It seems like every time we turn around, there is another recall or a new scare about pet foods on the market. While pet food manufacturers would have us believe that their dog and cat food brands contain healthy plump chickens, choice cuts of prime beef, fresh vegetables and wholesome grains, recent studies have shown everything from rat poison ingredients to Salmonella can contaminate the foods that we’re feeding to our four-legged family members. So what’s in our dog food, what should we look for and what do we avoid? This helpful pet food guide should assist you with some important information and tips for finding the healthiest pet food for your four-legged friends.
The Pet Food and People Food Connection
Before we delve any deeper into the ingredients in that bag of kibble, let’s start at the heart of the matter – the connection between pet food and the food we put on our table. Many of us usually go through life blissfully unaware of the connection; after all, who wants to think that the food we feed to man’s best friend is usually the food that’s considered “unfit for human consumption?” Sad, but true, pet food provides a market for the animal parts that we wouldn’t think about eating – intestines, esophagi, udders, various innards and animal parts that are considered diseased or unfit for humans. This provides businesses with a way to make money off of their waste products and, therefore, waste less. For business owners, this is a win-win situation.
In fact, looking at the five major pet food companies in the United States, three of them are subsidiaries of major companies that are known for producing people food. Alpo, Fancy Feast, Friskies, Mighty Dog and the various Ralston Purina brands like Dog Chow and Purina One are all owned by Nestlé. Heinz is responsible for Amore, 9-Lives, Gravy Train, Kibbles-n-Bits and Nature’s Recipe and, perhaps the strangest – Hill’s Science Diet pet foods are actually a subsidiary of Colgate-Palmolive. Mind you, this doesn’t mean that all pet food manufacturing companies use substandard ingredients or ingredients that are potentially dangerous, but the connections are certainly disturbing, once you know the facts.
So What’s Really in the Pet Food?
When chicken, cattle, swine or lambs are taken to slaughter, the choice cuts of meat are trimmed away for our own dining room tables. This still leaves roughly 50% of the animal unused. The remaining fat, bones, blood, intestines, internal organs, ligaments and tendons are what are known as animal “by-products” and are a major component in most pet foods currently on the market. Other pet food manufacturers will market these byproducts as meat-and-bone-meal. Regardless of what it’s called, it all boils down to that 50% of the animal that humans couldn’t (or wouldn’t) consume.
Of course, many people will argue that there should be nothing wrong with this – after all, it’s the same animal that we’re eating, right? Perhaps in some cases but if you buy the discount pet food you should keep in mind that the manufacturer, who is selling their 35 lbs bag of kibble for only $9.95, has to cut corners somewhere. Needless to say, they wouldn’t be able to keep their business running if they weren’t turning a profit. So you have to consider what they have to be paying for their ingredients and then imagine what they are getting for their dollar. That cheap brand of pet food is getting less palatable by the minute, isn’t it?
Some veterinarians claim that feeding meat byproducts and slaughterhouse waste to pets can increase their risks of getting cancer and other diseases. At the very least, many of the meats that find their way into our pet kibble include hormones that are used on the animals to increase meat or milk production, various antibiotics and other drugs that are given to the animals. Regardless of whether the foods are rendered, extruded or baked, this does not kill off these potentially harmful ingredients. It’s important to note that, while animals that belong to the 4-D classification (dead, dying, diseased and disabled) are considered unfit for human consumption, they are still considered to be suitable ingredients for pet food.
As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, did you know that a large portion of the grease from restaurants finds its way into our pet food? This grease is usually stored in 55-gallon drums until it’s moved to fat blender or rendering companies, who then mix all these different fats and greases together, infuse them with antioxidants to slow the rate at which they spoil and then sell the mixed product to pet food companies and other businesses. This grease and fat mixture is then sprayed onto the kibbles and pellets to make them more palatable to our pets. Ever since I learned this, all I could think of was the big 55-gallon drum that sat out behind the local bagel shop with the words “vegetable oil” written on the side in black Sharpie. Considering that this barrel sat outside in the Florida summer heat, week in and week out, it makes me cringe to imagine this going on any kind of food, pet or otherwise.
The Importance of Whole Grains in Pet Food
We’ve been brought up with the belief that whole grains are an essential part of every diet – including that of our dogs and cats. The truth of the matter is that grains are often used by pet food manufacturers as filler and many of them are not only useless to our pets, but can be very damaging to their digestive track. Peanut hulls, for instance, are a common source of fiber often marketed towards older or overweight pets. The next time you wander through the grocery store, check out the unshelled peanuts in bulk foods then ask yourself, “Would I really want to eat these?” Peanut hulls have been known to not only cause constipation and blockages, but it can also do damage to your pet’s colon over time.
We all know how difficult it can be to digest corn, yet it’s often used in pet foods as a cheap source of “energy.” Corn ups the protein count of pet foods while providing our pets with a high amount of calories in a very difficult-to-digest food source. If we, as omnivores, have problems digesting corn – what would make us think that our primarily carnivorous pets could do so any better?
Soybeans are healthy, right? Wrong. It’s important to note that, while soybean meal is a common ingredient in so-called ‘healthy’ diets, many of our pets lack the amino acids that are needed to properly break down and digest soybean matter. Feeding your pet soybean-rich foods can actually lead to an increase in digestive problems, including the life-threatening condition known as Bloat.
Diseases Based on Nutrition
Many of the diseases and conditions that our pets suffer are the result of their current diets. While many of these conditions may be caused by other factors other than poor diet, they can all result from what we feed our pets as well. Here is a list of the top nutritional-based diseases and conditions that can affect our pets:
– Chronic Digestive Conditions (vomiting, constipation, diarrhea and Inflammatory Bowel Disease)
– Dental Disease
– Heart Disease
– Urinary Tract Disease (UTD)
– Kidney Disease and Renal Failure
– Contamination and/or Poisoning
What Can You Do?
There is a great deal of controversy surrounding pet food manufacturers and the nutritional needs of our pets. Some say that raw diets are better, while others look to high protein diets. Still others argue that our pets have evolved from their ancestors and no longer have the same nutritional needs. So who is right?
There are several things that we can do, as consumers. First of all, it’s important to research the facts and help to educate others. Don’t be afraid to take your research in and discuss it with your friends, family and even your veterinarian. Contact the pet food manufacturers about your questions and complaints, petitioning them for better quality pet foods.
The safest alternative you can use is making your own pet food. You can find many great diets for homemade dog and cat food – pick which ones sound the most nutritious and healthy, then take them in and discuss them with your veterinarian. Together, you should be able to come up with a well-balanced healthy diet for your four-legged companion.
Personal experience as a long time pet owner/breeder
KXAN: http://www.kxan.com/dpp/news/business/what%27s-in-your-pet-food%3F News report on dog foods, focusing on new company that delivers healthy alternatives
Dog Obedience: http://www.dog-obedience-training-review.com/best-dog-food.html Great article on the different choices available.
Born Free: http://www.bornfreeusa.org/facts.php?p=359&more=1 Informative article on the dangerous additives in pet foods