What’s in that Pet Food Anyway?

By Margaret Meier Jones, Animal Wellness Center of Buffalo County

If you’ve watched TV lately, you’ve likely seen a commercial advertising a dog food that is “New or Improved.” Or perhaps you’ve seen a blog or a news report through social media that states a particular food was the demise of a friend of a friend’s dog. The latest and greatest today seems to be that every manufacturer seems to have a “grain-free” food that you should rush out and buy. Is this really important or just the latest, greatest marketing strategy?
Dogs, like people, are omnivores, which means their metabolism is based on meat, fruits, and vegetables; whereas cats are truly carnivores and need a diet based primarily on meat. So those commercials showing how your cat is dreaming of carrots and tomatoes aren’t actually based on biological facts. And, perhaps your cat actually does love tomatoes, but your sister’s cat only wants sardines. Why is that, exactly? One of the best answers may come from the Chinese “archetypes” of personalities and metabolisms based on the five seasons, a system that can be applied to our pets as well as ourselves. The Web That Has No Weaver, by Ted J. Kaptchuk, O.M.D., is a great book to read if you’d like more detailed information on diet and the Chinese theory of the five seasons.

So, does my pet actually need to eat “grain free”? Like many questions, the answer to this one is it depends. In general, however, grains are not typically the villains they are made out to be. The quality of the food and how much it is processed should always play a major role in determining if we should feed it to our pets rather than whether or not it contains any grain. Unfortunately the pet food industry is not as regulated as it is for humans, and pet foods aren’t even required to be balanced and nutritious to be sold to the consumer.
So, how do I navigate the world of pet foods? I strongly recommend that you compare the food you are feeding your dog to others on the market at dogfoodadvisor.com. This website uses the familiar “5 star” rating system to rank foods based on the following seven criteria according to their website:

1. No controversial chemical preservatives
2. No anonymous meat ingredients
3. No artificial coloring agents
4. No generic animal fats
5. Substantial amounts of meat-based protein
6. Fat to protein ratio of 75 percent or lower
7. Modest carbohydrate content

Notice that they refer to it as carbohydrate content, not grain free. The most common misconception I hear from my clients is that grain free equals carbohydrate free, which is far from true. Unfortunately, sometimes the grain-free version of a food can be much higher in carbohydrates than any other ingredient, which leads to weight gain and health issues related to obesity. So, check dogfoodadvisor.com, and while you’re there, be certain to register for the free food recall alerts. This way you’ll know what food you feed your pets is not only the best, but also the safest out there!

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