have determined those things have value and, therefore, are incorporated into our feeds.

Q:Linda: One of the things that I was excited to see is that you have developed canned foods (chicken, lamb, beef, liver) that are a mixer as well as a prescription diet. At this point it seems one manufacturer monopolizes the market for prescription diets. I have noticed your canned food has an interesting combination of ingredients as well as what is intentionally left out. What are you trying to accomplish with your prescription canned diet?

A:Joe: Let's look at what we have done with the natural canned meat. What we found was the average owner feeds canned meat in combination with dry. So, they buy Eagle dog food, then go out and purchase another brand of canned meats and treats. In doing so, they are combining foods that have been developed under three different philosophical approaches to a commercial food. So we decided to develop a canned food and treat that "fits" our dry food line. When you're feeding the animal, we want continuity of philosophical input, so we can accomplish the same thing with each product.

Q:Linda: Why is there higher protein in the prescription diet?

A:Joe: We looked at other canned prescription diets made and all they provided was a substance level of nutrition. If you have an animal that is on a prescription diet, it means he already has a problem; and if all I am providing him with is subsistence level input, he is probably not going to get any better. So we began evaluating different protein levels in different packages, and developed our four canned foods, because we are not only looking to maintain the dog, but to correct a problem.

Q:Linda: It would seem to me, if an animal is on a prescription diet (unless it is a pancreas or kidney problem) where they would need a low fat diet, they would need something highly digestible with enough protein to build what they are losing in weight and muscle mass.

A:Joe: Yes, because when we put protein into anything we enhance the amino acid structure that gives us more of the corrective ability that you just discussed.

Q:Linda: You also have a dry food that is low fat that can be used as a prescription diet too.

A:Joe: Yes, that is correct. We have a 17% protein, 8% fat dry food that can address those needs. Both the dry and our canned foods have cross-over applications. There are so many specialty products on the market; we felt that we could combine functions of our product line.

We try to broaden the ability of our products to better address the needed applications. From the consumer standpoint, it makes the decision-making process a lot easier - you don't have to have as many products to stock. Because we have incorporated so many essential ingredients into our diets like digestive enzymes, yogurt-like friendly bacteria, kelp, etc. This means the breeder does not have to have such a large inventory of additional additives and the foods have a broader application.

Q:Linda: It has been my personal experience, as well as other breeders, that we have this tendency to want to "cook" and "add" things to the dog's diet …almost as if, "if I don't do this, it means I don't love my dog", or "I am not doing the best for my dog" syndrome. We want to do something extra for the dog. That is why I am so pleased you have developed a whole line of dry, canned and treats that are "compatible companion products", so people have the choice of using quality canned products and treats as opposed to the substandard brands.

A:Joe: We know this. We also know that our dry product is comprehensive; and that we would choose that breeders fed it alone. However, we do know that breeders are going to do what you mentioned … to add canned foods. There is a personal psychological thing that says I have to add something rather than just to feed dry foods. We would prefer that our canned foods were used because supplementing other foods can create some problems.

Q:Linda: Because it throws the balance off?

A:Joe: Absolutely.

Q:Linda: Will you talk about your lamb and rice product - the Natural Pack, lamb and rice product. Well, about two years ago, Eagle introduced the Natural Pack - 23% protein and 12% fat. It has been an answer to a prayer for raising these giant puppies the first year of their life.

A:Joe: Right now we have six products in our line and we have the introduction of the new Eagle Natural Pack, lamb and rice product. Natural Pack has been very successful in feeding all breeds, but especially Great Danes and other larger boned breeds during the first year of excessive growth.

Lamb was included as the third ingredient, however effective October 1991; we revised the formula to make lamb the number one ingredient. We did it strictly from a marketing standpoint; i.e., to provide a product for those pet owners who believe a lamb-based product to be good for their dogs. Eagle's philosophy is that there is no "magic" ingredient, every ingredient makes an important contribution, and not one ingredient by itself can carry the formula. That is why we also include chicken and fish in the formula. By including three "meat" based proteins, a superior amino acid profile is provided for the animal.

