Part 2 - Your Pet's Food: Exposing Manufacturers' Dirty Tricks

In part 2 of this video, Dr. Becker takes you into the back room of the Bad Dog Frida pet boutique where she stashed a few pet food purchases from a big box pet supply store and a supermarket. Now it’s time for some invaluable advice on pet foods you’ll want to avoid at all costs.
Dr. Becker's Comments:

In part 1 of this video, I took you on a tour of several excellent quality pet foods sold here at the Bad Dog Frida pet boutique in Madison, Wisconsin.

Now I'm in the back room of the boutique where I've set up several bags of pet food from big box pet supply stores and also regular grocery stores. We'll compare these brands to the brands I showed you in part 1, and I'll point out what you should look for and especially, what you need to avoid.

Actual Meat Content – A Weighty Problem

Pet food manufacturers realize consumers are becoming more interested in the ingredients in dog and cat formulas, and they know you want to see meat as the first ingredient on the label. They figure as long as when you flip the bag of food over you see chicken at the top of the ingredient list, you'll assume the formula is good for your pet. And most pet owners do indeed fall for this trick.

But here's the problem. The raw meat, say chicken or beef, appearing at the top of the ingredient list is there because it was weighed before it was dehydrated. Meat in its natural form is about 70 percent water and weighty. That's how it stays at the top of a list of ingredients by weight.

However, once the meat is dehydrated, which all meat in dry pet food is, then it is actually the second, third, fourth and often fifth ingredients on the list that make up the bulk of the food.

Let's say you see chicken first on the label, followed by brown rice, corn and barley. The chicken heading the list could be less than 20 percent of what's actually in the finished formula.

A specific meat is what you want to see first on the label, but what you want to see second and third is also specific meat or specific meat meal. If the second and subsequent ingredients are grains, don't be snowed into thinking you're about to purchase a primarily meat-based food. It's a primarily grain-based food, so don't be fooled.

You have to learn how to read labels on pet food, and not just for top-of-the-list items.

Beware of 'Organic' Ingredients

This brand of grocery store kibble (being held in the video) shows chicken as the first ingredient followed by a whole bunch of organic carbohydrates.

Many pet owners assume feeding things like organic brown rice, organic barley and organic millet is just fabulous for their dog or cat. If you're among them, know that your interest in safe pet food is admirable.

However, organic grains are much better suited for a vegetarian animal like a rabbit, horse or cow. I'm not in favor of sacrificing species-appropriate ingredients for organic carbohydrates in the diets of carnivorous dogs and cats.

In this particular food formula, after chicken the ingredients are listed as:

  • Organic barley
  • Organic oats
  • Organic peas
  • Organic chicken meal
  • Sorghum
  • Organic soybean meal

There are a lot of carbohydrates in this food. Even organic carbohydrates shouldn't constitute 80 percent of your pet's diet – that's just too many carbs for a healthy dog or cat.

Watch Out for Celebrity Branding

Next for our big box pet store products is a food that is wildly popular because it is marketed by a celebrity. Now, lots of celebrities do lots of great things, but being a celebrity doesn't mean you can make great pet food.

Even if the celebrity is someone whose personal philosophy you appreciate – perhaps they live organically or are a well-known TV chef – it doesn't mean they know what it takes to make a high quality pet food.

In this bag of dog food (being held in the video), we have chicken as the first ingredient (are you detecting a trend yet?). The second ingredient is chicken meal, which is good because we want the first few ingredients to be meat. So far so good, but look what comes next:

  • Brewers rice
  • Corn meal
  • Soybean meal
  • Corn gluten meal
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Dried beet pulp

Another case of too many carbohydrates in a bag of food meant to nourish a carnivore.

Pet Foods That Have Been Around Forever

Next I have a brand of pet food that's been on the market a long time. Lots of pet owners are still feeding this formula because maybe the breeder suggested it, or you got a bag of it from the animal shelter when you adopted your pet.

Maybe you were told to feed that food and only that food, and to never switch your pet's food.

This is the equivalent of a pediatrician telling a mother to feed her child only oatmeal until he goes away to college. It's absurd! Just as humans need nutritional variety, so do dogs and cats.

Many pet owners are concerned about problems with diarrhea when they switch pet foods. If you switch to a new food too quickly after your dog or cat has been eating the same thing every day for years, your pet will probably develop diarrhea. But if you provide nutritional variety on a regular basis, your pet's digestive system will adjust and will ultimately function better and become more resilient.

There are some pet food brands that have been around for decades. If the diet you're feeding your dog or cat is the same diet your folks fed their pets, or the same diet you've fed previous pets, it's important to evaluate what's really in it.

Get in the habit of reading the labels on anything going into your dog's or cat's mouth. As your knowledge about the quality of pet food grows, you'll want to make sure you're not still feeding some old standby full of scary ingredients.

And Speaking of Scary Ingredients …

Many of the pet food formulas found in your local supermarket are loaded with scary stuff.

On this particular label (on the bag of food being held in the video), the first ingredient is whole ground corn. This of course means there's no identifiable source of meat at the top of the list, so there's strike one.

Ground corn is high in carbohydrates, allergenic, and difficult for dogs and cats to process.

The two items following the ground corn are meat and bone meal. Now, here's where even meat becomes scary. When there's no meat specified – like chicken, beef, turkey, etc. – the unspecified meat might be chicken, or it might be road kill. Could be rendered horse meat. It could even be the remains of dogs and cats euthanized at an animal shelter. All this garbage can be added to pet food as 'crude protein.'

Unspecified meat or bone meal is also to be avoided. Meal is fine, as long as a type of meat is specified – chicken meal or beef meal, for example. 'Meat meal' gives you no idea of the content. It could be bird beaks or feathers, or pig snouts. Scary.

