Do you choose canned food or dry food? What brand? There are so many different brands, all shapes and sizes of pet food to choose from and pet owners are provided with very little information to base your decisions on (other than advertising) – it can get so confusing! Well, buckle your seatbelt depending on how much you know of the pet food industry, this could be a bumpy ride! You are about to learn seven secrets – well kept secrets – of pet food. Sit back, brace yourself, and keep reading.
Beneful says it’s ‘Premium Dog Food for a Happy, Healthy Dog’ and sells for around $18.00 for a 31 lb. bag, Science Diet “promises” ‘precisely balanced nutrition through continuous research and the highest quality food backed by your Vets endorsement’ and sells for around $21.00 for only a 20 lb bag. Then there are numerous pet foods that make the very same statements – ‘Premium Dog Food, Highest Quality’ – that sell for $30.00 or more for a 20 lb bag. And the same holds true for cat owners…Do you choose Whiskas that states ‘Everything we do is about making cats happy!’ or do you choose one of those high end cat foods that make the very same claim of a happy, healthy cat but cost 3 times as much?
Now with the on-going pet food recall pet owners have questions such as ‘Has this food been recalled?’ or ‘Is this food the next one to be recalled?’…’Is my pet safe?’ Wow this is confusing! And scary too! What exactly is a pet owner to do? How about learning a few secrets! Equipped with the knowledge of a few secrets of pet food, it’s not nearly as confusing.
Safe, Healthy Pet Food Secret #1…
All pet foods use descriptive words like choice and premium, though few of them actually use premium or choice ingredients in their food. The ‘secret’ is that per the rules of the pet food industry, no pet food can make any claims or references on their label or advertising as to the quality or grade of ingredients. You see, the word ‘premium’ when it’s related to pet food DOES NOT mean that the ingredients in the food are premium. With pet foods, premium does not (can not) describe the food nor does it (can it) describe the quality of the food. It is a marketing term and that is all. Per the pet food industries own rules and regulations, “There are no references to ingredient quality or grade” (regulation PF5 d 3). So, words like premium, or choice, or quality are just marketing or sales terms. They should not be interpreted as terms describing the quality of the food.
Now why wouldn’t a pet food label be allowed to tell a prospective customer the quality of their ingredients? Doesn’t a pet owner deserve to know what they are buying? This leads me to the next secret…
Safe, Healthy Pet Food Secret#2…
If I can compare ‘people’ food to pet food for just a second, we all know there are different qualities of people food. There is White Castle (I’m guilty here, I love the little guys!) and there is Outback Steak House (another favorite). Both restaurants serve meat and potatoes. At White Castle for under $3.00 you can get a couple of hamburgers and an order of fries. While at Outback you can get a steak and baked potato for around $16.00. Both serve beef and potato – yet you already realize that there are huge nutritional differences between a fast food hamburger and a steak…right?
The problem in the pet food industry – is that most pet owners don’t think in the same terms when it comes to pet food. They don’t think in terms that there are fast food types of pet foods and there are sit down restaurant more nutritious types of pet foods. In fact, several years ago a young man tried this very experiment with his own diet – eating nothing but fast food for 30 days. In just one month of eating fast food three meals a day, he gained a great deal of weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels sky-rocketed. Now, imagine your pet eating this type of food its’ entire lifetime.
OK, so back to our two meals…if a chemical analysis of your meal at White Castle was compared to a chemical analysis of your meal at Outback – both would analyze with a percentage of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Regardless whether you consider a steak at Outback a higher quality of protein than the burger – it would still analyze as protein. The analysis doesn’t measure quality of protein.
So here is the secret…All pet foods come with a Guaranteed Analysis stating the percentage of protein, fat, fiber and moisture in the food. The REAL secret lies in the quality of the percentages of protein, fat, and so on.
In a chemical analysis of a pet food – chicken feet would analyze as protein, although granted it provides very little nutrition. And as well, a cow that was euthanized (put to sleep) because of a disease that made it unfit for human consumption – would analyze as protein although that could be considered dangerous for consumption. Both of those things – chicken feet and a euthanized cow – are allowable ingredients and commonly used in pet food. You see the secret within the pet food industry is manufacturers have a WIDE OPEN door to where they obtain their ingredients. The only strict rule they must follow is an adult dog food must analyze with 18% protein and an adult cat food must analyze with 26% protein. Sources to acquire those particular percentages range from a ‘human grade’ meat, to chicken feet, to euthanized animals, to grain proteins, to even man made chemical proteins and many variations in between.
