As you may know, I feed my dog a raw diet, and advocate whole prey model raw feeding for anyone who’s willing and able to make the switch to this more complex and natural method of feeding pets. However, most people can’t or don’t want to feed raw. If you’re feeding a dry or canned food, take a moment to make sure that none of these undesirable ingredients are included.
- Ground Corn: In pet food, ground corn consists of whole ground ears of corn. Yes, cob and all. Many inexpensive, low-quality pet foods contain ground corn as a cost-saving measure. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is the kind of corn you’d love to grill in tinfoil and eat with butter, either; corn in pet food generally is livestock quality corn, which has small, hard kernels that aren’t at all appetizing to humans (or to most animals, before processing).
- Peanut Hulls: Yes, some pet food manufacturers really do put ground peanut hulls in foods manufactured for obligate carnivores like dogs and cats! I won’t name names, but you’ll find peanut hulls in one of the most popular reduced-calorie dog foods on the market. It sounds pretty unappetizing, and it is. There’s no good reason to use this as an ingredient, except to save money and reduce total calories in a “Light” formula. If you are looking to reduce your dog’s calorie intake, don’t buy light foods that add nutritionless fillers. Instead, reduce the amount of a top-quality adult formula you feed your dog. If he or she acts hungry, make up for the reduction in bulk by feeding some green beans, carrots, pumpkin, or even romaine lettuce.
- Glutens: Corn gluten, wheat gluten, rice gluten… Gluten meals are found in many pet foods, including quite a few “premium” brands. The main problem with gluten meals is that they use a grain or vegetable as a source of protein, something that’s unnatural and does not provide the same metabolizable, bio-available protein as meat. In addition, some gluten meals are as much as 60% protein. That makes it almost impossible to tell exactly how much of the protein in a bag of food actually comes from meat.
- Animal Digest: Avoid any ingredient that comes from meat, but doesn’t tell you what kind of meat. Meat meal, bone meal, and meat byproducts are also in this category. Animal digest is basically a cooked-down muck made of various otherwise unusable cuts of meat from various species. It’s the lowest grade of animal protein money can buy. It’s found in cheap grocery brand foods, both canned and dry. Your aim as an owner should be to know as much as possible about what’s in your pet food, and in addition to being cheap and low-quality, ingredients like this make it impossible to tell what kind of animal your dog or cat has been eating.
- Sweeteners: High-fructose corn syrup, molasses, and beet sugar, among other ingredients, are sometimes added to dog foods to make them more appetizing. Dogs do not need refined sugars. Nor do they digest them well. In addition, sugary sweeteners can artificially increase a dog’s appetite, leading to unhealthy weight gain. Worst of all, some pets appear to experience a sort of withdrawal when transitioned to a food without sweeteners. Cats and dogs may behave as if they are starving for days or weeks when sugars are removed from their diet. Others will even refuse food, hoping the new, healthier diet will be replaced with the old, sugary one.