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The Salt Divider

salt dogWe’ve heard it for centuries, from our mother or father, and they have heard it from their parents, and them from their parents, while sitting at the dinner table:

“Eat your vegetables!”

Vegetables are a symbol of health worldwide; an essential food group that must be added to our plates in order to give us the perception that we are making healthy choices. For most of us, it works. We feel good knowing that somewhere in our breakfast, lunch, or dinner that there is some kind of fruit or vegetable, and, for the rest of the day we will have peace of mind knowing that we did something right.

Advertising Tactics

To a pet food marketer, it’s important to give us that confirmation and reassurance when we purchase their food, that same feeling that we are doing something right. Their goal is for us, the pet owner, to look at their packaging and make us crave it. They actually try to make us think: “I would eat that!” The term in the industry is called humanization.

The pet food industry is constantly trying to humanize pet food by adding exotic fruits, vegetables, and even superfoods, to the ingredient panels, thinking that this will raise the ante over the competition. It would only make sense for manufacturers to splash pictures of real, whole, fresh foods all over the packages. If it’s splattered all over the package, then surely there must be tons of it in the food, right?


I can recall a point in my life, many years back when I thought I was ahead of the game when it came to pet food ingredient labels. I knew that I wanted to avoid “by-products”, “corn”, “BHA & BHT’s”, etc. My White Shepherd, Sammie, had developed serious kidney issues at a young age. The obvious thing to do was to find a bag of kibble that contained cranberries. Remember, I was ahead of the game and knew that cranberries + kidney problems = positive results. So I got in my car and drove to the nearest pet store in search of the bag with the largest picture of a cranberry I could find. When I found it, it was like I was in a movie. Everything around me froze, I could hear angels singing in the background, and there it was: a giant, pure white bag with the reddest and most delicious-looking cranberries displayed proudly on the front, starring right at me!

I rushed over and grabbed it, flipped the bag over and found what I was looking for in the ingredient list: cranberries. Perfect!!

As some of you may already know, an ingredient panel on a package of pet food goes from greatest to least (before it is cooked). Seeing cranberries in this list, along with the giant photo on the front of the bag, lead me to believe that this was the miracle food my dog needed for her kidneys until…

One day, months later, I started researching in more depth the complexity of ingredient labels. I stumbled across something that changed my life and my pet’s life forever.

Although the pet food manufacturer’s recipe is a trade secret, through research I discovered ingredients that can act as markers to help give us an idea of the quantities being used. There is one ingredient in particular that can help us shed some light on the mirage marketers may be trying to create.


The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends that dry dog food contains at least 0.3% sodium, and that dry cat food contains at least 0.2% sodium, for both maintenance and to support normal growth and development. These are minimum recommended levels.

Quoting Dr. Marion Nestlé, Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University and Malden Nesheim, Professor of Nutrition Emeritus and Provost Emeritus at Cornell University, in their book “Feed Your Pet Right”:

“Because most pet foods use similar formulas, our rule of thumb is that any ingredient that follows salt on the list must make up less than 1 percent of the diet. This has to be true for ingredients like vitamins and trace minerals because only tiny amounts are needed […]. Salt is a convenient marker of quantity.”

They called it the Salt Divider

So anything that follows salt is basically found in tiny, minuscule amounts in the product.

After reading that, I rushed to my bag of kibble and frantically searched the ingredient panel. Organic chicken… potatoes… eggs… there it is: salt! Here is an example of how my ingredient list looked:

“Organic chicken, potato, arctic char, chicken fat naturally preserved with mixed tocopherols, sweet potatoes, dried egg product, peas, natural chicken flavor, dried tomato pomace, whole flaxseed, lecithin, potassium chloride, “salt”, choline chloride, yeast extract, calcium carbonate, dried chicory root (a source of inulin), ferrous sulfate, taurine, zinc oxide, organic duck, alpha tocopherol acetate (a source of vitamin E), apples, “organic cranberries”, yucca schidigera extract, crab and shrimp meal, New Zealand green mussels, sea cucumber, organic dried blueberries, organic dried pineapple, honey, organic dried rosemary, organic dried parsley, organic dried spearmint, organic carob, organic dried seaweed meal, organic dehydrated alfalfa meal, organic asparagus, organic green tea extract, organic dried spinach, organic dried broccoli, organic dried carrot, organic dried cauliflower, zinc …”

