What's Really In Your Pet's Food?

Pet food varies greatly in quality. When reading pet food labels, keep in mind that ingredients are listed in order of prominence, with the main ingredient listed first and trace ingredients listed last. Pet food advertised as “Chicken and Rice” should contain chicken and rice as the first ingredients. U.S. Food and Drug Administration describes how to interpret pet food labels. Doctors Foster and Smith: Interpreting Dog Food Labels and Interpreting Cat Food Labels are detailed guides for finding the best food. In general, look for food that specifies a specific protein source, not just the generic term “meat.” This should be listed as the first ingredient. Avoid food with the words “byproducts,” “meal,” “digest,” or “cornmeal” in the ingredients. Corn is a filler and has little nutritional value for cats and dogs. Language is key to determining the quality of food. Pet food packaging cannot say “all” or “100%” if the food contains more than one ingredient, not including water for processing, trace amounts of preservatives, and decharacterizing agents. The “95% Rule” occurs when the total food weight is made up of at least 95 percent meat, poultry, or fish. The “25% Rule” applies to foods marked “dinner” and means that an ingredient, or a combination of ingredients, makes up 25 percent of the total weight, or 10 percent of the dry matter weight. If a food uses “with,” as in “with real beef,” the ingredient must constitute at least three percent of the food’s weight. “Flavor” means something in the food is imparting a distinctive flavor. “Chicken flavor” may not contain any real chicken and instead may come from chicken tissue extracts or some other byproduct. Born Free USA: What’s Really in Pet Food exposes the ugly truth behind commercial pet food. Highly processed foods are not nutritive. In fact, they’re downright unhealthy and can be linked to several nutrition-related diseases. Urinary tract disease is common with cats and dogs that eat dry food, due to the unnatural manipulation of formulas. Cats that eat mainly dry food are prone to kidney disease, which occurs when a cat is chronically dehydrated. Unlike canned food, dry food doesn’t contain any water. Dental disease is another problem. Many people wrongly assume that dry food is good for the teeth, but this isn’t true. Many pets have dental disease, and these same pets are raised on a dry foods diet. Obesity is another problem. Some pet food manufacturers suggest giving your pet more food than they actually need so you’ll buy more of their product. Many pet foods are high-carb and high-calorie, especially the dry foods. There is much debate over which is better—dry or canned food? Cats should be given a combination of canned and dry food. Dry food can be left out all day for cats to eat at will, which makes it a convenient option. Canned food helps alleviate food boredom and contains water, which your cat may not be getting enough of. PetPlace.com has more information on the benefits of canned and dry cat food. Generally, the best food to give your pet is homemade. Use high-quality, organic meats and consult with a veterinarian to make sure the food is properly balanced. PetDiets.com offers homemade pet food and recipes. Canned food is closer to an animal’s natural diet. Dry food, on the other hand, is linked to many adverse health effects and is subject to the greatest amount of recalls. View pet recall information at the American Veterinary Medical Association. When purchasing pet food, avoid generic or store brands since these are the lowest quality foods. Look for food that is truly natural (no byproducts) and holistic. Make sure that a named meat is the first ingredient, and that the label has an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials, Inc.) guarantee. Born Free USA: Selecting a Commercial Pet Food provides an in-depth, yet easy to follow guide on what to look for when purchasing pet food. DogAware.com offers an extensive overview on how to choose the best dog food. The Dog Food Project helps you identify better products. About.com offers tips for choosing the best cat food.Natura, PetGuard, Wysong, Pet Promise, and Canidae offer many different lines of holistic natural cat and dog food.