The Pet Food Ingredient Game

poultry hatchery by-product

meat meal tankage

peanut hulls

ground almond shells

(*Association of American Feed Control Officials, 1998 Official Publication)

Simultaneously, this same regulatory agency prohibits the use of many proven beneficial natural ingredients that one can find readily available for human consumption such as bee pollen, glucosamine, L-carnitine, spirulina and many other nutraceuticals. It would be easy to conclude that reason does not rule when it comes to what officially can or cannot be used in pet foods.

From the regulators’ standpoint, they operate from the simplistic nutritional idea that the value of food has to do with percentages and that there is no special merit to any particular ingredient. They deny the tens of thousands of scientific research articles proving that the kind of ingredient and its quality can make all the difference in terms of health. They also are silent about the damaging effect of food processing and the impact of time, light, heat, oxygen and packaging on nutritional and health value.

So regulators are certainly not the place to go to determine how to feed pets for health. For their way of thinking, as long as a packaged food achieves certain percentages, regardless of ingredients, the manufacturer can claim the food is 100% complete. Pet owners then proceed to confidently feed such guaranteed foods at every meal thinking all the while they are doing the right thing for their pet. This old school nutritional view is standard practice in human hospitals as well where official dieticians feed diseased and metabolically starved patients a fare of jello, instant potatoes, powdered eggs, white flour rolls and oleomargarine because their charts say such diets contain the correct percentages of certain nutrients. Hospitals are a good place to go if you want to get sick!

The 100% Complete Myth

Consumers are increasingly becoming alert to the value of more natural foods. Everyone intuitively knows that the closer the diet is to real, fresh, wholesome foods, the better the chance that good health will result. Unfortunately, people do not apply this same common sense to pet foods. Instead they purchase “100% complete” processed foods, perhaps even going the extra mile and selecting “super premium” or “natural” brands, thinking they are doing the best that can be done. They surrender their mind to a commercial ploy (100% completeness) and do to their pets what they would never do to themselves or their family – eat the same packaged product at every meal, day in and day out. No processed food can be “100% complete” because there is not a person on the planet who has 100% knowledge of nutrition. The claim on its face is absurd. Understanding this simple principle is more important than any pet food formulation regardless of the merits of its ingredients. Everything that follows will begin with that premise, i.e., no food should be fed exclusively on a continuous basis no matter what the claims of completeness or ingredient quality.

Genetics Is The Key

Pets need the food they are biologically adapted to. It’s a matter of context. Just as a fish needs to be in water to stay healthy, a pet needs its natural food milieu to be healthy. All creatures must stay true to their design. What could be more obvious or simple? For a carnivore the correct genetic match is prey, carrion and incidental fresh plant material, and even some fur and feathers, as well as the occasional surprise of unmentionables found in decaying matter. It’s not a pretty picture to think that “FiFi” with her pink bow and polished toenails would stoop to such fare, but that is precisely the food she is designed to eat. Since that is her design, matching food to that design (minus the more disgusting and unnecessary elements) is also the key to her health.

The Disease Price

We may prefer to feed a packaged, sterile, steam- cleaned, dried, farinaceous chunk cleverly shaped like a pork chop, but let’s not kid ourselves, that is not the food a pet is designed for….regardless of the claims about ingredients on the label making one think it is five-star restaurant fare. Pets may tolerate such food for a time, but in the end nature calls to account. The price to be paid is lost health in the form of susceptibility to infections, dental disease, premature aging, obesity, heart and organ disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and other cruel and painful chronic degenerative diseases. Because our pets are not out in the rigors of nature where they would quickly succumb to such conditions and end their misery, they languish in our protected homes and under veterinary care that does not usually cure but merely treats symptoms and extends the time of suffering. That suffering begins with the way in which we are feeding our pets, not the ingredients in a supposed 100% complete pet food.

