How to interpret pet food ingredients

Pet Food Ingredients

Do you know what the list of ingredients actually mean on the back of your pets kibble or canned food?

If the answer is no, you are definitely not alone.

The majority of pet owners rely solely on the brilliant marketing techniques of the pet food industry, the cost of the food and veterinary advice. And, if you were to read the label on your favourite commercial pet food, you would only be familiar with the well known ingredients such as protein (chickens, beef, fish etc. fruit and vegetables, including a few added supplements such as vitamins).

But don’t be fooled!

I am going to share a little bit of my knowledge about the ingredients contained in commercial pet food in the hope that I can make you aware of what it all means, without diving into the science or politics, so that the next time you do purchase pet food, you have a bit more of an understanding and are able to make a conscious decision on the food choices for your pet. Knowledge is a very powerful tool!

I won’t be naming or shaming any particular pet foods or brands, but I can say that they are all pretty much the same in terms of how the ingredients are listed on the product (both dried and wet foods).

Let’s begin with the ingredients…

The ingredients are always listed by weight in descending order. That is, they begin with the heaviest product at the top of the list and end with the ingredients that weigh the least weight at the bottom of the list, such as vitamins and minerals. That all sounds pretty easy to understand, however, pet food manufacturers use the pre-cooked weight of ingredients to make-up this list, not the raw ingredients.

For example, chicken meat in its raw state contains 80% moisture, making the protein quite heavy, so it is at the top of the list of the pet food ingredients. Once the chicken is cooked, there is only about 20% of the actual meat and moisture remaining in the product, so realistically the chicken should appear further down the list of ingredients, and NOT at the top!

Let’s say you pick up a can of your dog’s favourite food and you look at the label and the first ingredient you see is chicken, followed by the rest of the ingredients. You are pretty happy that the food contains chicken as the number one product, but in fact it is more like the fourth or fifth ingredient of the product once cooked. Pretty deceiving wouldn’t you say?

Meat isn’t always just meat either, but when you think of chicken (or any other from of protein) being a product in pet food, you would think of a succulent piece of chicken breast or some thigh fillets, but sadly that isn’t always the case. Some pet foods contain ‘meat by-products’, which are left over waste material from the human food production consisting of non-rendered clean parts, other than meat, including lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, fatty tissue, stomach and intestines. With chicken, it can include necks, feet, underdeveloped eggs and intestines. All cooked and very hard for your pet to digest. It’s enough to make you gag!

The other ingredients are a myriad of additional components added to the product. Here are my top three you should definitely avoid:

  • Gelling agents – are used to mimic the jelly found naturally in the marrow of animals. It is a carbohydrate used to improve the appearance and taste of the pet food. It is non-nutritive and has been designed to slow down the food so that it sits in the intestine for longer. This is bad news for your pet as their digestive system has been designed to digest food fast. When a pet consumes a diet high in cooked food, the acidity level in the stomach is unnaturally decreased. Basically a pet eating commercial pet food has a confused digestive system.
  • Colouring agents – used to make the pet food look more appealing to the consumer. Colouring are non-nutritive and are synthetic chemical dyes that have been linked to cancer and other ill health problems.
  • Vitamins & Minerals – because the cooking process used to make commercial pet foods destroys any of the natural vitamins and minerals found in raw food, pet manufacturers add synthetic supplements. Overuse of synthetic supplements can actually create more harm than good and can be potentially toxic to some pets.

I could literally talk for days about the different kinds of ingredients contained in many commercial pet foods, including the expensive brands, and well known brands of food sold in our vet clinics.

So rather than overwhelm you with information overload, I have provided you with a glimpse or at least some insight into what your pet is most likely eating if their diet is kibble or canned food.

Whether you continue to feed your pet commercial food is entirely your choice and I am not going to judge anybody on their personal preferences. Most importantly I want you to be mindful of what some of these ingredients actually mean, so that you are equipped to make a conscious decision when choosing what your beloved pet consumes.

Ready to start feeding your pet raw? Check out my RAW Meal Packages.

Need any further information or have any questions you would like answered?

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