DUE TO LEGAL LOOPHOLES GOVERNING PET FOOD LABELS BOTH THE LIST OF INGREDIENTS AND GUARANTEED ANALYSIS ARE OFTEN MISLEADING 

THE LIST OF INGREDIENTS is based on the relative amounts (by weight) of the ingredients in descending order.  However, the manufacturer can use the pre-processing weight for the ingredients even though some ingredients such as meat and fish lose a great deal of water (and thus weight) during processing. As a result, the relative amount of such ingredients in the final product may not be number one and may in fact be quite low on the list. In addition, the ingredient list in no way reflects the quality of a given ingredient.

THE GUARANTEED ANALYSIS does not take into account digestibility. It is possible to formulate a diet based on shoe leather that would have an acceptable guaranteed percentage of protein but your pet would be unable to digest it!

COMMON MYTHS:

MEAT OR FISH MEAL ARE NECESSARILY INFERIOR INGREDIENTS.

The term meal simply means that the product has been dried. Since all products are dried during the processing of dry food this is of little relevance. It is easier to produce dry kibble using such products than using the fresh ingredient, however the quality of such products may vary. Utilizing whole meat or fish makes the food more expensive.

CHICKEN BY PRODUCTS ARE NECESSARILY INFERIOR INGREDIENTS.

Chicken by products consist of parts of the chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, liver, and cleaned intestines. Wild carnivores regularly consume such parts of the carcass. If they did not consume these organs their diet would not be balanced. Again, quality may vary.

CORN is a poor quality ingredient or just a “filler”.  Of all the grains used in pet food corn is one of the most digestible and has the highest amount of protein as well as many beneficial vitamins and antioxidants. That is one of the reasons it is so commonly used in formulating pet foods. Food allergy to corn has only been proven in a few cases in dogs and it has never been documented in cats. Quality, as always, may vary.

GLUTEN IS HARMFUL

Gluten is a protein derived from many grains. People with gluten intolerance develop damage to the intestinal tract when gluten is consumed. This syndrome, called Celiac disease affects approximately 1% of Americans. Another condition, called “gluten sensitivity” is thought to occur in about 6% of the population.  Individuals with this syndrome show many of the same symptoms as those with celiac disease but their GI tract remains normal. A condition similar to celiac disease has been identified in a small subset of Irish Setter dogs. Symptoms usually become apparent at a young age.  It is not known whether “gluten sensitivity” also occurs in dogs but to date it has not been documented.

There is nothing inherently harmful in gluten itself. It is only a problem if your pet is one of the rare Irish Setters with the genetic predisposition for gluten intolerance.

DOGS NEED HIGH PROTEIN MEAT OR FISH BASED DIETS BECAUSE THEY ARE CARNIVORES LIKE THEIR WOLF ANCESTORS.

A comparison of the genome of the wolf and the dog shows a clear change in the genes concerned with digestion with the dog having an increase in genes facilitating carbohydrate digestion. Since meat or fish are expensive ingredients, diets high in these ingredients are more costly. IT IS TRUE, however, that SENIOR DOGS do not utilize protein in the diet as efficiently as younger animals and they do require a diet with increased protein levels. IT IS ALSO TRUE THAT CATS ARE OBLIGATE CARNIVORES AND REQUIRE MUCH HIGHER LEVELS OF PROTEIN THAN DOGS.

HIGH PROTEIN = HIGH ENERGY. Protein has the same amount of calories (energy) as carbohydrates. Fat yields the highest amount of energy, roughly 1 and ¼ times the amount in protein and carbs. Moreover, extra protein does not lead to an increase in muscle mass, only exercise will do that.

WHAT DO I RECOMMEND?

I personally prefer the three large companies I am most familiar with and those are Hill’s, Royal Canin, and Purina. My preference is based on two main factors:

These companies do a great deal of research. This is not only important in the development of nutritional diets, but also helps expand our knowledge about various diseases and how dietary manipulation may help in the management of such diseases.  IT IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO OBTAIN FUNDING FOR VETERINARY RESEARCH AND THESE COMPANIES HELP TO FILL THAT VOID. MANY OF THESE COMPANIES ALSO HELP PETS IN NEED, FOR EXAMPLE THIS YEAR PURINA GAVE 17 MILLION DOLLARS TO ANIMAL SHELTERS.

These companies are committed to providing the best possible care and facilities for their research animals including state of the art housing, lots of socialization, play opportunities and TLC. They do not do studies that are painful or invasive or that result in euthanasia. Smaller companies are less likely to have their own animal colonies. They may choose to not do feeding trials or they may outsource them. Companies that use outside facilities for their feeding trials cannot vouch for the quality of care the animals receive. I personally know of one such facility, located in this state, where the animals are kept in appalling conditions.

THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT I ENDORSE EVERY SINGLE DIET THAT THESE COMPANIES PRODUCE.

IT ALSO DOES NOT MEAN THAT THERE ARE NOT OTHER GOOD PET FOODS AVAILABLE

If you find a certain pet food appealing, don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturer and ask them how they can support the various claims they have made on the label. Ask us for a handout from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association that has a list of questions you can ask the manufacturer.