In recent years “Mad Cow Disease” (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or BSE) has made headlines worldwide. It has affected many industries, and the pet food industry is no exception. Many concerned pet guardians have begun to wonder, “What’s really in my pet’s food?”

Incomplete Meals

Dogs and cats require protein, fat, fibre, moisture and easily absorbed vitamins and minerals for health and longevity. Improperly balanced foods can cause many different problems, including skin and coat problems and immune-system disorders. Problems associated with a poor quality commercial diet are seen everyday at veterinary offices. Chronic digestive problems, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies and other auto-immune diseases are among the most frequent illnesses treated. Many of these problems appeared with the popularity of cereal-based commercial pet foods and because the diet was incomplete. Other problems may result from reactions to additives. The bottom line is that diets composed primarily of low quality cereals, low quality proteins and additives are not as nutritious or safe as the multi-national advertising campaigns will try to convince you. You should expect more for your pet.

Reading the Ingredient Panel

The only way to really be confident about the content and quality of your pet’s food is to become an educated ingredient panel reader. That way you are making your food choice based on what is actually in the food, rather than on high-profile advertising, marketing gimmicks or flashy packaging. That being said, remember that there is no requirement for pet foods to disclose on their labels the palatability, digestibility, or biological availability of nutrients in pet food. It is therefore extremely difficult to determine whether a given pet food will provide an animal with sufficient nutrients. The major areas every pet Guardian should be knowledgeable in are:

Protein

What makes a quality protein source? How digestible is it? Is it concentrated or diluted? What exactly are ‘by-products’? Premium pet foods use easily digestible animal proteins such as chicken meal or lamb meal. “Meal” means that the protein has been cooked and is therefore pure “dehydrated” meat. A premium food that uses chicken or lamb meal as its primary source of protein is one that is typically easier to digest for your pet. By-products generally include intestines, heads, beaks and feet – they are high in protein content but cannot be easily digested by your pet. Look for a premium formula that uses high quality, dense and palatable animal protein. Not all proteins are created equal. Soy, peanut hulls and other vegetable proteins are also frequently used as a much cheaper energy source than meat. Grocery brands list corn first and use soybean meal as their protein source. Human grade meats are far more digestible than corn or soy and have a far superior amino acid profile than cereal/vegetable protein. One of the most common ingredients on grocery brand pet foods is “meat”, which sounds good, right? Wrong. ‘Meat’ generically means whatever animal product was on sale that week for the manufacturer, and it can vary bag to bag. This can lead to digestive tract upsets, even if you don’t change brands of food, because what’s inside the bag has changed. Look for a food that specifies exactly what type of meat it uses.

Carbohydrates

Which carbohydrate sources are more or less digestible, or likely to cause allergic reactions? What is behind the recent movement towards alternative carbohydrate sources and grain-free diets? The amount of grain products used in pet food has risen over the last decade. Once considered filler by the pet food industry, cereal and grain products now replace a considerable proportion of the meat that was used in the first commercial pet foods.

Preservatives

What are natural preservatives, (including “mixed tocopherols” which sound like a chemical but are really made up of Vitamins C & E, Citric Acid and Rosemary)? Some preservatives are added to ingredients or raw materials by the suppliers and others may be added by the manufacturer. Synthetic preservatives include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), propyl gallate, Propylene Glycol (also used as a less-toxic version of automotive antifreeze) and Ethoxyquin, which has been linked to the dramatic increase in cancer rates in our pets. Some manufacturers have responded to consumer concern and are now using natural preservatives in their formulations. One caution, however, is that if the manufacturer purchases ingredients from a third party and those ingredients have been chemically preserved, it may not be stated on the ingredient panel. A manufacturer is not required to disclose that information, only if they themselves, during the manufacturing process, have added a chemical preservative.

“Red Flag” Ingredients

Which ingredients should warn you to investigate a food more closely, or simply stay away from it altogether? Many chemicals are added to low quality pet foods to improve the taste, stability, characteristics or appearance of the food. Additives provide no nutritional value. There is little information documenting the toxicity, safety, interactions or chronic use in pet foods that may be eaten every day for the life of the animal. Long term build up of these agents may ultimately be harmful.

Skin & Coat

Which foods contain both Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty Acids essential for a healthy coat and skin? The ratio in which they are present plays a vital role in their effectiveness.

Vitamins & Minerals

How do you find a vitamin and mineral package that is protected from the acidic environment of the stomach so that they are available to be absorbed in the small intestine? This can be achieved either through chelating or sequestering.

Allergies

Allergies are becoming more prevalent in our pets than ever before. Although the environment plays a factor, the majority of allergies are nutritionally related. This is why it is important to identify which ingredients trigger your pet’s allergies, as well as which foods will support a healthy immune system and prevent symptoms of allergies.

Do you find the wide variety of foods available on the market intimidating? And if some are better than others, why doesn’t Pet Planet just carry “the best” foods available? There’s a simple answer. There is not one single ‘best’ food out there which will work for every pet. It’s all about finding the right food for each pet, which is why we carry the selection that we do.

The Price is Right

Although the purchase price of pet food does not always determine whether a pet food is good or bad, the price is often a good indicator of quality. It would be impossible for a company that sells a generic brand of pet food at $20.00 for a 40 lb bag to use quality proteins and grains in its food. Simply stated, the higher the cost of the ingredients, the easier the food will be digested. Chicken meal, lamb meal, fish meal, eggs and high quality mineral packages are higher in quality than soybean, whole corn, bone meal, by-products, colors, sugars and poor quality fats. A high concentration of these cheaper ingredients provides only marginal nourishment for our pets. Consequently, a pet requires much more of that formula. Therefore, the cost of feeding the cheaper food is actually higher than feeding a premium food! Not only that, but you will have far less to clean up in the backyard when feeding a premium quality food!

A high quality premium pet food manufacturer will ensure the ingredients they put into their formulas are human grade, fresh, pesticide free, insecticide free and antibiotic free. High quality premium foods are vitamin and mineral fortified at higher levels than grocery/utilitarian foods and have trace minerals that are more bio-available to your pet.

Superior nutrition, exercise, regular veterinary care and love are the keys to your pet’s long and happy life. We have become much better educated about pet nutrition and are demanding superior nutrition for our pets. Nutrition means more than just the percentage of protein and fat in our pet’s diet – quality of ingredients, source of fat and protein and vitamin and mineral packages are very different in premium formulas when compared to grocery/utilitarian ones. At Pet Planet we are committed to educating consumers about the best possible pet nutrition available. Take a close look at the pet food you are feeding. If you buy it at the grocery store, let us show you a healthier alternative and save you money at the same time! Don’t let your best friend eat junk foods that barely meet minimal nutritional requirements but contain high sugars, salt, digest, cereal or vegetable protein and poor quality fats.