Pet food labels do not have to tell – are not allowed to tell – the sources they use to obtain that required 18% or 26% protein. And to make matters worse…quality minded pet food manufacturers – the companies that use 100% human grade ingredients – are not allowed to tell customers or potential customers that their products are quality, human grade ingredients.
So how can you know if your pet’s food uses chicken feet or euthanized cows or if it contains human grade ingredients?
Safe, Healthy Pet Food Secret #3…
If the words premium and choice mean basically nothing with regards to the quality of pet food, and if some pet foods use chicken feet and euthanized animals in their food – how can a pet owner know what they are getting in their pets’ food?
This big secret is found in ingredient definitions. Unlike ‘people’ food where you can pretty much look at the food to determine the quality, pet food is far different. All ‘people’ food must meet particular USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) guidelines. The same is not true for pet food. Chicken feet and euthanized cows are NOT allowed in people food for obvious reasons – they have no nutritional value or they could be dangerous to consume. The same is NOT true for pet food. The only way to know if those chicken feet or euthanized cows are in your pet’s food is to know what ingredients they can be used in.
The common pet food ingredient ‘Meat and Bone Meal’ is basically a combination of many different discarded left-overs from the human food industry. Components of ‘meat and bone meal’ can be anything from cow heads, stomachs, and intestines, to (horrifying but true) euthanized animals including cows, horses and dogs and cats from veterinarian offices, animal shelters, and farms. And along with those euthanized animals the pet food also contains the drug pentabarbitol that was used to euthanize the animal. ‘Meat and bone meal’ can also contain left-over restaurant grease, and diseased (including cancerous) meat tissues cut away from slaughtered animals. In other words, this commonly used ingredient is a mix of highly inferior and potentially dangerous left-overs from the human food industry.
The pet food ingredient ‘Meat By-Product’ or ‘Meat By-Product Meal’ is pretty much the same thing as ‘meat and bone meal’. It is a highly inferior pet food ingredient containing literally who-knows-what.
Another similar ingredient to the above is ‘Animal Digest’.
As to the chicken feet I mentioned earlier – this item can be found in the ingredients ‘Chicken By-Product’ or ‘Poultry By-Product’ or ‘Chicken By-Product Meal’ or ‘Poultry By-Product Meal’. Any left-overs in the chicken or poultry division – including but not limited to chicken feet, skin including some feathers, chicken or poultry heads, and intestines are found in these ingredients. It does NOT matter as to the health of the bird – sick, healthy, dead, dying…all is included in these ingredients.
So here is what you need to do…BEFORE you purchase any pet food, flip the bag over and closely examine the list of ingredients. The above mentioned ingredients would be listed within the first five or ten ingredients. If you see ANY of those ingredients – it is my suggestion to NOT purchase that food. Remember – chicken feet and euthanized animals do analyze as protein. That is all that is required in pet food – just the correct analysis.
Another little trick some pet food manufacturers use in this category is using grains and chemical additives to grain products to boost the protein percentages. Which is exactly the cause of the pet food recall that began in March 2007 – chemical proteins. Two different chemical additives – that have NO nutritional value to pets, but that analyzed as protein – were added to a grain product (wheat gluten, corn gluten, or rice gluten) solely to provide a cheap protein. Thousands of pets died and countless others became ill because no one counted on the problem of the combination of these two chemicals would cause kidney and urinary blockage. Again, their secret is the product has to analyze as having a particular amount of protein – no one is required to provide a quality meat protein.
While you are looking at the ingredient listing – you should also take note of how many grains (corn, wheat, rice) and/or how many grain products (corn gluten, whole corn, ground corn, whole wheat, ground wheat, wheat gluten, rice, brown rice, brewers rice, soy, and on and on) are listed within the first five or so ingredients. If you find more than one grain listed in the first five ingredients – that is telling you this pet food is acquiring some of its protein from grains.
