What do those ingredients mean?
  • tsukitsunetsukitsune
    Posts: 6185
    Due to all the dog food questions and conversations, I thought I would share this to help those beginning the journey that is understanding total companion dog health...

    Solving the ingredient list mystery

    The first important step to reading any ingredient list is to understand what the terms mean, so below is a list of ingredient definitions that every dog or cat owner should familiarize himself or herself with.

    Meal: The word “meal” after any term simply means the water content of the ingredient was removed prior to adding the ingredient to the food. Therefore chicken meal is a higher quality first ingredient than chicken. And in foods that list chicken (which is 75% water) as the first ingredient, and chicken by-product meal (a super concentrated form of dehydrated byproducts) as the second ingredient, you’re looking at a food that is mostly byproducts and very little chicken and you should avoid this food.

    Byproducts: (This includes chicken, poultry, and meat byproducts.) In essence, byproducts are the discarded garbage that is thrown to the floor in the process of removing healthy, usable parts of the animal such as that which you purchase for your fur-less family members. There are no health guidelines for the treatment of this matter. It may be stepped on by workers, foreign objects may inadvertently drop into it, it does not have to be refrigerated, trucks which transport it do not have to be sterilized. It is legal to use lungs that are infected with tuberculosis or pneumonia, and even livers that are infested with parasites. It is also legal to use diseased tissues and contaminated meats that have been condemned for human consumption.
    Byproducts may include, but are not limited to: lungs, spleens, kidneys, brains, liver, blood, bones, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. Chicken and poultry by-products also contain heads and feet. Hair, horns, teeth and hooves are not included.
    Some non-diseased organs such as stomachs and intestines may be nutritious and contain highly digestible proteins. Other parts such as heads and feet, however, are a different story. Their proteins are not digestible by your dog or cat; they are bound too tightly to the tissues to be absorbed by the intestines. The kidneys must work overtime to excrete these unusable proteins. Too many older pets succumb to kidney failure as it is, feeding a life-long diet of byproducts can only exacerbate this terrible problem.
    Byproducts that are labeled non-specifically as “meat” byproducts can come from any type of animal from any source including euthanized animals and road kill. The health of these animals need not be known. The use of euthanized animals is not only heart breaking to us pet lovers, but there is one other frightening detail: Studies have shown that pentobarbital, the drug commonly used to euthanize pets, remains in the food after the cooking process. So when we use foods that contain these ingredients, we are feeding trace amounts of poison to our pets each day. (See also “animal digest” below)
    Byproducts of any kind are inconsistent in terms of nutritional value because the content of each batch varies in terms of what organs and animals were used. Pet food manufacturers use byproducts because they are a cheap alternative to whole meats.

    Animal Digest: A cooked-down broth made from unspecified parts of unspecified animals. Any kind of animal can be used, including goats, pigs, horses, rats, etc. The animals can be obtained from any source including road kill and euthanized pets. There is no control over quality or contamination. Like meat byproducts, animal digest can also contain euthanized animals and therefore can cause the food to be tainted with pentobarbital.
    BHA/BHT: Short for Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), both of which are chemical preservatives known to cause cancer in high doses. BHA and BHT have been banned from use in human foods in many countries. In the US, they are still permitted in pet foods and some human “junk foods” and cereals. In small quantities such as you might consume in a snack food each day, these preservatives are unlikely to do harm. However, when we feed them to our pets in every meal over the course of their lifespan we increase the likelihood of disease. Although no studies have been done that link BHA and BHT with the increased cancer rate we see in cats and dogs in the last 40 years, it is an easy ingredient to avoid.

    Corn, Ground Corn, or Corn Meal: This is whole corn that has been chopped or ground. While corn is a great source of amino acids and some vitamins, it is usually used in pet foods as an inexpensive source of protein. The main problem with corn is that it is not very digestible. Most of the protein molecules in corn are too large to be absorbed by the intestines of our four-legged furry friends. So once again, the label will tell you that there is sufficient protein in the food, but if your pet can’t absorb it, it may as well not even be there. Corn is also one of the most common ingredients that dogs are allergic to, so if you have a dog with hot spots, chronic ear problems, eye tearing, itching, paw chewing, etc. avoid foods and treats that contain corn.

