One of the most common questions I get asked is, “What should I feed my pet?” It seems like a simple question to answer, but it’s not. The most basic answer is, “Feed the best food that you can afford.” And if you answer the best that you can afford is Ol Roy, I’ll try and convince you that no, you can afford better. A lot of time people ask this question but what they want to know is, “What should I feed my pet that I can easily buy at the grocery store/Petsmart/Walmart”, which is a different scenario than the person who is willing to do mail order or drive to a boutique store for a premium pet food.
For the purpose of simplicity, I’m omitting any discussion of homemade diets simply because they are a whole ‘nother ball of wax, but if enough people want to hear my thoughts on it I can talk about those at some point as well. For now, I’m going to try and do my best to demystify the confusing realm of commercial pet foods so you might feel a little more confident about what you are getting yourself into at the store.
In today’s blog post I want to focus on the first thing you see when you are looking at pet foods: the name of the product. The vast majority of pet food manufacturers adhere to AAFCO standards for manufacture and labeling (I’ll address that in a different post, but for now all you need to know is that there are regulations, and a body that creates them.) There are four rules that apply to naming pet foods:
1. The 95% rule. If a product says, “Chicken Dog Food,” then at least 95% of the product must be comprised of this ingredient. If it says, “Tuna and liver for cats”, then the combination of tuna and liver must be at least 95% with the greater amount being the tuna since it is named first.
Pretty much the only time you are going to see this type of label is on a canned food.
2. The 25% or ‘dinner’ rule. If a product says, “Chicken Dinner for Dogs,” then at least 25% of the product must be comprised of this ingredient. If it says, “Tuna and rice formula for cats,” then the combination must be at least 25%, with the greater amount being the tuna. Other descriptive names, such as “entree”, “platter”, or “chunks” fall into this category as well.
The majority of good quality dry foods on the market fall into this category. Be careful, though- a “lamb and rice dog formula” may have chicken or some other protein as its number one ingredient; it’s not an uncommon practice. If your pet has food sensitivities or allergies, you need to read the label EVERY time you buy.
3. The 3% or ‘with’ rule. “Dog Food with Chicken” needs only contain 3% chicken. The difference between “chicken dog food” (95% chicken) and “dog food with chicken” (3% chicken) is pretty drastic, isn’t it? Confusing stuff.
4. The ‘flavor’ rule. “Chicken flavored dog food” has no minimum amount of chicken. It only needs to have enough flavoring to be detected as chicken flavored by a dog who is trained to eat chicken.
So, how does this apply to you? Let’s say you are wandering the aisles and you see a tempting bag of dog food on aisle 4. “Critter Num Nums Chunky Bits Beef and Vegetable Flavor!” the label proclaims, with a mouthwatering ribeye on the cover, flanked by piles of green vegetables. Looks amazing, doesn’t it?
Let’s flip the label over and take a peek at the ingredients:
corn, soybean meal, beef and bone meal, ground wheat flour, animal fat (bha used as preservative), wheat middlings, corn syrup, water sufficient for processing, animal digest (source of grilled flavor), propylene glycol, salt, soy protein concentrate, hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride, beef, vegetable blend (peas, carrots and green beans), caramel color, sorbic acid (used as a preservative), sodium carbonate, minerals (ferrous sulfate, zinc oxide, manganous oxide, copper sulfate, calcium iodate, sodium selenite), vitamins (vitamin E supplement, vitamin A supplement, niacin supplement, D-calcium pantothenate, riboflavin supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, thiamine mononitrate, vitamin D3 supplement, folic acid, biotin, vitamin B12 supplement), choline chloride, calcium sulfate, sodium bisulfate, titanium dioxide, yellow 5, yellow 6, red 40, BHA (used as a preservative), dl methionine, blue 1, potassium sorbate (used as a preservative).
Take a peek at where ‘beef’ is on the ingredient list: somewhere below salt and hydrochloric acid. Not looking so great after all, is it?
You’re probably wondering what the heck the rest of that stuff is (animal digest? bone meal?) Stay tuned.