Comprehensive  Ways To Delightful Healthy Pets
HOW TO READ A PET FOOD LABEL
A Short Course in Deciphering Pet Food Products
THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT COMPONENTS ARE NOT THE BRAND name, the attractive packaging, or the veterinary seal of approval.
The most important components in pet food are
1. The ingredients list, which shows, in order of amount by weight, everything contained in the food.
2. The guaranteed analysis, which gives, by percentage, the breakdown of the food—although inexplicably it doesn’t usually mention the percentage of carbohydrate.
The first ten ingredients are critical, and every ingredient on the label should make nutritional sense.
1. Read the first ingredient—is it meat-based?
2. Is the meat a by-product or a meat meal or fish meal?
3. What are the first five ingredients?
4. Are there mostly real foods or do you see a lot of chemical names?
5. Does it contain corn, wheat, or their products?
6. Any major preservatives, other grains, or obvious troublesome ingredients like onions, raisins, or preservatives BHA, BHT?
Pet food labels should show the following information:
A good amount of meat protein—greater than 30% DM
No objectionable ingredients (corn, wheat, soy, powdered cellulose, white potato, preservatives like BHA or BHT, or ethoxyquin)
Ideally, the greatest percentage of the ingredients should not be carbs
Beware of soy as a high percentage in the first few ingredients. Soy is considered a goitrogen—affecting thyroid metabolism. Soy may be implicated in hyperthyroidism in cats, although this is not yet clear. In addition, soy has high levels of phytoestrogen compounds that play a role in the immune response, sex hormones, and dermatologic conditions. More research is needed on the biological effects of a constant source of unregulated phytoestrogens in animals.
Beware of whole potatoes as a high percentage of the first few ingredients. A carnivore diet should not have carbohydrate as a main ingredient. Another issue is that white potatoes are in the nightshade family. They are considered an inflammatory root vegetable because of solanine (a glycoalkaloid poison that is one of the plant’s natural defenses) concentrations. Green under the potato skin and the “eyes” or sprouted areas concentrate solanine, which when eaten can cause painful inflammation in joints and in the body. Animals with allergies, seizures, or arthritis should not eat nightshade for this reason. The storage and condition of the potatoes determine how much solanine is present in a food. To have more control over potatoes with solanine content, avoid feeding potatoes from unknown sources. (Note: If you cook potatoes yourself, use fresh, nonsprouted potatoes.) The word potato on the label usually means white potato, not sweet potato. Sweet potato is not a nightshade. If white potatoes are farther down the list of ingredients, you may safely consider using that food.
Beware of peas or other vegetables/grains used as a source of protein. This falsely elevates the usable protein levels. The protein percentage entitled “crude protein” may be listed as 34%, but not all of that is meat protein. This is not a travesty if the protein level starts reasonably high, but it’s troublesome if there’s already a low amount of meat protein, which is commonly the case.
Flaxseed is a source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for humans but is not as effective for dogs or cats, because they are not efficient at making the conversion from flax to omega-3. However, flax can be useful, not as a source of omegas, but as a laxative and a moisturizing oil.
Beware of toxins. It’s hard to believe they would be there at all. But whether they are on the label or not, they are often contained in the food. For example, some pet foods contain onion, which is toxic to dogs. If a dog or cat eats too much onion, it causes a blood disorder called methemoglobinemia. The blood changes color to blue and can’t carry a normal amount of oxygen to the tissues. It can quickly become a life-threatening problem. The toxicity of onions is a dose-related issue. Small amounts can be tolerated. The incremental damage of small amounts of onion in a pet’s daily diet is unstudied.
Avoid monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is neuroexcitatory and causes many health issues. It often masquerades under other terms, such as vegetable protein extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, or textured protein.
Ingredients that may be in the food but are not listed on the label:
Chemicals used in premanufacturing. One such chemical is ethoxyquin, a pesticide considered by the federal government to be a hazardous chemical, rated 3 on a scale of 1–6 (with 6 being so toxic that just 7 drops is lethal). Human limits on consumption are 0.5 ppm, but a dog eating some foods might consume over 100 ppm in a meal. It is often not listed on the label. But it still could be in the food. Any premanufacture product, by-products, or “meal” can have ingredients that don’t have to be listed if they are added before arriving at the pet food company. Be aware that most fish meals tend to contain ethoxyquin as a preservative because, unless companies specifically request a permit to do otherwise, the Code of Federal Regulations requires fish meal to have a minimum 100 ppm of ethoxyquin at time of shipment.
Pentobarbital is an anesthetic drug used to euthanize dogs and cats. It is not usually used to euthanize large animals, like cattle. However, it has been detected in some pet foods. The Food and Drug Administration claims it’s in small amounts and doesn’t matter. Therefore, they don’t routinely check for it. There is no enforcement to regulate pentobarbital in pet food. I question why it is there in the first place.
Other chemicals may drift into the food via farming management practices. Chickens may have the lion’s share of chemical processing additives. That is one reason I suggest using free-range organic chicken.
The controversy about what dogs and cats truly need to eat to stay healthy has never been fully resolved, even though these animals have resided with us for hundreds of years. We used to know just what to feed them. That’s how they came to live with us. They would eat our meat leftovers and table scraps in addition to what they could catch outside. It was a mutually beneficial relationship. As soon as these animals became domesticated, though, we began to confine them and limit their ability to catch their own food. The burden of a complete diet fell on us. In the past it was easy—meat scraps and by-products worked well. Soon the pet food industry took over and started putting in inexpensive fillers and that’s when pet health went awry. Regardless of a few healthy-looking ingredients like blueberries or flax, many commercial foods may still be wholly inappropriate for your pet.
THE FENNEC FOX
I was asked to consult on a case of a fennec fox that had a chronically inflamed toe. This type of fox is about three pounds, with a caramel-colored coat, enormous ears, and big, dark eyes. I was asked to do acupuncture or laser—I did both. The fox was overweight. This was attributed to his movement being limited by the hurt toe, but it didn’t make sense to me that the toe wouldn’t heal. It had been infected for over a year. I asked what they were feeding the fox. They said, “Fennec fox diet.” I found that this included a kibble food with corn and wheat in it. I brought up the fact that a wild fennec fox would eat insects, rodents, plants, fruit, and reptiles, never grains. Corn and wheat cause glycemic index changes that can contribute to inflammation. When we eliminated grains and provided the fox with a proper diet, along with acupuncture and laser treatments, the animal slimmed down and the toe healed quickly.
In the guaranteed analysis the label will always list percentages of:
Most labels don’t mention carbohydrates. The pet food companies avoid drawing attention to it in print because carbs are plentiful in pet foods, but shouldn’t be. The fact is, most dog and cat foods contain mostly carbohydrates.
Note for Raw, Wet Food, or Canned Food Protein Analysis
The percent amount of protein on a canned food label or a raw food label will not be described in terms of “dry matter,” so it will look as if there is way too little protein (typically 8–10%) in these foods. But by using the conversion calculation on page 80, the dry matter protein of these raw or canned foods (moist foods) can be more than 4 times the wet matter listed. Most of the canned or raw foods I recommend have 40–50% protein.
Take the time to make other simple calculations: 20% protein plus 10% fat equals only 30% of the ingredients that are accounted for. Plus a small amount of minerals, fiber, and vitamins. The rest are carbs. That leaves nearly 70% carbs! I doubt you want to pay for that. And I don’t think you should feed it to your unsuspecting carnivores.