Q:Linda: Why do you include rice in your other diets, not just the lamb/rice diet?

A:Joe: One of the reasons we use rice is because it is sort of a universal recommendation by veterinarians for any dietary problems (intestinal upset or allergies). It is highly digestible, 99%. We also found that it works for corrective purposes because it is soothing on the animal and persons system. It is simply easier for the stomach to process and doesn't cause any trauma.

Q:Linda: Since we first spoke, you have since introduced a product called Premium Select. What is it, and why did you introduce it?

A:Joe: Premium Select is a lamb and rice based formula. Unlike our other formulas that have a tri-protein meat base, we limit this formula to just one meat protein for two reasons.

The first is so it can be fed as an isolation or hypoallergenic diet. By limiting the meat protein in a diet to a single source, not commonly fed to the animal, the theory goes, you can begin to isolate just which meat (or vegetable) protein is causing the allergy.

The other reason is, simply, the market demand for a lamb-based product. With a 22% protein level and a 15% fat level, Premium Select is also ideal for developing Dane puppies.

Q:Linda: Why do you include whole dry eggs in your products?

A:Joe: For a couple of reasons. It has protein value, but it is not incorporated into our foods for that purpose. We do not count its protein value when we compute the total protein value of the food - that is an added benefit. In a human diet, it is one of the most easily digested foods we can eat. We use it because it has extremely beneficial skin and coat qualities.

Q:Linda: How about brewers dried yeast?

A:Joe: Brewers dried yeast has a couple of benefits that we consider when incorporated into the diet. It helps build blood, improves appetite, and it is also the source for some important Vitamin B's. Vitamin B is very important in maintaining a balanced nervous system - which is reflected in temperament. It just helps make all those little connections in the system work better.

Q:Linda: Let's talk about the topic of stress as it relates to reproduction, infertility, litter size, bitches not coming into season, etc. How do you address these issues in the formulation of your foods?

A:Joe: We have a couple of opinions on these. One, of course, is genetic. This can predispose an animal to problems in these areas, including the way in which they manage stress. But, what we do is to assume that this is not the case and try to introduce into our formula, ingredients identified as having beneficial characteristics associated with the reproductive process, such as Vitamin E and kelp. Specific ingredients that allow us to maintain the animal in top condition to maximize their fertility. One of the benefits of this is improvement in size and vigor within a litter and easier birth delivery on the bitch.

Q:Linda: So, even though there may be a genetic predisposition for reproduction problems, inability to handle stress or temperament problems, these problems can be directly related to the condition of the animal's overall health. Then, in turn, this would be based on the quality of the diet that the animal is fed. Many animals are under stress if they are in a new environment, traveling to a show or the pressure of showing. It is not unusual to see an animal ringside that may have diarrhea. How do you formulate your foods for those conditions?

A:Joe: Again, this is associated with our adding the probiotics or yogurt-like friendly bacteria to the diet. A stressed condition results when an animal, or human for the matter, is put into an uncomfortable environment. This is generally a problem more common with younger dogs than older dogs, due to their lack of exposure and conditioning.

So what we have to do, is try to prevent the stress induced diarrhea from occurring by introducing a very favorable culture (probiotics/micro-organisms) into the animal's stomach through the diet being fed. When an animal gets into what would be a "stressed condition", it affects his body's pH balance. What that does is it kills off the favorable bacteria count in the intestines. So we re-introduced the yogurt-like (friendly bacteria {probiotics}) in an additional stabilized form that will not be as prone to being killed off due to the change in pH. Our introduction of favorable bacteria through the Eagle Pack diets, increases the colony count of the favorable bacteria to such a level that it probably will not happen.

Q:Linda: Interesting, because I am preparing an article on my thoughts regarding the necessity of using probiotics and enzymes in our diets, in helping to manage stress as it manifests itself in the bloat-torsion in the giant breeds. Although it may not be the only cause, the re-introduction of friendly bacteria and digestive enzymes is closer to what is normally found in the diet when an animal is allowed fresh killed meat. I am really glad to see this is an important part of the Eagle Pack foods - it is just another step in the right direction. What about other forms of stress, such as pregnancy and lactation?

