Sure, your pets might not be picky. Your dog might even enjoy a delicacy out or your cat’s litter box. But their health depends on what they eat, and knowing a few basic facts can help you make the best picks out of the hundreds of choices of pet food.
“Cheap foods try to hype many low-quality ingredients to sound like they are fantastic for your pets,” noted Russ Herman, CEO of PetSaver Healthy Pet Superstore, which has locations in Greece, Brighton and Webster. “You will see pretty pictures of good ingredients on the front of the bag, but you’ll have to hunt to find them in the ingredient listing. It can be very deceiving.”
In general, Herman tells pet owners to avoid corn, wheat, soy and by-products. “I’ll ask them to find the ingredient panel on a bag of pet food and see if the first five ingredients are of good quality. You are looking for quality proteins, not fillers.”
This is where price can be misleading. A pet food may cost more, but it might balance out because your pet might need less of a higher-quality food to meet its nutritional needs.
Here are some ingredients to consider:
Chicken vs. chicken meal: The term “chicken, beef or lamb” in a pet food ingredient means that the raw meat is used in the production of the food. The problem is when the ingredient is 80 percent water, which means it loses most of its weight during processing. It might be listed as the first ingredient on the label (meaning the biggest portion) but if analyzed after processing, it might fall to the third or fourth ingredient.
Chicken meal, on the other hand, means that the chicken was dehydrated before processing, so it would still be the biggest ingredient even after processing.
If the ingredients say “chicken, chicken meal,” that’s fine; chicken protein will still be the foremost ingredient. Or if several meats are listed (such as “chicken, duck, lamb, beef”), meat will most likely be the first ingredient after processing.
Corn, wheat, soy: These are cheap fillers that can lead to obesity, diabetes, allergies and poor digestion. Try to avoid these ingredients as much as possible.
Animal digest: Best to avoid this ingredient altogether. It may be “nutritionally healthy,” but if you see “animal” anything, it could come from any animal source. Some are too disgusting to mention.
Meat by-product meal: Meat? Could be anything. By-product meal? Parts is parts.
Beef Tallow: This is often used as a fat source in your pet’s food, but it’s generally low in linoleic acid, which is important for your pet’s skin and coat. You want a very specific fat source such as chicken fat, fish oil, sunflower oil or some other high-quality fat.
Fromm Family Foods, a pet food pioneer, developed one of the first commercially available pet foods in the United States and has been an industry leader.
“From the very beginning, quality and safety throughout the entire manufacturing process has been paramount to our brand,” said Bryan Nieman, Fromm brand director. “We maintain close and long-standing relationships with ingredient vendors, formulating balanced diets with high-quality ingredients and innovative processing at our family-owned factories. At times, we choose the ‘better’ ingredient over the ‘cheaper’ option.”
Lollypop Farm and Rochester Animal Services recently switched to Fromm pet foods. Through a program with PetSaver and Fromm, most of the pet food fed at Lollypop and RAS is provided free of charge (link to article).
“We are grateful to PetSaver Healthy Pet Superstore for providing Fromm Family Foods,” said Gillian Hargrave, vice president and COO of Lollypop Farm, Humane Society of Greater Rochester. “Sadly, not all of the pets have received the best care or food before coming to Lollypop Farm — some have even been seized from cruelty situations. Providing such high-quality nutrition is critical to giving these pets the second chance they deserve.”
For pet owners, Herman says the bottom line is to understand what food works best for your pet, which is why he says PetSaver associates are educated to guide customers to the right food based on a pet’s age, breed, health concerns and activity level.