How to Choose Pet Food – by Dawn Todd
At Noah’s Ark you won’t find the same old dietary choices you see at most other veterinary clinics. Our philosophy is to work with you to help you provide the highest quality, most natural diet for your pet possible. We’ve sorted through the hype and only sell foods and treats that we feel good about – products we feed our own pets.
The Todd’s have a long interest in nutrition for pets and people too. Dawn has an undergraduate degree in Clinical Nutrition, and originally moved to North Carolina to run one of Duke University’s weight loss programs. Dr. Todd began experimenting with feeding his dogs a raw diet even before it was fashionable. Together they have over 25 years experience creating optimal diets for your pets. Keep reading to learn more about commercial pet foods and the industry. We’ve also supplied a pet food dictionary so that you can look at the ingredients in the food and treats you’re feeding.
The Pet Food Money Making Industry
The United States pet food industry is currently a $15 BILLION dollar a year industry. SEVEN multinational corporations produce 86% of the pet food sold in the US. Why would huge corporations like this get so involved in the pet food business? Very simply, HUGE PROFITS.
These major manufacturers spend literally billions of dollars each year on TV ads and full-page color ads featuring beautiful dogs running across fields of daisies, or cats dancing for a particular food. There’s beautiful packaging with color photos of the fresh meats, fruits and vegetables the products promise to contain. Ever wonder how these corporations afford production, distribution, marketing, and profit every step of the way – at a cost of less than $1 per pound in many cases?
What most consumers don’t realize is that the pet food industry is an extension of the human food industry. Pet food has become a convenient way to turn slaughterhouse waste, grains considered “unfit for human consumption”, and other “byproducts” from the human food industry into big profits for huge companies.
Read the labels of the food and treats you’re feeding your pets. First, pay attention to where the product is manufactured. On a recent trip to the pet food aisle at Walmart, I observed that the vast majority of the treats were manufactured in China- the source for many recalls. Next, read the ingredients declaration. Like the labels on human foods, ingredients in pet food labels should be listed in descending order of weight.
The Primary Components of Pet Food
Protein: As carnivores, our companion animals have a requirement for high quality protein that is much higher than ours. Cats have even higher protein needs than dogs. Protein in low quality pet food comes from slaughtered animals, after the lean muscle tissue is trimmed away for human consumption. About 50% of every food animal does not get used in human food. What remains- heads, feet, bones, blood, intestines, ligaments, fat trimmings – is used in pet food, animal feed, and other products. These are commonly known as “by-products”. “4D”animals – Dead, Diseased, Dying, or Disabled – are also allowed in pet food.
Grains: If the grain ingredients of many commercial pet foods were combined, they far outweigh the protein sources. Carnivores have no specific requirement for grain. Grains are added to pet foods as low cost sources of protein, and as a source of calories. The most recent pet food recalls occurred because manufacturers are relying on plant sources of protein to boost levels of protein in the “guaranteed analysis”. This crude analysis gives no information about what can actually be digested and utilized by a dog or cat.
Extras: Commercial pet food is loaded with ingredients that have no nutritional value, or may be harmful. They’re included only to make inferior ingredients palatable to pets. Synthetic preservatives are used to ensure a shelf life of 1 year or longer.
Here’s a quick reference to help you understand what the ingredients in commercial pet foods really are:
Meat By Products- Whatever remains of a carcass after parts are removed that are consumed by humans. It’s important to note that by-products contain no measurable amount of meat. They can contain no more than 35% wood shavings. Wood shavings are used to soak up blood on slaughterhouse floors.
Meat meal, poultry meal, by-product meal– The term meal means these materials are not used fresh, but have been rendered. Rendering is an industrial process where raw materials are dumped into a vat and boiled for several hours. The process separates fat, removes water, and kills bacteria, viruses, and parasites. However, the high temperatures destroy or alter the natural enzymes, and protein found in fresh food.
Animal Digest – By definition animal digest is “material that results from chemical and/or enzymatic hydrolysis of clean and un-decomposed animal tissue. The animal tissues used shall be exclusive of hair, horns, teeth, hooves and feathers, except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidably in good factory practice and shall be suitable for animal feed”. In other words, a cooked-down “broth” that can be made from unspecified parts of unspecified animals. YUCK!
Corn gluten meal, wheat gluten meal- Inexpensive sources of plant protein used to boost protein levels in pet food. This dried residue remains after processing corn and wheat for human consumption. Plant meals are not a highly digestible source of protein for a carnivore.
Soybean meal- Another by-product, from the production of soybean oil, not a bio-available source of protein for our companion carnivores.
BHT, BHA, Ethoxyquin, Propylene Glycol – These synthetic preservatives are used to give pet foods a very long shelf life. During a recent move, a client found an open bag of dog food, long forgotten, in the back of a closet. Although the food was over 5 years old, it was not moldy, and looked unchanged.
Choose the highest quality diet you can afford. Feed the correct amount to maintain a healthy weight. Change your pet’s diet regularly to avoid boredom, and provide variety. Supplement your pet’s diet with HEALTHY fresh foods such as cooked vegetables, meat scraps, eggs, raw bones. Both you and your pets should avoid empty calories (foods with NO nutrition except calories) like white flour, sugar, and highly processed snack foods. Be sure you carefully read the label of commercial treats for dogs and cats. Most of them are loaded with salt, sugar, excess calories and poor quality sources of protein. DO NOT feed treats manufactured in China.
We’re here to help! If you have more questions about your pet’s diet, email your questions to: [email protected]