Pet store owner a champion for good pet nutrition | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pet store owner a champion for good pet nutrition

“Pet nutrition is just as complicated as human nutrition.”

Burton Patrick is not your father’s pet-store owner.

The proprietor of Burton’s Total Pet, he also fancies himself a philosopher and evangelist. With a background in animal husbandry and degrees in both chemistry and zoology, Patrick, who has eight stores locally, espouses good nutrition both for humans and their pets.

“Good health,” says Patrick, who blogs about this subject and other pet-related issues at, “ultimately comes down to what we put into our body.” The same is true for our pets. The only difference, according to Patrick, is “our pets can’t tell us how they feel, and when we do notice something, like hot spots, we take them to the vet and the vet prescribes medicine, but it could probably have been avoided by feeding them better food.

“Pet nutrition is just as complicated as human nutrition and it all begins with diet.” 

What amounts to good nutrition, in Patrick’s eyes, is what exactly makes up the food that one is feeding their pet. Cheap pet foods, the ones that people are most familiar with, contain high amounts of carbohydrates, bad for a pet like a dog or a cat because they are obligate carnivores, meaning that their saliva doesn’t contain amylase, necessary to break down carbohydrates while chewing. In the absence of amylase, the carbohydrates aren’t digested and they are ultimately broken down by acid, resulting in gum disease. Shorter life span is another side effect of poor nutrition.

“Most of the older dogs that I see,” says Patrick, “could probably have their lives extended 5 to 10 years if they weren’t fed cheap pet food.”

Most of the cheap pet food, he says, is around 60 percent carbohydrates. Cats need around 60 percent protein and dogs need around 70 percent protein.

The problem is not necessarily that pet owners don’t understand this. It’s the marketing by pet-food companies. “Manufacturers are selling things they shouldn’t,” he says. Patrick suggests that certain liberties are taken when labeling ingredients. When a pet-food company, for instance, “advertises that their food contains such and such percentage of real meat, what they mean is raw meat, which is 70 percent water, so really, pound for pound, your pet isn’t getting the proper amount of protein.”

Even with the knowledge that most pet food is mislabeled, there are cost issues involved in feeding your pet better. One three-pound bag of Back to Basics, grain-free formula can cost as much as $80. “But,” asserts Patrick, “you can pay that now or you can pay that at the vet."

“It’s so important for merchants to know what they’re selling, and some might say that I indoctrinate my managers,” he adds “But because of that, you know you’re getting the truth.”

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