By Dr. Al Townshend
The Good and the Bad Basic Ingredients
Now that you have a basic understanding of the food groups in every pet food, it is also important to take the next step and dive a bit deeper into what makes a good pet food recipe.
The best information is on the packaging of every pet food, whether is a dry, canned, raw, dehydrated or freeze-dried diet. The Guaranteed Analysis and Ingredient deck used together can give you information about not just the levels of protein and fat, but where those protein and fats come from.
You can make a great Guaranteed Analysis out of shoe leather and motor oil so it is important to go beyond the Guaranteed Analysis to actually see where the nutrients come from.
Guaranteed Analysis (GA)
There are only four items required on the GA, protein, fat, fiber and moisture. It lists the levels of each nutrient in the finished product. To understand where those nutrients come from one must look at the Ingredient Deck on the package.
Ingredients are listed on the ingredient deck according to their weight as they go in the mix. The first ingredient is the heaviest in the recipe.
Ingredients listed on all pet foods (kibble, wet foods, dehydrated, freeze-dried and even raw recipes) should be very specific. Fresh meats and fats should be specific animals like chicken or duck and never simply poultry or poultry fat. The same is true for concentrated meat meals. They should be specific as in chicken meal and never poultry meal.
Non-specific ingredients like poultry, are listed this way so the ingredients can be purchased based on cost and not quality. A production could use duck and the next production might contain chicken. The term poultry can be a combination of more than one species. Each time the food is made the ingredients could be different. Consistency in pet foods is important for optimum digestibility and a consistent, firm stool (poop).
Typically, fresh meat, like chicken, will be the first ingredient listed, indicating it is the heaviest ingredients going in the mix. That can lead one to assume the finished food in predominantly chicken. Keep in mind that fresh chicken is approximately 65 – 70% water and what do we do when we make dry pet food? We remove most of the water. Nutritionally fresh chicken will fall 6 – 7 places on the list, making the second ingredient the primary component. When fresh meats are the first ingredient, the second ingredient should be a concentrated meat meal like chicken meal. Chicken meal has had the water removed and it has 3 times the nutrient value of the same quantity of fresh chicken.
Avoid man-made or synthetic ingredients such as artificial colors, preservatives or flavors which are not natural. Many are known to increase the risk of serious medical issues.
Is Grain Free Really Better?
When it comes to dry and canned pet foods, many Guardians have heard that grain-free recipes are the very best for all pets. There is a lot of confusion regarding the use of grains in pet foods and the benefits of grain free recipes.
Grains are not bad for pets. They can be an excellent source of carbohydrates. Good grains like rice, oatmeal, and barley can also provide natural vitamins and mineral as well as additional fat and protein. In order for grains to provide maximum benefit, they must be whole grains that are ground finely and cooked.
Grain-free recipes still contain carbohydrates but instead of grains, the carbohydrates come from ingredients like legumes (peas, lentils or chickpeas), potatoes or tapioca.
There is no one pet food or pet food type that is best for every pet. Some pets, especially cats, do well on grain free recipes. Some dogs do equally well on a diet with whole grains. Either way, high animal protein and low carbohydrate diets are best for all dogs and cats.
There is much more to finding the right food for your pet so be sure to take advantage of the Free Pet Planet Nutrition Consultation at a Pet Planet Health location near you.