"When animals are slaughtered, the leftovers become pet food. Processors add diseased
animals, animals that died at the farm, spoiled meat from supermarkets and used restaurant

Robert Urano

What do you feed your dog? your cat? If you are like most owners, you purchase your pet food at the supermarket when you buy your weekly groceries, at a discount retailer or you make a special trip to a pet specialty store. But do you really know whatʼs in your pet food? If you look at the packaging on many of these foods, you might think the food contains choice cuts of beef, plump chicken, fresh fruits and vegetables, wholesome grains. However, most of what comprises dog and cat food comes from the rendering plant and food unfit for human consumption.

When cattle, pigs, chickens, lambs, and other animals are slaughtered, the muscle, surrounding fat and perhaps parts like liver and tongue are taken for human consumption. The leftovers become pet food. Processors add diseased animals, animals that died at the farm, spoiled meat from supermarkets and used restaurant grease. Left over grains are included: corn, rice, wheat, barley, sorghum, oats, or rye after most of their nutrients have been removed.

Dogs or cats would not eat this highly processed stuff but since these animals use their sense of smell to judge a foodʼs suitability, manufacturers spray fats on the kibble to make them appetizing. The fat also acts to bind various flavour enhancers, both natural and artificial, that are used to trick the animal into eating something that it would otherwise ignore.

The pet food market is dominated by a few huge multi-national corporations that have acquired many successful pet food companies. Nestles owns Purina which makes Dog Chow, Cat Chow, Fancy Feast, Alpo, Friskies, Beneful, ProPlan, Purina Veterinary Diets and several other brands. Mars Inc.’s labels include Pedigree, Whiskas, Sheba, Temptations, Royal Canin, Waltham, Nutro and several more. Del Monteʼs brands include Kibbles ’n Bits, Meow Mix, Gravy Train, 9 Lives, Natureʼs Recipe, Milk Bone, Pup-Peroni, Sausages, Pounce and others. Hillʼs Science Diet is owned by Colgate-Palmolive and Proctor & Gamble bought the Iams Co. and marketed the brand to the masses. When you consider the large number of varieties (puppy, kitten, weight control, senior etc.) and the vast number of flavours that are produced under these labels it is easy to see why they dominate the pet food isles.

From a business viewpoint, pet food fits nicely with companies that make human products. These multi-nationals have tremendous purchasing and marketing power; they can use the waste products from their human food divisions; and they have the clout to get their products onto store shelves.

About the only way a consumer can discover what is in the product is by reading the label. But even here the customer may be misled. Many dried foods are grain based. Since ingredients are listed in descending order of weight, manufacturers use several different sources of grain so that they can be scattered throughout the list of ingredients.

For example, rice, brown rice, brewers rice, corn and corn gluten are listed as separate ingredients. However, the grains combined in most cases make up the largest part of the formula. To avoid the appearance of too many grains, a recent trend has been to include vegetables and some fruits. Again, exactly how much, and what quality is not given. Moreover, dogs and cats are carnivores so why the abundance of grains, vegetables, and fruits in the formulas at all? Marketing purposely blurs the line between whatʼs good for us and whatʼs good for our pets.

What about purchasing foods from smaller companies that just make pet food? Usually, these companies try to differentiate themselves from the big players by offering super premium or ultra premium foods. Unfortunately, there are no set standards for these labels, just as there is no standard for a product calling itself natural. Nevertheless, these foods often use better sources of protein and in some instances use human grade ingredients. Again, when reading the packaging one must separate hype from fact.

So where does this lead the beleaguered pet owner? Unfortunately, it is difficult to find an objective answer to what is the best food for our pets. There is no one you can ask at the supermarket. At the pet specialty store you may be shown products that are the most profitable for the retailer. Your veterinarian is not highly trained in animal nutrition and often sells food himself.

Pet food manufacturers argue that pets live longer than they used to. However, the number of diabetic cats, dogs with skin allergies and the incidence of obesity in both dogs and cats suggests that many of these foods are not serving our pets well.

Robert Urano was a longtime operator of a pet food store and much enjoys animals.

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