I love talking about pet food! It is one of my favorite topics when speaking to pet owners. It is clear to me that what you feed your dog or cat directly affects their health and quality of life. Unfortunately many pet food companies spend more on marketing and advertising rather than research and development of their foods. For this reason it is important to get to know the company that makes the food you have chosen to feed your pet.
Let’s start by talking about a common buzzword – the dreaded by-products. Many companies will make a big deal of stating on their label, in big letters “No by-products”! When you look at what a by-product actually is, you might not mind having your pets eating them. The exact definition of a by-product is “anything produced in the course of making another thing.” I feel that using by-products actually honors the animal that gave its life to feed us since we make use of the entire animal and not just its skeletal meat.
So in regards to a chicken, the by-products are feet, undeveloped eggs, necks, and organs; feathers and beaks are excluded. This sounds really gross and I certainly wouldn’t want to eat anything with those ingredients but I am quite sure my dogs would have no problem. In reality organ meat is a source of high quality protein and actually more nutrient dense than skeletal meat.
When you see “chicken is the #1 ingredient” this is also a clever ploy by pet food marketing teams. Chicken is listed first because it is 80% water and the heaviest of all the components that make up the diet. This doesn’t equate to a diet that is mostly chicken skeletal meat that one would pick up from the grocery store. Also, if something is listed as “meal” on the label that just means the product’s water was removed before being received by the pet food manufacturer. So “chicken meal” is dehydrated chicken backbone, skin and bits of muscle – basically whatever is left over after the chicken has been processed for human consumption.
This is not to say all by-products are equal, as with any product there are varying degrees of quality. One must know the other aspects of their pet’s food in order to ensure they are feeding a high quality diet.
These are some questions you might want to ask pet food manufacturers:
- Is there a veterinary nutritionist consulting on the makeup of the food?
- What other safeguards has the company put in place to make sure the diet is safe?
- Have feeding trials been done to see how the food affects actual animals?
- Is the company willing to give out their exact nutrient profile? (they should be!)
- Where are the meat and other ingredients sourced?
- Where is the product made?
There is so much that goes into making a quality pet food and it can be quite overwhelming to choose the right ones for your pets. I encourage you to speak with your veterinarian and use the above information to research the available diets. I hope knowing the right questions to ask will help you sift through all of the clever labels and marketing tools pet food companies throw at you.
Ashley Gallagher, DVM