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Evaluating Canned and Dry Food for Your Companion

In evaluating a dog or cat food there are a variety of points we look for including the quality of the protein source, amount of grain, the presence of any grain or meat by-products, and any artificial ingredients such as preservatives, colors, or flavors - among other things.

The ingredients listed on a dog or cat food labels must be listed in order of predominance by weight. The ingredient listings are regulated and defined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). AAFCO is not a governmental organization; it is an independent corporation whose stated purpose is to aid industry and government representatives in setting standards for and supervising the animal feed industry. Pet foods are not required to follow AAFCO standards, but most do and will state this on their label.

Here are some things to look for when analyzing a pet food.

Canned food:

  • Look for a named meat as the first ingredient, followed by a named meat broth. Water is acceptable, but broth is better.
  • The meat should be listed by name; i.e. chicken, beef, salmon, lamb, etc – not the generic term “meat” or “meat by-products.” Meat by-products of any kind are an inferior source of protein and may contain animals from the “4-D” category: dead, dying, diseased or disabled.
  • If fat is listed as an ingredient, then it too should be named: i.e. chicken, beef, etc – not the generic term “animal fat.”
  • Grains should be whole grains such as rice, millet, oats, etc. Not grain by-products (like modified corn starch or wheat gluten).
  • Grains are not necessary in canned foods – especially for cats, and there are many grain-free varieties available now. Many are 95 – 100% meat.
  • No artificial preservatives should be listed (BHA/BHT or Ethoxyquin) – in fact canned foods do not need preservatives as they are cooked and in the can under pressure.
  • No artificial colors should be listed, (cats and dogs do not care what color their food is anyway).
  • Sugars or sweeteners – these are unnecessary for animals and a food containing high-quality meat ingredients should not need sweeteners for palatability.

Dry food (kibble):

  • When determining the main ingredients in a dry food it is helpful to look for the source of fat or oil in the food – the ingredients listed before the fat or oil source make up the majority of the food (including the fat or oil), those ingredients listed after the fat or oil are present in much smaller amounts.
  • Again, look for one or more named sources of meat and/or meat meal as the first ingredients. The term “meal” simply means that the ingredients have been “extruded” – cooked at high temperatures and pressure to remove moisture. Chicken meal or beef meal or lamb meal; any named source of meal, are a desirable ingredient in dry pet foods. Whole meats, such as an ingredient listed as “chicken” or “beef” contain 75% water, so if a whole meat is listed there should also be a meat meal to insure the protein in the food is from animal sources, not grains. The top-quality pet foods on the market use USDA sources (human grade) for their meat meals.
  • Grains, of course, should be whole grains, preferably not grain by-products such as soy flour, brewers rice, corn gluten meal, oat groats, etc. Consider that soy is the most genetically modified food of any and has a higher level of pesticide use. Corn is not far behind. If soy or corn are used, they should not be in the first several ingredients, and organic is much preferred.
  • Dry foods will always have a fat source – so make sure it is a named source such as chicken fat, beef fat, sunflower oil, flax oil, etc. Avoid generic listings such as vegetable oil, animal fat, poultry fat.
  • Fruits and vegetables can provide some additional nutrients and minerals in a food. Whole, fresh fruits and vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, apples, blueberries, etc. are preferred over more processed ingredients such as tomato pumice, apple pumice, dried peas, dried carrots, etc.
  • Avoid foods with artificial preservatives such as BHA/BHT or Ethoxyquin. High quality foods use natural preservatives such as mixed tocopherols, vitamin c sources such as ascorbic acid, rosemary extract and other herbs or antioxidants.
  • Sweeteners are not a necessary ingredient in a high quality dog food; avoid sucrose, fructose, corn syrup, sorbitol, glucose and other sweeteners.
  • Colorants and dyes are not necessary – especially artificial versions such as Red 40, Yellow 5 and 6, or any “numbered” food dye.

Keeping these key points in mind will give you a good basis for evaluating pet foods for your companion. Paying a little extra each month for your best friend’s food will go a long way to preserving his or her health and saving you lots of money in vet bills in the long run.

Additional advice when feeding processed foods:

Rotation: We highly recommend you rotate the brand of food and main protein source in your companion’s diet on a regular basis. A more diverse diet is far more likely to provide complete nutrition than the same “formulated” diet fed over and over again. While pet foods may meet the AAFCO standards for “nutrition”, that does not mean that any one of them are the ideal food for the life of your companion. Consuming the same food repeatedly over long periods of time can contribute to the development of food sensitivities and allergies, inflammatory bowel disease and other health issues.

Digestive Enzymes: Every dog or cat that is eating a processed food diet should receive digestive enzymes with every meal. This will not only improve digestion and the assimilation of nutrients, but it may also help protect against the development of allergies and immune disorders. Improving digestion and utilization of nutrients can help to prevent and eliminate a host of diet related problems such as eating stools, body odor, excessive shedding, flatulence and itchy skin. Digestive Enzymes are a crucial part of improving digestion and gastrointestinal health. Click to view digestive enzymes for dogs or digestive enzymes for cats.  All enzymes that naturally occur in the food are destroyed during the cooking and processing of canned and dry foods.

Essential Fatty Acids: Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are required in the diet; they cannot be produced by the body. Essential fatty acids are necessary for proper formation of cell membranes, are precursors for prostaglandins (hormones involved in pain regulation among other things), aid in proper cardiovascular function and nourish the skin and coat as well as the lining of the digestive tract. In addition, omega 3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA act to reduce inflammatory processes in the body.

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The articles and information in the Holistic Healthcare Library are presented for informational purposes only and are not intended as an endorsement of any product. The information is not intended to be a substitute for visits to your local veterinarian. Instead, the content offers the reader information and opinions written by our staff, guest authors, and/or veterinarians concerning animal health issues and animal care products.

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