What you should know before choosing a food:
This section contains some useful information about pet foods and the pet food industry that you may not be aware of.
There are several topics you should familiarize yourself with before choosing the right food for you pet. First, you should know what the different classifications of pet food are and what each means. Second, you should know what ingredients to look for on a label and what to avoid. Third, the processing methods used to make the food should be understood. Finally, the digestibility of each kind of food should be taken into consideration. Here is a summary of these important topics that we'd like to share with all concerned pet owners:
Who regulates dog food
Classifications of dog food
Ingredients used in dog food
Processing methods used to make dog food
Digestibility among types of dog food
All dog food in the United States is regulated by AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials, which is under the umbrella of the FDA. AAFCO determines the minimum levels of nutrients that must be present in foods that are sold for pets or livestock. Though many dog foods claim to be for puppies, seniors, or specific breeds, 99% of foods are formulated to meet AAFCO's minimum nutrient requirements for "all life stages."
Within the pet food industry, the classifications of pet food marketed today are described as followed, according to Dr. Martin Glinsky, animal nutritionist.
Basic - usually contains corn, wheat, animal by-products, artificial colors and preservatives, and meets AAFCO nutrient guidelines. Example: Alpo
Value Added - may contain different shapes/colors and/or elevated nutrition. Example: Beneful
Premium - higher nutritional levels, usually preserved naturally, "better" ingredients. Examples: Iams, Science Diet, Royal Canin
Super-Premium - almost always "natural", usually does not contain corn, wheat, or glutens. Non-processed animal protein may be the first ingredient. Example: California Natural
Super Premium x2 - usually "holistic" in concept, with functional ingredients for added health benefits, i.e glucosomine or Omega 3's. Example: Blue Buffalo, Innova
Super Premium x3 - grain-free and organic formulations. They are the most expensive and complicated to manufacture. Example: Newman's Own, The Good Dog Food Company
Note: As many super premium labels were recalled in the pet food recalls of 2007 as basic or value-added labels.
Most commercial pet food is made with ingredients you would not eat yourself. Although the foods are technically complete from a nutritional standpoint, the ingredients used are considered "feed grade" or "pet grade" because they don't meet the same standards as foods sold to people.
Where the ingredients come from is just as important as what the ingredients are. Meat often comes from leftover animal parts and what is referred to in the industry as the three D's; dead, dying, and diseased animals. Have you ever read "not fit for human consumption" on a pet food label, and wondered why it's fit for your dog but not for you? Sadly, not enough attention is given to ingredients in most pet food and regulations are not as strict as one might imagine or hope. Marketing is a powerful tool for pet food companies who give us the impression they are using better ingredients than they actually are.
Here is a list of the common ingredients found in most commercial pet foods that we believe should be avoided:
- Added preservatives, such as BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin: These allow food to remain shelf stable for as long as a year or more without refrigeration. These inhibit the growth of all bacteria in a dog's system, including those required to digest and process nutrients. Many preservatives have been linked to immune deficiencies and cancers and can also decrease moisture in the digestive tract which may lead to intestinal blockage and other serious problems.
- Animal fats preserved with tocopherols: Sprayed onto kibble, often in combination with flavorings, to make the food taste better to dogs. The fats are highly preserved to keep them shelf stable. Though these are usually safe, sensitive stomachs, diarrhea, gas, and bad breath are commonly linked to these kinds of fats.
- Artificial colors: These produce carcinogenic substances known as nitrosamines that may increase dog's sensitivities to certain viruses and have been linked to many cancers
- Brewer's Rice: This is the dried extracted residue of rice resulting from the manufacture of wort or beer. In other words, it is a by-product or waste of the beer industry.
- Corn: Corn is often used as filler, has little nutrient value, and is one of the most common allergens found in dog food. Though many dogs can tolerate corn, it is hard on their digestive system, just as it is for humans.
- Generic meat ingredients that do not indicate a species: This could read on the label as meat, meat byproducts, meat byproduct meal, meat meal, meat & bone meal, blood meal, fish, fish meal, poultry, poultry byproducts, poultry meal, poultry byproduct meal, liver, liver meal, glandular meal etc.
- Meat by-products or poultry by-products: Produced from the remains of an animal carcass that does not contain meat. This can include brains, feet, blood, intestines, lungs, and partially defatted fatty tissue. These do not contain as much nutritional value or usable protein as meat, and are not fit for human consumption.
- Propylene Glycol: This is a preservative used in soft-moist dog food and treats. It has been linked to kidney failure in dogs, and is fatal for cats.
- Soy: Soy is a plant protein that many dogs are allergic to and is also difficult for them to digest.
