Here’s something about pet foods that will surprise you …
… many pet food companies don’t make pet food.
Why is this important? Think about it. It means the company you trust to keep your dog healthy is not a pet food business, but a marketing business.
In 2015, we spent over $23 billion on pet food so clearly there’s big money to be made in pet foods. And this big money attracts the wrong kind of pet food companies.
The kind of company that tricks you into thinking the food you buy your dog is better than it really is.
The cheap pet foods disguised as premium brands are not just a waste of money. That low quality food takes a toll on your dog’s health.
And I want to show you how they do it.
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But how do you know if the company that makes the food you buy is on the up and up? Start with the protein.
Protein is, by far, the most expensive ingredient in the bag. If I were to go to chewy.com and buy two bags of dog food, I’d pay about $25 for a 30 pound bag of Iams with 25% protein on a dry matter basis. Compare that to $103 for a 28.6 pound bag of Orijen with 42% protein on a dry matter basis.
And in between these two extremes are literally hundreds of brands, all with different amounts of protein, and all jockeying to win your business.
And that’s where the marketing and the Bull$hit comes in.
Pet food companies know that one of the things we look at in pet foods is protein. And I bet if you held up two different bags of kibble, you’d make a decent guess at how much protein is in the food.
But could you tell how much of that protein came from good quality animal sources and how much came from cheap plant or animal sources? Most people can’t.
And that’s because the marketing company that makes pet food is often trying to convince you that the $80 bag of food you just bought actually contains $80 worth of ingredients. And chances are, it doesn’t.
So in today’s article, I’ll give you 3 sure fire ways to spot the Bull$hit when it comes to the protein quality in your dog’s food.
Let’s start with the first ingredient, which is hopefully protein!
Bull$hit Move #1 Revealed – The Meat Trick
You probably know that animal protein should be at least the first ingredient in any pet food – and it should really be the first and the second.
But the marketing companies that sell kibble know you’re looking there, so that’s the first place they think of to trick you into thinking there’s more protein in the food than there really is.
When you look at an ingredient panel, the pet food ingredients are listed from most to least by weight – so whatever contributes the most to the weight of the food will be first on the label. But there’s a trick to this …
The weight of the ingredient is measured when it’s added to the food – not in the final product. And that’s the difference between meats, like chicken or beef, and meals, like chicken meal or beef meal. Meats contain water, which is very heavy, and meals don’t.
And no ingredient is affected by water weight more than protein. Here’s an example.
If we look at this bag of Iams ProActive Health Adult Large Breed Dry Dog Food, we’ll see that chicken is the first ingredient. Now you might see chicken as the first ingredient and think the protein in this diet is mainly comprised of chicken – but you’d be wrong.
Chicken is about 70% water by weight – and the ingredient panel only lists ingredients by weight when they’re added to the food.
Once it’s processed, this kibble will end up as a dry food – and most of the other ingredients that are added to the food are also dry. So that can really make it look like it has more protein that it really does.
Let’s assume that when this food is made, they add 40% chicken, 25% corn meal, 15% sorghum and 10% chicken by-product meal, 5% barley and 5% dried beet pulp (and this is completely hypothetical because I have no way of knowing this, but it’s probably not too far off from reality).
While the chicken contains water, all of the other ingredients are probably added dry. Once the kibble is processed and dried, the chicken will lose 70% of its weight.
So if chicken was added as 40% of the ingredients, then the amount of chicken in the final product after drying will actually be just 12%.
So this isn’t a chicken food, this is a corn meal food!
That’s Bull$shit move #1 – this food can say chicken is the first ingredient when, in actual fact, there’s probably twice as much cheapola corn meal!
And there are a couple of other Bull$hit moves in this food too, but before I get to those, let’s look at another example.
Meats can not only make us think there’s more protein in the food than there is, but they can also trick us into thinking there’s more of a particular protein source than there really is.
Let’s look at this bag of Merrick Grain-Free Real Rabbit + Chickpeas Recipe Dry Dog Food. Now you would expect rabbit to be the main source of protein in this food, wouldn’t you? It says right on the bag, Real Rabbit Recipe.
So let’s see if that’s the case.
If I look at the ingredient panel, I can see that rabbit is the first ingredient – but I can’t stop there. Just like chicken, rabbit is 70% water by weight. So by the time this food is processed and dried, 70% of the rabbit ingredient is gone. So let’s assume that this food adds 30% rabbit, which will contain water, 25% turkey meal, which you’ll remember is already dried when it goes in the food, 25% lamb meal, which is also already dried, and 20% pork meal, which again is already dried. Now, again, this is hypothetical.
But once the water is removed from the rabbit, it will end up being just 9% of the final food – which is probably less than all the other animal proteins listed on the ingredient panel. This food is sold as Rabbit recipe when turkey is probably the real first ingredient (and it’s possible that lamb is the second).
This is another Bull$hit move – but consumers will be fooled by this trick every single time! And it’s not just the cheap foods pulling this stunt – look for yourself and you’ll see some of the so-called premium brands doing this too.
Now this isn’t an endorsement for meat meals instead of real meats, but you need to know when these ingredients are being manipulated.
OK, now let’s move to the next Bull$hit move …
Bull$hit Move #2 Revealed – The Plant Protein Trick
Remember that bag of Iams? Now it probably contains very little chicken, but if you look at the Guaranteed Analysis, it still contains 25% protein on a dry matter basis.
So if this food is 25% protein, then where does the protein come from if it’s not chicken? It comes from the corn meal!
So what’s wrong with using plants for protein?
Protein is made up of little building blocks called amino acids – and your dog uses these amino acids for his health and nutrition.
