What's in Your Pet Food?We help you see through the smoke and mirrors of animal food labels so you can understand exactly what you’re feeding your pets
With recent research revealing that around half of pets making a visit to the vets are overweight, there’s no escaping the fact that the pet obesity problem has reached epidemic proportions. With all the health issues and reduced life expectancy associated with this problem, preventing and combating obesity is something that should be high on the priority list of every responsible pet owner.
However, feeding your pet a good diet isn’t always as easy as it should be: ambiguous and misleading labels are unfortunately commonplace, but with a little know-how, it is possible to decipher exactly what’s in your pet food.
The ingredients list is your window into the true nature of your pet’s diet. Manufacturers cannot lie on the ingredients list, and although there are ways in which the truth can be obscured or embellished, this is usually easy to spot, which makes it possible to separate the good foods from the bad.
The main thing to look for on an ingredients list is clarity. Each ingredient should be named, and the most important ingredients (the three or four at the top of the list) should ideally be given with a percentage to tell you how much is present.
Broad, umbrella terms like ‘cereals’ and ‘meat and animal derivatives’ could refer to a wide range of ingredients of varying quality, which makes it impossible to know what your pet is eating. Manufacturers use them either because the recipe regularly changes or, more likely, because naming the ingredients would put customers off. In general, if an ingredients list includes ambiguous terms like these, it is probably best to assume the worst and avoid the food. This is particularly important if your pet is prone to dietary intolerance, as identifying and eliminating problem ingredients is not possible unless you know exactly what you are feeding them.
What Ingredients to Look For
To take dog food as an example: dogs are omnivorous and are capable of digesting and utilising a wide range of foods. Unlike us, however, the dog’s digestive system is much more geared up for meat consumption and benefits from a meatrich diet. Ideally, meat should be the first (and therefore most abundant) ingredient on the list. Dog food manufacturers use a huge array of ingredients, many of which will be familiar to you, others may not.
Smoke and Mirrors
All ingredients must be listed in order of how much there is in the food. The first ingredient is, therefore, the largest and most important part of the food. Unfortunately, manufacturers can be quite cunning when it comes to the order of the ingredients and there are some common tactics to look for.
Splitting grains – by using several grain sources, the amount of each one is relatively small, placing it further down the ingredients list, but together the cereals may in reality make them the first ingredient. This can even be done with a single grain – for example, in a maize-rich food, they could simply put ‘maize’ as the first ingredient, or they could list ‘maize flour’, ‘maize gluten’ and ‘maize meal’ separately. Because the amount of each one is smaller, they appear further down the list, making them appear less significant.
Fresh meat in dry foods – in dry dog foods, meat can either be dry (usually called meat meal) or fresh. Both are good-quality meat sources but in order to accurately compare them, the water content of the fresh meat must be removed from the equation. Fresh meat is roughly two-thirds water while meat meal only contains around 5% water. So 20% fresh meat only equates to around 7% dry meat. If fresh meat is the first ingredient, be sure to discount the water and move it down the list accordingly.
Total meat content – an increasing trend is for dog food manufacturers to list the ‘total meat content’ rather than the percentage of the individual meat ingredients. This allows the amounts of all the meat ingredients to be grouped together. Rather than: ‘Ingredients: Chicken meal (20%), chicken oil (5%), chicken digest (2%)… ’, you might now find: ‘Total chicken content: 27%. Ingredients: Chicken meal, chicken oil, chicken digest...’
For more information and help reading your pet food labels, come to Scampers and speak to one of our Pet Care Advisors about nutrition. At Scampers we clearly list all ingredients on the shelf below the product, so you can keep an eye on what you are feeding.
Scampers Natural Pet Store is located on the A142 Soham By Pass, between Ely and Newmarket and only 15 miles from Cambridge.
Scampers, Your Pet’s Natural Choice.
Copy reproduced courtesy of Nicola Foley / Cambridge Edition magazine.