Pet Food: Ingredients and Facts You Should Know About

2 women at pet store buying dog food for their 2 dogs that are laying on the floor

Do you love your pets like family? If you do, then you’re probably willing to spend extra money satisfying their needs, including plush toys, durable pet enclosures, pet accessories, health care, and the best pet food that money could buy.

But wait, do you know what’s hidden in the processed pet foods available in the market? Have you heard any of the horror stories circulating about pet food in recent years? Pet food recalls are constant due to contamination problems, including salmonella. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find salmonella to be the least of your worries. To give you a better idea on the real score when it comes to processed pet foods, read below.

Busting Some Myths About Pet Food

  • AAFCO has it all under control

    AAFCO stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials. It’s a nonprofit organization responsible for making sure that every pet food sold in American soil adheres to a set of acceptable standards. This is supposed to ensure that all pet food that goes on sale in the market is safe for pet consumption. However, pet food recalls are a clear indication that its existence is not an assurance that pet foods are cleared of toxic contaminants prior to sale.

  • Pet food labeled as “Natural” is the same thing as the real thing

    Natural products embody a broad range of commodities. Carbohydrates are natural ingredients. Meat is also considered natural. However, commercial pet foods like kibble will need preservatives in order to have longer shelf lives. According to AAFCO standards, pet food can be labeled as natural if ingredients used are free from chemical alterations. But in fact the inherent state of processed kibble is unnatural because of the intensely high heat it undergoes for sterilization purposes. Even if the original ingredients that went into the kibble were of higher quality (which is often not the case), the heat kills off important nutrients, including amino acids, vitamins and food enzymes. Then, in order for the pet food to meet AAFCO minimum standards, manufacturers must add in a synthetic blend of vitamins and minerals called a premix, which in turn presents its own set of problems. Many of these premixes or their ingredients come from China or India, where there is poor quality control. Remember 2007, when thousands of pets were harmed or killed by premixes containing lethal doses of melamine? Even without any toxins, the synthetic nature of these premixes makes it harder for your pet’s body to use them and may stress the kidneys and liver.

  • Raw food is bad for your pet

    Many pet food manufacturers are claiming that a raw diet is never healthy for feline and canine pals, defending their stance by saying that nutritional content found in these are difficult to gauge. But what about the testimonies of the pet owners that say their pets have healthier coats, achieved ideal weight and improved in overall health after switching to a raw diet? A study conducted in Stockholm, Sweden compared a processed versus raw diet in animals. The young animals fed a cooked, processed diet initially appeared healthy, but once they reached maturity, they began to age quickly and develop degenerative disease symptoms. The control group raised on a raw, uncooked diet did not age as fast, showed no degenerative disease symptoms and remained healthy.

  • This pet food is superior because it’s human grade

    What makes a human grade diet anyway? In different countries, humans feed on food in different ways. Some countries may see insects as something that should be squished, but for some, these are considered great appetizers. The human grade label is limited to the acceptable standards of a certain country, which makes it a misleading statement.

  • Commercial pet food is the ultimate balanced diet for pets

    A balanced diet should be able to nourish your body to a state of health. So if commercial pet food is supposedly balanced, why are there so many problems with obesity, allergies, cancer and renal failure among pets? A Belgium study, “Relation Between the Domestic Dogs’ Well Being and Life Expectancy, a statistical essay,” analyzed data gathered from more than 500 domestic dogs over a consecutive five year time period (1998-2002). The authors statistically demonstrated that dogs fed a homemade diet using high quality foods from their owners’ meals versus dogs fed an industrial, commercial pet food diet had a life expectancy of 32 months longer.

Pet Food Ingredients To Avoid

The label at the back of pet food products should serve as a tool for you to see if these are indeed considered ideal for your pet to eat. Take note, however, that just like the processed foods you eat, commercial pet foods also contain many ingredients that are considered unhealthy. Some of these are listed below:

  • Carcinogens

    Do you expect manufacturers to include or tell you directly that their kibble ingredients are carcinogenic? Your own physician is telling you how hotdogs and other canned foods can easily cause cancer. The same type of problem is also tied to pet food products. An example of a carcinogenic compound found in pet foods is acrylamide, a substance produced when starchy foods are processed in very high temperatures. This is prevalent for products that contain high amounts of carbohydrates. Another is aflatoxins, which is a group of carcinogens produced by molds contaminating grains (corn, wheat, rice), nuts and legumes because of poor growing conditions or substandard storage. The scary part is that all that high temperature processing kibble undergoes will not kill aflatoxins because they are very stable. Exposure can cause anemia, liver or kidney failure, cancer and early death. Aflatoxins are also very common in commercial diets. The Consumer Council of Hong Kong performed testing on nearly 40 popular pet foods and found that three popular US food manufacturers all had foods that were found to contain aflatoxins.

  • Preservatives

    The longer a certain pet food product retains its freshness on the supermarket shelf, the higher the chances of manufacturers being able to gain back their profit. Who would buy their products in bulk if these spoiled in a matter of days? But did you know that some of the preservatives used in pet foods such as ethoxyquin is banned in human food due to health risks? Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are no better either. BHA is listed as a known carcinogen and BHT has been found to cause liver and kidney problems in rat subjects.

  • Protein extenders

    Lean meat is the best source of protein for your pets. However, to save on costs, manufacturers sneak in some other protein sources in their products. Blood meal for one is not considered a great protein source because it is indigestible for cats and dogs. What is blood meal? This is blood that was dried and then powdered, ideally better fit for plant consumption. Why is this considered a risky ingredient? Blood meals have the potential to carry mad cow disease. Although there are no reports of dogs contracting this illness (cats have their own version of the disease), there is the potential for it to mutate and affect dogs.

  • Heavy metals

    Recently, news of pet foods containing heavy metals hit the news. Some of the metals reportedly found in pet foods include mercury, cadmium and lead. The FDA has yet to establish the toxic levels of trace elements found in pet foods. It is now a common practice for manufacturers to outsource materials and labor from countries that offer significantly lower costs such as China. The problem with this is that China has been reported to have dangerous chemical contaminants even for products intended for human consumption.

  • Excessive nutrients

    Supplementing with certain nutrients is recommended both for animals and humans for better health. But some pet foods have excessive amounts of vitamins A and D, nutrients that can be toxic to pets. Cats, for example, can suffer from symptoms of lethargy, weight loss, lameness, bad hair coat, abnormal sitting positions, allergy and weight loss with excessive vitamin A. For dogs, too much vitamin D is linked to health problems such as weakness, vomiting, loss of appetite, depression, increased urination, constant thirst and seizures to name a few.

Alternatives to Processed Pet Foods

Take note that there are other alternatives for pets aside from kibbles and canned pet foods. One of these was mentioned earlier and this is the raw diet.

As its name implies, this will consist of raw foods generally including a combination of muscle and organ meat, vegetables and/or fruits, and bone, depending on the nutritional needs of the pet.

Proponents of raw feeding say this is a better option since you can choose the ingredients yourself without having to wonder if these will have dangerous chemicals in them.

Another alternative is to serve home-cooked meals just like you eat. The benefit of cooking pets’ meals is that you reduce the risk of salmonella contamination, one of the controversies of raw feeding.

These two other alternatives will take longer to prepare and will be more expensive, but at least you know that your pet is free from consuming unwanted additives. Choose organic produce to boost your pet’s life even more.

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