There is great debate regarding health and wellness and the quality of food that we are eating as a population. With experts pointing to the alarmingly high level of obesity in the United States they are calling for more education and availability of healthy choices. Jumping on this growing trend, a number of our biggest fast-food retailers have even introduced ‘healthy’ options to their own menus. Acknowledging the obvious connection between what we eat and our overall state of health, we are taking the steps to improve our health before it’s too late.

Would it not, then, make sense to apply this same concept to the pets in our care? With the total sales of pet food in the United States in 2016 estimated at $28.23 billion, one would like to assume that the foods being made available to us on the market today are trustworthy and account for all of our pet’s health and nutrition needs.

Unfortunately, the rules and regulations regarding the production and sale of pet food differ greatly from those that are applied to our own food sources. Classified as ‘feed,’ the ingredients permitted in pet food may surprise you. The ‘meat’ included in many commercial pet foods is not what one would assume, comprising of the carcass of an animal ground up, bone and all, into a finishing product. Furthermore, lacking the same rigid testing in production and storage of the products, pet foods are regularly subject to recalls ranging from bacterial contamination to the presence of toxins.

Discovering that over 70% of dog owners are unaware of what is actually in the food they are feeding their pets, the website gathered a team including veterinarians, animal behaviorists, dog trainers, researchers, and authors. The team set out to investigate the wealth of information relating to pet food and determine fact from fiction. After more than 2 months of research, their findings would disturb most pet owners.

Many pet food owners are simply lacking the education to differentiate between healthy ingredients and those that should be avoided. For example, when selecting a meat source for your dog find foods that specifically identify the meat by listing ‘beef’ or ‘chicken’ in the ingredients as opposed to mystery meats which are listed as ‘meat,’ ‘meat meal,’ or any form of ‘by-product.’ There are also a number of ingredients used that not only fail to provide any nutritional benefit but may actually be causing health concerns. Corn is one of the most common pet food fillers used in production today, however, the digestive system of your dog is not designed to actually process it. You should also try to steer clear of other unhealthy grains and fillers including wheat, soy and beet pulp, as well as potentially toxic ingredients such as onions, grapes, garlic, avocados, BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, propylene glycol and sodium selenite.

Still unclear? Here are the legal definitions of the various by-product/meal options that are often found in commercially produced pet foods:

Poultry By-Products/Meal: Allows for poultry head, feet, feathers and even whole carcasses of slaughtered or non-slaughtered poultry

Animal By-Product Meal (ex: Beef By-Product Meal, Pork By-Product Meal): Allows for slaughtered or non-slaughtered whole animal carcasses, including any part of the animal such as the horn, hide, hoof, and intestines

Meat By-Products/Meal: Allows non-meat ingredients such as internal organs sourced from slaughtered animals, although these do not have to be sourced from USDA inspected and approved animals

Interested in seeking further clarification on what we should and shouldn’t be picking up for Fido, our own team decided to reach out to a number of pet food suppliers asking for clarification on some of the popular buzzwords including ‘natural’ and ‘organic.’ One manufacturer, Ollie, replied with the following information:

“The benefit to fresh food made from natural ingredients is you maintain all the nutrients unlike organic pet foods that are heavily processed in order to be shelf stable. Even though they’re organic, heavily processed foods lose most of their nutritional value and the food has to be supplemented. We believe that the quality of ingredients we source, where we source them from, and the overall nutritional value of the food is most important.”

With so many options available to us including dry kibble, wet food, homemade food, fresh made foods, dehydrated food and raw feeding, there is no definitive right or wrong answer. Much like with our own food, it is on us, the consumer, to do our research and determine which option is right for our pets. We do, however, need to demand transparency from pet food manufacturers and take the time to adequately educate ourselves on the options that are available to us.

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