I know, it may seem like every other column I write has something to do with pet food, but of all the conversations I have in the store, pet food is by far the most frequent one. The resulting conversations meet with the most positive “I never knew that” responses as well. Here are some tips I’ve been passing along for years.
We are what we eat. Why do because, it’s true. The biggest difference between our diet and our pets is that we choose both. Our pets have no say in deciding what they eat (except when we occasionally forget something on the counter, oopsie).
So, in deciding what to feed our pets, we should put a good amount of thought into it. The first thing to consider is the ingredient panel. What is the food made of. Remembering your pet is a carnivore, is there meat, and how much meat is there. Chicken, chicken meal and chicken by-product meal are all forms of meat, but which one is best?
If it says Chicken, that is the un-rendered meat, skin and bones of the chicken, not including heads, feet, guts and feathers. It still has all the water in it (hence, un-rendered). So, for every 10 lbs of Chicken they put in the mix, it can become as little as 3 lbs of dry pet food once the water is removed in processing. So, what started out as a first ingredient can slide 4 or 5 down the label.
Chicken meal is basically the same chicken, but reduced in particle size. This is usually accompanied by a removal of water for easier storage and shipping. Chicken meal is closer in moisture level to pet food, so where it appears on the label is an accurate representation of how much of it there is in the food.
Chicken By Product Meal is the rendered heads, feet, intestines, necks, and undeveloped eggs. A very low cost ingredient that does contain some nutrition, but not as much as a higher quality form of chicken.
So “meat first” doesn’t necessarily mean “mostly meat”. Which brings us to the second trick, ingredient splitting. Using a number of different grains, each one can be less than the meat portion, but together, they far outweigh the meat. They even split up corn into ground corn, corn gluten meal (a by product of corn starch or corn syrup), corn grits, ground yellow corn. All to convince you that meat first means mostly meat.
A good kibble has 2 meats first, at least one being a meal. A great kibble, 3. And not too many other ingredients before the fats. The two important ingredients that are markers are fats and salts. Anything before the fats are significant volume ingredients. And anything after salts are not. So a picture of peas or carrots on the front means nothing when there is more potassium chloride in the food than either peas or carrots. It’s just advertising, and advertising doesn’t nourish your pet.
Just a quick scan of a label can reveal a lot about the product and the company. The next quality check, though, is not always on the label. The words “prepared for” are something to be wary of. You want to buy a product made by the company in its own plant. Most recalls are on products “prepared for” another company because they are made by the lowest bidder, and therefore, from the least expensive ingredients possible. When you make your own food, you don’t take chances with off shore ingredients or cheap fillers. You buy the best ingredients you can, because your name is on the package. If you're not sure who makes your food, a Google search of "Who makes xxx pet food" can help.
Knowing “What is in it” and “Who makes it” can go a long way into helping you choose the food for your pet. A better food can make for a better life. And they deserve that.