Dog Food

There is quite a mine field when it comes to choosing a manufactured diet for dogs and it is a question I am often asked when related to behaviour issues, so it is important for me to state I am not a qualified nutritionist and if your dog is experiencing problems that you suspect are diet related then its best to be referred to a nutritionist rather than over use of steroids!

Just as in humans, diet is important, eating processed and junk food can often lead to obesity and ill health, same is true in our pets.  Looking at “ingredients” in pet food can be mind boggling, but a must if we are feed as well as we can afford.

The  Cornucopis Institute is a non profit organisation with the mission of “Seeking economic justice for the family-scale farming community” who has recently researched and published a good report on dog food industry.  They report says “the majority of both dog and cat food product formulations contain too many grains and starches, including corn, wheat, rice, oats, peas, and potatoes. In addition, many products contain questionable and/or unnecessary ingredients.”

There research into the pet food industry resulted in a few broad conclusions:

■ The chase for convenience when feeding our pets has resulted in continuous, repeat exposure to potentially harmful ingredients. ■ Different brands are all owned by a few multinational corporations, and nearly identical food is merely packaged differently. ■ Many premium pet food marketers do not own any production facilities, instead they contract with “copackers” that produce many low-quality foods as well. ■ The desire to maximize profit margins drives money into advertising and packaging rather than highquality ingredients. ■ Legislation and regulatory oversight for pet food is aimed at the feed industry – pet food regulations are lumped in with animal feed. ■ Pet food is highly processed, resulting in hidden and questionable ingredients. ■ An inherent conflict of interest arises when veterinarians get a commission on the sale of food in their veterinary offices. ■ Ingredient labeling can be confusing. Often, the first ingredient listed does not make up the majority of the food. A high-quality protein should be the first, second, and ideally third ingredient in a carnivore’s food, not a carbohydrate.

Regulations in labeling are very poor, anything written on a label can be entirely meaningless. For example, words such as “premium,” “healthy,” “optimal health,” and “promotes a long and healthy life” do not have to be backed by scientific data. Alarmingly the FDA has found meat from animals that have died otherwise than by slaughter.  FDA has also found sodium phenobarbital, the drug used to euthanize animals, in pet food,  Sodium phenobarbital remains intact throughout the rendering process and has been found in at least 30 different pet foods. Testing is not required and rarely done. The long-term effects of consuming sodium phenobarbital are unknown; however, short-term feeding studies show liver damage at low doses.   Animal fat and meat and bone meal (MBM) are the ingredients in pet food most likely to correlate with the presence of sodium phenobarbital.

WHILE MOST OF US CARE DEEPLY for our four-legged friends, we may or may not be accustomed to carefully reading ingredient labels on the food we feed them from day to day. And, even if we do consider ourselves conscientious consumers, we may not realize that our pets’ food often contains some of the same chemicals we try to avoid in human food products.


Cornucopia’s research found that more than 70% of canned pet foods contain carrageenan. Extensive peer-reviewed and published research indicates that food-grade carrageenan causes intestinal inflammation with the potential to lead to cancer, even in small doses. Carrageenan is a common ingredient in canned pet food. For over 20 years, independent research has demonstrated that food-grade carrageenan increases free radicals, disrupts insulin metabolism, and induces inflammation, a precursor to cancer. Studies funded by the American Diabetes Association have linked the consumption of foodgrade carrageenan to insulin resistance and glucose intolerance.28 Meanwhile, industry-funded studies assure that it is safe.

