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What’s in my Pet’s Food?

Ah…marketing. It’s what makes our capitalistic society function. We all fall prey to it. The prettier the packaging, the larger or descriptive the wording, the more times we see a commercial…it’s the way our brains tell us which products are better, right?

It works even when we know that flashier doesn’t always mean better. It is especially effective with pet food products. We try to eat healthier ourselves, so we gravitate toward those marketing trends that funnel us toward the more ‘natural’ products. And that is not (usually) a bad thing! But lets make sure we’re comparing apples to apples.

What do you look at when choosing a pet food? Lets look together, using our ‘marketing-proof’ glasses. (this is a VERY brief snap shot of this topic, so please feel free to explore the links below for further marketing tactics and definitions).

Guaranteed analysis: This is quick and easy. Ignore this entire segment entirely. I have no idea why it even exists on a bag of pet food. Look closely. 25% Protein….10% Fat….…good right? Look again….that is the MINIMUM of protein and fat. What’s the maximum? Or why not just give me an actual analysis? The guaranteed analysis tells us absolutely nothing helpful and provides no value when choosing something.

AAFCO statement. This will be found in tiny little print somewhere on the bag. You may have to hunt to find it. There will be (hopefully) one of two phrases.

  1. “Brand X Cat Food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO for maintenance of adult cats”
  2. This translates to: we have used the nutritional guidelines as outlined by AAFCO to meet at least the minimum standards when formulating our recipes.
  3. “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Brand Y Dog Food provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dogs”

This translates to: we have formulated according to AAFCO recommendations AND fed our food exclusively to animals for at least 6 months, during which time, we monitor weight, general health, blood work as well as nutritional absorption in each animal.

Obviously, the preferred statement is the second. Its nice to follow a recipe, but if some of the grand failures in my kitchen are any indication of how badly that can turn out, I would much rather rely on a diet that has been fed to pets for an extended period and know that that recipe is consistent and actually does what it claims and is safe and truly balanced. However, feeding trials are expensive and time consuming. Not every pet food company can do that. It is something you have to decide for yourself how important that extra step is.

If you can’t find an AAFCO statement….run away.

Made in the USA”. This one can also be misleading. This can be put on any label as long as a company buys its ingredients from a supplier based in the US. But it does not guarantee where the supplier gets their ingredients or where the ingredient originates. So beware this stamp. May or may not be completely helpful. You can absolutely call a company to ask where their suppliers get their ingredients. If a company doesn’t know, then that should be a red flag.

Now the fun part: Name that ingredient!! Some of us shy away from ingredients if we can’t pronounce it or it doesn’t sound natural. But ingredient lists aren’t made for consumers….they are made for nutritionists…or sadistic organic chemists. So just what exactly are some of these ingredients?

The “chemical”                  Translation into ‘normal english’                               Purpose

Pantothenic acid                                  a Vitamin B complex                   helps nutrient absorbtion / intestinal health

Calcium iodate                                      iodine source                                an essential ingredient for thyroid function

Carageenan                                           seaweed component                   used to thicken some canned foods

By-product                                            organ meat (liver, spleen…)        PROTEIN!! (does not include intestines, bone)

Corn gluten meal                                 plant based protein                    protein- actually digested similar to meat

Ferrous Sulfate                                    Iron                                                helps red blood cells carry oxygen – ESSENTIAL

Folic Acid                                               A B vitamin                                   helps process proteins, strengthens cells

Glycerin                                                 A component of fat                    Used to soften some foods

Ground yellow corn                            source of linoleic acid                essential fatty acid – helps skin, coat, energy…

L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate              source of vitamin C              helps support immune system

L-lysine monohydrochloride             lysine (amino acid)              helps muscle development / immune system

Manganese Sulfate                           an essential mineral              Necessary for proper glucose utilization

Menadione sodium bisulfite        a source of Vitamin K               Necessary for proper clotting

Niacin                                                     vitamin B3                             Necessary for metabolism of carbs, protein and fats

Pyridoxine                                             Vitamin B6                             helps with protein metabolism

Sodium selenite                                   Selenium                               Essential mineral. Cell membrane health

Taurine                                                  Amino acid                            Essential for heart health in cats

Tocopherols                                          Vitamin E                                Excellent for skin / coat, antioxidant,  preservative

Ascorbic Acid                                       Vitamin C                               Excellent for immune health

Propylene glycol               NOT ethylene glycol (antifreeze)      preservative, solvent for coloring / taste (also used

in ice cream, salad dressing, beer….)

 

For more in-depth and SUPERFUN food label information, see the following sites:

AAFCO label definitions: http://petfood.aafco.org/Labeling-Labeling-Requirements#standards

FDA requirements for pet food labeling: http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/ucm047113.htm

previous (more in depth) blogs about pet food labels:

http://www.westvalleypetclinic.com/blog/2014/05/decifering-the-food-bag-part-1-of-2-regulation-agencies-the-name-claims/

http://www.westvalleypetclinic.com/blog/2014/05/decifering-the-food-bag-part-2-of-2-ingredients-guaranteed-analysis-feeding-nutritional-adequacy/

 

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