A:Joe: Those issues are addressed through overall formulation of the diet, and the incorporation of adequate levels of a high-quality vitamin and mineral packages; and of course, the favorable bacteria plays an important role in addressing these areas of stress.

Q:Linda: Eagle Pet Products states there is no soy, or artificial color or flavor added to the diet. Can you talk about these topics?

A:Joe: Again, we try to emphasize that through our ingredient selection we can incorporate the important ingredients that the animal needs. We, as a company, are not concerned with cosmetic or aesthetic appeal of the general public. It is important to know, however, that we use the same ingredients from the same suppliers so that we can maintain a continued high quality and consistency from batch to batch.

Q:Linda: Rather than shopping around for the best price on the market? As a breeder, I certainly appreciate the consistency. When you say no added salt, do you mean a no-salt diet, or that you do not add additional salt, only what is natural to the ingredients?

A:Joe: There is natural occurring salt in the meat ingredients, and until recently, we did not add back any salt. What has happened, however, because of the direction that human diets are taking (i.e., less salt), our meat ingredients do not have enough "ingredient born" salt to meet the animal's needs. Both dogs and cats need a certain level of salt for many reasons - among them is that proper salt levels will prevent urinary tract diseases. However, too high a salt content, where a manufacturer adds back more salt than necessary so he can enhance palatability to overcome poor quality ingredients, causes other problems.

Q:Linda: In lesser quality foods (and these can be premium diets) they supplement salt, can you explain this?

A:Joe: In your lesser quality foods, you're talking about a food that has a lower ratio of meat and a higher ratio of vegetable protein. The meat proteins, because they have a more complete and abundant amino acid structure, also have more essential nutrients, particularly minerals like calcium and phosphorus. Therefore, you do not have to rely on introducing a mineral form or a manufactured form of a mineral into the diet. It is what we call "ingredient born". That is why the feed industry assigns more "value" to meat protein than vegetable protein diets.

Q:Linda: It is the same principle as in the vegetarian diet where it is important to combine certain grains and beans in order to get the necessary amino acids normally found in a meat-based diet?

A:Joe: Yes, what you see in a vegetarian's diet is that he/she introduces grains into the diet in a whole form, not fractionated, and the whole form of grains have more protein value and a more complete amino acid structure. But what we are seeing today in the pet food industry, is grain "by-products" as opposed to using the whole grain. By-products, are a preserved form and therefore very incomplete in nutrients and a comprehensive amino acid structure.

Q:Linda: One of my fellow colleagues, from the University, went to Japan on sabbatical. He said the grandparents and the parents were primarily raised on a diet of rice and vegetables, with meat protein being secondary to the diet. He noted that due to the Western influence, the current generation is incorporating more meat protein into their diet. The results being the body structure has developed into taller, heavier and longer limbed form, as compared to that of the previous generations. He also noted that the additional size and height of the next generation is dictating a change in furniture size and architectural scale.

A:Joe: This is due to the more comprehensive amino acids.

Q:Linda: I have long felt that we can actually alter the structure of an animal depending on the way we feed them. I have seen so many Danes and young foals for that matter, that are fed a quality very high protein/calorie dense diet and it seems they shoot straight up and actually gain excessive height, loss of angles and long, lean muscle. I have some interesting photographs from some of my feed trials to support this theory.

John: Certainly, look at your Great Dane standard height requirements where it states males should be no less than 30" at the shoulder, but preferable that he be 32" or more. Females no less than 28", preferably that she be 30" or more. That standard was set when the commercial diets in this country were vegetable protein based and very low in protein.

