Looking at pet food ingredients: what’s good and what’s just filler

Published 9:18 am Tuesday, February 24, 2015

By Michelle Nelson

Many of us are convinced that if our pet’s food label reads healthy, natural, recommended by or premium that it is good for them. We see images of fresh chicken or beef, fruits and vegetables and wholesome grains on the outside of the bag, making us believe that is what we are buying.

Chances are, you could be feeding your pet a food that has misled you with fancy advertising. Therefore, it is important to take the time to really understand common pet food ingredients so you can make informed decisions about your pet’s diet.

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There is always a lot of debate about fresh chicken, chicken meal and chicken by product meal among pet food companies. AAFCO, the group that regulates the sale and distribution of animal feeds, defines these ingredients as follows:

Chicken: The clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts of whole carcasses of chicken or a combination of the them. It excludes feathers, heads, feet and entrails.

Chicken meal: Chicken that has been ground or otherwise reduced in particle size.

Chicken by product meal: Consists of ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers except in amounts that would prevent good processing practices.

Since dogs and cats are carnivores by nature, meat should be a big part of your pet’s diet. By looking at the definitions above, foods that contain only chicken by product meal actually do not even contain meat.

Chicken and chicken meal are both meats, but the meal is a dry powder form when it is put into the pet food versus being fresh. If you see chicken listed as the first ingredient and fresh chicken is 78 to 80 percent water, once the water is lost in the cooking process, chicken is no longer the first ingredient (ingredients are listed by weight in pet foods prior to processing.) It is then important to look at the next several ingredients that follow as these will now be more abundant in the food than “fresh” chicken or whatever fresh meat is listed.

Grain-, corn- or wheat-free foods can all be so confusing. It is important to understand that our pets do not thrive on a diet high in grains. Grains themselves are not bad, but it is in the over-processing that they become nothing more than cheap, overly-used filler. These processed grains are extremely high in carbohydrates which are linked to many diseases such as obesity, chronic inflammation, diabetes and cancer.

Low-quality grain products typically used to cheapen pet foods include corn-gluten meal, corn meal, wheat, wheat gluten, soy, rice hulls, dried beet pulp and powdered cellulose. The repetitive exposure of wheat and corn has resulted in allergies and intolerances in many pets.

Rice hulls are the protective covering of grains of rice, used also in building materials, fertilizer and insulation. Powdered cellulose is used in attic insulation.

Does it make any sense that there is any nutritional value left in rice hulls or powdered cellulose that it should be in your pet’s diet?


Michelle Nelson is the owner of Ranch & Pet Supply, 2014 E. Main Frontage Road.