What Am I Feeding My Pet ? Pet Food Companies Packaging Profits
Ron Hines DVM PhD
Why Do The Number Of Chronic Health Problems In Dogs And Cats Appear to Have Risen So Much Over The Last 30 Years?
One reason is that the lifestyles of owners and pets have changed dramatically over the last 30 years. Owner-awareness of pet health issues has increased, as well as your veterinarian’s ability to recognize and diagnose those health issues.
But I believe that there is another reason. It is the pet food industry… The last 30 years have seen several important changes in that industry. Conglomeration (consolidation) into a few megafirms that dominate the World pet food market , a worldwide explosion of demand for prepared pet diets and intense competition for limited animal protein resources (meat-based products). Conglomeration means limited competition and an increased focus on profitability. Particularly when a company is publically owned. As in all industries, without competition from smaller start-up firms, the incentives to produce quality products decreases.
Exploding world wide demand for meat-based products has driven up ingredient prices. To maintain profit margins and satisfy investors, these companies have had to search out other sources of protein than meat. The price of plant-source (soybean meal, corn gluten) proteins has remained more static over that period. That is why these firms funded an explosion of research attempting to prove that dogs and cats would do just as well when a major source of the protein in their diets is cheaper plant protein. Nature created dogs and cats with a carnivore metabolism – meat eaters. You only need to look at their teeth to know that. There were bound to be negative consequences of feeding them primarily plant-based, rather than their traditional meat-based diets. I believe that the dramatic increase in the rate of calcium oxalate urinary stones is likely one of them. You can read about those urinary tract problems in dogs here and in your cat here .
Pet Food Conglomerates are masters at serving up cheap food ingredients wrapped in fancy labels and snazzy TV add campaigns. Let’s look at the ingredients in a popular Nestlé’s (aka Purina) product, Chef Michael’s. It’s no better and no worse than the other mass-market dog foods you find at your retailer.
Lets take Chef Michael’s Filet Mignon Flavor Dry Dog Food for example: 32% protein, 18% fat and about 42% carbohydrates. All dog owners know their pets like meat protein – so that looks good. Besides, you’ve seen the add on TV with the Chef cutting up that good-looking rib eye !
The food ingredients are listed according to their weight in the finished product – the largest ingredient first. You see that its ingredients are:
Beef, soybean meal, soy flour, animal fat, brewers rice, soy protein concentrate, corn gluten meal, ground yellow corn, glycerin, poultry by-product meal, ground wheat, animal digest, salt, pearled barley, natural filet mignon flavor, dried potatoes and dried green beans. The rest of the ingredients are food dyes, vitamins, minerals, preservatives and flavorants.
Hmm…. Beef is listed as the first ingredient – that sounds good. But beef is 65-75% water and the other ingredients are dry. So they are not comparing apples to apples. If you considered the beef more accurately – as to how much it contributed to the dry mix – it would be way down the list. But these companies know that pet owners like to see meat as the first ingredient and there is no USDA rule against this slight-of-hand. The soybean meal and soy flour are actually the primary ingredients that Chef Michael puts in his dog food – but you don’t see Chef Michael cutting up soybeans or corn. Soy is known to be very high in oxalate. ( read here ) . The soybeans are added solely to make this a high protein product while still retaining a high profit margin. There is debate as to whether soy protein is inferior to meat protein. But there is no debate in that soy products are very high in oxalate. ( read here & here )
Brewers rice is a byproduct of human rice cultivation – not something in beer. It is made up of the culled, broken grains resulting from the rice milling process. (The fragments that pass through a #4 sieve but not a 2.5 sieve). It is added to keep the meat to the front of the ingredient list and the corn products lower down. It also adds starch necessary to form the extruded pellet.
Corn gluten meal is a byproduct obtained when corn is processed into ethanol for your car or corn syrup. It is a traditional ingredient in cattle feed. Gluten has also been associated with increased urinary tract stones in dogs. (ref)
Animal digests, meat and bone meal are the products of rendering plants and slaughterhouses. There is no telling what their oxalate content might be. But a lot of USDA condemned livers and organ meats, the carcass parts containing the most oxalate, end up in the brew. ( read here & here ) That is because up to 78% of pig livers are condemned due to roundworm parasite scars
What About Mass-Marketed Cat Foods?
Cats are much less efficient in processing the high carbohydrate content of grains-based diets than dogs are. I believe it is quite likely that veterinarians and nutritionists will eventually discover that diseases that are increasing in frequency in cats, like diabetes , certain kidney stones and chronic intestinal, liver and pancreatic inflammations ( Triad disease and IBD) are partially the result of loading their digestive systems with plant carbohydrates. When homeless cats must return to a feral life, they quickly revert to complete carnivores. ( read here )
Let’s look at the ingredients in a popular Nestlé ’s (aka Purina) product, Naturals Cat Chow® From Purina. It’s no better and no worse than the other mass-market cat foods you find at your retailer.
Well, looking at the bag label, it says it contains 38% protein, 13% fat and a maximum of 6% fiber. So going by the rather antiquated NRC guidelines on feline nutrition, it seems just fine there and in its other essential nutrients. It says it contains real chick and salmon too, its “All Natural” and it shows a big slab of salmon on the bag!
By law, cat food ingredients are listed according to their weight in the finished product – the largest ingredient first. You see that its major ingredients are:
Chicken meal, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, brewers rice, animal fat , corn meal, chicken, salmon, powdered cellulose, ground whole wheat, soybean hulls, malt extract and brewers dried yeast.
Hmm…. Chicken is listed as the first ingredient – that sounds good. But wait, they broke up the corn analysis and the soybean analysis to keep the chicken in first place on the list and it doesn’t say chicken, it says chicken meal. That is the stuff that was not fit for human consumption, the “4D birds” (dead, dying, diseased or disabled) that got tossed off the processing line for one reason or another.
But these companies know that pet owners like to see meat as the first ingredient and there is no USDA rule against this slight-of-hand. The soybeans and corn are actually the primary ingredients that went into the Naturals bag.
Salmon is the 8th ingredient and you can bet it wasn’t the tasty slab you see on the package. If the kibble is 13% fat by weight, and that’s the 5th ingredient – can’t be much salmon there. Besides, salmon is 72% water – it would be somewhere South of the cellulose (wood fiber) if all was given on an honest, dry-weight basis.
The soybeans and corn are added solely to make this a high-protein product while still retaining a suitably high-profit margin. There is debate as to whether soy protein is inferior to meat protein. ( read here & here ) But there is no debate in that soy products are very high in oxalate.
Brewers rice is a byproduct of human rice cultivation – not something in beer. It is made up of the culled, broken grains resulting from the rice milling industry. (The fragments that pass through a #4 sieve but not a 2.5 sieve). It is added to keep the meat at the front of the ingredient list and the corn products lower down. It also adds starch that manufacturers say they need to form an extruded pellet.
Corn gluten meal is a byproduct obtained when corn is processed into ethanol for your car or corn syrup. It is a traditional ingredient in cattle feed. Gluten has also been associated with increased urinary tract stones in dogs. ( read here )
Despite what yo see on TV pet food commercials, Nature created cats as carnivores. ( read abstract here ) send me an email and I will send you my full copy.
Cats have not experienced as dramatic an increase in oxalate urinary tract stones as dogs have. Interestingly enough, the percentage of animal protein in commercial cat foods has not decreased as dramatically as it has in many dog food brands. The only reason the manufacturers have not put more plant protein in cat food is that most cats wouldn’t eat it if they do.