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Furry Friends Need (Good) Nutrition, Too!

Spot unhealthy pet foods (and their natural alternatives)
Furry Friends Need Good Nutrition, Too!
Published on April 3, 2010 : 11 comments

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In fostering dogs for a local rescue group, I’ve found that good nutrition can help or even alleviate physical, emotional, and behavioral problems in animals. It has been the experience with my own fur-kids that spawned me to learn all I could about canine nutrition. And it is my successes that keep me a devout natural foods advocate.

One of my successes, my Audrey (pictured above), was born with kidney disease. She started showing symptoms even before weaning. Audrey is now almost four, and her kidneys remain stable. She is un-medicated and in very good health. I believe in my heart that she would not be with me today if not for excellent nutrition and clean living (Audrey is not on a prescription diet).

In honor of Audrey, here’s a few things you may not know about the pet food industry and your bag of pet food:

Human vs. Pet Food

The pet food industry is an extension of the human food industry. Foods not fit for human consumption, byproducts of human food manufacturing, or worse are used by some pet food manufacturers to keep expenses down and profits up. Unfortunately, this can be disastrous for the health of your pet.

Brewers rice and corn gluten meal fit into this category—ever wonder what corn gluten meal really is?

Brewers Rice

Per Wikipedia, brewer’s rice is:

"…the small milled fragments of rice kernels. Brewers rice is a processed rice product that is missing many of the nutrients in whole ground rice and brown rice thus reducing the quality.

Brewers rice and second heads are one of the many byproducts that rice milling creates…Brewers rice is sold for pet food and dairy feed exclusively."

Brewers rice has very little to no nutritional value, yet it is the first or second ingredient in some foods.

Euthanized Animals

The FDA tested several brands of pet food and found the presence of pentobarbital:

There appear to be associations between rendered or hydrolyzed ingredients and the presence of pentobarbital in dog food. The ingredients Meat and Bone Meal (MBM), Beef and Bone Meal (BBM), Animal Fat (AF), and Animal Digest (AD) are rendered or hydrolyzed from animal sources that could include euthanized animals."

This is obviously the kind of thing manufacturers try to avoid printing on labels. It’s probably also the kind of food you should avoid feeding your pet.

By-product Meals

By-product meal can be from a named source like chicken or a generic source such as poultry. These meats can include cancerous tissue or originate from 4-D animals such as road kill. Look at this quote from the FDA website regarding 4-D animals:

CVM is aware of the sale of dead, dying, disabled, or diseased (4-D) animals to salvagers for use as animal food. Meat from these carcasses is boned and the meat is packaged or frozen without heat processing. The raw, frozen meat is shipped for use by several industries, including pet food manufacturers, zoos, greyhound kennels, and mink ranches. This meat may present a potential health hazard to the animals that consume it and to the people who handle it" [emphasis mine].

So why is it in the food? Simple: profit. A cheap source of animal protein increases the bottom line of the manufacturer. Fed over time, this cheap product can cause you and your pet undue and possibly dire consequences.

Preservatives BHA, BHT and Ethoxyquin

These are synthetic chemical preservatives that prolong the food’s shelf life but have various side effects. From the Journal of Nutrition on ethoxyquin:

Despite the fact that ETQ is approved for use in all animal feeds, reports of adverse reactions have been almost exclusively in dogs. Of types of dog food, the "premium" brands of dry dog foods are most often incriminated…The reported signs include liver, kidney, thyroid and reproductive dysfunction, teratogenic and carcinogenic effects, allergic reactions and a host of skin and hair abnormalities.” 

Lower Quality Foods

Can your dog survive on these foods? Sure. Can he thrive on these foods? Not likely.

Don’t rely on the pet food manufacturer to paint a true picture of what is in their food. Instead, educate yourself as to what the individual ingredients in the food really are. You may find that your bag of XXX brand is not the good food you originally thought it to be. Carefully scrutinize “premium” foods from the large pet food stores as well. You just might be surprised at what you find.

What to Feed Your Furry Friend for Better Health?

  1. Better quality kibbled and canned foods will list a named meat source such as “chicken” or “lamb” as the first ingredient. They will not have ANY by-products in the ingredient list.
  2. Avoid foods with BHA, BHT, and Ethoxyquin. Look for preservatives such as mixed tocopherols (vitamin e), grapeseed extract, or rosemary instead. These will generally be found after the fat source (about the fourth to seventh ingredient in the list) and at the end of the ingredient list.
  3. Look for whole grains or chose a grain free food.
  4. Watch for grain/carb bundles—chicken, potato, pea protein, oatmeal, chicken fat—in this case, carbohydrates and vegetable proteins are the predominant ingredient in the food even though meat is the first ingredient.

Don’t count on the protein content in the nutrient profile exclusively – read the individual ingredients to get the best overall picture. The protein content in the nutrition panel on the bag includes all sources of protein. Grain protein, although digestible, has a lower biological value than animal proteins.

