From time to time, I take a closer look at products that appear on the surface (through slick marketing measures) to be “natural” or healthful in nature by checking out their ingredient lists. Some of the products are pretty close to or meet their claims in marketing, and others do not. I was struck by a recent advertisement for a popular dog food on Hulu, which claims to have “only the freshest real ingredients” while displaying a chef carefully roasting a chicken leg. The commercial compares buying this food to lovingly preparing your dog’s food “one meal at a time”. After watching such a lovely looking ad, I immediately wanted to know more about the ingredients in this dog food being the skeptic that I am.
The dog food ingredient list (Herbed chicken and Chickpeas recipe):
Chicken, Yellow Peas, Potato Starch, Pea Protein, Chicken Liver Flavor, Chicken Fat, Chickpeas, Powdered Cellulose, Dried Beet Pulp, Egg Product, Parsley, Chicken Meal, Canola Oil, Calcium Carbonate, Flaxseed, Choline Chloride, Green Peas, Carrots, Iodized Salt, Potassium Chloride, Cranberries, vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), Niacin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), Taurine, Mixed Tocopherols for freshness, minerals (Zinc Oxide, Ferrous Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Calcium Iodate), Apples, Broccoli, Zucchini, Dicalcium Phosphate, Citric Acid for freshness, Beta-Carotene, Rosemary Extract.
“Made the way you would”: A closer look at the dog food ingredients
This company claims that they would make the food the way I would. While the ingredient list isn’t horrible from a “lots of chemicals” standpoint, and who knows if it really is made “one small batch at a time” (maybe it is! I’d love to see a photo from the factory and invite them to send one over), it does have some poor ingredients that are pretty far removed from making your own food as the commercial alludes to. No, I would not make food for my dog this way, nor have I seen a dog food recipe in my pretty extensive travels that looks like this ingredient list. There are a good number of “filler” foods with little to no nutritional value pretty high on the list.
It’s important to notice that the “Fruits and Vegetables” so prominently marketed for this food in the commercial and on their product page (deserving its own tab no less!) are mostly below the salt ingredient, and the other two are below Choline Chloride (an additive or supplement). That should give you a good idea about how much vegetable and fruit nutrition to expect. There’s more salt than apple or broccoli in this food, folks. So let’s look a bit closer at some of the ingredients found in this food.
Potato Starch: Note how high up on the ingredients list this is. A cheap filler that “can cause digestive upset and weight gain.” Learn more.
Pea Protein: May or may not be healthful. It’s a concerning ingredient (and dog food trend) because of insufficient evidence that dogs can process these legumes and some concerns about gastrointestinal upset. Not a lot is known about this ingredient, also known as “pea fiber”, and both are often regarded as a filler. Plus, dogs generally dislike the taste of peas… and they’re really high in a couple spots on the ingredient list. Even more concerning than all of this is the scary possibility of “disease causing toxicants” in lecithins (peas). Learn more here and here.
Powdered Cellulose: Pure filler with little to no nutritional value. Do note that it is really high up on the ingredients list, too.
Egg Product: Possibly a bad/unhealthful ingredient. Some pet foods use “eggs rejected for use as human food and turns it into powdered pet food ingredients” so if you are using this food you may want to inquire for more information on the source of this ingredient. For more information, see this page on Dogs Naturally Magazine’s website.
Chicken Meal: This is not a healthful ingredient, and is incredibly far from the “small batch” and “freshest” claims of this food (with the lovely photo of the chicken leg being roasted by a chef). Chicken meal is allowed to include 4D animals – those that are dead, dying, diseased or disabled. This is allowable in meal “because meat can be rid of infectious agents through the rendering process”.
Idolized salt: Simply note that there is more salt than each of the following ingredients: cranberries, apples, broccoli, and zucchini. This is a far cry from their product website that notes “Fruits and Vegetables” prominently on the page.
Dicalcium Phosphate: Uncommonly used as a calcium supplement, and unlikely being used as such in this food because calcium is already higher on the ingredient list. It might be used here as a drying agent. “It’s also sometimes added as an anti-caking agent, because the dry form of the dicalcium phosphate salt can complex with water, forming the salt-hydrate. This removes water from foods that can become stale and helps keep them fresh.” (source).
Citric Acid for freshness: May or may not be safe, so this is actually not a good additive to see in an ingredient list as innocent as it sounds and personally I’ve been suspicious that I have reacted myself to this ingredient used as a preservative (jury is out). Citric acid is a possible carcinogen, although other sources note that it is generally regarded as safe. Further research is needed, so take this for what its worth.
While I have certainly seen worse ingredients in many pet products, I can guarantee if I was making my own dog food “one small batch at a time” I would not contain any of those ingredients. There is still too much filler in this product, a heavy use of peas/lecithins, and some questionable sources like Chicken Meal and Egg Product. On a positive note, I am happy to see an absence of some of chemicals typically seen in dog foods.
Note: I am not a veterinarian or professional nutritionist. Please use this information as a starting point, and research the food you plan to give your pets with your own professional resources.