Synthetic Preservatives

Synthetic preservatives approved for use in commercial pet foods include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), propyl gallate, propylene glycol, and ethoxyquin. Due to the addition of these preservatives, the shelf-life of some pet foods is up to 25 years— longer than the life of your pet! Ethoxyquin, developed and manufactured by Monsanto Company (USA), is used to prevent lipid peroxidation, a process by which free radicals degrade lipids and damage cells.38 Despite tests done by Monsanto demonstrating the safety of ethoxyquin, harmful effects in animals and humans occupationally exposed to it were observed. It has been associated with liver, kidney, and thyroid damage, as well as allergic reactions, skin and hair abnormalities, reproductive dysfunction, embryonic mutations, and carcinogenic effects.39 The carcinogenicity of ethoxyquin is connected to its ability to induce reactive oxygen radicals that cause DNA damage.  Keeping track of whether or not your pet food contains ethoxyquin is difficult, because it is often added as a component of an ingredient and therefore is not required to be on the label. It is most often used to preserve fish meal.

Rendered Meat Byproducts

Livestock that are dead, diseased, disabled, or dying (the four Ds) are often rendered and used in pet food. Rendering is a process that simultaneously dries whole animal tissue and separates the fat from the bone and protein. The resulting byproducts, to be avoided in your pet food, are listed in the ingredient label as meat and bone meal (MBM), animal fat, animal digest, and/or blood meal. In addition, animal fat and MBM are the ingredients in pet food most likely to correlate with the presence of sodium pentobarbital, the drug used by veterinarians and shelters for euthanasia. “”meat and animal derivatives“” are best avoided, also avoid meat by-products, chicken by-products and poultry by-products.

Food Dyes

Food dyes are often added to pet foods to imitate the color of fruit, vegetables, and meat. Food dyes are used only to please the consumer—they have no appeal to a cat or dog. Given the questionable safety of many of the dyes, there is no reason to choose pet food that is colored. As with synthetic preservatives, the best way to avoid artificial colors is to choose certified organic products, where their prohibition is verified by the USDA.

Grains and Carbohydrates

Many brands of pet food contain one or more fillers (e.g. corn, wheat, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, and brewers rice) with little to no nutritional benefit. Though grains need not be avoided completely in pet food, cats and dogs are carnivorous and should be given diets primarily based on meat. Ingredients are listed in decreasing order by weight. This can be deceptive, however, as different types of cereals and grains can be listed separately. Grains may be listed after a meat ingredient, but still make up the majority of the food. For example, an ingredient label containing chicken meal first, followed by ground corn and corn gluten meal, may contain more corn than chicken meal, even though chicken meal was listed first. When the corn ingredients are combined, they may constitute a greater part of the food than the first ingredient. Like meat byproducts, grains which may no longer be fit for human consumption are still allowed in pet food. Consuming moldy grains is arguably the most detrimental health hazard in pet food ingredients, due to the toxins produced by the molds. Mycotoxins, including aflatoxins (produced by Aspergillus species of fungi), and fumonisins (produced by Fusarium species of fungi), are among the most carcinogenic substances known. Many of the more than 300 mycotoxins known to exist are commonly found on corn, sorghum, wheat, rye, barley, oats, and nuts.

ONE WAY TO ENSURE A HEALTHY DIET for your companion animals is to prepare their food yourself. Many chronic problems such as allergies, vomiting, diarrhea, and skin issues can be solved with homemade meals. The goal is to provide most, if not all, of the nutrients your pet needs in whole-food form. Like people, pets have different optimal nutritional requirements at different stages of their lives, and recipes can be customized based on the specific needs of your pets. Making your own pet food allows you to control the quality of ingredients, and often saves a lot of money. Fresh, real food ensures that your pets’ food is lower in artificial and toxic additives. Dogs and cats have different nutritional requirements, and the best homemade diets for your pets are based on research and an understanding of the diets of wild relatives of cats and dogs. In general, the best balance of ingredients for dogs is 75% meat, organs, and bones, and 25% vegetables and fruits.80 Though this percentage of vegetables and fruits is slightly higher than what wild cat and dog relatives may eat, the extra fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants in fruits and vegetables has been shown to be beneficial for long-term health. The high salt and fat content of kibble becomes addictive, requiring a transitional weaning process to a homemade diet over a longer period of time.

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