Pets and People

What’s Really in My Pet’s Food?

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by: Sarah Grace McCandless

Both dogs and cats tend to do best on diets built primarily on protein, though the presence of healthy carbohydrates plays an important role for pooches as well. Vitamins, minerals, and even limited amounts of fats are also part of the balance for both, but figuring out how to correspond each of these key elements with the ingredients on a label can be tricky.

AAFCO guidelines require ingredients to be listed in descending order according to the weight of each item added to the mix, so that's a good place to start in terms of determining the quality of the food. Keep in mind though, even when an item such as chicken, cattle, lamb or turkey is listed as the primary ingredient, this can include skeletal muscle, nerves, blood vessels and other parts found within the clean flesh of slaughtered animals. This is where some of the previously mentioned terms such as "100 percent" can be really helpful in terms of clarifying the contents.

What you don't want to see is the pairing of the term "by-product" with any meat or poultry terms, as this refers to cleaned parts such as internal organs, and there's still much debate about exactly what elements go into by-product production. According to the Animal Protection Institute (API), certain pet food companies were accused in the past of including carcasses and road kill in their by-products mix, and some industry insiders reportedly admitted to it. Though today pet companies universally deny such practices, there are no regulations or laws preventing them from doing so.

One ingredient most experts seem to agree on as something to avoid is anything that acts as filler, such as oats, flour, wheat, corn and peanut hulls — all of which have little to no nutritional value. Note: Some manufacturers will break out these types of ingredients into a number of different terms to make it seem like there's less present in the mix, so read carefully. Preservatives — such as BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole, a fat preservative) and Ethoxyquin (a chemical preservative used to prevent spoilage in dog food)— also show up in the pet food manufacturing process, and you should try to steer clear of these as well.

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