Why is protein obtained from grains important for you to know? Several reasons – first off science proves that cats and dogs alike require and thrive on a meat protein. If a pet food is obtaining protein from grain sources, the pet is not getting the meat that it needs to thrive. Second, if the grain products are a corn gluten, wheat gluten, or rice gluten you take the risk of chemicals such as melamime added to it used strictly to boost the protein analysis. By the way, melamime is one of the chemicals found to be the cause of the March 2007 pet food recall. And there is one more concern with grains – aflatoxin. Aflatoxin is a deadly mold that is common to corn, wheat, and soy and it’s responsible for several other pet food recalls you probably never heard about. In December 2005, Diamond Pet Food contained moldy grains that killed over 100 pets before the product was recalled – all due to aflatoxin.
It is my recommendation to avoid any pet food that contains corn, wheat, or soy in ANY variation. The risk is simply too high.
Safe, Healthy Pet Food Secret #4…
I’ve got more suggestions for you to look for in the ingredient listings…chemical preservatives. A very well kept secret of the pet food industry is their common use of chemical preservatives. BHA/BHT are very popular chemical preservatives used in pet food and science has linked them to tumors and cancer. Another common preservative is ethoxyquin which has known risks to cancer. Ethoxyquin is ONLY allowed in human food in some spices because of the very tiny proportions. However it is allowed in much higher proportions in pet food.
If you scan the ingredient listings, you will be looking for BHA/BHT and ethoxyquin listed anywhere. Commonly BHA/BHT is used to preserve the fat in the food which usually is found higher on the list. And also look for any of these chemicals towards the end of the ingredient listing. Personally, I wouldn’t touch a pet food that contained these chemical preservatives. You want a pet food that is preserved naturally – common natural preservatives are ‘natural mixed tocopherols’ or ‘vitamin E’.
Safe, Healthy Pet Food Secret #5…
The very best food to provide to your pet is a well made food using human grade ingredients. That should be simple enough…How do you find that? You already know that pet food manufacturers are NOT allowed to make any statement as to quality or grade of ingredients, the only way you can find out the grade or quality of your pets’ food is to call the manufacturer and ask them.
Now, let’s say you call the ABC pet food company and ask the question “Is your Premium dog food and Premium cat food made using human grade ingredients?” It could be that you get the response yes, we use human grade ingredients – when actually only a couple of ingredients are human grade. Here’s the trick to asking…ask them if they are APHIS European certified.
Pet food manufacturers that are APHIS European certified assures you that ALL ingredients in their pet food are human grade. APHIS – Animal Plant Health Inspection Services – is a division of the USDA. APHIS European certification provides this pet food manufacturer with the opportunity to ship their foods/treats to Europe. When importing pet foods from the US, European countries demand that all ingredients are human grade and thus require this certification. Most pet food manufacturers that have APHIS European certification do not ship their products to Europe – they simply use this as a means to assure their customers to the higher quality of their ingredients.
Again, you WON’T see this listed on the label – it’s not allowed. You must call the manufacturer and ask. Often times the representative of the pet food won’t even know what you are talking about when you ask about APHIS certification – if that’s the case, you can assume they are not APHIS European certified. APHIS European certification is a bonus to pet owners – it is not required or even suggested that any pet food manufacturer go through the extra steps to obtain this. This is a special effort some pet foods go through to tell their customers they REALLY CARE about the quality of their products. Personally, I would NOT buy a pet food that doesn’t have it.
And by the way, if you can’t reach the pet food manufacturer, or they do not return your call within a short time frame, lose their number! Any company that does not place a priority on answering customers questions – doesn’t deserve your business!
Safe, Healthy Pet Food Secret #6…
Minerals are a required ingredient in human diets as well as diets for our pets. Copper, Iron and Zinc are common minerals found in pet foods. Just as they are – copper, iron, and zinc are basically rocks, very difficult for anyone or any pet to utilize. Science has developed several ways to introduce minerals into the body (human and pet) for better absorption thus benefiting the individual far more. This scientific development is called chelating or proteinating and it’s been around for years. Through the chelating or proteinating process minerals are absorbed about 60% better than just the minerals alone.