The third listed ingredient is ground whole wheat – a carbohydrate filler and unnecessary. The fourth ingredient is corn gluten meal. Gluten is highly allergenic and causes gastrointestinal fermentation and other GI upsets.

The next item is 'animal fat.' Again, there's no animal specified so it's anyone's guess where the fat came from.

This product is preserved with BHA; BHA and BHG are two preservatives, along with ethoxyquin, that should never be fed to any pet.

There's also 'meat mill run' in this formula. Mill run is a byproduct of the grain industry. It's a non-absorbable fiber used in pet food as filler. I could continue on down this particular label, but there's no need. You know enough already about the ingredients to know you won't be feeding it to your dog or cat.

Bypass Byproducts

Keep in mind that all the foods we've looked at so far can sustain your pet's life. However, there's a huge difference between surviving and thriving.

For example, if you want to achieve optimal health for your pet, you won't get there feeding a bag of food containing:

  • Chicken
  • Corn meal (an allergenic grain)
  • Whole grain sorghum
  • Chicken byproduct meal

Chicken byproduct meal is the pieces and parts left after the breast and white meat is removed from the chicken. After all the good stuff is harvested for the human food industry, the byproducts remain. Beaks, feet, feathers, wattles and combs are chicken byproducts. There could be something beneficial thrown in, like the heart or gizzard, but because there's such potential for undesirable pieces and parts in 'byproducts,' it's better to avoid them altogether.

So this product contains a carbohydrate as the second and third listed ingredients, as well as byproducts. Easy decision – put it back on the shelf.

Beautiful Packaging. Clever Marketing. Toxic Ingredients.

We're really getting into the depths of our list of undesirable foods now.

Interestingly, some of the worst formulas have beautiful packaging – great marketing and stunning graphics. Just remember it doesn't matter how beautiful the package is or how captivating the TV commercial or glossy magazine ad is, it's what's inside the package that counts.

When we look down the ingredient list of some very popular brands of dog foods, we see the first ingredient is yellow corn, followed by:

  • Chicken byproduct meal
  • Corn gluten meal
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Rice flour
  • Beef
  • Soy flour
  • Sugar
  • Propylene glycol

Propylene glycol is a second cousin to ethylene glycol, which is antifreeze. I don't recommend you feed it to your pet.

This product also lists unspecified meat and bone meal. All in all, another easy decision for you to make. Too many carbs, too many unnecessary scary additives, and mystery meat sources. Back on the shelf it goes.

There are some pet foods I believe shouldn't even be on the market. But they're out there, and your dog or cat will eat them if you serve them, because many are loaded with fat and your pet will chase fat as an energy source.

Many low grade foods have a lot of added fat, sugar and other palatability enhancers. Your pet can become addicted to really bad junk food. Remember, just because Fido or Fluffy eats it doesn't mean it's healthy.

In this food here (being held in the video), the ingredients are:

  • Beef byproducts (pieces and parts)
  • Soy grits (a very allergenic carbohydrate filler)
  • Soy flour
  • High fructose corn syrup (a lot of sugar is added to for moisture and sweetness)
  • Wheat flour
  • Corn syrup

Plus a bunch of potentially toxic additives and preservatives.

Semi-moist foods are some of the most toxic pet foods on the market. Not only do they contain propylene glycol, ethoxyquin, BHA and BHG, they also contain high fructose corn syrup and a ridiculous amount of carbs. All in an effort to create palatability. They have no place in your healthy pet's diet.

And Finally, What About Treats?

We cannot forget treats! Dogs and cats love them, and we love buying them. But you need to apply the same principles of healthy ingredients when selecting treats for your dog or cat.

Treats should be tiny (yes, tiny) morsels of food you use to reward your pet for good behavior, and for training and reinforcement of positive behavior. But even tiny amounts of treats can add up over time. And even a small quantity of toxic ingredients – preservatives, flavor enhancers, colorings – can add up as well. Pick treats with the same care you select pet food.

Pet treats can be extra scary precisely because you think you're feeding just a tiny amount – 'nothing to be worried about.' But let's take a look at a pet treat label.

The first ingredient is chicken, so that's good. But next on the list are:

  • Corn syrup
  • Soy flour
  • Wheat flour
  • Corn starch
  • Propylene glycol
  • BHA

I'm sure your dog will enjoy this treat, but it's really quite toxic. Please avoid it. Don't get your pet in the habit of eating treats loaded with lousy ingredients, because it can be quite difficult to switch over to a healthy, high quality treat.

I recommend feeding healthful meat-based treats like dried salmon, turkey jerky, or a fish-based treat. Any type of dehydrated real meat is a good choice because it's species-appropriate, grain and carb-free, with no added salt, fats or sugar.

As is the case with pet food formulas, manufacturers understand you're looking for meat-based treats. The ingredient list on this one (being held in the video) includes:

  • Chicken breast
  • Vegetable glycerin
  • Honey
  • Natural flavor

Not too bad as far as ingredients go. The downside: it's made in China.

Those of you familiar with the melamine contamination problem in 2007 know those toxic pet foods came from China. And while not all products made outside the U.S. are toxic, of course, you should choose wisely.

For now, my recommendation is to purchase treats (and pet food) made in the United States.

The best treat you can offer your pet is unadulterated, dehydrated meat. The package or label should say 100 percent natural and pure, USDA inspected. Excellent protein sources include chicken, beef, turkey, goat, bison, venison, and any other protein source your pet enjoys.

Hopefully I've given you lots of good information to help you select the very best commercially available food for your pet.

If you've learned from this video and part 1 that the food you're feeding your dog or cat is substandard, don't panic or feel guilty. If you discover your furry buddy is eating a relatively poor diet, set a goal to move up the food quality ladder at a pace you are comfortable with and can afford.

+ Sources and References