In last week’s blog post, we explored some of the many ways pet food companies misguide us with their labels. This week I have the rest of the story.
Hopefully there is meat listed somewhere on the ingredient list. Unfortunately, you cannot easily tell the quality of that meat from the label. Here’s a tip about the meat in pet food. Stay away from any food that lists “meat and bone meal” as an ingredient. This “mystery meat” component comes from a rendering plant and may contain pentobarbital (the drug used to euthanize animals). In fact, two separate studies found traces of this drug in major brands of pet foods. It truly is a dog-eat-dog world.
If you look carefully at any pet food label you will see that the amount of “Crude Protein” is listed. However, this is not a measurement of the actual protein in the food – thus the name “Crude Protein.” The way this ingredient is actually measured is by looking at the nitrogen level of the food since protein is high in nitrogen.
So an unscrupulous supplier of wheat gluten (a common source of pet food protein) could adulterate their raw ingredient with some other compound that is high in nitrogen – such as melamine – and make their gluten look especially nutritious while in reality it is more toxic. This is how thousands of dogs were poisoned by the food they were fed a few years ago.
On another front, no one wants to see preservatives in their pet’s food. Unfortunately, the label may not be much help with evaluating this. You see, if the pet food company buys an ingredient, such as chicken fat, and adds a chemical to preserve it, that chemical must be on the ingredient list. However, if they buy fat that is already chemically preserved, the preservative does not go on the label. Just because there are no preservatives on the ingredient list does not mean the food is preservative free. This scam is used in some “holistic” and “natural” pet foods.
Don’t Trust the Labels
I wish I could give you a straightforward way of choosing the best pet food based on the label besides being aware of the tricks of the trade. At a recent veterinary nutrition conference I attended, the nutritionist told us that “You cannot tell the quality of a pet food by reading any company material or even the pet food label.” He recommended that we veterinarians take note of the pet food each patient we see is being fed and the animal’s health. Over time, correlations can be made between specific foods and health.
Based on my experience, dogs and cats that are fed a balanced, raw diet are the healthiest. This evolutionary diet includes raw meat, ground raw bones, organ meat and shredded veggies. Frozen, pre-made diets are available.
In my opinion, Mother Nature is smarter than the smartest veterinary nutritionist and the closer we stick to the animal’s natural diet, the better off they are.