Ten ingredients past salt, after all of these vitamins and minerals, was organic cranberries.

salt dog food

This can’t be right, I said to myself. The 30lb bag of food I had bought had a cranberry the size of a football on it! The food just HAD to contain a decent amount of the ingredient. However, the ingredient panel had it listed ten ingredients past salt, meaning less than a sprinkle of a cranberry was actually in that bag; no more than a pinch in almost 120 cups, or a 40 day supply, of food!


It was like everything I thought I knew about pet food and ingredients labels, all of which formed a perfect bubble, popped.

The promise of cranberries, along with images of blueberries, apples and duck, which took up more than half the front of the bag, was deliberately misleading. The reality was that the amount of those four ingredients together would most likely equal the size of a single blueberry.

I really want to stress on this ABSURD reality.

This is the part in the movie where one should turn up the volume. I, as the manufacturer, can take a single teeny tiny apple seed and drop it into a massive 30lb bag of pet food, and then actually list it on my ingredient panel. To add salt to the wound (pun intended) I can then splash apples all over the front of my bag. That is right, I just sold you the illusion, that you are going home with a bag full of food containing healthy, delicious apples to feed your pet and I haven’t broken any rules.

This is the flaw in the rulebook that is being highly exploited by manufacturer and their marketers.

With pets in need of certain vegetables, herbs, nutraceuticals and other nutrients in their diets, owners must realize the importance of paying attention to detail.

Expensive ingredients, organic ingredients, GMO free ingredients; these are plastered all over the packages with full-blown visuals, yet they fall almost 5 to 25 ingredients past our salt divider.

Read Your Labels

The moral of the story is: read your labels and do some research. Do not allow the visual on the package or the perception of certain ingredients determine your overall purchasing decision. If you want to give your pet cranberries, then go buy some that are fresh and locally grown and personally add them to their dish.

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13 Responses to The Salt Divider

  1. patricia July 27, 2013 at 5:08 PM #

    Hi I have been cooking for our Oliver a yorkie for more than 10 years..
    i use the formulation of 1/3 veggies broccoli kale swiss chard beans celery yams etc 1/3 grain pasta or rice 1/3 beef chicken or fish no fat
    cooked with oatmeal parsley and sea salt butter and olive oil
    not all at once rotated
    but the question is the sea salt is full of nutrients is it also not good to use only a small pinch for the food?
    prior he was fed top priced dog kibble which caused him vomiting
    and yet the vet told me I fed him table scraps I told her if you want to call filet minion + veggies and fruit table scraps !
    now I am in search for human quality vitamins and supplements for senior dogs
    he is 16 years

  2. Natalie July 2, 2013 at 3:29 PM #

    About a yr ago i lost my best friend to cancer. I thought i was doing everything the right way. Buying the best dog food money could buy , yearly shots,etc.. Everything possible to keep him in good health. Despite all my efforts he had many visits to the Vet. It was only after i had to put him to sleep that i got thinking : Why was my boy so sick? My friends had a dog that they fed raw chicken to besides their kibble. I thought this to be utterly disgusting! Then while researching some breeders i stumbled upon a man who fed an all raw diet. His dogs were renown & most important they were HEALTHY!! I started doing research & finally decided to make the switch to an all raw diet. My dogs are healthy: great shiny coats, no skin or ear problems,pearly white teeth & energy to play. I admit it takes a strong stomach at first but my dogs RAISE A PAW 4 RAW! As far as the expense it is cheaper than kibble & my 3 dogs weigh 110- 125 pounds .You need to find places that sell steer, hit the grocery store for sales on chicken @71 /lbs Find your sources. Once you switch you will have a healthier dog—believe me!!! And no vet bills!!!!! P. S. Read up (many books available on raw diets) before switching—helps a lot.

  3. Linda Lewis July 2, 2013 at 2:33 PM #

    What are your thoughts on buying meat that has come from animals that eat GMO tainted feed ?

