There are many choices in pet food on the market – so much that it can often become overwhelming. But what are the factors to keep in mind when considering options for your pet’s optimal health? Should it be holistic? All natural/organic? And then again, there is the pet food available in the grocery store down the street….so what is the real difference?
Food Recalls That Uncovered the Ugly Truth
Years ago, the industry was shaken by the massive melamine pet food recall in 2007. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) learned on March 15, 2007, that certain pet foods were sickening and killing cats and dogs. The FDA found contaminants in vegetable proteins imported into the United States from China and used as ingredients in pet food.
A portion of the tainted pet food was used to produce farm animal feed and fish feed. The FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture discovered that some animals that ate the tainted feed had been processed into human food. Government scientists have determined that there is very low risk to human health from consuming food from animals that ate tainted feed. All tainted pet food, animal and fish feed, and vegetable proteins continued to be recalled and destroyed.
As a result of FDA and USDA’s comprehensive investigation, on February 6, 2008, the FDA announced that two Chinese nationals and the businesses they operate, along with a U.S. company and its president and chief executive officer, were indicted by a federal grand jury for their roles in a scheme to import products purported to be wheat gluten into the United States that were contaminated with melamine.
Continued pet food recalls developed from 2009 and up to 2014 as thousands of dog deaths were linked to problems with imported jerky treats. There have also been concerns about lead paint on Chinese-made toys exported to the U.S. Food containing dietary preservatives and synthetic chemicals in processed pet foods became increasingly prevalent and many local celebrities started to respond by developing their own brands – ie. Paul Newman and Rachel Ray.
Current research has focused on the combination of melamine and cyanuric acid in causing renal failure. Reports that cyanuric acid may be an independently and potentially widely used adulterant in China have heightened concerns for both pet and human health.
But any worries about contamination in Chinese exports pales compared to the danger that homegrown Chinese food poses to the country’s own citizens. Food safety scandals are rampant, and by some estimates as much as one fifth of the country’s soil is contaminated. Chinese who can afford it buy imported food whenever possible—and those who can’t just hope they’re lucky. Tainted pet food may get the headlines in the U.S., but food safety is far worse—for animals and people—in China itself.
Some pet owners have become concerned over the safety of all processed pet foods, and have chosen to forgo store-bought prepared pet foods in favor of preparing food from ingredients at home. The popularity of books on home preparation of pet foods has rocketed on Amazon.com. Some veterinarians have pointed out that animal diets are difficult to maintain in terms of nutritional appropriateness and safety, and are best served by store-bought preparations, an assertion disputed by some practitioners of home-made animal foods.
What Can You Do?
We have all heard the benefits of the elimination of disease and improvement in energy by the adoption of a healthy, natural diet. These same principles apply to your pet as well.
Unfortunately, many pets are often fed foods that are over-processed, filled with by-products and chemically altered foods barely resembling any identifiable meat or vegetable. While these foods do meet basic requirements for sustaining life, they don’t provide the required nutrition that helps pets achieve optimal health. Since your pet can’t speak out to question the quality of the food they’re provided, as a pet owner, that responsibility is delegated to you.
Since most pets are fed the same food, day after day, if it is a poor-quality diet, it will expose them to the harmful ingredients, chemicals and additives daily. As a result, pets are increasingly experiencing higher incidences of illnesses and diseases such as cancer, hormonal disorders and other conditions. This raises the question as to whether the poor-quality of the ingredients in their food may be contributing to their poor health?
As the natural pet food market is rapidly growing, high-quality pet foods are becoming more widely available. Pet owners must understand the importance of their pets’ nutrition and learn to critically evaluate the labels to ensure they are giving the best quality food to their pets. Being natural and free of additives is not enough.
Read the ingredient list
Ingredients on a pet food must be listed in descending order (by weight) on the package. Although not always, most often this means the first five to seven ingredients are the major ingredients in the food. These ingredients should be real named meat, whole grains and vegetables to ensure a pet is getting excellent nutrition from the best natural ingredients. Avoid foods that list by-products, unnamed meat meals or partial grains (for example “poultry by-product meal”, “meat meal”, or “corn-gluten meal”, etc.) in the top ingredients, as these are sub-standard sources of protein used instead of real meat (which holds more nutritional value). Although “meat meal” sounds like something you might serve your own family, this ingredient may contain a variety of animal parts (other than meat) from any source, including 4-D animals (dead, diseased, disabled or dying prior to slaughter). These ingredients are always considered unfit for human consumption due to their questionable quality and safety.
Avoid potentially harmful ingredients
Many artificial preservatives are known to be capable of, or suspected of, causing cancer (aka carcinogens) in humans. When used in the production of pet food, artificial preservatives limit the growth of bacteria or inhibit oxidation of food. Examples of preservatives that should be avoided include BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, sodium nitrite and nitrate. Pets are smaller than humans and many of their foods have the same amount of preservatives as ours—studies are inadequate to understand the consequences of chronic intake of these preservatives—but they are best avoided. There are many options for natural preservation of pet food and more responsible pet food companies are using these.
Artificial flavors (e.g. corn syrup, propylene glycol, molasses and MSG) are frequently used in pet food manufacturing to disguise inferior food quality and some of these additives give dampness and flexibility to semi-moist foods and treats. Artificial colorings/dyes are used in many pet products to entice owners into a purchase; however, they have no nutritional value and may be responsible for adverse or allergic reactions. Besides, your pet doesn’t care what food looks like— just how it tastes.
Avoid unnecessary fillers
A filler is an ingredient added to a pet food that provides dietary fiber (bulk) and has no specific nutritional value. These ingredients are often used to “fill up” the bag of pet food cheaply (especially true of many weight loss foods). While pets do require a source of fiber in their diet, it is best that this fiber is provided by whole grains and vegetables. Ingredients such as wheat mill run, rice bran, corn brain, hulls and certain pulps are examples of fillers that should be avoided or at least not be present in the main ingredient list.
The other type of filler is more correctly called a plant-based protein booster. Many pet food companies use cheap grains as the base of their pet foods because they are an inexpensive way to meet nutritional requirements for protein and fat. With their biology, cats and dogs should be getting a majority of their protein from real meat and high quality named meat meals, instead of plants, to best address their nutritional requirements. These protein fillers are main ingredients such as corn, corn gluten or corn germ meal, and soybean meal and should be avoided.
All pets without regard to their background, need good nutrition for longevity and overall health. When caring for a pet that has been rescued, and especially if your pet suffers from emotional complications, be sure to ask about holistic natural options that will boost your pet’s health for the short-term as well as the long-term.
At Hollywood Houndz we carry the best pet food products available on the market. Brands like Victor, Propec, Zignature, Nutrisource and Fromm. Be sure to stop by our boutique and read the labels to learn more about these high-quality products. As pet owners ourselves, we are committed to providing the best quality pet foods available to maintain a happy and healthy pet!