In our first segment on Dog Nutrition, we talked about the essential nutrients that should be present in a quality dog food. In part two, we offered insight into the ingredients that could be lurking in your pet’s food that are not always identifiable simply by reading the label. Today, we will review commonly used ingredients that should really should NOT be in your pet food.
Additives such as Glyceryl Monostearate, Phosphoric Acid, and Propylene Glycol are often found in poor quality pet foods and should be avoided. These ingredients are unnecessary and in some cases can be toxic if consumed in large amounts. These chemicals should not be present in a food that your pet is eating on a daily basis.
Inexpensive fillers such as corn gluten meal and wheat gluten, while not necessarily harmful (though there is an alarming increase in gluten intolerance amongst our canine friends), offers virtually no nutritional value to your pet. What exactly is "gluten"? Well, it’s an inexpensive human by-product of what's leftover from various grains like wheat, barley, and rye. What's left is a "rubbery protein residue" known as gluten.(www.dogfoodadvisor.com). Unfortunately, there are a number of pet food manufacturers that use this as a cheap protein replacement to inflate the protein percentage noted on the label - remember, not all proteins are created equal. If you see these ingredients listed anywhere, you should question the nutritional value of the food you are feeding your beloved pet.
Good vs. Bad Carbohydrates/Fiber:
Similar to protein, not all grains are created equal when it comes to their nutritional value. Human food by-products such as brewer's rice, oat hulls, corn cobs, wheat middlings, grain fragments, and other cereal fines are inexpensive, low quality carbohydrate substitutes considered unfit for human consumption. Sadly, you will find these ingredients in many of the dog foods not only sold in the big box commercial pet food stores, but also in some over-priced prescription foods found on the shelves of many veterinarians' offices.
Various sugars and sweeteners are sometimes added to your pet's food as a way to improve the flavor, while also masking the bitter taste of some less desirable ingredients. Sugar comes in various forms ranging from natural sugars like honey and molasses to processed sources such as sorbitol and corn syrup. Even the controversial beet pulp ingredient, touted as a digestive aid, is made from sugar beets, adding to the total amount of sugar present in your pet’s food. Our canine friends suffer from sugar addictions just as we do, and feeding them a food high in sugar can lead to the same health issues that humans face when consuming with too much added sugar. Obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, and allergies are just a few examples of the growing list of health concerns connected to this unnecessary ingredient found in a number of pet foods.
Perhaps the most alarming of ingredients that may be present in your pet food are the use of artificial preservatives such as ethoxyquin, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). BHA and BHT are banned in many countries for human use, yet are still permitted in the U.S. and often used in pet food to preserve fats and oils for extended shelf life. Government directed studies have shown the use of these artificial preservatives to be human carcinogens "based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in experimental animals" (National Toxicology Program, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). If these preservatives allow the food to have an unnaturally long shelf life, what do you think they could be doing to your pet's digestive system?
The list of potentially harmful, or at best, unnecessary, ingredients commonly found in pet foods goes on and on. I encourage you to do your research so you can find comfort in knowing that the food you have chosen to feed your pets on a daily basis is providing them with the necessary nutrients they need to live a long and healthy life. They trust us unconditionally...let's make sure we are giving them the best of what they deserve!
Association of American Feed Control Officials, www.aafco.org
Dog Food Advisor, www.dogfoodadvisor.com
National Toxicology Program, US Department of Health and Human Services, www.ntp.niehs.nih.gov
The Dog Food Project, www.dogfoodproject.com
In our first segment on dog nutrition, we talked about the essential nutrients you want to ensure are part of your dog's daily diet. Though it is important to read the labels on the packaging of the food you decide to use, you should realize that the list of ingredients won’t tell you everything about the contents inside the bag.
What you won’t see on the list of ingredients are possible contaminants such as salmonella, pesticides, herbicides, and even ethoxyquin, which is commonly used to preserve fish meal products before the company buys it.
Understanding Protein Content:
The label may claim high quality protein, but what does that mean? Understanding the difference between the various types of protein that could be present in your pets’ food is critical. There is a significant difference in the nutritional value between a “meat” meal and a “meat” or “animal” by-product. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to tell from the label what percentage of the protein meal actually consists of meat versus bone meal, ligaments and tendons.
Cooking times and temperatures are a critical component of creating a nutritious food for your pet. With many of the commercial brand foods, where food is produced in mass quantities, as much as 50% of the nutrients and vitamins are lost before the food is even packaged. While the initial ingredients procured may contain key nutrients, many of them are lost due to over processing and extended storage length.
