Go ahead, I’ll wait…..
Now, sit down with your best reading glasses (and maybe a magnifying lens) and find the ingredient list.
Before we start, you must first understand the most important rule of label logic:
On a package label, ingredients are listed in order, by weight. The ingredient that weighs the most in any given “recipe” is listed first, and the remaining ingredients are listed in descending order, by weight.
Let’s take a look at the primary ingredients in some of the most popular pet foods clients tell me they’re feeding:
Beneful dry dog food top FIVE ingredients:
Ground yellow corn, chicken by-product meal, corn gluten meal, whole wheat flour, animal fat
Ol Roy dry dog food top SIX ingredients:
Ground yellow corn, meat and bone meal, soybean meal, poultry by-product meal, animal fat (preserved with BHA and citric acid), corn gluten meal
Kibbles and Bits Savory Beef and Chicken Flavor dog food top SIX ingredients:
Corn, soybean meal, beef and bone meal, ground wheat, animal fat (BHA used as preservative), corn syrup
Purina One Chicken and Rice dry dog food top SEVEN ingredients:
Chicken, brewers rice, corn gluten meal, whole grain corn, poultry by-product meal, whole grain wheat, soybean meal, animal fat
Friskies Indoor Delight dry cat food top SEVEN ingredients:
Ground yellow corn, corn gluten meal, chicken by-product meal, meat and bone meal, soybean meal, beef tallow, turkey by-product meal, powdered cellulose
Meow Mix Original Choice dry cat food – top six ingredients:
Ground Yellow Corn, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken By-Product Meal, Soybean Meal, Beef Tallow, Animal Digest
We could go on and on with this list, but you may be starting to see similarities in the foods listed here.
A. They’re sold at the grocery store or “big box” stores.
B . They’re very (or fairly) inexpensive.
C. They’re heavy on ingredients derived from CORN.
Why would foods designed to feed carnivores be so full of corn, soybeans, and wheat? As a well informed reader of Tales from the Ark, of course you know the answer is … cheap ingredients = bigger profits for the huge corporations that manufacture these foods.
Corn, soybeans and wheat would naturally be cheaper than meat. But it gets further complicated because our government has a system that encourages farmers in the US to grow corn and soybeans… to the point that HALF of the 300 million acres of land planted for food crops across the United States are devoted to corn and soy crops.
Everyone knows that comedian Jeff Foxworthy is famous for saying…. “You might be a redneck if….”.
Less well known is veterinarian Jeff Todd who is (not as) famous for saying… “Your pet might be a CORNivore if …
1. They’re overweight.
2. They smell bad.
3. They have reoccurring ear infections.
In short, carbohydrates can put weight on our dogs and cats…. After all, it’s what we use to fatten up beef (and us). But in terms of nutrition, corn ingredients in pet food add little nutritional value beyond the calories; and for many dogs and cats, lots of corn, soy and wheat in their diet contributes to conditions like obesity, weakened immune system, chronic ear and skin infections, dental disease, and more.
Our canines and felines are primarily carnivores, they evolved to survive and thrive eating “prey” animals. A big bowl of corn, wheat and soy is absolutely not recommended for optimal health.
Here’s the bottom line: 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 a high quality diet can save you money in the long run – on both veterinary bills and medication to manage chronic disease.
Here are Dr.Todd’s tips this month for choosing a high quality dry dog or cat food:
Beware of the trick that puts a whole meat first on the label. You can see an example of this in the Purina One ingredients.
With so many recalls in recent years, pet food manufacturers are very aware that consumers are becoming savvy about reading labels.
The trick is this…. Whole meat is 80% or so water, and water is heavy. It’s easy to put whole meat in a recipe and get it listed first, because the meat does legitimately weigh the most of any other ingredient. However, look at the next seven ingredients – all versions of corn, wheat, and soy meals. Meals have had the moisture taken out. That label lets you know that the protein in this product comes mainly from plant sources.
Beware ingredients identified only as “meat”. When ingredients aren’t specified, they truly are mystery meats…. Look for specifically identified ingredients like chicken meal, salmon meal, turkey meal.
Avoid foods containing meat by-products, especially unspecified … for example, chicken by-products versus the more ambiguous meat or poultry 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.
Avoid added sugar, artificial flavors and preservatives. Foods that use lots of meat in their recipes are highly palatable to carnivores. Sugar, salt and artificial flavors are used to mask the flavor of undesirable, inferior ingredients. Artificial colorings are only there for you… dogs don’t see them. Artificial preservatives are used to keep food on shelves for literally years.
Look for specifically named animal proteins in the top ingredients. Any ingredient identified only as “Meat” is most likely a very low quality ingredient. Avoid anything that lists “meat meal” or “poultry meal”.
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. However, if the food contains a synthetic preservative like BHA, BHT or ethoxyquin, it may have a “best by” date that is two years in the future!
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’s a very high quality food label look like?
Noah’s Ark carries Orijen dry dog food. We believe this is one of the highest quality dry foods available.
The first FIFTEEN ingredients 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, contact us, we can help!