About Commercial Dog Food

After years of asking, reading about, researching, googling and dreaming of canine nutrition, I have learned a thing or two. Let me share some of the more interesting tidbits I have uncovered. This is why I am crazy about home-cooked dog food…

There aren’t many rules or regulations surrounding the pet food industry. When it comes to labeling – perhaps the most confusing and somewhat misleading piece of the industry – it is so hard for us humans to know what to feed our pets. Take the word “meal”.  As in chicken meal, beef meal…you get the gist. It is a common ingredient in commercially processed foods. “Meal”, it turns out, includes many indigestible substances such as hide, hair, hoof, stomach and contents… and this is a main ingredient? I don’t know about you, but I don’t eat hair, hide and hoof, and undigested stomach contents. My dog doesn’t eat that, either. That’s gross.

My next favorite thing is the fact that many multi-national corporations that hold major food producing subsidiaries own pet food companies, too. Now, when it comes to ingredients, the good stuff goes into people food. It’s the leftovers, not fit for human consumption, that I’m worried about. Not just meats, but grains and fillers, too.  Pet food is big business, especially if you also have a human food business that produces lots of gross bits and throw-away leftovers that aren’t safe for your human consumers. Your trash and gore becomes your pet’s dinner. Don’t fool yourself, either. It isn’t just the cheapest of cheap food. It’s higher-end stuff, too! Just some food for thought… and here is a list of a few of the big food processing/pharmaceutical corporations and the dog food companies they own:

  • Del Monte – Kibbles-N-Bits, Pupperoni
  • M&M Mars – Pedigree, Royan Canin
  • Nestle – Purino, Alpo
  • Colgate-Palmolive – Hills Science Diet
  • Proctor & Gamble – Iams, Eukanuba, Evo, Innova

How does this happen, you ask? Well, there isn’t really an agency charged with pet food quality/standards oversight. The AAFCO (Association of American Food Control Officials), is not a government agency and, of course, is staffed with people who have direct ties to pet food companies. The pet food companies are regulating themselves. Sort of a joke, right? The people in charge of pet food standards are the people directly profiting from the manufacture and sale of pet food. The cheaper the product costs to manufacture, the bigger the profit. When industries are tasked with the job of regulating their own products, profits usually win out over quality. These are a few of my favorite AAFCO pet food ingredient standards and their acceptable levels in pet food:

  • 74.1 – Dried Poultry Waste (DPW) — a processed animal-waste product composed primarily of feces from commercial poultry, which has been thermally dehydrated to a moisture content not in excess of 15%. It must contain not less than 18% crude protein and not more than 15% crude fiber, 30% ash and 1% feathers.
  • 74.2 – Dried Poultry Waste-NPN Extracted — a processed animal-waste product composed primarily of feces from commercial poultry, which has been processed to remove part or all of the equivalent crude protein, NPN as urea and/or uric acid, and which has been thermally dehydrated to a moisture content not in excess of 15%. It must contain not less than 11% crude protein, and not more than 15% crude fiber, 30% ash and 1% feathers.
  • 74.3 – Dried Poultry Litter-(DPL) — a processed animal-waste product composed of a processed combination of feces from commercial poultry, together with litter that was present in the floor production of poultry, which has been artificially dehydrated to a moisture content not in excess of 15%. It must contain not less than 18% crude protein, and not more than 25% crude fiber, 20% ash, and 4% feathers.

This is another good one. There is even an appetizing and pastoral website link to the nutritional analysis of Hemicellulose Extract (AAFCO 63.5) – otherwise known as “yummy by-product” from the manufacturer of pressed wood!!! I’m sure it has a nutritional profile – everything produces some sort of nutritional profile – but that doesn’t mean sawdust is food.  Apparently, the pet food industry would disagree. This stuff doesn’t get top billing on the label. AAFCO wrote the regulations regarding what is required on their labels.  As long as pet food companies list ingredients with a “with” –  “with chicken”, “with beef”, “with rice” – the ingredient must not be LESS THAN 3% OF THE TOTAL WEIGHT! So, anything “with chicken” means that it must contain at least 3% chicken parts – remember, the good stuff goes to human food and the pets are left with the stuff that is unsafe for people – 3% of chicken gunk counts as “with chicken.” Cheap and profitable.

And for one last gem, I grew up down-wind from a rendering plant. No, seriously. Do you know what a rendering plant is?

A rendering plant is a facility where dead animals are recycled into products from pet food (human stuff, too – check it out!) to biodiesel. The waste from commercial slaughterhouses is the primary contributors to these plants. Heads, hooves, bones, blood, organs and anything else that cannot be used ends up at a rendering plant. Carcasses of dead animals from livestock and factory farms are the secondary suppliers. A rendering plant will also take dead horses and other farm and zoo animals. Remains of dogs, cats and roadkill end up there, too. Veterinary clinics and animal shelters also rely on rendering plants for their euthanized victims. They also accept rotten and rejected meat from supermarkets. The majority of edible rendering products are sold to pet food manufacturers as a source of protein, calcium and phosphorous. The manufacturers then take this “food enhancer,” add “with chicken” or “with beef” and sell as livestock feed and… wait for it… dog food – the chicken kind! Animals that are not slaughtered or euthanized often die from some form of disease, cancer, encephalitis or organ failure.  Euthanized animals are usually given sodium pentobarbital when put to sleep. This barbiturate shows up in pet food and livestock feed because the rendering process cannot break it down. And you are feeding it to your beloved dog. The one that sleeps on your pillow at night and kisses your face. It’s a shame. And let me tell you, on a hot summer night, when the breeze was just right, we were reminded of the horrors of the rendering plant. Terrorizing, indeed.

Not all pet food is created equal.  I know it is a maze, but do the research and ask questions. Garbage in, garbage out, as the old saying goes. This is why I started my company. I wanted to provide an alternative for other dog parents like me. Lizzy gives me joy and unconditional love – hopefully for a very long time.  I’m just returning the favor.

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