Dr. Vikram Sharma, Business Head, NMCT | Veterinary Division
With such a galore of pet foods to add to the confusion of pet owners, I feel that basic awareness of nutrition is important to beat the blitzkrieg of food marketers.
Being informed and aware, cautious and concerned while reading the label before buying will make a lot of difference to making the right choice of pet food.
However, deciphering pet food labels can be confusing. If pet owners investigate the pet food label as follows, they can make an informed decision.
First, look for the "Guaranteed Analysis" on the label.
Pet foods mention protein, fat, and fiber in percentages. The best way to compare food is on dry matter basis. Different foods have different moisture levels. Convert them into dry matter and do a comparative analysis.
THE AMOUNT OF NUTRIENTS ALONE DOES NOT TELL THE WHOLE STORY. THE SOURCE OF NUTRIENTS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT
The first and foremost ingredient you should look for is protein. You may have 28 percent protein on a dry matter basis, but what is the source of that protein? You can get protein from chicken beaks and feet that are NOT good sources of nutrition for your pet! You can get protein from a vegetable origin, but the amino acid profile in them is very different from the one required by pets.
Look at the list of ingredients. Pet foods must list ingredients in order of weight. Generally, the first five ingredients will make up the majority of the pet food product. Ideally, look for meat as one of the first ingredients on a pet food label
The very claim in dry foods for meat (chicken, lamb, etc.) as the top ingredient is generally flawed.
Ingredients are listed on the label by weight (the percentage of total and raw meat with water content will weigh more). You will also see ingredients such as chicken or poultry by-product meal, meat-and-bone meal, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, or other high-protein meal.
Meals have had the fat and water removed, and basically consist of a dry, lightweight protein powder. It does not take much raw meat to weigh more than a great big pile of this powder, so in reality the food is based on the protein meal, with very little "meat" to be found. This has become a very popular marketing gimmick, even in premium and "health food" type brands. Since just about everybody is now using it, any meaning it may have had is so watered-down that you may just as well ignore it. Proteins are especially vulnerable to heat, and become damaged, or "denatured," when cooked. Because dry foods ingredients are cooked twice - first during rendering, and again in the extruder - problems are much more common. Altered proteins may contribute to food intolerances, food allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Grains, such as corn, corn meal, whole wheat, barley, rice are used to provide essential energy for the pet, and appealing texture to the kibble. Even the AAFCO website admits that "Economics plays a part in any ingredient selection" and "protein is not simply protein". Ingredients providing protein have specific amino acids, which may or may not match the amino acid profile required by a cat or a dog
The amount of grain and vegetable products used in pet food has risen dramatically over time. Plant products now replace a considerable proportion of the meat that was used in the earliest commercial pet foods.
This has led to severe nutritional deficiencies that have been corrected along the way, although many animals died before science caught up.
Most dry foods contain a large amount of cereal grain or starchy vegetables to provide texture. These high-carbohydrate plant products also provide a cheap source of "energy" - the rest of us call it "calories." Gluten meals are high-protein extracts from which most of the carbohydrate has been removed. They are often used to boost protein percentages without expensive animal-source ingredients. Corn gluten meal is the most commonly used for this purpose. Wheat gluten is also used to create shapes like cuts, bites, chunks, shreds, flakes, and slices, and as a thickener for gravy. In most cases, foods containing vegetable proteins are among the poorer quality foods.
A recent fad, "low-carb" pet food, has some companies steering away from grains, and using potatoes, green peas, and other starchy vegetables as a substitute. Except for animals that are allergic to grains, dry low-carb diets offer no particular advantage to pets. They also tend to be very high in fat, and, if fed free-choice, will result in weight gain.
YOU HAVE TO BE CAUTIOUS OF THE MANIPULATION OF BREAKING DOWN THE INGREDIENTS INTO COMPONENTS, AND THEN LISTING THEM INDIVIDUALLY TO AVOID AN EASY NOTICE ON THE TOP OF THE LIST.
Today, if you have an indoor cat, a canine athlete, a Persian, a Bloodhound, or a pet with a tender tummy or itchy feet, you can find a food "designed" just for your pet's personal needs. Niche marketing has arrived in a big way in the pet food industry. People like to feel special, and a product with specific appeal is bound to sell better than a general product like "puppy food." But the reality is that there are only two nutritional standards against which all pet foods are measured (adult, and growth/gestation/lactation)-everything else (so many foods for different conditions) is pure marketing. It is really very confusing for pet owners and retailers to handle so many variations that do not benefit animals in real sense.
"NATURAL" OR "ORGANIC" CLAIMS
The definition of "natural" adopted by AAFCO is very broad, and allows for artificially processed ingredients that most of us would consider very unnatural. The term "organic," on the other hand, has a very strict legal definition. Certification is required to claim organic. However, some companies are adept at evading the intent of these rules. The name of the company or product may be intentionally misleading. For instance, some companies use terms like "Nature" or "Natural" in the brand name, whether or not their products fit the definition of natural.
SPECIAL INGREDIENT CLAIMS
Many of the high-end pet foods today rely on the marketing appeal of people-food ingredients such as fruits, herbs, and vegetables. However, the amounts of these items actually present in the food are tiny; and the items themselves are usually scraps and rejects from processors of human foods-certainly not the whole, fresh ingredients they want you to picture. Such ingredients don't provide a significant health benefit and are really a marketing gimmick
There is one food which is organic (not natural alone), raw and whole meat in shelf stable form, without any grains and other vegetable carbs (no vegetable origin protein and special ingredient claims), with simple sku list of species and age (no niche claims), presented in a way that dog and cat would have hunted in the wild: ZIWIPEAK PET FOOD. In a recent independent nutritional research study, ZIWIPEAK is rated the best and ultra-premium pet food brand, in a simple form, just as nature intended.
A modern take on centuries‑old meat preserving techniques, our Z-TWINTECH® air drying technology locks in the goodness of our raw ingredients, creating ready-serve raw-inspired nutrition.
Ethical & Sustainable Ingredients
Our free-range, grass-fed meats and local poultry are ethically raised under New Zealand’s Freedom Principles, while our sustainable seafood comes from the world’s top-ranked fisheries.
Crafted for peak nutrition, with high inclusions of meat, organs, and seafood in authentic PeakPrey® ratios – with added superfoods for a nutritional boost.