- Dog food labels are very confusing if you don't know how to read and interpret them. Things are not always as they appear. Here are some tips to help you make informed decisions on what to feed your pets. (from an article by Sabine Contreras).
The Pet food industry is a very competitive multi-billion business, and the manufacturers of most popular brands spend millions on advertising alone every year, trying to convince consumers that they are offering the best, most nutritious product. Of course they all claim that they use only the best quality ingredients, but there is no legal requirement that such statements must be truthful. It's your responsibility as a pet owner to look past the pretty pictures of fresh cuts of meat and juicy vegetables, the cute commercials and the misleading, biased information about "proper nutrition" and to question the statements these companies make.
Contrary to popular belief, it's not always the "first five" or "first seven" ingredients listed that make up the major portion of a product. The number of main ingredients actually depends on the specific formulation of a food and the degree of variety included, so one brand may have only three or four main ingredients, while another could have eight or ten. (more.....)
What you need to look for is the first source of fat or oil that appears in the ingredient list. This can either be from an animal or vegetable source, there are good and bad ones of both, but more details on that later. Anything listed before that first source of fat, and including it, are the main ingredients of the food. Any other items are present in much smaller amounts to add flavor, function as preservatives, help with the manufacturing process or provide dietary benefits (e.g. probiotics, vitamins and minerals).
Ingredient groups: What to look for and what to avoid
Let's take the protein group today. I'll post information on a different group one at a time (it's too much reading to take in all at once).
Protein, in the form of quality meat ingredients, is the most important component of a dog's diet. As animals with a carnivorous background, their digestive tract is designed to utilize primarily meat and fat. It is also the most expensive ingredient for a manufacturer to buy and the profit margin on a product is drastically affected by the amount and quality used. Ideally, the first ingredient of a food should be either a specified meat meal, or a specified fresh meat type followed by a meal. If your individual dog's specific needs limit you to using foods that do not include a concentrated source of meat in meal form, I highly recommend supplementing with fresh or canned meats on a daily basis.
■ Generically named sources of protein or fat (animal ___, meat ___, poultry ___, etc.) are never present in truly high quality products because they are derived from highly questionable sources. If a manufacturer uses quality ingredients and has nothing to hide, there is no need for generic names. Trust me....you would be shocked and sickened by what is included in a lot of the "generic" meat ingredients. I'll go into more detail at another time.
■ Byproducts of any type are less desirable and only acceptable if they do not make up the main source of animal protein and if the name of the species used is also defined in some
manner (e.g. "chicken byproducts" or "beef byproducts but not "meat byproducts" or "poultry byproducts"). Byproducts consist of anything but the quality cuts of meat and highest quality edible offal used for human consumption. What this means (on a market with high demand for human snacks like "buffalo wings" and cheaper pet foods requiring flavoring agents like beef or chicken liver digest to make otherwise uninteresting food more attractive), I leave to your imagination.
■ Contrary to what many people believe, meat sources in "meal" form (as long as they are
from a specified type of animal, such as chicken meal, lamb meal, salmon meal etc.) are not inferior to whole, fresh meats. Meals consist of meat and skin, with or without the bones, but exclusive of feathers/hair, heads, feet, horns, entrails etc. and have the proper calcium/phosphorus ratio required for a balanced diet. They have had most of the moisture removed, but meats in their original, "wet" form still contain up to 75% water. Once the food reaches its final moisture content of about 9-12%, the meat will have shrunk to as little as 1/4 of the original amount, while the already dehydrated meal form remains the same and you get more concentrated protein per pound of finished product. This means that in the worst case you are left with only 4 ounces of actual meat content per pound of fresh meat included in a dry kibble, many of which contain less than one pound of meat per 2-3 pounds of grain to begin with.
What to look for:
►Specifically named meats and meat meals such as chicken, chicken meal, turkey, turkey
meal, lamb, lamb meal, duck, duck meal, beef, beef meal, eggs and so on.
►The following are lesser quality ingredients and are not found in truly high quality products, but may be present in smaller amounts (not as the main protein ingredients) in "mid range" foods: fresh byproducts indicating a specific species (e.g. beef/chicken/turkey/lamb byproducts), corn gluten, corn gluten meal. Products that include these as main ingredients should be avoided:
What to avoid:
►All generic meat ingredients that do not indicate a species (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.)
►Byproduct meals, even if a species is identified (chicken/beef/turkey/lamb byproduct meal etc.), since highly questionable ingredients may be used in these rendered products.
►Any food that contains corn (ground or otherwise) as a first ingredient, especially if corn
gluten meal is also a main ingredient and no concentrated source of identified meat protein (e.g. chicken meal, lamb meal etc.) is present.
► Corn gluten or soy(bean) meal as main ingredients. Note: Not all dogs tolerate soy products! Small amounts, especially of organic soy, are okay as long as a dog is not sensitive. There are only very few products on the market that include high quality soy ingredients, none of them sold at grocery stores or mass retailers
That should give you a good idea what to look for as far as the protein content of your dog's food. Wild canids eat meat, not corn, so make sure your pups are getting enough good quality meat protein.
Next time we'll talk about carbs (and yes, for you Atkins fans out there, there ARE several really good low-carb high-protein foods available. I use a couple of them myself for my guys).