Pet Food Facts & Fiction – A quick guide to choosing the right food for your pet
- Raw diet; Fact: raw food can expose pets to harmful microorganisms, leading to nutritional imbalances or severe illness. A recent study of pets on raw diets shows 80% of their food & 30% of their feces were contaminated with Salmonella (which poses a threat to humans in the home). Bones in raw diets can cause fractured teeth and gastrointestinal complications. Raw diets may not be nutritionally complete & balanced – common issues include Calcium deficiency or Vitamin D toxicity.
- Wheat; Fact: wheat is a valuable ingredient in pet food and not a common cause of allergies. Only about 10% of allergic skin conditions in cats & dogs are truly caused by food. Flea bites and environmental allergens (mold, dust mites, etc.) are more common triggers of allergic symptoms. Wheat is an excellent source of protein & complex carbohydrates, providing energy and helping to build/maintain muscle.
- Note on allergies – some pet food packaging & promotional materials can lead us to believe allergies to ingredients, like wheat or gluten are common among dogs & cats, but they are not. 0.05% of animals have true gluten allergies (that’s 1 in 2,000).
A few facts about labels
Part of ensuring your pet’s health and wellness means understanding what they’re eating. We can help identify a diet that meets their nutritional needs, but here are a few key terms to help you interpret the label:
Holistic has no real meaning when it comes to pet food.
Organic does not mean safer. Organic pesticides, such as naturally occurring toxins, could still be used.
Human Grade implies the product is human edible, but that is false or misleading – it has no legal definition.
Natural means the processing was done naturally, and may not refer to the ingredient itself.
Ingredient lists order contents by pre-production weight, not by the amount of an ingredient in the food. Therefore, the order can be manipulated. Consider that meat is 75% water. There is no standard for dry or wet weight in the list.
Meat refers to all nutritional parts such as tongue, heart, diaphragm, esophagus, or skeletal muscle from bones.
All Life Stage means the diet passed requirements for all life stages. These diets are not ideal after the growth phase.
The truth about what’s in your pet’s food
Animal Digest: “Digest” refers to production process, not ingredients. The process takes animal proteins – muscle & soft tissue from USDA inspected facilities – then hydrolyzes them (similar to body digestion) to make a paste or powder. This is an excellent source of high-quality protein and extremely palatable.
Byproduct: to meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO; https://www.aafco.org/) guidelines, byproduct must come from clean animal parts (liver, kidneys, or other organs). They meet stringent criteria for nutrient content, production & quality assurance from USDA inspected plants. Byproducts can be more nutritious than meat alone, due to mineral & vitamin content not found in meat.
Cats & carbs: cats are obligate carnivores, but also consume carbohydrates in the wild. High-quality carbohydrates, like high-quality proteins, are a source of energy.
Gluten free: gluten-free diets are not healthier. Gluten from grains provides a nutritious, concentrated source of protein. Protein in corn gluten does not cause GI problems, even in pets with diagnosed celiac disease.
Grain free: grain free diets are not healthier. Properly cooked grains are highly digestible and contain carbohydrates, fiber, essential fatty acids and amino acids. All of which supply energy, support a healthy, coat, skin & GI system. Grain allergies are rare, less than 1% of dogs are confirmed grain-sensitive. Grain free diets have been linked to canine dilated cardiomyopathy in certain breeds (https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2018/11/dcm-update/).
Preservatives: Preservatives ensure pet food stays wholesome and nutritious during distribution & storage. FDA-approved preservatives used in human food are also found in pet food. Antioxidants, a common class of preservatives, help prevent spoilage and guard against the breakdown of critical nutrients, such as fats, proteins, and vitamins.