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Unless you are preparing your pet fresh meals daily, preserving their food is essential. Without proper preservation, your pet’s food could become rancid or spoil. Let’s break down the natural and “unnatural” in a nutrition label to find out what type of food best fits your pet’s needs and to better understand pet food nutrition labels.
The first and heaviest ingredient listed on the nutrition label should be a high-protein (chicken, turkey, beef, etc.). However, sometimes these are listed as by-products, meaning that they contain pieces of an animal (bones, organs, blood, fatty tissues, intestines, etc.). While chicken meal (dehydrated) packs more protein than fresh chicken, there are varying schools of thought on feeding one’s pet by-products. They aren’t considered as harmful as their artificial counterparts, but some simply feel that there are too many unknown ingredients in by-products.
One of the most important sections is the “mandatory guarantee” that your pet’s food contains the labeled percentages of crude protein, fat, fiber & moisture. Make sure to talk to your Veterinarian about what percentages are healthiest for your pet.
Also pay attention to size specific formulas. Larger dogs have different ailments than smaller dogs, and pet food companies tailor their products to meet the demands for these specific nutritional formulas.
If you are buying products that are protein heavy, then flavor additives aren’t necessary. Watch out for labels that use “beef flavoring” in place of actual beef.
THE “NATURAL” DEBATE
According to FDA guidelines, “natural” products have not had any chemical alternations. However, the lack of regulation gives a very broad definition to the word, which can refer to raw meat, unprocessed ingredients, whole grains, no preservatives added, etc. If you are looking to go more natural in your selections, choose an organic label that has been USDA approved and stamped.
Most dry dog foods use common artificial preservatives such as ethoxyquin, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), and butylated hydroxytuluene (BHT) because they are effective at preventing fats from becoming rancid and they extend the product’s shelf life substantially. While they are FDA approved, there are some studies that link their consumption to adverse effects on liver & kidney functions, including allergic skin reactions. While there are currently regulations placed on the proper labeling of these preservatives, the regulations pertain only to the manufacturing, not the origination of their ingredients. Therefore they are not required to report the preservatives added to their ingredients prior to purchase. Additionally, other additives such as artificial coloring or flavoring, used to make pet food more appealing, are just unnecessary.
Natural preservatives such as vitamin E (mixed tocopherols), vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and plant extracts (i.e. rosemary essential oil) function in the same way as their artificial counterparts however their effectiveness is short-lived and subsequently limited. Since most natural preservative also serve as an anti-oxidant/vitamin source, there are huge health benefits to their consumption. Talk to your local veterinary before giving your dog any natural preservatives (i.e. plant extracts). While many are nutritionally beneficial, others can have very bad side effects.
On the other hand, canned dog food undergoes one of the most effective preservation methods available and therefore preservatives are not required. However, they are usually more expensive and have huge waste factors due to their packaging.