READ THE LABEL!!! You are in for some surprises!
Most people have learned the benefits and needs of reading the labels on cans and packages of food for humans yet never give it a thought when they purchase food and treats for their pets. Pet food manufacturers take wonderful advantage of that customer behavior. If the word “manufacturer” used in conjunction with food doesn’t appear as a red flag you are already lost!
If you insist on feeding processed food to your pets at least wise up to the really bad stuff in those products. Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives are linked with causes for cancer. Large doses of propylene glycol (used to keep foods moist and chewy) are currently being linked to central nervous system depression and even kidney changes. The products containing these cheap but damaging ingredients are usually going to also contain ingredients most likely to cause your dogs to itch, suffer from gas, have flaky skin, and more.
And, commercial treats for dogs are often the very worst of the bunch.
Of the top 15 commercial treats in The Whole Dog Journal’s current review I must admit I have never seen a single one available in this area. Almost none of them would even be available in supermarkets in the U.S. but I’ll list them at the end of the article so you can add them to your wish list for the next trip to the store.
While we do not have the best we certainly have examples of the worst! Beggin’ Strips tops the list. The ingredients list starts like this: Original bacon flavor: ground wheat, corn gluten meal, wheat flour, ground yellow corn, water, sugar, glycerin, meat, hydrogenated starch, hydrosolate, soybean meal… To quote WDJ, “Also contains artificial preservatives and colors. This sort of ‘grocery store’ treat is just sweetened glop”. Well – they do call it the way they see it! And whatever “Original bacon flavor” is I haven’t a clue.
I believe I have seen Snausages in our area also. The list of ingredients includes seven instances of artificial preservatives and several artificial colors. And, how about the old standard, Milk Bones? Well, let’s see. Wheat flour, wheat bran, beef and beef bone meal. Basically a recipe composed of what is known as “food fragments” and the bottom line is there is not much that is healthy in those bone shaped biscuits. We would want to see wheat, for example, instead of wheat flour and wheat bran if we wanted to see anything about grains in the food – and we don’t. Maybe the worst thing about Milk Bones is that people will buy the biggest one their dogs can handle meaning it becomes part of the diet rather than “just” a treat.
While treats do not need to meet the high standards of the food people SHOULD be feeding their dogs because the treats are supposedly doled out in small portions those treats should not have harmful ingredients in them. For example, we do not want sweeteners (often shown as corn syrup, sucrose and ammoniated glycyrrhizin) in our dog’s regular diet or treats but a bit of molasses, honey or fruit in a treat is certainly not a bad thing.
Clearly, the best thing to do is to give fresh, real food for treats such as bits of meat, chicken, cheese, fish or even fruit. The tinier the pieces the better, especially when using treats for training purposes. But – if you must have some cutesy shaped doggie goodie here is the list from which to choose:
Buddy Biscuits Original Quinoa Dog Buscuit
Charlee Bear Dog Treats Simon and Huey’s Doggoned Tasty Treats
Henry and Sons Vegetarian Cookies The Hand that Feeds You Healthy Dog Bakery
Liver Biscotti Wet Noses Herbal Dog Treats
Old Mother Hubbard Dog Biscuits Barkin’ Bits
Original Dog Biscuits Dry Roasted Canine Treats
Live-a-Littles Solid Gold Beef Jerky
When you read an ingredient list it SHOULD read ingredients in decreasing quantities but the pet food companies are very deceptive in their labeling process. Take the following list of ingredients from a can of cat food as an example:
Water, beef, liver, meat by products, corn grits, corn flour, corn gluten meal, chicken fat, vitamins and minerals.
Looks like it has a lot of meat, right? Well - corn grits, corn flour, corn gluten meal, are all basically the same thing – corn. But, because the company can legally label particles of corn separately it turns out that corn is second to water in this particular recipe! Deceptive? You bet!
Cats should never be given any grains and the only reason to put grains in canned food is to same the precious stock holders money. Since the extruders (the machines that make dry food) must have some form of carbohydrates to make the little dry pellets grains or starchy vegetables such as potatoes are a major part of all the dry recipes. Cats should never be fed dry food because of the carbs. Dogs should be treated better than they are and not be given dry foods either but at least they can digest it better (which is not saying much!) because they are not obligate carnivores as are cats.
Names of the cans are helpful because they are regulated but, of course, little is said to the buying public about how to read those labels! If a food is called “Beef Cat Food” it must be at least 95% beef “on a dry matter basis”.** If the label says something like Beef Feast or Beef Entrée you are now down to 25% beef – or whatever the name meat may be. If a label says “Cat food with beef” you are now down to a maximum of 3%
This of course applies to dog food as well and you can use the same thinking process as you read the dry food labels. A label may say Chicken, for example as a first ingredient. Good start, right? Well, maybe not. It means that it is chicken meat – that part is good – but it went into the extruder raw – full of moisture – 75% or more moisture! When it dries out it is greatly reduced in quantity and therefore in percentage. Chicken meal means it is meat but dry when it goes into the machine. Next check how many times you see some version of grains and grain fragments and you get an idea of how bad it really is.
Become aware of what you buy to put in your trusting feline or canine companion's food bowls. Learn to carefully read those labels.
*There is a specific formula to determine “dry matter basis” but space prevents including it here.