Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue

Food for Thought

by Katie McKay | May 05, 2021

“All Natural” “Organic” “Human-Grade”. These are all dog food packaging claims that might make you snatch a product off the shelf and feel good about what you are feeding your pet. Companies pay for people to pitch their product using words to magnify the desirability. But does that always mean that you’ve picked something that’s healthier? The bottom line is that a diet that’s appropriate does not necessarily mean one that has dramatic claims of health benefits that are unproven.

Homemade diets may be appealing to some owners because they appear more “natural” than commercial dry or canned diets, which is supposed to imply that they are better for pets. People equate conventional commercial pet food with what is typically called “processed” though they are entirely different things. Human snack foods and processed foods are full of sugar, salt and fat and generally nutritionally poor. Commercial pet foods that are properly formulated and manufactured are nutritionally balanced, not just a whatever looks appealing in the moment. So how do we maneuver healthy-sounding slogans? Unfortunately that burden falls to the humans but there is help out there! Let’s talk about some of these buzzwords and what they may actually mean to our pet’s food.

BYPRODUCT-what is left after the intended product has been made, In the case of animal feeds including pet food, often excess materials left over after processing human foods. This doesn’t mean they are unsafe or lack nutrition, they just aren’t part of the original primary products. If something is rejected for human use, it can be used in animal feed, this is true, but did you know that some times that’s just because it doesn’t look pretty? And my dog eats poop in the back yard so I’m guessing she doesn’t care about how it looks before it becomes her kibble. Not to get into too much about animal processing, but you should know that these animals for food are slaughtered and if they die by other means, they are not suitable to be used for animal food, so those crazy claims on the internet…..just something to think about.

RAW-Retailers may sell raw pet foods, however the majority are not actually raw. Most of the time they are heat-treated to prevent bacterial growth. Pet food plants, as we have mentioned before, don’t always have the capacity to receive and store raw ingredients making their use very difficult. The FDA isn’t in the debate of what kind of food is best for your pet, they are committed to safety and therein lies the issue with raw diets. Although pets may be more resistant to bacteria like salmonella, they are not immune and can become very ill. The larger issue is the safe handling of these diets and the risk and danger is poses to people in the household, especially children, older adults and those with compromised immune systems.

RENDERED-if you have ever been in a power outage, you know that keeping raw ingredients properly stored can be a challenge. Rendering is simply a process to cook an ingredient to prevent microbial contamination, basically, its easier to store than raw food.

ORGANIC-“produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic engineering may not be used.” Fun fact, organic regulations specific for pet foods are currently being developed, in the meantime, the NOP has said that they must meet the human food regulations to be labeled as organic. If you see the USDA organic seal, that means 95% or more of the ingredients are organic. The USDA hasn’t said that organic foods are safer, healthier or more nutritious, they are just assuring people who wish to purchase organic are getting what they paid for.

NATURAL-liberal term that includes more ingredients than it excludes and although the technical definition means that it can not be used for anything that contains chemically synthetic additives or processing aids….it is still allowed if those are present in trace amounts. Guess what’s not natural, vitamins and minerals, guess what we still need to survive…..vitamins and minerals. Hence the reason you might see something like “all natural with added vitamins, minerals and trace nutritients”.

“HUMAN-GRADE”-Let’s think very simply about this one. A product formulated for a pet is unlikely to be nutritionally adequate for a human and vice versa. Not everything a human eats is safe for a pet, like chocolate, coffee, onions, etc. Human-grade does not automatically equal nutritional safety for pets.

As hard as it is, the best thing you can do is actually get past many of these claims by flipping the product over and reading the ingredient list. It might actually be better to avoid products that are plastered with buzzwords or at least be more suspicious of them.

Good luck out there!


Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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