- Wheat: Though most dogs do fine with wheat, many have allergic reactions to it. If your dog is prone to allergies it should be avoided. Whole grains are the best choice.
Take a look at this comparison chart of popular brands and judge for yourself which food looks the purest to you.
Lamb Meal, Brewers Rice, Rice Flour, Ground Whole Grain Wheat, Ground Whole Grain Sorghum, Corn Gluten Meal, Cracked Pearled Barley, Animal Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), Dried Beet Pulp, Soybean Oil, Chicken Liver Flavor, Flaxseed, Potassium Chloride, Iodized Salt, vitamins (L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), Choline Chloride, Vitamin E Supplement, Taurine, minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), preserved with Mixed Tocopherols and Citric Acid, Beta-Carotene, Rosemary Extract.
(Science Diet, Lamb & Rice adult formula)
Chicken, Chicken By-Product Meal, Brewer's Rice, Corn Meal, Ground Whole Grain Sorghum, Ground Whole Grain Barley, Chicken Fat (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of Vitamin E), Dried Beet Pulp (sugar removed), Natural Chicken Flavor, Dried Egg Product, Brewer's Dried Yeast, Dicalcium Phosphate, Potassium Chloride, Salt, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Beta-Carotene, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin A Acetate, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate (source of Vitamin B1), Niacin, Riboflavin Supplement (source of Vitamin B2), Inositol, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (source of Vitamin B6), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid), Fish Oil (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of Vitamin E), Flax Meal, Apple Pomace, Dried Carrots, Dried Peas, Choline Chloride, Dried Spinach, Dried Tomato, Minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Manganese Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Potassium Iodide, Cobalt Carbonate), L-Carnitine, Rosemary Extract
(Iams Healthy Naturals)
Venison, Potato, Ground Whole Grain Sorghum, Brewers Rice, Ground Whole Grain Barley, Chicken Meal, Fish Meal, Dried Egg Product, Chicken Fat (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of Vitamin E), Dried Beet Pulp, Potassium Chloride, Chicken Flavor, Brewers Dried Yeast, Fish Oil (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of Vitamin E), Salt, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Ascorbic Acid, Beta-Carotene, Vitamin A Acetate, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate (source of vitamin B1), Niacin, Riboflavin Supplement (source of vitamin B2), Inositol, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (source of vitamin B6), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid), Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Choline Chloride, Minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Manganese Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Potassium Iodide, Cobalt Carbonate), DL-Methionine, Calcium Carbonate, Rosemary Extract
(Eukanuba Naturally Wild)
all-natural grass-fed beef, organic brown rice, organic sweet potatoes, organic pumpkin puree, all-natural beef liver, organic green beans, organic peas, organic bell peppers, organic rolled oats, organic oat bran, steamed bone meal, brewer's dried yeast, Dolomitic Limestone, Cod Liver oil, dried kelp, ground whole flaxseed, sea salt, dried barley grass, garlic, almonds, Glucosomine Hydrochloride, Zinc Sulfate, Vitamin E supplement, dried Slippery Elm Bark, Wild Yam Root, dried rosemary, dried thyme, dried oregano
(The Good Dog Food Company)
Dog foods are processed to fit into one of the following categories: dry extruded (kibble), canned, baked, soft moist, shelf-stable moist (chub packs), refrigerated, frozen, dehydrated, and raw. This is important to know because most processing methods destroy the nutrients and live enzymes originally contained within the food. Even if a company starts out with good ingredients, by the time the food is processed into kibble or canned it has lost many of the benefits of these ingredients. This is a result of the high temperatures the food is subjected to during rendering which denatures the proteins, changing their natural properties and reducing their nutritional value. The extrusion process used to change food into kibble further reduces the nutritional value, after which the kibble is sprayed with highly preserved animal fat and vitamins to replace what has been lost through extrusion. This may make the food less expensive to buy and more convenient to store and feed, but the hidden costs may be too great to justify feeding it to your pet. See the following chart that shows which kinds of foods are least processed and which are the most.
Each kind of food has a different level of digestibility which results from both the way it is processed and the ingredients used. The least digestible in terms of processing is dry extruded, or kibble, and the most digestible forms are frozen and raw diets. The range of digestibility in pet food ingredients also varies considerably. This should be taken into account when choosing a food because it is not enough for a nutrient to be found in a food if that food is not high ly digestible. Ingredients in many popular foods that rank low in terms of digestibility are corn, soy, wheat and meals. Dogs must consume larger amounts of these foods in order to meat the same nutritional levels of foods that contain highly digestible ingredients such as whole meats, whole grains, and whole vegetables. This is one reason why dogs may gain weight when being fed a food that is difficult to digest.
For more information about reading labels on pet food, click here.