From by-products to rendered fats – here’s what to steer clear of when buying food for your dog.
Educating yourself about healthy nutrition for your dog may seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. One of the best ways to begin is learning how to read pet food labels, so you can avoid the ingredients harmful to your dog’s health.
To help get you started, here’s a closer look at some of the worst offenders.
By-products encompass the waste left over from the production of feed animals, and in many cases may not contain much actual meat. AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials), which sets the standards also recognized in Canada, defines unnamed by-products as “non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low-temperature fatty tissue and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents.”
At first glance, this might not sound too bad, since wild carnivores consume the organs of their prey along with the muscle meat. The problem is, the quality of these by-products may be questionable.
2. Artificial preservatives, colours and flavours
In the preservative category, the three main culprits are BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin. They can cause or exacerbate allergies and may even be carcinogenic. Look for natural preservatives such as rosemary or mixed tocopherols (vitamin E).
A lot of pet foods made from cheap ingredients contain artificial colours and flavours to make them look, smell and taste better. Blue 2, Red 40, and Yellows 5 and 6 are examples of artificial colourings. You can also sometimes tell by looking at the food whether or not it has been artificially coloured, especially when it comes to kibble. Unrealistic pinks and reds are a sign that the food contains artificial colours, unless it specifically lists colours from vegetable sources. Also be sure to check labels for any artificial flavourings.
Quality foods made from nutritious ingredients don’t need these additives because they’re already naturally palatable!
3. Corn and soy
Corn and soy are often used as protein substitutes in commercial pet foods. However, they’re not an adequate source of protein for our carnivorous dogs. Corn provides more carbohydrates than anything else, and can contribute to a range of health issues, such as diabetes, weight gain and allergies.
Soy is another common allergen in pet foods, so it’s also best avoided.
4. Rendered fat and meat meals
It sounds innocuous, but rendered fat can contain a host of nasty substances. Rendering involves converting waste animal tissue into “value-added” materials. This tissue can include slaughterhouse waste such as fatty tissues and offal, restaurant grease, expired meat from grocery stores, meat from animals that have died on farms or in transit, and other questionable products. These materials are ground up and cooked for long periods so that the fat separates out from the solids. This fat is then added to commercial pet foods to help make them smell and taste better.
The solids left over from the rendering process become generic “meat meals” that are used as cheap protein sources in low end pet foods. Unfortunately, meat meals usually only contain around 50% protein – the rest is made up of ash (which in itself is not good for your dog), fat and moisture. Protein-specific meals, such as chicken meal, produced by a company that controls its own rendering facility, may be a healthier option.
5. Propylene glycol
Used to maintain moisture content and add flavour to low quality dog foods, propylene glycol is the chemical that’s also found in “pet-friendly” antifreeze. Though the FDA categorizes propylene glycol as a GRAS (generally recognized as safe), it’s not something you want your pet to be consuming on a regular basis through his food.
In dogs, propylene glycol poisoning would typically be caused by the consumption of a large quantity of antifreeze. Quantities of this chemical in pet foods are not large enough to cause that level of toxicity, but the long-term consumption of small amounts of propylene glycol over time may be harmful, so it’s best avoided altogether.
By becoming a savvy pet food label-reader, and avoiding these harmful, low-end ingredients, you’re taking a big step towards protecting your dog’s health and longevity.