Saturday, 30 September 2017

Pet Food Ingredients: Their Bark Is Worse Than Their Bite

You turn that bag of dog food over and look at the ingredient panel.  OMG, WTH, YGBKM.  Those aren’t the ingredients, they’re your response…Oh my goodness, what the heck, you gotta be kidding me (you may be familiar with a slightly different version of this texting shorthand).

But they might as well be the ingredients since you can’t pronounce them, either.  You picture some mad scientist formulating the food with toxic chemicals, knowing that dogs are gonna die…bwahaha.

Some pet food labeling has wording for which there is no legal or regulatory definition as it pertains to pet food.  Think “Holistic,” “Organic,” “Super Premium,” “Large Breed,” “Small Breed,” “Senior,” “Low Fat,” “Indoor Formula,” “Hairball Formula,” and other such designations which mean whatever the manufacturer says they mean.

In the US, the only formulations for which standards have been established are: gestation and lactation (puppy/kitten food), maintenance (adult food), all life stages (must meet the puppy/kitten standards), and large breed puppy (dogs 70 pounds or more at maturity).

Then there are ingredients that have vague, loosely regulated meanings.  Think “Byproducts.”  Some people think they’re beaks, feet, feathers and guts all chopped up.  Those people are mostly wrong.  The guts could be in there.
“Byproducts” means anything but muscle meat.  In pet foods, they’re mostly organs…digestive organs, reproductive organs, brains, and assorted other organs that you’re quite happy to let the dogs and cats have, thank you. 

If it’s any consolation, some byproducts are considered delicacies elsewhere; tripe (stomach), sweetbreads (the thymus gland) and tongue for instance.  And they’re nutritious.  Other byproducts you shell out good money for as treats…bully sticks (what bulls have that cows don’t), moo tubes (cattle trachea), porky pumpers (pig hearts), lammy puffs (sheep lung), to name a few.

Then there are the scary sounding ingredients.  Those have very specific meanings and the scientific names must be used to pinpoint the ingredient.  Think of it this way:  there are several types of foxes: red fox, arctic fox, fennec fox, etc.  If you’re talking about the red fox, the scientific name is Vulpes vulpes.  

Requiring the use of that multi-syllable, toxic sounding name is akin to requiring the use of the name “Vulpes vulpes” instead of just “fox.”  So, in spite of how dangerous the ingredients may sound, they’re simply not.

Remember, also, that everything that is ingested has a threshold for toxicity.  You take one blood thinner and it saves your life; you take five and you bleed to death.  That’s why you shouldn’t freak out when you see propylene glycol in pet food or treats. 

Yes, it’s the active ingredient in pet-safe anti-freeze, but the key words are “pet-safe.”  Propylene glycol has a low freezing point and a high toxicity threshold, making it a safer alternative to ethylene glycol, the highly toxic active ingredient in regular anti-freeze.  And, don’t look now, but it’s in some human foods, too.  It’s usually used as a moistening agent.

By law, to be a “natural” food, there can be no ingredients that were made in a lab.  That’s almost impossible, if a pet food is to be complete and balanced.  A truly “natural” formulation may not be complete and balanced. 

A complete and balanced formulation will contain synthetic vitamins and minerals.  What it cannot contain are synthetic preservatives.  That’s why you see “preserved with mixed tocopherols” following the fat.  Tocopherols are what the mad scientists call Vitamin E.

If you’re feeding a “natural” dog or cat food, look closely at the bag.  You’ll probably see the words “with added vitamins and minerals.”   That puts it in compliance with the law.

Bob Bamberg has been in the pet supply industry for more than a quarter century, including owning his own feed and grain store in Southeastern Massachusetts, USA. He writes a weekly newspaper column on pet health, nutrition and behaviour and his articles appear at 


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