Q:Linda: Oh my gosh, John you are right - what a great revelation. I never thought about it in that respect. Most of the males are at least 33-35", and bitches, I think, we could safely say are 32-34". Why you'd be laughed out of the ring with a 32" male! I think it is rare to see a 34" male in the ring anymore. Over the years, we have literally built a larger animal because of the higher quality, meat based, more complete amino acid structure. However, I feel we have carried this too far and need to back off on the caloric dense/high protein diets in order to establish a nice mid-range of growth and development - resembling closer to what would be obtained when raised in a natural environment.

John: Yes, we have seen this happen in Brittanys. A lot of breeds are 2-3" taller than they were 40 years ago.

A:Joe: What we like to say about Eagle Pet Pack is, "we make your dog all that he can be". Why? Because we have made available an abundance of essential nutrition by incorporating more ingredients and higher quality in our nutritional package.

Q:Linda: On to another subject: packaging. It is so difficult to get information from some of these companies, and they simply do not give it on the bag. Can you talk about this?

A:Joe: From a manufacturer's standpoint, we feel that it is the quality of protein that is of greatest importance, and the protein and fat content does not even need to be addressed on the bag. What the package should do, is reflect the nutrient profile of a particular product. We do it on our packaging, and we also feel that the bag should have the essential amino acid structure listed on it. If you are very selective in the ingredients you select and maximize the value of your input, you can produce a high quality, lower protein food.

Q:Linda: I encourage breeders to get these giant breeds off puppy food by 8 weeks of age at the latest, and switch to a high quality but lower protein food to slow the growth process. I was so interested to see that you are the only company that actually states something to this effect on the bag.

A:Joe: Yes, we agree with your statement. In fact, if you look at our packaging, it states that you should switch from our puppy food very early to one of our other Eagle Pack products. The reasons being, if you look at the food structure of our products, you will find that all of our products incorporate all of the ingredients that we have in our puppy food … that is generally not the case with other companies.

Our food is formulated for the specific application of feeding a puppy when he is very small, then moving him over to one of our other products. A lot of other products force the breeder to buy a variety of things to supplement a poorer quality food in order to accomplish the same thing that we do with the product alone - it is already in our diets. For us, it is important to have a complete quality vitamin and mineral package in all our products. Here is a good example: let's say a breeder is feeding a maintenance food, then they realize there has been an accidental breeding. This could present some serious problems because the female is not nutritionally ready to support these puppies. So it is our feeling, why not make sure she is ready no matter what the situation.

Q:Linda: I know that if I wanted to raise a litter on your 20% or 23% protein diet I could, because the caloric intake is such that it is suited for growth; plus you use high-quality sequestered vitamins/minerals, digestive enzymes and friendly bacteria. What I mean, is every product in your line has the same important ingredients. The protein and fat levels vary depending on the product and its application.

A:Joe: Yes, sometimes breeders think that a lesser-protein diet is a lesser quality diet, and a higher-protein food means a higher quality diet. This is not necessarily true. We can look at an Eagle product with a 30% protein - 20% fat that is delivering approximately 2,220 calories. Now we can take the protein down to 20% and fat to 12%, and essentially we have reduced the product content by 35%, if we just look at the imperical numbers. But we have only reduced the caloric content by 10%; this shows you what you can do if you carefully select your ingredients. We have taken the high caloric intake value (which is fat) and reduced 40% of the animal fat yet only reduced 10% of the calories.

Q:Linda: In an article I read, it said it was necessary to feed sled dogs 50-60% fat. I questioned this, is this so?

A:Joe: Let's look at this … in people, if they need energy, they consume sugar and that gives them quick energy. However, in a sled dog, if the application is to convey "staying energy", we would not introduce it in the form of fat because the fat calorie is the most quickly absorbed and utilized; so they need a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats. But if you introduce only a high fat/or hot calorie diet, it can lead to dehydration since the fat calorie in an animal burns off at a higher temperature than a carbohydrate calorie.

Q:Linda: Well, that makes more sense. I have a portion of an article from Veterinary Forum Magazine, that states, "There have been studies done that show that house dogs (family pets) undergo the same amount of stress as a sled dog."

