I have just completed another of my recent pet-sitting adventures where, each time, I learn so much about what people are feeding their four-legged companions.

If you’re like most pet owners, your pet is a beloved member of your family. And just like the humans in your household, you want to give your pet every opportunity for a long and healthful life.

What you might not know is that despite advertising claims, the majority of commercial pet foods are not optimally healthful for your dog or cat. Just as most processed, convenient “people food” is devoid of nutritional value, so is much of the dry pet food sold commercially today.

The pet nutrition industry is very similar to the human food industry — full of hype and false claims, peddling inferior nutritional choices. Much of the so-called “healthy pet foods” on the market contain inferior meat meals, cheap grains like corn and soy, fillers, by-products, food coloring, pesticides, preservatives, and other contaminants.

As in humans, good nutrition is key to keeping your pet in top physical shape and improve his or her chances of resisting disease and other degenerative conditions. And when it comes to protein levels and organ health, the more we learn, the more we realize how little we knew before.

“Pet” foods are actually a relatively new addition to the marketplace, only filling a consumer niche for the last 100 years or so. Many proactive, integrative and holistic veterinarians have long recognized the short falls of many commercially available pet foods.

Unfortunately, most widely available pet foods and even many of the brands conventional vets recommend do not contain clean, inspected ingredients, nor are they biologically balanced for your domesticated carnivore (cat) and scavenging carnivore (dog).

I can recall several times when I have taken our dog to the vet and no matter what illness they may have, the recommendation for food is ALWAYS the same (it comes in a big bag and has the word “diet” on the label). It’s akin to prescribing one type of processed food for all humans with a variety of health conditions.

Even a growing number of veterinarians say that processed pet food (kibbled and canned food) is the number one cause of illness and premature death in modern dogs and cats. In December 2005, the British Journal of Small Animal Practice published a paper stating that processed pet food suppresses animals’ immune systems, and causes, such as kidney, liver and heart disease.

Since this column is about being a “Choicetarian,” you have the power to make decisions based on sound information. It’s also an opportunity to review just what your pets are consuming since you are their providers.

At home, we feed our nine- and 10-year-old Aussies a raw food diet that we get from a company in Sebastopol called “Feed This.” They offer a variety of ground meats combined with fresh vegetables and minerals, all of which are organic and sustainable.

Each time our dogs have their annual physical, their veterinarians comment on how extremely healthy they are. We make sure their portions are regulated, too. Have you noticed a similar trend to humans in obese dogs and cats? Those extra (processed) snacks could be tipping the scales in the wrong direction. Just as important as their diets, we also make sure our pups receive adequate amounts of exercise.

Chicken Wrapped Sweet Potato “Bones”

(adapted from “Clean Eating”)

1 8 oz. package sliced chicken breast

1 sweet potato, cut lengthwise into uniform pieces

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2 Tbsp. olive or coconut oil

1 Tbsp. fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

Cut each piece of chicken into thin strips, about 1 inch thick.

Wrap each sweet potato with a strip of chicken.

Place on parchment lined baking sheet 1/2 inch apart and brush with oil. Sprinkle with parsley.

Dry in oven with door slightly open to let out moisture for approximately 2 hours until meat is dry. Cool and store in refrigerator. Bring to room temp for ideal enjoyment.

Human health coach Karen Schuppert will pamper your pets, too. They might even get an extra carrot. www.karenschuppert.com