  1. Dog foods, by law, cannot advertise that they are made from “human grade” foods. They can, however, include the information on their website. Most foods from the large pet chains are not produced using foods suitable for human consumption. Guess where moldy grains end up?
  2. Some, like me, prefer to have complete control over what foods our furry friends eat and, therefore, feed foods we prepare at home. This takes knowledge though. A well prepared and balanced home made diet is ideal. But if you can’t do it properly, you are much better off feeding a complete and balanced kibble, canned, or a commercial raw/dehydrated diet as found at the two stores linked below.
  3. If you have any questions or concerns, visit or call one of the local pet food stores specializing in higher quality foods such as Nature Dog or Long Dog Fat Cat.

Additional Local Resources

If you would like to switch to a better food but your four legged best friend has an illness that would necessitate professional guidance, consider contacting holistic veterinarian Dr. Diane Simmons to schedule a nutritional consultation appointment at (402) 593-6556.

Nature Dog offers a no cost, quarterly seminar. The presenter discusses topics such as the correct ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 and how to balance the diet if necessary. The ratio for dogs and cats is not the same as for humans. Dogs have a higher requirement for omega 6 than humans do. Many commercial foods, even natura foods, need fine tuning to fall within the ideal 6 to 3 range. Check the Nature Dog website or join their email list for seminar updates.

A fun fact: three of the natural pet foods currently on the market are manufactured right here in Nebraska!



cpooschke says:

April 3, 2010 : 14 years 6 weeks ago

cpooschke's picture

Great article! We feed our own dog only human-grade food that we prepare ourselves. Dr. Simmons is GREAT, too! We love her!! Thanks for writing about this topic. It’s too bad that, like with human foods, we can’t just trust that whatever is sold to us must be okay to consume - it just ISN’T!

Shawna (not verified) says:

April 5, 2010 : 14 years 6 weeks ago

Shawna's picture

Thanks Christy!! How sad is it that we even have to watch for these things?? And I agree with you - human food industry is no better!!

doggiemom says:

April 5, 2010 : 14 years 6 weeks ago

doggiemom's picture

The editor did a great job editing this article but I wanted to note that I would have emphasized the “no grain” versus the “whole grain” section of the article. I fed whole grain barley to Audrey for the fermentable fiber aspect of the grain. In less then three months she had developed a gluten allergy.

AND - I recently read the below information from a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service article (link attached).

Rendering is not an acceptable way to dispose of a pentobarbital-tainted carcass. The drug residues are not destroyed in the rendering process, so the tissues and by-products may contain poison and must not be used for animal feed….

All pentobarbital-euthanized carcasses should be prominently tagged with one or more highly-visible “POISON” warning labels. Bagged animals should have a label affixed to the carcass itself and also attached to the outside of the bag.”

So much for the theory of “there’s only a trace amount” in pet food………..

Dr. Becker (not verified) says:

April 5, 2010 : 14 years 6 weeks ago

Dr. Becker's picture

Thank you for providing this informative article to help pet parents make more nutritious food choices!

Dee Adams (not verified) says:

April 7, 2010 : 14 years 6 weeks ago

Dee Adams's picture

Thank you for this informative, easy to understand article. I will share with my clients.

B Morris (not verified) says:

April 7, 2010 : 14 years 6 weeks ago

B Morris's picture

Great article. I can tell that you have done tons of research and have a great deal of knowledge in the field of animal nutrition. We feed a raw food diet to our animals and they do really well and are rarely in the vets office. We also believe in natural whole foods for both pets and ourselves. I would love to read your thoughts about vaccinations for animals.
Thank you for your insights.

B Morris (not verified) says:

April 7, 2010 : 14 years 6 weeks ago

B Morris's picture

PS: Your Audrey is an adorable little pooch!

doggiemom says:

April 8, 2010 : 14 years 6 weeks ago

doggiemom's picture

Thanks Dee Adams!! I love you website and the services you provide!! What fun!!!!

B Morris — Thanks for your thoughts. Audrey is our special little girl :) I was actually thinking about writing an article on vaccinations. It’s such a hot topic though that I really need to get all my references lined up. I may get started on that yet this week… I’m an active member of Mercola’s healthy pets forum. I really think you would enjoy it if you’re not already familiar. It’s run by Dr. Karen Becker. then click on the HealthyPets link, then forum and finally discussions. Thanks again :)

B Morris (not verified) says:

April 8, 2010 : 14 years 6 weeks ago

B Morris's picture

I will definatly check it out. Thanks. Looking forward to any further articles.

Danielle (not verified) says:

April 9, 2010 : 14 years 5 weeks ago

Danielle's picture

This is a WONDERFUL and eye opening article! You did a fantastic job on it, Shawna!! :) I really think people need to know about this stuff, so THANK YOU for making the information available through your well written article. I have forwarded it to all of my dog lover friends! :)

Barb (not verified) says:

June 2, 2012 : 11 years 50 weeks ago

Barb 's picture

Great information. Thanks for making it easy to understand. I really like and appreciate all your articles. You know your stuff.

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