Storage and Shelf-Life:
While the label may contain an extensive list of key nutrients and essential vitamins, what it doesn’t tell you is how long the food has been sitting in a warehouse before you finally feed it to your pet. Many large market products have been stored in warehouses for extended periods of time before it enters your home. Over time, vitamins and minerals begin to deteriorate, food can become stale, and any probiotics that are sensitive to air and temperature changes will die off and become ineffective at promoting immunity health.
Of course it is important to read the labels and list of ingredients noted on the packaging of your pets’ food. This is the first step in becoming an educated pet-parent when it comes to pet nutrition. However, don’t fall victim to the labeling gimmicks. If you want to take the extra step to ensure that the food you choose is providing the best nutrition for your pet, contact the company directly and ask them about their processing procedures, storage guidelines, and their guiding principles for testing the nutritional value of the finished product. Any company that truly cares about the health and well-being of your pet will take the time to talk to you about the steps they are taking to ensure your pet leads a long, healthy life.
There is no question that we all want to believe that the food we are feeding our furry friends provides them with all the essential nutrients necessary for a long, healthy life. With so many options out there, how do we really know what is the most nutritious food for your pet? While there is no one food that can claim to be the “best” food out there, there are some things that we can do to ensure that we are informed about the food we do choose to feed our companion pets.
All of our dogs have unique dietary needs and to ensure that these needs are being met, you will want to ensure that the food you are serving them includes all of the following: a diverse selection of high-quality proteins; healthy species-specific animal fat; a guaranteed amount of the antioxidant Vitamins A, C and E; a guaranteed amount of omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3’s should be scientifically balanced with omega-6 fatty acids to ensure optimal benefit); prebiotics; a guaranteed amount of probiotics; an array of vegetables; and fruits. Additionally, to minimize health risks, the food should not contain any wheat or wheat gluten or corn or corn gluten-based.
Why are all of these ingredients important for your dog’s nutrition?
Diverse Selection of High-Quality Proteins: All proteins are not created equal, therefore all dog foods should contain at least three different protein sources to ensure a wide array of amino acids, which are the body’s “building blocks.”
Healthy Species-Specific Animal Fat: While vegetable oil may sound healthier to us humans, dogs need nutrients only found in animal fats. Make sure the listed animal fat source is species-specific like "chicken fat", and not generic like "animal fat”.
Antioxidants (Vitamins A, C and E): Antioxidants are essential to promoting and maintaining good health. Vitamins A, C and E are some of the most effective antioxidants and evidence supports the food we feed our dogs should include a guaranteed amount to ensure the adequate antioxidant intake necessary for wellness.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3s are some of the most extensively researched, naturally occurring, nutritional ingredients in the world. Dog foods should feature a guaranteed amount Omega-3 Fatty Acids that are scientifically balanced with Omega-6 fatty acids for optimal benefit. A perfect balance will support healthy skin, shiny coats and help maintain overall health.
Prebiotics: Non-digestible ingredients that promote the growth of "healthy" and "friendly" bacteria in the digestive system. Similar to vitamins and minerals, prebiotics occur naturally in foods.
Probiotics: Often referred to as "friendly bacteria" or "healthy microorganisms", probiotics support a healthy immune system and digestive system. For this reason your dog's food should feature guaranteed amounts of probiotics.
Vegetables: Dog food should contain a variety of vegetables such as carrots, beets, celery, parsley, spinach, watercress and broccoli because they each have a unique, health promoting properties. The skin and flesh of each contain vital nutrients, including phytonutrients, essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.
Fruits: Fruits such as blueberries and pomegranate should be part of your dog's food. Similar to vegetables, the skin and flesh of each contain a variety of essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.
What your dog food should NOT contain is grains like corn, wheat or gluten. These are used as inexpensive and inferior sources of protein and are highly susceptible to toxic mold contamination, leading to significant health risks.
What I hope you take away from this is the importance of reading the nutritional labels on the food you give to your fur-kid. A nutritional food will not have any unidentifiable meat ingredients or generic animal fats, and will contain significant amounts of meat-based protein. It will be free of artificial colors, fillers, and artificial preservatives. Furthermore, it will provide a guaranteed amount of essential nutrients that help to promote a healthy immune system, a healthy digestive system, and a healthy skin and coat.
Since your dog eats the same food every day, the brand you choose to feed is the most important decision you can make as a pet parent. The food you feed is your pet’s primary source of nutrition, so ensuring that you choose a superior dog food can help to promote a solid nutritional foundation, which can help to foster a long and healthy life.