You are changing your diet, but what about your best friend. Lola, Max, Jasper, Lexi, no not your porn star name, your pet!
Pet food is a perfect example of our gross manipulation by the food industry. Yes it is convenient, yes it can be cheap, but….there are a lot of buts.
The focus is on dog food as that is where I have done the majority of my research but it can be applied to any pet food – research and question your choices. Also with my four dogs in their sixth year of eating my homemade food, it is the area I am most comfortable in. I will write a separate post about homemade dog food.
Where do you look for real advice? It is a hard one to research. The food industry spends millions on marketing, government legislation is wordy and not written in plain english, so you have to read between the lines and use your common sense. We all know that poor quality ingredients go into human food what do you think goes into pet food that is made from the left overs of that process?
Straight from the Purina website https://www.purina.co.uk/meet-purina/what-goes-into-purina-petfood ‘Strict legislation assures the quality of the protein and means that no ingredients such as spinal cord, euthanized pets or sick animals go into our pet foods.’ To be fair to the folk at Purina this is a marketing cockup on their part. In reality this is not allowed in the EU, I assume it is lifted from their .com website. People in the USA do need to worry about dead pets ending up in their dog food, for example the city of Los Angeles alone sends about 200 tons of dead pets to a rendering plant each month which ends up in dog food. We have better protection under EU policy, but be under no illusion, dog food is still well and truly in the red zone.
One could argue that pet food is ethical on the basis that it is generally made of a by-products, so it is good from a waste perspective, but that is where it ends. Pet food is on the ethical debate list for many reasons:
- We are brainwashed into believing it is the only and best thing we should feed our pets
- The cost of the product versus the ingredients is miles away from an acceptable ratio
- The production methods and the permitted ingredients are proven to be putting our dogs health at both long and short term risks
- Ask your dog – it tastes bad! What comes out of the factory as grey mush is recoloured and reformed to look like food, for your benefit
- The low quality dog food debate has led to an explosion in high end dog foods and whilst some of them are better for your dog, the cost is often prohibitive. Plus this opens the door wider for consumer manipulation, leaving you in a spin in the supermarket aisle.
- My personal favourite is the special diets, (unless your dog REALLY needs it), you maybe paying over the top for now reason – vet diets, the science diets, senior, food for dogs with long hair, the list goes on. Often the reason they make all of these is again consumer manipulation and often to fix the problems the other food has caused. Two wrongs don’t make a right, they just cost more!
Your dog has 1000’s of year of evolution revolving around sense of smell, they know it is grey mush. The majority of the cost you are paying is for the packaging and how it looks. For your benefit, not the dogs. I hear of so many instances of dogs picking at their food, eating slowly. Does your dog ever give you that ‘you can’t be serious’ look? Well they are trying to tell you something – listen! Dogs are designed to eat on the run, to get what they can when they can, there is nothing in a dogs DNA to make them eat slowly or to leave food (unless they are very old or unwell).
Modern dog food was invented by James Spratt, who launched the first complete dog food – a biscuit made of wheat meal, vegetables and animal blood – in England in 1860. Mill owners saw its potential as a way of selling their unwanted by-products (basically floor sweepings) and low-cost meat off-cuts at a much higher price than they’d otherwise achieve.
Over the years with better meat recovery systems what is left for pet food, is actually waste, it is food that is not suitable for human consumption. For anyone that has ever seen the Jamie Oliver series about school dinners and the mechanical recovery of chicken from a carcass to make chicken nuggets, you’ll know what I mean! There is nothing much left. Now don’t get me wrong, grinding up bones to make dog food isn’t such a bad idea and dogs can eat that, that is not the issue here, but they don’t grind up fresh bones and serve them to your dogs. The left overs next go to a meat rendering plant see http://www.midukrecycling.co.uk/compliance-legislation/animal-by-products.aspx, you’ll notice their catchy slogan, ‘converting waste’ again it is all a good idea, but if you are under any illusion that your pet is eating good quality food think again. The real issue is that you are being sold on a picture of fresh chicken and a dog with a glossy coat jumping in the air for a frisbee.
OK so it tastes bad, it is from waste product, but what about the health aspects, I mentioned earlier. Regarding general health the same applies to your dog ‘they are what they eat’. Nutrition and a good diet supports good health and it starts with the ingredients we use. But more troubling is specific health issues. This is an extract from the Food standard agency website “For pets, the main part of the risk assessment when setting the maximum permitted levels for undesirable substances will generally be the extent to which the animal can tolerate them” https://www.food.gov.uk/business-industry/farmingfood/animalfeed/animalfeedlegislation/pet-food In other words, it is legal to use ‘undesirable substances’ in dog food if they don’t do the animal immediate harm. A quote from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/chemicals-in-pet-food-can-lead-to-bad-behaviour-says-top-vet-913907.html “Over the 12 years I’ve been a practising vet, I have seen a substantial rise in cases of problems caused by poor diet, including allergies and intolerances, and behavioural issues linked to artificial additives in food.”