A:Joe: Yes, that is true. Same amount, different kinds. With family pets there is constant contact with strangers and abuse from children. The sled dog actually operates in a more stable environment because of his limited exposure to stimulus compared to the family housedog. There's not open visitation at a sled dog kennel. They spend their day in the kennel or tied to a doghouse. Their stress is more physical than a housedog. It is the emotional stress that is the real problem, such as with a show dog. It's the constant changes in the environment, and constant exposure to new situations that are so stressful on these dogs.

Q:Linda: Let's change the subject. Why do commercial dog food manufacturers tell us about the percentage of digestibility or caloric count or gross energy available in the dog foods? Is this an accurate indication of what is really going on in the animal?

A:Joe: What they are trying to do is convince you through a specific marketing approach of certain characteristics of the food. But there is not a consistent approach within the industry in determining these characteristics.

An example would be in determining the percentage of digestibility of a diet - it can't be done without the actual weighing and processing of fecal solids, which is a very expensive process and is not always undertaken. You see, the assumption is by the consumer, that the company wouldn't be selling this product unless it was highly digestible. So they (the companies) rely somewhat on the fact you are as the consumer, pre-sold on a product if it is in a certain distribution system, in a certain type of packaging or in certain marketing procedures.

Q:Linda: I had expressed to you earlier what a difficult time I have had getting any cooperation from dog food companies. I have repeatedly written letters and called asking for specific breakdowns of ingredients and amino acid assay. In fact, one very popular food from the West Coast, put me in touch with one of their veterinarians. Her response to me was, "Why do you want an amino acid assay of the food? I don't even know them, and you probably wouldn't understand the information anyway!" Another extremely well-known company whose food is frequently sold through veterinarians, told me, "We cannot give out amino acid breakdown of our products because there is a lot of industry sabotage going on and giving this information out might help someone to try and duplicate our food formulas!"

This attitude made me very angry because I am a consumer comparison shopper. I am entitled to that information and I certainly did know how to interpret this information. Well, they never responded with any information and only two companies, of everyone in the market, ever responded, with Eagle being one of them.

A:Joe: As a company we are proud to make this information available; although it's true most people would not know what to do with the information or could not assimilate it properly. The other thing is this: if you are making that information available to the general public, there are specific minimum requirements in the AAFCO listing. As to the availability of certain amino acids, you would probably find that companies refusing to supply the information, are only putting in the minimums to meet the AAFCO requirements by law.

Q:Linda: Minimums … that's all?

A:Joe: Yes, that's all. So I would be very reluctant to accept that kind of comment from a company, "Why would you want it, you probably wouldn't understand it anyway!" Because there is a basis of comparison - you can go to AAFCO for that requirement and to a certain extent, the consumer is entitled to that information.

In a lot of applications it would not be beneficial because there are many philosophies regarding what is essential in a diet and what isn't. But we have to look at what is being done outside the pet industry to make an evaluation as to how important that information is. The animal husbandry industry, which is tremendously large in comparison to the pet industry, says that we have re-employed the philosophical approach that was used in animal nutrition 30 years ago. Now, that concept is no longer in vogue, but it is seeing a resurgence of this concept and it is that again of "first limiting" that we talked about earlier. This means if you do not have the essential components in a diet, then it does not matter what else you have. The example I gave: if I do not have the amino acid methionine, then it does not matter what others I have. If I don't have this one thing (or essential components) then the whole thing is a waste of time.

Q:Linda: So this theory of 30 years ago is being re-addressed? This is like the B-vitamins, if they are not all present at once, working in concert, they do not work.

A:Joe: Oh, you bet? It is just one part of a puzzle. People were seeing what they put in a formulation - a linear program extension of that information and what happened was they were not getting the results. The computer said this was going to happen, but it didn't.

The industry placed too much on minimizing inputs to maximize output. What we did (industry) was formulate down to a point where we got the absolute essential minimum to accomplish what we thought was our goal. We did this because it helped generally in the area of cost containing … and now we are saying that it is not valid. It is our opinion at Eagle that you cannot put in minimum levels. You have to put in an abundance, in order to ensure that these animals get that value. This is the other aspect that is so important - you have to put it into the diet so that it is usable by the animal.

