Pet Food Red Flags You Want to Avoid

Pet Foods

Story at-a-glance

  • A major pet food manufacturer has reformulated one of its lines of dog and cat foods to add more natural ingredients. The move comes in response to pet owners who are increasingly concerned about what ingredients go into the pet food they buy.
  • The new formulas are advertised to include “quality” protein as the first ingredient, “natural” ingredients, no chicken by-product, and no artificial colors or flavors.
  • The reformulated dry dog foods we checked do contain a named meat source as the first ingredient. Unfortunately, the next several ingredients on each list are grains, grains and more grains.
  • The reformulated dry cat food fared no better, and one variety listed unacceptably non-specific “ocean fish” as the first ingredient.
  • As more pet owners get educated about which pet food ingredients are appropriate and good quality, pet food manufacturers will try to answer consumer demands without hurting their bottom line. It’s important for pet owners to skip over all the marketing hype and advertising claims on pet food packages and go right to the ingredient list instead.

By Dr. Becker

A few months ago I read in an industry journal that a very large pet food manufacturer was in the process of reformulating one of its brands of dog and cat foods to add more natural ingredients. This company also makes veterinary formulas, but the changes involve its commercial line of products.

According to the article, the reformulation was in response to consumers who are “making product choices based primarily on a set criteria of ingredients, rather than the overall promise of nutrition and clinical research.” (Translation: today’s dog and cat owners are better informed about the quality and appropriateness of pet food ingredients, and are increasingly skeptical of pet food marketing and advertising claims.)

The new formulas promise to include “quality” protein as the first ingredient, “natural” ingredients, no chicken by-product, and no artificial colors or flavors.

Reformulated … but Still Loaded with Grains

Needless to say, I was very interested to see the ingredient lists for these newly formulated foods, and I was just recently able to find some information on them.

As promised, the first item on the reformulated ingredient lists for dry dog food was either a named animal protein (e.g., chicken) or a named protein meal (e.g., lamb meal). We must keep in mind, however, that pet food ingredients are listed by weight on the label, and before moisture is removed. Once the chicken or other animal protein source is depleted of its moisture – a necessary function in the manufacture of dry pet food -- in most cases it can no longer maintain its position as the first ingredient on the list.

And in fact, it slides way down the list. “Meal” means the fresh meat has been dried and pulverized, so the heavy water has been removed. There are several different quality categories of meal, and pet food companies don’t have to disclose the quality of the meat they are using, so meals range from great quality to terrible. That’s why it’s important to check the first five or so ingredients on a dry pet food label -- you’ll get a much better picture of the true nutritional value of the food.

A specific meat is what you want to see first on the label, but you want to see a specific meat or specific meat meal as the second and third ingredients as well. If the second and subsequent ingredients are grains, don't be fooled into thinking you're purchasing a primarily meat-based food. What you’re buying is a grain-based food for your meat-eating dog or cat.

Most of the reformulated dry dog foods I checked contained brewer’s rice as the second ingredient, followed by a long list of other grains like brown rice, cracked pearled barley, corn gluten meal, whole grain corn, whole grain wheat, whole grain sorghum and soybean meal.

These are clearly grain-based dry dog foods, so the significance of the first ingredient being a “quality” protein becomes much less important in terms of the real nutritional value of the food.

On To the Cat Food

A reformulated dry cat food label I checked contains “ocean fish” as the first ingredient, and that’s not specific enough as far as I’m concerned. There are countless varieties of ocean fish, and unfortunately, most are heavily contaminated with toxic metals, industrial chemicals and pesticides.

More often than not, a non-specific protein source like “ocean fish,” or “meat,” or “poultry” is an amalgam of revolting pieces-n-parts of various critters that fall into those general categories. That’s why you want specific named meat like beef, chicken, turkey, duck, etc. in the pet food you buy.

Another dry cat food formula contained the following ingredients at the top of the list: chicken, whole grain wheat, corn gluten meal, animal fat, powdered cellulose, pea bran meal, dried egg product, and wheat gluten.

So again, we’ve got chicken in the number one spot – before dehydration – followed by what I call filler ingredients. Both wheat and corn are grains linked to the huge and growing problem of allergic conditions in pets. In addition, this is a cat food we’re talking about, and cats’ bodies aren’t even designed to process grains.

I'll Say it Again: Buyer Beware!

My purpose in bringing this information to you is not to implicate any particular pet food brand or manufacturer. Rather, my goal is to continually remind pet owners that marketing claims for pet food – no matter how benign they may seem – must be investigated if you want to insure you’re feeding the highest quality diet you can afford to your dog or cat.

For more information on how to become an expert at selecting the best commercial pet food for your dog or cat, these articles are a great place to start:


+ Sources and References

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