Pet Food Labeling
The key ingredients to look for in dog food
There is a huge variety of pet foods available. It can be overwhelming choosing the best way to feed your pet, and within your financial budget. The key ingredients to look for depend on the type of dog food you choose: Raw Frozen, Cooked Frozen, Canned, Freeze Dried / Dehydrated Raw Food or Dry Food.
Dogs are essentially carnivores, who have adapted to a more omnivorous way of eating.
You should be looking for the highest quality protein source as the main ingredient in your dog food i.e. chicken and other poultry like turkey, spatchcock or quail. Beef, lamb and fish are all great. Grass fed and free range if possible. Novel protein sources like kangaroo, goat, venison and crocodile are also becoming more popular and can be great if your dog has developed an intolerance to more common protein sources. Egg is also a great complimentary protein source to add to your dog’s diet. And don’t forget all important organ meats like liver, hearts, kidneys and tripe for essential amino acids.
Whole foods like vegetables and fruit are the best additions to meat proteins. If feeding a whole food diet, make sure the product balances proteins, fats and carbohydrates (macronutrients).
You should aim for
60-80% raw meat, raw fat, fresh organ meat, bone, fish
20-40% vegetables, oat bran, fruit, herbs, fish oil, supplements
Micronutrients, vitamins and minerals need to be included to create a balanced diet. These can come from various sources, the whole foods, seeds, herbs, seaweeds, oils.
The calcium / phosphorus balance is super important for dogs, so if you are not feeding raw bones make sure they are receiving good calcium in their diet. Eggshell powder is a great natural source also. The chart below is from Dr Karen Becker and Beth Taylor wonderful book - Dr Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats.
It shows us a significant difference between what a wild dog would eat (known as The Ancestral Diet) and what is contained in highly processed dry foods. The table lists the percentage of calories from each component.
Total water content 70%
Total water content 10-12% maximum
A diet high in water is very important to ensure the animals’ internal organs, like liver and kidneys are kept hydrated and flushed. Cells of the body need water to be healthy.
Cats are true carnivores and really thrive on raw and some cooked meats that have been processed as little as possible. Phytonutrients from vegetables and fruits are good for cats, but in a lesser quantity than dogs.
Thiamine (Vitamin B1) and Taurine (an essential amino acid) are the 2 most important micronutrients for cats so make sure your pet food contains these. Taurine is in adequate amounts in fresh red meat, poultry, especially heart and livers, eggs, dairy and shellfish.
Calcium is also very important for cats.
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What to avoid in dog and cat food?
The least processed your pet food product is, the better! A natural diet has about 70% water content, which is important for correct organ function in both dogs and cats. Highly processed, and grain-heavy foods can contain an average of 12% water. This can lead to serious health issues over time if its the only source of nutrition you give your pet.
Dogs and cats do not need a lot of carbohydrates in their meals. However some commercial dry pet foods contain huge amounts. Up to 80% in some cases. An overabundance of carbohydrates, especially from grains such as wheat, corn and soy can cause systemic inflammation, which may present as itchy, flaky skin, itchy ears, rashes, inflammation of joints, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, obesity and even possibly cancer, over time.
When looking at the ingredients list on your pet food packaging, ensure the top 2 or 3 ingredients are meat. As in whole meat such as chicken, beef, lamb, etc.
Don't be fooled by “meat by-products” or “meat meal” i.e. chicken meal or chicken by products, as these could be any part of the animal. Beaks, feathers, feet, have virtually no nutritional value. They are also highly processed which further destroys any trace nutrients. Worse still, the meat “meal” can come from very questionable sources such as diseased abattoir animals, road kill or products from overseas.
Beware, if your pet food ingredients read like this:
Chicken Meal / Whole Grain Wheat / Whole Grain Corn / Soy / Corn Gluten Syrup / Soybean Meal / Pea Fibre / Dried Beet Pulp…
You can see that even though a “meat” is listed as the top ingredient, it might only be 20% of the total product. By the time you add all the carbohydrates together, you are getting a product that will have a very high carbohydrate content. Further note, the above-mentioned list of ingredients are from a very well-known, costly veterinary brand of diet / weight loss dry food. Therefore, it is paramount to take the time to do a little research on the products you are buying, as clever marketing can be deceptive at times.
The ingredients to absolutely avoid in pet food
- BHA-Butylated hydroxyanisole – a chemical anti-oxidant. Quote “is an anti-oxidant primarily used as a preservative in food, animal feed, cosmetics, rubber and petroleum products. And reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen, a cancer causing agent”. Quoted from dogfoodadvisor.com
- BHT- Butylated hydroxytoluene – another chemical anti-oxidant. Both BHA & BHT are used to slow the deterioration of important oils in pet foods and have been shown to promote liver disease and other illnesses.
That information is quite scary, but imagine then feeding a product containing BHA or BHT to your pet every day for most of its life. Surely the BHA or BHT would build to toxic levels and cause avoidable illnesses.
- Ethoxyquin – a chemical preservative that is only allowed in pet food, not human food, and in studies has been shown to promote cancers. There is plenty of easily found information available on these three toxic ingredients.
It is wise to avoid any pet food containing any of these 3 ingredients. Your fur kids will thank you for it!
About the Author: Annabelle Selleck is the proud owner of Good Pet Food Kitchenand a qualified vet nurse for the past 10 years. Annabelle is passionate about providing our companion friends with the highest standards in fresh and nutritionally balanced food. Find out more at Good Pet Food Kitchen
Good Pet Food Kitchen meals can be purchased in-store at our DOGUE Balmain, DOGUE Bondi and DOGUE Wahroonga boutiques.