Had it not been for the sweeping pet-food recall of 2007, most consumers would’ve remained unaware of the sketchy pet-food manufacturing industry. That debacle shed light on the industry and has, thankfully, incited change. But because pet food is mostly unregulated, since the recall, many companies are jumping on the organic bandwagon and splashing “natural” marketing claims across their packaging. So how can you be sure that what you’re feeding your dog is as healthy as the package claims?
When you’re evaluating a new commercial pet food, don’t even look at the front. Flip the bag or box over and focus on the ingredients. Let’s take a look at a real dog food label to see how it stacks up. Holistic Select sent a sample of their Radiant Adult Health Chicken Meal & Rice Recipe.
Chicken Meal, Ground Brown Rice, Ground White Rice, Oatmeal, Chicken Fat (Preserved with Natural Mixed Tocopherols), Pork Meal, Dried Beet Pulp, Anchovy & Sardine Meal, Flaxseed, Dried Egg Product, Menhaden Fish Oil, Tomato Pomace, Carrots, Peas, Sun-Cured Alfalfa, Potassium Chloride, Organic Quinoa, Blueberries, Apples, Cranberries, Dried Kelp, Yucca Schidigera Extract, DL-Methionine, Vitamins [Beta-Carotene, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Niacin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamine Mononitrate, Folic Acid, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Biotin], Minerals [Polysaccharide Complexes of Zinc, Iron, Manganese and Copper, Cobalt Carbonate, Potassium Iodate, Sodium Selenite], Choline Chloride, Lecithin, Rosemary Extract, Glucosamine Hydrochloride, Inulin, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Enterococcus faecium, Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus licheniformis, Aspergillus oryzae and Aspergillus niger Fermentation Products, Mixed Tocopherols (a natural preservative).
Deciphering Protein Sources
Like the labels on people food, pet food labels list ingredients from the highest quantity to the lowest. The Holistic Select label indicates that chicken meal is in the highest concentration followed by brown and white rice. Here’s where it gets tricky: If rice were listed as a single ingredient, it would most likely outweigh the chicken meal, making grain – not meat – the primary ingredient.
Commercial pet food utilizes a lot of animal parts that don’t provide our dogs with the nutrition they require. The best meat to look for is “human-grade,” which is the highest quality and thus the most nutritionally dense. The second best option would be a named meat meal (i.e. chicken meal). And lastly, the lowest-quality meats are animal digest, meat meal, or bone meal, which are made from carcass remains and include heads, bones, blood, intestines, ligaments, and unborn babies, among others.
In our Holistic Select example, as far as dog-food meat goes, the chicken meal, pork meal, and anchovy and sardine meal are high-quality meats.
Fruits and Veggies
The label lists a range of fruits and vegetables (Carrots, Peas, Sun-Cured Alfalfa, Organic Quinoa, Blueberries, Apples, Cranberries, Dried Kelp) and probiotics, all of which are crucial to round out a dog’s complete diet. Until recently, many dog foods ignored these important components, which are thankfully starting to appear in higher-quality dog foods.
Fillers and Preservatives
Beet pulp and tomato pomace are both fillers used in Holistic Select, and both are typical ingredients, though beet pulp is somewhat controversial. Despite its name, beet pulp isn’t derived from the veggie. It’s derived from sugar beets, after the sugar has been extracted, and is used as a fiber source in pet foods. However, in large quantities, beet pulp may cause intestinal problems like bloat or torsion, though commercial dog foods like Holistic Select use safe amounts.
Natural preservatives are a safer option than chemical preservatives. Avoid dog foods that list BHA/BHT. Instead, look for rosemary or Mixed Tocopherols, both of which appear in the Holistic Select food.
Pros: The Holistic Select label lists high-quality fats, whole grains, a range of vegetables and probiotics, and natural preservatives.
Cons: While this is a healthy food overall, there isn’t enough high-quality meat to make a complete diet. This food would have to be supplemented with additional meat. I would feed this to my dogs only with the addition of a grain-free canned meat.