What is in your pet food

What is in your pet’s food.

Most people will look at the ingredient label for food that we eat, but how many will read a pet food label? We see the front of the bag, with pictures of chunks of beef, sushi grade salmon and other enticing images. We read the name, “Filet Mignon flavour” or “With the delicious taste of wild boar” or some other catch phrase. But what is actually in the food.

Some have the ingredients proudly displayed for you to read. Others seem to hide the ingredient panel under a fold, or on the side of the bag where it is hard to access. Reading the ingredients should be easy, if they make it hard, there is a reason.

Rule of thumb, fewer ingredients is usually better, and ingredients you cannot pronounce tend to be less than optimal. Some probiotics with long Latin names are good, they are usually at the end of the listing. But chemical names can be of questionable source, and can be a signal that the ingredients used or the processing method requires this supplementation.

Ingredients are listed in order of the “input weight” of the ingredient. This is one way you can get tricked by a label. “Chicken is our first ingredient” is a widely used claim. In reality, that does not mean the food is “mostly chicken” as it is served to your pet. Chicken is good, sure, but is it really first after processing? Chicken in 75% water, and kibble is 10% water. So, most of the chicken goes away in processing. 10lbs of chicken may end up as 3 lbs of kibble. But the second ingredient might be ground corn. Now, there has to be more “chicken” than corn if chicken is first, which means there could be 9 lbs of corn as the second ingredient. We just said that 10lbs of “chicken” ends up as 3 lbs of kibble, what about the 9 lbs of corn? It doesn’t reduce at all, it is already dry. So, even though “Chicken is the first ingredient”, there could be 3 times as much corn in the end product.

Confusing, I know. Then there is chicken meal. Chicken meal is less nutritious than chicken, because it has been processed, but that processing generally removes the water. This means if chicken meal is the third or fourth item on the label, there might be more of it in the kibble that the chicken listed first. That’s OK, more meat is a good thing.

But them we get “chicken by-product meal”. This is not the same as chicken meal, it is the other parts that aren’t included in chicken meal. Heads, feet, guts, organs, undeveloped eggs, and such, not the desired parts of the chicken, and usually not handled/processed in the best manner. A food with by product meal in it can actually have more of that in it than “First ingredient Chicken” after processing.

Or we see poultry or meal meals. When a name is generic like that, it means the source can be any of a number of meats, a sure sign that it is an inferior quality ingredient. Lastly, there is meat by-product meal, and I don’t even want to think about where that comes from.

Other things you may come across on a label are artificial colours, “natural” flavours, and synthetic vitamins. Many of these are sourced off-shore and come in prepacks that are added to foods. There is no requirement that these are tested to confirm they are balanced or safe, and we have seen recalls on pet foods caused by the use of these types of ingredients. Avoiding them reduces your chances of having a problem.

Finding out what exactly is in a food, how much meat there actually is, and whether there are off-shore ingredients used in its manufacture are all questions that are easily answered with a quick Google search. There are many different articles online about reading the label on your pet’s food, or reviews about specific pet foods that explain each ingredient. It doesn’t take a long time to get an answer about just how good your pet’s food actually is. Time well spent for the safety of your pet and so that you get full value for your dollar, not just a pretty bag and a fancy name.