A Breakfast Conversation: Pet Foods. What’s in there?

Over the course of the next few weeks I’d like to share a few “meals” with you over the subject of pet foods; breakfast, lunch and dinner if you will?  The hope here is to get our thought processes moving away from misconceptions that become gospel – a result of the internet, advice from specialty pet stores and/or the uninformed.  So for this “breakfast blog” let’s start with ‘what’s in there?’

The Food and Drug Administration is charged with overseeing the accuracy of food labeling, but understandably the sheer number of pet food companies – each producing a variety of different lines – make testing and policing them all an overwhelming task.  Thankfully research grants allow private investigators to conduct studies.  The findings are often amazing.

Mf at Red Shoe Walk 3

Chapman University in California, realizing how little scrutiny there is into mislabeling of pet foods, carried out one such study.  The findings, recently published In the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, lifted eye brows and sent a murmur of ‘oh, wow’ through a doctor’s meeting here at the Animal Medical Center.

Fifty-two wet and dry foods and treats were tested at Chapman.  Amazingly, 13 of them contained meat from a species not listed on the label!  Another 4 were missing the meat listed on the label and 3 foods tested… had both discrepancies.   Almost 40% were mislabeled.

Another independent study published in Petfood Industry, claimed that nearly 50% of the commercial dog foods tested either didn’t have the species they claimed were in the diet or had meats in the food not listed on the label.   A third European study, performed strictly on foods used for our allergic animals, found that 83% of them had bird, fish or mammalian proteins in the food not listed on the label.  That makes them unsuitable for their intended use.

The sensitivity of the testing allows that some of the problems can be attributed to inadvertent contamination, clearly not fraudulent labeling, but inaccurate none the less.

If these inaccuracies are true of the “main ingredient” in our pet’s foods, what of everything else on the label?  Enough vitamins?  Really grain-free?  Adequate levels of vital macromolecules?  And what does all of this mean to us, as pet food consumers?

Simply, you can never be certain of what we get when we purchase a food.  It makes sense to me that the more obscure the brand we purchase, the more suspect the diet should be.  Newer or less established companies insist on investing their dollars in marketing.  This focus on selling, I believe, compromises many foods that fill the shelves in pet outlets and feed stores everywhere.

The store clerk blabbering about the virtues of an unknown brand is the mouth piece for the salesperson that convinced them to stock the food; never questioning any manufacturing aspect of the food or the accuracy of the label.  Truth told, even the salesman of the food – as evidence by the studies – cannot be absolutely certain of the exact content of the food.

The major pet food producers (Purina, Hill’s, Royal- Canin and Iam’s) in our industry – a later dinner conversation – invest so much in research and product development that they are less likely to mislabel their diets.  That these “big boys” are out positioned on the marketing front is unfortunate.

As with any purchase, the mantra should be: “buyers beware.”  Personally, my trust is in those that research, develop and then test through feeding trials.  Not those that only follow the innovative concepts established by the leaders.

Next, over “lunch”, more surprises about grains, gluten and food allergies.


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