HOW TO CHOOSE A “GOOD” COMMERCIAL PET FOOD FOR YOUR DOG OR CAT
The pet food recalls of 2007, although horrific, did have a positive side effect; it shook many of us out of our comfortable belief that higher end brands like Science Diet and Iams were the best option for our pets. We also started hearing words like glutens and meat-by-products and it prompted us to investigate these terms and find out how the affect our pets. The end result was a consumer that is more educated and aware of the “commercialism” behind the pet food industry.
It also prompted many of us to do better for our pets. Many concerned pet lovers are now making home prepared meals for their dogs and cats. Home prepared meals allow total control over the ingredients, but preparation can be time consuming. So what is a good compromise to home cooked meals?
Choosing higher quality commercial pet foods is the best alternative to a totally home cooked diet. When selecting a commercial diet there are some specific guidelines you should follow:
- Avoid meat-by-products and meat meals.
- Watch out for glutens.
- Keep grains to a minimum – especially corn and wheat.
- Choose canned varieties over dry.
- Avoid artificial colors and additives.
Avoid meat-by-products and meat meals.
Contrary to what the pet food industry would have you believe, the plump chickens and nice cuts of beef pictured on labels and in advertising seldom make it into our pet’s food. Instead most pet foods contain “meat by-products” or “meat meals”.
Meat-by-products are the discards from slaughter that are not considered fit for human consumption and in reality contain little or no meat. At first glance it doesn’t seem so bad. “So what if my dog eats the spleen or other discarded part of an animal that humans would not eat? Isn’t that what they would eat in the wild?” Yes and no. In the wild, dogs do feast on internal organs, but their main stay is muscle meat.
According to Ann Martin’s book, Food Pets Die For, “Under AAFCO guidelines, acceptable meat by-products can include animal lungs, spleens, kidneys, brains, livers, blood, bones, low-temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents.
Livers can be infested with worms (liver flukes) or diseased with cirrhosis. Lungs can be filled with pneumonia. If an animal is diseased and declared unfit for human consumption, the carcass is acceptable for pet food.
Even parts of animals, such as "stick marks," - the area of the body where animals have been injected with antibiotics, hormones, or other drugs—are cut from the carcasses intended for human consumption and used for meat by-product for pet food. “
Possibly even worse than meat-by-products, are the “meat meals”. These products result from a method called rendering. Rendering is the process of boiling down meat- by-products and other unsavory ingredients and then drying the end result to achieve a “meal” or powdery consistency. These are usually added to dry pet foods.
Rendering plants do not fall under the jurisdiction of federal meat inspectors. No one is controlling what goes into the mix and assuring it is appropriate for your pet. The FDA and medical groups such as the American Veterinary Medical Association and the California Veterinary Medical Association, confirm that pets, on a routine basis, are rendered after they die in animal shelters or are disposed of by health authorities, and the end product frequently finds its way into pet food.
In addition, rendered meats contain a cornucopia of chemicals from high levels of antibiotics given to sick cattle and poultry, euthanasia drugs, fuel oil and kerosene (approved to denature the proteins for rendering), as well as preservatives used to stabilize the concoction such as BHT and BHA, both known to cause kidney and liver dysfunction.
Watch out for glutens.
Glutens from wheat, corn and rice are often used by pet food companies to increase the protein content of pet food. These glutens are potentially lethal because they can be contaminated with dangerous molds called aflatoxins. One such contamination caused a pet food recall in 2005 and many dogs died after digesting the tainted food. And of course, no one has to be reminded of the widespread recall of pet food in 2007 that resulted in hundreds of pet deaths – again as a result of tainted glutens, this time from a chemical additive.
Keep grains to a minimum – especially corn and wheat.
Grains make up a very small part of a dog or cat’s diet in the wild, yet they are often used as inexpensive fillers by pet food manufacturers. They are promoted as being beneficial carbohydrates, but in reality, cats don’t need carbohydrates at all and dogs benefit far better from the complex carbohydrates found in vegetables.
It is important to note that ingredients like wheat, corn and soy (present in large amounts in dry dog food) tend to increase inflammation and aggravate conditions like arthritis, ear infections and skin disorders. In addition, many veterinarians believe that consistently feeding pets grains (especially wheat and corn) leads to digestive problems like food intolerances and inflammatory bowel disease.
CONSUMER TIP: The ingredients on the can or bag are listed in descending order of weight (from the most to the least). So the first ingredient indicates the most prevalent ingredient in the food. Keeping this in mind, the first few ingredients should be a high quality source of protein like chicken, beef, turkey, liver, etc. If grains appear at or near the top of the list – beware!
Choose canned varieties over dry.
Some of the top veterinarians believe you should not feed your dog or cat an all dry diet. And it makes sense. When our pets are fed dry food only, it eliminates an essential source of hydration (the moisture normally found in their prey) and can lead to poor urinary tract health. Complications include bladder infections, urine crystallization and possible kidney damage.
Most people feed a dry diet either out of convenience or because they believe a dry diet combats dental plaque. According to holistic feline veterinarian, Dr. Jean Hofve, “dry food does not clean your [pet’s] teeth! In fact, dry food really has no benefit for [pets]. It is merely a convenience for the guardian.”
In addition, she adds “The high heat used in processing dry food damages (denatures) the proteins in the food. The resulting unnatural proteins may trigger an immune response that can lead to food allergies and inflammatory bowel disease.”
Dry foods also tend to have higher grain content, so some wet food to your dog or cat’s diet is a good idea. Remember, if your pet is accustomed to an all dry diet, add canned or homemade food gradually to avoid stomach upset.
Avoid artificial colors and additives.
Coloring is added to pet foods purely for marketing to humans. Pets don’t see the pretty colors as appetizing and they are potentially harmful, so it is best to avoid them. Dry kibble has a shorter shelf life than canned foods, so most manufacturers add chemical preservatives to extend their viability. Several of these chemicals are believed to be harmful to humans and pets. The worst of the lot are BHA, BHT, ethoxyquine and propylene glycol.
With a little diligence you can choose a commercial diet that will nourish your pet. Specialty stores like Whole Foods and other organic markets often carry a greater selection of high quality brands – but never make assumptions – always read the label. Remember that adding some of your own home cooked ingredients can help boost the quality of any meal and when you use the commercial diet as the base, it makes it super easy to do the best for your dog or cat.
Lee Ann Cox is the founder of Pet NutriSystems, a holistic company dedicated to the well being of pets. This document may only be reproduced or redistributed with the express written permission of the author. Such permission may be granted by contacting Lee Ann Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org