The Perfect Food

What is the solution? It is simple and something I have been preaching for the past 25 years. Return pets to their environmental roots. They need – daily – interesting activity, fresh air, clean water, romps in nature, lots of love, and food as close to the form they would find in the wild as possible. Fresh, whole natural foods fit for a carnivore and fed in variety are as good as it can get. Anything less than that is a compromise. Compromise the least if health is the goal. (Same principle applies to you and your family.) To get a packaged food as close as possible to that goal requires the right starting philosophy of feeding (described above) and the expertise to design and manufacture such foods.

Enter The Profiteers

Elements of these principles (often distorted or misunderstood) have been taken up by an endless line of pet food entrepreneurs. The low fat craze led to low fat pet foods. The high fiber craze led to high fiber pet foods. The “no corn, wheat or soy” craze led to no corn, wheat or soy pet foods. The “omega- 3” craze led to pet foods with fish oil. The “variety” craze led to pet foods supposedly offering variety. The “four food groups” craze led to all four bundled into a package. The “raw” craze has led to raw frozen pet foods. The list is endless and the race for pet owner dollars is at a fever pitch.

One can only feel sympathy for a concerned pet owner as they stroll along the huge array of pet food options in pet food aisles. Unfortunately, armed with only sound bites and lore they may have heard from a friend, breeder, veterinarian or on a commercial, they make choices that not only do not serve the health of their pet but may directly contribute to weakened immunity and disease.The first thing consumers should keep in mind is the ideal diet for pets as described above. No packaged product regardless of its wild claims is ever going to equal that. The next best thing is to home prepare fresh meals. (Contact Wysong for recipes and instruction.) If that is not always possible, then products should be selected that are as close to the ideal as possible. (More suggestions below.)

Raw Frozen Pet Food Dangers

At first glance, considering the perfect feeding model I have described – raw, natural, whole – the best food may seem to be one of the raw frozen pet foods now clamoring to capture the “raw” craze. I’m sorry to say that some of these purveyors even use my books and literature to convince pet owners that their frozen products are on track. They take bits and pieces of good information and distort it into something that pretty much misses the point and misleads consumers. Also, these exotic frozen mixtures of ingredients of unknown origin, manufacturing and freezing conditions are most certainly not economical nor the best choice. They may, because of the water content and raw state, be outright dangerous.

[The Case Against Raw Frozen Pet Foods]

Natural And Organic

At second glance then, it may appear that the next best thing would be one of the many “natural,” “organic” and “human-grade” dried or canned brands that are now flooding the market. Between these and the frozen food products, ingredient labels start to look outright ridiculous. For example, these are from some typical labels:

Every manner of “pureed” vegetable

Organic beef, rabbit, chicken, turkey, goat, lamb, duck, pork

Organic eggs

Organic honey

Organic papaya, persimmons, blueberries, oranges, apples, pears

Organic yogurt

Organic alfalfa, millet, quinoa and barley sprouts

Wheat grass

NettlesBok Choy

Cultured kefir

Cod liver oil


Everything but the kitchen sink is put in so as not to risk losing any customer … and that would be in there too if a new myth appeared about the special health attributes of porcelain. I say the list is ridiculous not because such ingredients may not be wonderfully nutritious but because the consumer does not really know what part of the ingredient is being put in, in what form, how it is being protected from degradation and toxin formation and, as you will see below, the economic math does not add up. Additionally, feeding complex mixtures of foods (grains, meats, vegetables, fruit, dairy, etc.) at every meal is a digestive stress. Pets need a break once in a while and should have just a meat meal, a slice of watermelon or whatever fits their fancy, all alone so their digestive tract can focus and they can relish the flavor of an actual food.

Although the idea of organic agriculture is excellent, the use of the “organic” name just for marketing isn’t. Something may be labeled organic to entice customers but only contain a small percentage of organic (see below). Or, it may be that the particular organic ingredient may be of low nutritional merit – chicken heads, feet and feathers can be “organic.” Regardless, even if the food is 100% organic prime rib, that is not an argument for the exclusive feeding of the food to pets.

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