Will Beneful hurt my dog? That’s a question we’re hearing from many of our clients since the sensational headlines about Beneful hit the news. Seems like a lawyer in California spent time on the web and was able to find nearly 4,000 complaints from owners who believed that their once healthy dogs had become sick, or even died, after eating Beneful.
Is Beneful deadly? Maybe yes, maybe no. It’s extremely hard to prove a particular food caused death. Purina claims they’ve been sued before to no avail. I suppose the larger question is, would we feed Beneful to our dogs?
This is an easy call for me, and the answer is …no. You see, our canine and feline companions are really no different than us when it comes to the need for fresh, wholesome food. Our “food pyramids” may look a bit different-but the same basic principles apply. Just as we’ve seen human health suffer from consuming mostly highly processed diets, we’ve watched canines and felines develop the same diseases – obesity, hypertension, dental disease, diabetes, arthritis, kidney stones, heart disease.
The Dietary Guidelines for humans, most recently updated last month, state that a healthy diet is high in vegetables and fruits, whole grains, low-fat and non-fat diary, seafood and legumes and nuts. It’s moderate in alcohol (for adults) and lower in red and processed meats. Here’s the real shocker in the new report… sugar intake should be limited to 10 teaspoons or fewer each day. In a practical sense, that means that even one can of soda puts the average woman over her day’s sugar budget!
What does this have to do with Beneful you might reasonably ask?
Here’s how the two are connected: The major difference between highly processed people food (think potato chips, bologna, chicken nuggets with ketchup), is that inexpensive pet food is made from the leftovers of human food production. Waste that can’t be turned into anything edible for humans is collected and used to create commercial diets for our companion pets.
What exactly are those ingredients in Beneful? For your reading enjoyment they are: Ground Yellow Corn, Chicken By-Product Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Whole Wheat Flour, Animal Fat Preserved with Mixed-tocopherols, Rice Flour, Beef, Soy Flour, Sugar, Propylene Glycol, Meat And Bone Meal, Tricalcium Phosphate, Phosphoric Acid, Salt, Water, Animal Digest, Sorbic Acid (a Preservative), Potassium Chloride, Dried Carrots, Dried Peas, Calcium Propionate (a Preservative), L-Lysine Monohydrochloride, Choline Chloride, Added Color (Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 2), DL-Methionine, Vitamin E Supplement, Zinc Sulfate, Ferrous Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Niacin, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Carbonate, Copper Sulfate, Vitamin B-12 Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Garlic Oil, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin D-3 Supplement, Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex (Source of Vitamin K Activity), Calcium Iodate, Folic Acid, Biotin, Sodium Selenite
But, I’ve had clients say, “I know dogs that have lived 10 years eating Beneful!” Yes, there are dogs alive after many years of eating low quality foods, just as people around the world are alive on sub-optimal nutrition. They’re alive, but they’re not vibrantly healthy. When it comes to our companion canines, they’re often overweight, but undernourished. They’re arthritic and lethargic. They develop diabetes, allergies, and often cancer–hey that sounds a bit like what happens to us too!
Now back to those shiny new dietary recommendations for us. Remember the most dramatic recommendation is to ingest only 10 or fewer teaspoons of sugar per day? Notice that Beneful lists both sugar and propylene glycol? Why the heck would a dog food need these ingredients? Simply because mammals like sugar as much as we do. Propylene Glycol not only holds moisture in foods for long periods of time, but it also tastes sweet. Sweetness is needed to mask truly unpalatable ingredients. Animal digest is really pretty much what it sounds like… a giant vat of unidentified animal pieces “digested” chemically. I’d want sugar on that too!
Here’s the bottom line: Even if your dog thinks he loves Beneful, it doesn’t love him. You see, we don’t want you to feed your pampered pets the highest quality diet you can afford just to run up your food bill. We want you to feed the highest quality diet you can afford because good nutrition saves you money in the long run–on both veterinary bills and medication to manage chronic disease.
Here are Dr.Todd’s tips for choosing a high quality dry dog or cat food:
Beware of mystery meat!
Look for specifically identified ingredients like chicken meal, salmon meal, turkey meal.
Look for specifically named animal proteins like “chicken” or “salmon” rather than “poultry” or “meat” in the top ingredients.
Avoid foods containing meat by-products. By-products are by definition devoid of muscle meat. The website Dog Food Advisor has done an excellent job of explaining the finer points of by-products. Click here for a longer discussion.
Avoid foods that list a fat source as “animal fat”. This can mean fat from literally any animal, and it’s a clue that the product is relying on low cost, inferior ingredients.
Cut out the sugar!
Avoid added sugar and salt, which are used to mask the flavor of undesirable, inferior ingredients. Foods that use lots of meat in their recipes are highly palatable to carnivores, so they don’t require the additives.
Look for whole vegetables, fruits and grains in the recipe. We need whole foods to remain healthy, and our pampered pets thrive on fresh, unprocessed foods – – just like us. Don’t be afraid to add healthy whole foods to your pet’s diet.
Look for a “best by” date that’s at least six months away… but not two years away. In high quality foods, an expiration date that is 10 to 11 months away is ideal. That means the food was recently manufactured.
Avoid artificial flavors and preservatives. Artificial colorings are only there for you… dogs don’t see them. Artificial preservatives are used to keep food on shelves for literally years.
Never leave food out all day for your dogs or cats. When you’re feeding a great, high quality diet you should feed the correct amount (preferably measured) once or twice a day. Take up food not eaten in 5 or 10 minutes and offer again at the next meal time. Dogs and cats left free access to food almost always become obese…and that means you’ve wasted money on the food that got them chubby AND sacrificed their health.
What does a very high quality food label look like?
Noah’s Ark carries Orijen and Acana dry dog food. We believe these to be two of the highest quality dry foods available.
The first FIFTEEN ingredients in Orijen are: Boneless chicken*, chicken meal, chicken liver*, whole herring*, boneless turkey*, turkey meal, turkey liver*, whole eggs*, boneless walleye*, whole salmon*, chicken heart*, chicken cartilage*, herring meal, salmon meal, chicken liver oil, red lentils
The asterisk (*) means these ingredients were added fresh and preservative free. There are many more fresh, whole foods in Orijen, but you have to get all the way down to ingredient #15 to get a plant based ingredient.
Is it expensive? Definitely more so than grocery store foods. However, it is highly digestible and can be quite affordable when fed properly. It costs about $15 per month to feed a dog under 10 pounds, and about $50 per month to feed a 50-pound dog.
To continue learning more about how to be a pet food detective, click here.
Remember, if you have questions about best practices for feeding your pack, ask us! We can help!