    Ground Wheat: While not necessarily a harmful ingredient, I list wheat here for two reasons. First, although it is high in B vitamins, it is more often used as a filler as one or more of the top five ingredients in a food (such as in Nutro Max, or Nutro Natural Choice large breed formulas). The other reason I urge you to avoid wheat in your pets’ food is that it is another common cause of allergic reactions.

    White Rice, Rice Flour, Brewers Rice: Put simply these are nothing but empty calories, or fillers. They are simple carbohydrates that the body converts to sugar and have virtually no nutritional value to your pet.

    Soybean Hulls, Peanut Hulls, Powdered Cellulose: These ingredients are low quality, cheap sources of fiber. Do your pet a favor and look for healthier alternative such as oats, barley, or rice bran.

    Artificial Colors, Artificial Flavors and sugar: All of these ingredients serve no nutritional purpose, they are used by manufactures to make the food look and taste better. The truth is, if they used high quality ingredients to begin with, the food would already look and taste good. Also, sugar is bad for your pets’ teeth.

    Chicken, Lamb, Beef, Fish Meals, etc: These are highly digestible, concentrated, whole meat protein sources. Look for one of these to be the first ingredient in your pets’ food.

    Oatmeal, Brown Rice, Barley, etc: are examples of excellent complex carbohydrate sources for your pet. They will make your pet feel full longer, and will supply plenty of healthy energy.

    Fish Oils and Flaxseed Oil: These high quality oils provide Omega fatty acids for healthy heart, joints, immune system, and skin and coat.

    Corn Gluten Meal: The gluten is the “solid” or “non-soluble” part of the corn. The protein in corn gluten meal is 88% digestible, about the same as chicken meal. Plus it is high in amino acids, which act as a urine acidifier to protect against bladder infections and stones. While you wouldn’t want this to be the only protein source in a food, it is a good quality protein.

    Cranberry Extract or powder: This acts as an excellent urine acidifier, great for preventing bladder infections and stones.

    Mixed Tocopherols: A natural preservative high in vitamin E. (See also “antioxidants”)

    Antioxidants: These are organic molecules that allow the bodies’ cells to fight off destructive forces (disease) creating an anti-aging effect. Great sources of antioxidants include carrots, tomatoes, vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene and taurine, amongst others.

    Prebiotics: Ingredients such as chicory root, which contains a naturally occurring form of inulin, that are added to food to aid in digestion by helping healthy bacteria to flourish in the stomach. Because prebiotics start working in the stomach, they aid in the digestion of everything that your pet ingests, not just his or her food.

    Probiotics: Probiotics are healthy bacteria, which work in the intestines to aid in digestion and keep bad bacteria in check to ward off disease. Some examples of probiotics include lactobacillus acidophilus, and bifidobacterium.

    If you have anything helpful to add, or something to contest please do so! I never close the book when it comes to my dog's health.
    (this essay was taken, with permission, from my favorite local petstore's website: http://www.villagepetsupplies.com/index.htm)
    shibas, beagles & more!
  • SangmortSangmort
    Posts: 5510
    Thank you SO MUCH! This was extremely helpful, especially for a newcomer to the dog world like me ;) It's great to see all the terms broken down, normally when I find something where the describe the different components of dog food it gets so techy I get lost in all the words but this was extremely easy to understand!~- Osy ~
    Kismet Collars
    Post edited by Unknown User at -0001-11-30 00:00:00
  • tsukitsunetsukitsune
    Posts: 6185
    I knew if it helped me immensly - it would help others too! I'm glad! The more you know - the better owner you will be!
    shibas, beagles & more!
    Post edited by Unknown User at -0001-11-30 00:00:00
  • HeidiHeidi
    Posts: 3384
    Wow, that's a great list.
    Dogs: Rakka (shikoku), Sosuke (kai), Effie (bc/kelpie)
    Cats: Hester, Batgirl, Stephanie, Harley
    Post edited by Unknown User at -0001-11-30 00:00:00
  • LeonbergerLeonberger
    Posts: 3761
    Very helpful!
    Post edited by Unknown User at -0001-11-30 00:00:00
  • zoiegirlzoiegirl
    Posts: 107
    Great resource i also use this too

    Post edited by Unknown User at -0001-11-30 00:00:00
  • HarlowHarlow
    Posts: 563
    Thanks for the super informative post.
    Patty, Ed, Harlow, Goldie & Riley
    Post edited by Unknown User at -0001-11-30 00:00:00

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