This post is not about condemning dog food. It is about being informed and making better food choices. There is a great variance in the quality and cost of dog food as well as the ethical aspects.
Labelling requirements for pet food is very relaxed. It is way more relaxed than labelling for human food and even for farmed livestock feed. This gives the manufactures a lot of flexibility and helps to keep you in the dark. Looks for labels that list ingredient in specific quantities and whole foods rather than a derivatives of.
See these examples of ingredients:
GOOD – Lily’s Kitchen – Three bird feast – 60% Freshly Prepared: Turkey (40%), Goose (10%), Duck (10%), Parsnips (4%), Organic Carrot (3%), Cranberries (3%), Broccoli, Organic Apple, Minerals & Herbs.
BAD – Pedigree – Small dog with chicken – Cereals, Meat and Animal Derivatives (including 4% Chicken in the Brown Kibbles), Oils and Fats (including 0.5% Sunflower Oil), Derivatives of Vegetable Origin (including 2% Dried Beet Pulp), Minerals (1.8%, including 0.7% Sodium Tripolyphosphate, an active ingredient on the Brown Kibbles), Vegetables (4% Carrots in the Orange Kibbles, 4% Peas in the Green Kibbles), Vegetable Protein Extracts, Antioxidants, Colourants
GOOD – Naturo – Chicken and lamb – Chicken 30%, Lamb 30%, Brown Rice 20%, Carrots 5%, Peas 5%, Potatoes 5%, Minerals, Sunflower Oil, Salmon Oil, Dried Tomato, Dried Kelp, Dried Basil
HONEST but LAZY! – Butchers – Tripe in jelly – Meat & Animal Derivatives (53%, of which Tripe 35%, Fresh 49%), Minerals, Natural array of Ingredients min. 99%
WHAT? – Royal Canin – Medium adult dry food – (At around £8 per kg, this ingredients list depicts everything that is wrong with the food industry, IMHO) Maize flour, dehydrated poultry protein, rice, maize, animal fats,hydrolysed animal proteins, wheat, dehydrated pork protein*, chicory pulp, soya oil, minerals, fish oil, flax seeds (0.5%), fructo-oligo-saccharides, borage oil (0.1%),marigold extract (source of lutein), green tea and grape extracts (source of polyphenols),hydrolysed crustaceans (source of glucosamine), hydrolysed cartilage (source of chondroitin)….etc
I have reviewed over 40 different dog food products and my conclusion is. If you don’t really mind what your dog eats or you are on a tight budget, then go for the cheapest food, e.g. ‘Tesco own’ as I have found very little quality difference at the lower to mid end so you are just paying for marketing. There are a few mid range products that contain fresh meat worth looking at, then there a select few brands we would consider to be ethical (sourcing free range or organic ingredients). I can’t find a really cheap ethical dog food but I have found mid range through to over the top price versions. Price alone dictates the quality of products. Look for an independent UK brand, avoid big brand food manufactures and companies that have pages of information about nutrition but don’t list their ingredients, always read the ingredients labels and ultimately use common sense.
Ethical omnivores pick:
- Homemade – 1st place (see next post)
- Natural dog food company (full range, ethically sourced meat and fish) @ £3.67 per kg it gets 2nd place
- Simpsons premium (organic products)
- Lily’s Kitchen (organic products)
- Honey Raw dog food (full range – it is all free range or organic)
- Forthglade (beef and lamb products)
- Other brands and products containing fresh lamb (on the basis lamb is free range)
A rough view on some well known brands, based on cost and quality of ingredients:
- Cheap but not so cheerful – Chappie, Bakers (Purina) Winalot (Purina) Harringtons, Wagg, Tesco own (cheaper), Winalot, Cesar (Mars)
- Worth a look – Naturo, Forthglade, Lily’s kitchen, Step up to naturals, Butchers choice, James Wellbeloved, Wainwrights, Edgardcooper, Natures harvest.
- Not sure – price v ingredients – Nature’s table (Mars), Vet’s kitchen, Iams, Hilife, Freshpet, Applaws, Arden grange, Burns, Hills, Royal Canin, Taste of the wild
Final thoughts – Dog treats cost more per kg than the best quality human foods, go for carrot sticks and raw beef marrow bones from the butcher.
If you dog is overweight, avoid jumping to diet dog food. Try dog food that contains less junk food (less grain and other bulking agents), feed your dog more pure meat, veg, rice etc. and ideally do a bit more exercise – #goodadviceforusall
The Ethical omnivore and my doggy friends.