The labels on dogfood packages can be a tremendous jungle and it’s hard to make sense of all the information written on those, and even worse at really knowing what all the terms mean. It can take some time to decipher. At the same time different manufacturers use different terms and give out different information. A whole different question is, if all the written information on a package of dog food really says anything about what the product contains in reality.
Most people trust the nutrition information written on the package without giving a thought on the source for them. If one has an interest in nutrition of our companions, they have seen the documentary ”A dog’s breakfast”. In the documentary they make a dog food of old shoes, motor oil and a vitamin powder blend. Then they send the “food” for analysis and it is compared to AAFCO:s and FEDIAF:s standards that defines the nutrient content dog food should have. The “food” they made got the result “Balanced and fit for consumption”, in other words it would be approved as a complete dog food.
So, if old shoes, motor oil and a vitamin blend are okay to feed dogs as a complete, nutritious and healthy dog food, what else can these foods contain? In theory; Anything.
All dog owners want to find the best food for their companion and at a first glance there are a myriad of choices – that is until you take a better look! The truth is, that about 90% of all pet food brands, regardless if they are sold in pet stores or in the supermarket, regardless if they cost a few cents or thirty Euros per kg, are owned by about 5 huge companies. (If you’d like to know more about that, please read the book “Foods pets die for” by Ann N. Martin)
What does the law say?
The ingredients must be written on the package by law, but it does not require the manufacturer to write everything I detail on it. The regulations are quite easy to dodge or sidestep.
The laws and regulations for writing the ingredients list does not apply to the rest of the information written on the package. As an example; If the package states that it’s a “chicken and rice” food and “contains 70% meat” other than on the ingredients label, it’s more than likely that the main ingredients are not chkicken and rice, nor that the product contains 70% meat. The regulations for so called “marketing texts” allow stretching the truth a lot. Fortunately the regulations for the ingredients list are much stricter.
When a dog eats dry food the owner usually thiks he or she knows what the dog eats, even if few take the time to check the ingredients label and eve fewer strive to understand all the terms written on it. It’s also very hard if not impossible to track the origin of all the ingredients. As an example; The product contains corn. If you’d contact the manufacturer to ask where the corn is from, it’s very rare that they bother to reply, or even have the information. They van usually tell you where they bought the corn, but not where it was originally from or where it was grown. That is to say, if they even use whole corn – usually they use waste products from corn, from other industries that use corn, and that’s why the origin is usually lost on the way. We’ll dive in to this topic a bit further in this text.
The claim on the package, that the product contains 70% meat, is usually also false. Usually the dry food industry does not use real meat, i.e. muscle meat from animals. Usually they use something called bone and meat meal. This is a powder manufactured of something called “animal by-products”. This can consist of anything you can get of animals - and I mean anything! It can contain fur animal and carcasses of animals that are put down, hooves, feathers, wool, horns, chicken feet and beaks, hairs and so on. In essence anything you can get from animals. In the documentary ”The truth about dog food” they dig in to this question a bit deeper.
Does price and quality walk hand in hand?
Unfortunately not. If you compare the price of meat with the price for dry food, you can make some assumptions, but it does not give you a good overall picture. If the ingredients label says that the product contains meat and bone meal of chicken, it probably contains a mixture of chicken feet, beaks and feathers - regardless of the price of the product.
Of course there are some exceptions and there’s an easy way to get some indicative information on this. On the package labels they usually have the amount of “ash” that is sometimes also stated as “crude ash”. It’s not something that is added to the food, as some falsly assume, but the non burnable/combustible matter that is left when the food is burned. That matter consists of minerals in the food. The ash content will increase with the amount of bone but also with the amount of beaks, claws, hooves, etc. in the product.
Some ash is critical in a dog food, because of the minerals, but the more ash a dog food contains, the more it contains products that are something else than meat.
Strange terms in stead of names of real raw materials
”Animal by-products” is a so called ”group term”. The term is widely used and is a sufficient term according to regulations, even if it does not tell the pet owner much of what is really used as raw materials for the product. In dog- and cat food it’s accepted by the regulators to use such terms. A widely used “trick of the trade” for some manufacturers is to write the real ingredient names for those components they want to show to the consumers (the “good” ingredients”) but use “group names” for ingredients they want to hide (the “bad” ingredients”).
If the ingredient list does not contain any ”group names” or other suspicious terms, only “real” recognizable raw materials, chances are that it’s a decent food. Unfortunately there are very few pet foods of this kind on the market. That is why we are so very proud at Mush, to be able to write everything, as it is, on the ingredients label, ithout having to hide anything from you!
Would you like to know more? In the next post we’ll dive deeper into this subject.