Q:Linda: Bio-availability? How much is actually available for usage by the animal or human?

A:Joe: Yes, and this means, in our case, that we get "ingredient born" characteristics. We know genetically, everything that relates to the utilization of that component is better if it appears naturally in a substance, than if it is manufactured in the laboratory.

Q:Linda: That's like natural vitamins - vitamins derived from whole food substances are better utilized than synthetics made in a laboratory.

Let me back up here; in all our lengthy discussions over the past few months and through our discussion today, I get the feeling that the philosophy of this company is to be the best that it can be. If in the process you become the biggest, that is fine. If you become the wealthiest this is fine, but that is certainly not your primary goal.

A:Joe: Well, we don't want to be the biggest because I don't think we can be the biggest and also be the best - there is not enough quality ingredients out there; there is a finite availability of essential components.

Q:Linda: Is it fair to say that is probably what has happened to some of your competitors? That is certainly the feeling most long-time breeders have about a couple of premium foods. I know I have personally seen a change in the results of the feeds over the past 20 years.

One company is so big they even have a line of designer clothes, coffee mugs, and dog toys … who needs it! It "feels" like such a loss of integrity; something isn't right. If the food is good, it will sell. Nothing is more swift than the "breeder's grapevine". I bet you can attest to that fact? If they are making that much money, I'd rather see them donate to research rather than develop a line of clothing containing a logo.

There is always the Morris Animal Foundation or others desperately needing funds for research on the degenerative animal diseases that have cropped up over the past 35 years. Of course, sticking my neck out here, I am convinced most of them are nutritionally-caused and not genetic, as we have been told.

A:Joe: I think that a lot of our competitors have gone through that problem. In some cases, we have compromised our philosophies to accomplish other ends - growth being one, profit, market share - there are so many considerations that are coincidental.

Q:Linda: I am wondering - what do you think about the development of a research center. On one hand it can have positive aspects, but on the other hand it is not real! It has nothing to do with what happens to these dogs in the real world … how they eat, the ways in which we manage their lives. Perhaps that was the downfall (in the eyes of most breeders) of one particular competitor.

A:Joe: In our opinion, we do not want a research facility.

Q:Linda: Wouldn't it be a tremendous financial drain?

A:Joe: That is not the real consideration for us as much as the potential outcome. You know, we all have a "way" in which we approach this business; here at Eagle, conveying this philosophy through training and daily behavior is what we are trying to accomplish. I think you can, somewhat, consider the type of information you generate from a captive evaluation because, whether it is conscious on the part of the evaluator or not, they are going to respond to what they think management wants. Our approach is that we go to the consumers and get an independent evaluation from their standpoint with no predetermined outcome. What we are saying, we'd like to do this, we think we are doing this, but we want you to tell us that. We do not want to go into a laboratory environment controlled by us to make that outcome.

John: There are some benefits to a research facility if all you want to know is how to raise a kennel full of Beagles; but that is not the real world. That does not deal with what happens when these dogs are used for hunting, guarding, going to dog shows and other external situations … none of the day-to-day stress is found in a protected kennel facility environment. Libby Riddles (first woman to win the Iditarod sled race) made a real good comment: "The dogs can look great on a chain in the summer time, but when you hook them up to a sled, things go to hell real fast if you haven't maintained the proper diet."

Joe has been in contact with a lot more people than I have. People like yourself around the country, that are not "fanatic" breeders; the ones that you can listen to. These people have an on-going dialogue regarding these issues, and you know that you're getting some honest feed-back, some valid information and observations. We think that is a better form of "reality basis" research, than a kennel full of Beagles.

Q:Linda: You know, John, that kind of information is really important for breeders to hear (not that I want your phone to be ringing off the hook). There is a definite sense of frustration felt by breeders across the country that no one in research or in the industry is listening to them. I know there have bee


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