There are several amino acids that are essential. That means your dog can’t manufacture them and absolutely needs to get them through his diet. But plants and grains are an incomplete source of the amino acids your dog relies on. And they might not be as easily digested and used as the animal proteins your dog was made to eat.
But pet food makers love plant-based proteins because they’re much cheaper than animal protein. So they’ll try to use these poor quality ingredients to boost the protein content of the food. This helps the food to meet minimum requirements as cheaply as possible but it leaves your dog open to potential health issues when he can’t use these low quality proteins.
So how do you spot this Bull$hit move?
If you see any grain or starch ingredient on the label that ends in meal, gluten or protein, you’ve spotted Bull$hit move #2.
So let’s look at that bag of Iams again.
There’s a whole lot of corn meal in that food and it’s put there to boost the protein in a cheap and unhealthy way.
And ironically, this particular Bull$hit move is most often seen in the higher priced grain-free diets.
Let’s look at an example …
This bag of Hill’s Ideal Balance Grain-Free Natural Chicken & Potato Recipe Adult Dry Dog Food has a lot of peas in it – which are high in protein. And look at the fourth ingredient … Pea Protein.
Yep – that’s Bull$hit move #2.
Pea protein is a lot cheaper than chicken, but most people wouldn’t know why all those peas are in that food.
Let’s look at a bag of Royal Canin Poodle Adult Dry Dog Food.
I won’t even discuss why the first ingredient is corn and the second is brewers rice, which are sources of carbohydrates, but the third ingredient, before you get to the chicken by-product meal, is wheat gluten. And ingredient #6 is corn gluten meal.
Both of these ingredients will boost the protein in the food in a cheap and unhealthy way.
As an aside, I wonder what makes Royal Canin think toy and miniature Poodles don’t deserve animal protein. This food doesn’t even pretend to contain enough animal protein – and when they finally decide to add it in, they use one of the cheapest sources they can find – chicken by-product meal!
At $35 for a 10 pound bag on chewy.com, Royal Canin couldn’t even splurge for chicken meal.
This food literally makes me cry. This is such a criminally low quality diet, it just makes me sad to think of the dogs forced to eat this and what it could be doing to them.
And there’s another Bull$hit move on this food, which takes us to …
Bull$hit Move #3 Revealed – Crappy Protein Indicators
So here’s a food with very little animal protein and a lot of cheap, incomplete plan-based protein.
Want to know how I know the protein is incomplete? This last trick is pretty slick when you see it in action.
Look at the label again and you’ll see a bunch of words that sometimes start with L and always end in ine.
See if you can spot them …
I see L-lysine, DL-methionine, L-cystine, L-tyrosine and L-carnitine.
Know what these are? They’re amino acids. Remember those little protein building blocks?
There are 22 amino acids in total. All of these amino acids are important for dogs to live and thrive, but 10 amino acids are considered essential for dogs.
By definition, essential means the body can’t manufacture it, so these amino acids have to be provided through the diet.
The ten essential amino acids for dogs and cats are: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
Overall, meats provide the most essential amino acids, while plant proteins are incomplete and are missing some of those essential amino acids.
The Royal Canin food is missing five of the ten essential amino acids those little poodles rely on to, well, live! And we saw that coming, just by looking at the ingredients.
But instead of adding high quality meat protein to the food, they just slapped the amino acids in to plug the nutritional holes in the food.
Bull$hit move #3.
But those added amino acids are just little chemicals – they’re not food! And I would strongly argue that no dog, poodles included, can be healthy eating low quality protein and fake amino acids.
Let’s look at the Iams again.
Remember this food seemed to rely on corn meal for its protein?
This food pulls all the Bull$hit moves. If we look further down the ingredient panel, we’ll see the added free amino acids.
There’s L-lysine, DL-methionine, L-tryptophan, and L-carnitine.
Yet this food gets to say chicken is the first ingredient.
And it’s not just the cheap foods that do this.
Here’s a bag of Dr Tim’s Kinesis Grain-Free Formula Dry Dog Food.
Sounds fancy, right? And at around $60 for a 30 pound bag, it’s priced as a premium food.
So let’s run it through the Bull$hit meter.
This food doesn’t pull Bull$hit move #1 – the first ingredient is chicken meal.
This food doesn’t seem to pull Bull$hit move #2. I don’t see any real evidence of a lot of plant-based proteins, with the exception of those pesky peas.
But look – there are added amino acids in this food. There’s L-lysine, DL-methinine and L-carnitine.
If this food had high quality meat, and if there was enough of it, it wouldn’t need those amino acids added in. But those little guys are your window inside the bag and they tell you this food is Bull$hit … and your dog is too good to be eating Bull$hit foods, right?
Avoid The Bull$hit – At All Costs
So there are three little tricks you can look for the next time to pick up a bag of dog food.
Now, the point of this article isn’t to vilify these foods (although I think I’ve just made an arch enemy out of Royal Canin). My point is, don’t ever assume AAFCO has your back on this and they’re watching out for you.
Theoretically, the protein in your dog food could come exclusively from something like feathers – as long as they’re AAFCO approved ingredients. (And here’s a hint … they are!)
And remember, AAFCO nutrient requirements don’t account for the availability of nutrients. A pet food could contain protein but AAFCO doesn’t guarantee the protein source can be digested or used by the animal eating it.
AAFCO doesn’t work very hard to make sure pet food ingredients are of high enough quality to not just fill your dog up, but provide him with all the nutrition he needs to build a strong immune system and fight disease. You need to know how to decipher the ingredients in your dog’s food.
So try my little protein Bull$hit meter on the food you feed your dog. And if it doesn’t pass the test, find a company that cares about dogs, not just marketing.