  4. Jeri Kastner July 2, 2013 at 12:25 PM #

    Salt–it’s everywhere we don’t expect it or want it! After feeding my “itchy dog” high quality kibble for 4 years with minimal change (elimination of grains was huge, but didn’t resolve the problem) – I switched to feeding prey model raw. After 4 weeks – no more itchies–no more hot spots–even her fatty tumor is gone–no more miserable dog! and then…..itchy flare-up! Why? Salt. Salt in chicken – salt in turkey – salt in pork! The ingredient list for the Acana looks really good (for kibble) – when I checked out a local source for it, I was told they aren’t in reliable production due to a fire at their facility. I’d like to find some & try it out for my other two kibble fed pups though!

    • Heather July 2, 2013 at 5:53 PM #

      Jeri, the fire was almost a year ago… the facility has been repaired and they’re back to full production. Your source is behind the times by a few months. :)

  5. Lynn July 2, 2013 at 11:11 AM #

    Is there an exemption law for rabies in Arizona? I get titers done from Hemopet.

  6. VICKI July 2, 2013 at 11:01 AM #

    I’d like to see every pet owner (dogs, cats, ferrets) who wants to put the health of their pets in their own hands join the rawfeeding, rawchat and rawcat Yahoo groups. You all know about the failure of the corporate pet food business or you wouldn’t be reading this magazine.

    Empower yourselves! Take your pet’s health into your own hands. Learn what your pet REALLY needs to eat and then start sourcing meat for him/her. They need 80% meat (where are those ingredients in this processed, kibble, junk food? It’s not as easy as buying a bag of kibble, but the rewards pay off. You see it with your own eyes. Starting was rough for me, but I’m sure glad I stuck with it.

    Two years later, sadly…. my dogs eat better than 99% of American children, and better than100% of all children in developing countries. Meat, bone and organs will cost you more, but you won’t need to spend it at the vets. They won’t need dentals because Mother Nature will take care of it you learn how to properly feed BIG and then actually do it. I’ve been focusing on one dog’s bone eating due to some observable plaque on his teeth. It’s almost gone, and no pain… and no expense!

    If you hunt or learn to hunt a variety of wild species you can fill a couple of freezers and never have to buy commercial or ranch-raised/grass fed meat.

    Consider it for your best friend. I did and have not been sorry about it…

    • Carolyn July 2, 2013 at 2:39 PM #

      Vicki, how do I find these chat sites. I’ve just started with the home cooked meals. I go back and forth with chicken and lean beef. Have finally gone raw with the beef but still cook the chicken. I’m 70 years old and you know what’s been hammered into my head all those years. Cook, cook, cook it. Use to have Rescue Boxers and they have an aray of health problems. With my last Boxer I began to research kibbles, vaccines, etc. All bad stuff and I wish I had learned this earlier. By the time I started her on home made food I lost her to Cancer. I now have a rescue Boston and Puggle. I kind of downsized. I would love to find a site with other people who have the same love for their dogs and want the best for them.
      Thanks, Love my Dogs!!

      • KCJones July 2, 2013 at 4:46 PM #

        The easiest way is to simply do a search on google/yahoo/bing/etc for ‘raw dog food forum’. You can even try for more breed specific – type in something like ‘boxer raw food forum’ and you’ll probably see a couple of sites that can help you with questions.

        • Carolyn July 2, 2013 at 5:26 PM #

          Thanks KC, was nice of you to reply to me.

  7. KCJones July 2, 2013 at 9:42 AM #

    That is a great tip (the salt indicator) that I will start using. I started learning how to read ingredient labels a couple of years ago. It still irks me to no end when I see all these commercials on TV telling us that brand-X has more meat, or anti-oxidants, or blah-blah-blah, and then you go to the store and look at the ingredients label and you’re like “where?”. And now I know a quick little tip that really shows you “where” :)

    To all dog owners out there, if you really care at all about what your dog is REALLY eating, then educate yourself on how to read a dog food ingredients label – you’ll be shocked! I know I was.

  8. Hany Hosny July 2, 2013 at 9:38 AM #

    Love this article. Thanks so much for helping with perspective.

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