There’s a vast number of different pet foods available on the market right now. How do you know what food is best for your pet? I love my animals, but I’m also on a budget. Pet ownership is a large financial burden, but there’s a happy medium between quality and frugality.
Why I changed my dog’s food
I’ve had pets all my life, but I honestly never thought about the food I fed to them. I just got something mid-market, not the cheapest nor the most expensive available and thought that was good enough. They never complained so no harm no foul… right?
When I adopted Johnny Cash, I thought he was a short haired smooth coated dog, akin to a pit bull. What I didn’t realize at the time was that because of his multiple skin issues, the veterinarians had to shave him down completely. After a few months gone by, my formerly short haired dog became I shaggy coated dog, who shed. A lot.
I’m allergic to both cats and dogs, but I still have both. I found with a weekly deep cleaning and a prescription for Claritin I could manage the allergies. That was until Cash started growing all his hair back. It was like an avalanche of fur descending upon my little house. Little fur dust balls roaming the outer edges of my rooms. It was gross. And annoying.
I took Cash to have a bath at the local pet store I asked the groomer to shave Cash, to which flatly refused to do. She said that Cash had a double coat (or something) and that shaving him would mess up his coat (why his coat was shaggy and chaotic, from the first shaving situation). The groomer did recommend that I change his food to reduce the amount of shedding. Since I was already at Petco, I walked over to the enormous. pet food section. A helpful employee gave me a ton of information about pet food quality.
I had been feeding Cash Purina Pro Plan Focus Adult Large Breed Formula Dry Dog Food. I selected Blue Buffalo Life Protection Large Breed Formula, based on the clerk’s recommendation.
The new food made a world of difference. After a few weeks I noticed his coat was shinier. There was a marked decrease in shedding, I only noticed dust balls after a week versus before when they’d show up 2-3 days after vacuuming. He’s at least eight years old, a senior citizen in the dog world. So I was especially happy that the food made Cash rambunctious and perky. He’s chill, but now he’d fetch for 10 minutes or so versus the one and done he usually let me have. Changing the food was the right decision.
Quality vs. Budget
Now like any commodity high quality correlates with a higher price. And at almost $60 a month, Cash is an aptly named dog. When piled on top of vet bills, pet insurance, toys, treats, boarding, grooming, owning a pet becomes a huge financial burden.
Every month’s pet food purchase became a pinch point for me. I began to wonder if there were other options. I’m on the hunt now for a dog food that is the same quality but at a more affordable price. More on that later. But I wondered: Does the quality of food plateau at some point? I also wondered how exactly pet food is regulated; how could I know for sure my animals were getting the best?
Pet food regulations
Pet food labeling is regulated both at the federal level and at the state level. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates pet food, similar to other animal foods. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) requires that all animal foods, like human foods, be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled. Additionally, the FDA further reviews specific claims on pet food, such as “maintains urinary tract health,” or “hairball control.”
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has also established guidelines for regulators to govern claims a pet food company can make on its label. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies.
Read the Label
Ingredients on a pet food must be listed in descending order (by weight) on the package.
These ingredients should be real named meat, whole grains and vegetables to ensure a pet is getting excellent nutrition from the best natural ingredients. Keep in mind wet food will list meats and fish higher on the label because of the moisture content.
If the food is said to contain a single ingredient, it must contain at least 95% of that ingredient, not including water. Phrases like dinner, platter and entrée means the foods must contain at least 25% of the named ingredient. If the name states “with” a specific ingredient (such as “with cheese”) only 3% of the named ingredient is required. Products that advertise specific “flavors” need to contain only a detectable amount of that ingredient.
Things to watch out for
- Meat meal contains animal parts, including 4-D animals (dead, diseased, disabled or dying prior to slaughter). These ingredients are always considered unfit for human consumption due to their questionable quality and safety.
- Not all meat byproducts are bad, some contain highly digestible and nutritious organs such as liver or lungs.
- Pet food is made from the 50% of carcasses that cannot be profitable sold for human consumption.
- Real meat includes tongue, esophagus, diaphragm, intestine, sinew, and heart; not inedible things like hair or bones.
- Examples of preservatives that should be avoided include BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, sodium nitrite and nitrate
- Avoid artificial colors (your dogs doesn’t care what it looks like, just how it tastes)
- Artificial fillers, many cheaper foods use fillers to add weight to the food but provide no nutritional value. These include wheat mill run, rice bran, corn bran
- Feeding trials prove that the animals have eaten the food willingly and remained healthy. The protocol requires six of eight animals complete a 26-week feeding trial without showing clinical or pathological signs of nutritional deficiency or excess. No animal is allowed to lose more than 15% of its starting weight.
- Guaranteed Analysis lists the minimum amount of protein and fat by percentage and maximum fiber and moister by percentage. This doesn’t’ indicate quality or digestibility of ingredients, but a measure of nutrient categories.
- The preparation of kibbled foods almost certainly compromises quality due to high heating treatments
- Gluten allergies are very rare in dogs
Questions? Ask your Veterinarian.
Increasingly, pets are experiencing higher incidences of hormonal disorders, cancer and other disease conditions. It raises the question whether the quality of nutrients in foods they are exposed to day after day may be contributing to these issues.
Just like with humans, diet is a huge part of an animal’s health and wellness. While even the cheapest dog or cat food can sustain life, many pet foods out there lack the nutrients that can ensure a long, healthy life. Additionally, since most pets are fed the same food every day, they have a much higher exposure to preservatives and chemicals in the food, than a human would who eat fast food once in a while. Additionally, most pets are much smaller than humans so the ratio of preservatives to body weight is much higher.
If you’re concerned about the food you’re feeding your animal, any quality pet food company will have no issue answering your questions. Lastly, if you have questions about food or about your pet’s health, it’s best to consult your animal’s veterinarian.
U..S Food & Drug Administration
Why You Should Feed High Quality Pet Food
Lorie Hutson, DYM
Best Dog Food: The Search
Dr. Ken Tudor
Pet Food: The Quality/Cost Conflict
Dr. Patty Khuly VMD
Are Dogs Carnivores? Here’s What New Research Says.
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Large Breed Adult Fish & Oatmeal Recipe Dry Dog Food, 30-lb bag
Kirkland Signature Nature’s Domain Salmon Meal & Sweet Potato Dog Food 35 lb. https://www.costco.com/Kirkland-Signature-Nature’s-Domain-Salmon-Meal-%2526-Sweet-Potato-Dog-Food-35-lb.-.product.100215967.html