This secret is spotting the minerals in your pet food to see if they are chelated or proteinated. Notice the minerals on your pet food label, way down on the list of ingredients. You are looking for minerals that read ‘copper proteinate’ or ‘chelated copper’. If you see just the mineral listed, your pet is sort of like Charlie Brown at Halloween saying ‘I got a rock’. If you want your pet to have the best, chelated or proteinated minerals are part of the best foods!
Safe, Healthy Pet Food Secret #7…
This secret is called ‘friendly bacteria’. Although ‘friendly bacteria’ sounds a little scary, the reason for it lies in your pets’ intestinal system. A large portion of your pets’ immune system is found within the intestinal system. Keeping the immune system healthy helps to keep the animal itself healthy. This friendly bacteria is similar to what’s found in yogurt, however in pet food it is introduced in a fashion so that the cooking process doesn’t destroy it. Looking at the fine print on your pet food label, this time you are looking for lengthy, scientific words like Lactobacillus Acidophilus or Bifidobacterium Thermophilum. If you do NOT see these words or some very similar, that pet food is not addressing the care of your pets’ immune system. And again, if you want your pet to have the best, you want ‘friendly bacteria’ in their food.
There are your seven very secrets to help you find the absolute healthiest and best pet food for your four-legged friend. Armed with those secrets – you now have the knowledge to find your pet the best food possible! A pet food that can extend their life and prevent early aging and disease. If you don’t want to bother doing the homework involved, I urge you to subscribe to my monthly magazine Petsumer Report(TM). Through Petsumer Report(TM) I’ve done all the homework for you – each month I review and rate over 40 different pet foods, treats, toys, and various other pet supplies. It’s the ONLY publication of its’ kind providing pet owners with the information they need to know regarding their pet product purchases.
I want to share just a couple more things…
It’s best to feed an adult dog or adult cat two meals a day. The nutrition they consume with two meals is better utilized than with just one meal a day. If you are currently feeding your pet one meal a day, split that same amount into two meals and feed in the AM and PM.
You should know that all canned or moist pet foods are anywhere between 70% to 85% moisture. This means that 70% to 85% of that can or pouch of food is useless nutrition – its water. Granted our pets need water, cats especially tend not to drink enough water. But since all canned or moist foods are mostly water, they do not provide adequate nutrition to be fed strictly a canned or moist diet. Use a canned or moist product to supplement your pet’s diet – not as the only food.
The best pet foods are preserved naturally (secret #4) – but there is a concern with naturally preserved pet foods…freshness. Take notice of the expiration date on your pets food label – typically with naturally preserved dry pet foods (not as much of a concern with soft foods because of canning – very little need of preservatives) the expiration date is one year to 18 months from the date it was manufactured. Let’s say the pet food you are considering to purchase on July 1, 2007 has a ‘Best if Used by’ date of January 1, 2008. This would tell you that this particular bag of pet food is already 6 months old. While it is still ‘good’ a fresher food – a bag that is only 2 or 3 months old – is better. Naturally preserved pet foods lose nutritional potency with time. Always try to find a very fresh bag.
If you are considering changing your pets food, ALWAYS consult with your Veterinarian first. You should always keep your veterinarian advised of any changes you make with your pet. Don’t take chances. And if you do switch pet food, make the change over very slowly. I always recommend to pet owners ¼ new food to ¾ old food for 4 to 7 days, ½ to ½ for another 4 to 7 days, and so on. Switching food quickly can cause intestinal disorder! Its short term, but we don’t want intestinal disorder!!!
One last thing, as you are already aware dogs and cats have a far better sense of smell than humans. Their food bowl can be a wealth of smells – both good and bad. Some times a pet will refuse to eat simply because he or she smells a previous food in their bowl. Plastic food and water bowls retain odors the worst. And surprisingly so does stainless steel bowls. The best type of food and water bowl is a ceramic one. They retain odors the least.
“Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” George Eliot.
I completely agree!
Susan Thixton has worked in the pet industry for over 20 years helping thousands of pet owners to enjoy their pets. She’s produced an internationally distributed dog training video, authored the tell all book Truth About Pet Food, and recently has begun publication of a one-of-a-kind pet owning consumer report Petsumer Report. For more information please visit http://www.TruthAboutPetFood.com
Pet Behavior and Nutrition Consultant
Truth About Pet Food