Pet Food Ingredients

Pet Food Ingredient of the Week Series
By Susan Blake Davis, Pet Nutritionist

Welcome to our weekly Pet Food Ingredient of the Week Series. Each week Pet Nutritionist Susan Davis will be featuring a pet food ingredient to help pet owners be more aware of what is in their pet's food. Sometimes the ingredient may be a healthy ingredient and sometimes it may not. Our goal is not to pick on brands or pet food manufacturers but rather to encourage you to READ the LABEL! If you can't pronounce an ingredient in your pet's food, then maybe it shouldn't be there.

Pet Food Ingredient of the Week #1 Soybean

Soybean hulls are an inexpensive filler used to add bulk to animal feeds. It is seen in reduced calorie pet foods as a source of fiber so the pet feels satiated. Why not add nutrient rich sources of fiber to your pet's food such as green beans or pumpkin? Soybean hulls are the skins of soybeans and a waste product remaining after processing soybeans into oil and meal. Soybean hulls offer little nutritional value, if any, and can be problematic for a variety of reasons. Do you really want soybeans in your pet's food to begin with, let alone the WASTE PRODUCT of soybeans. Most soybeans are genetically modified (contain GMOs) but pet food manufacturers like to add soybean oil, meal and hulls because they are an inexpensive form of oil, protein and bulk. High levels of the chemical pesticide RoundUp are found in GMO soy--a potential carcinogen for your cat or dog. The soybean itself contains toxins that can be hard to digest for some pets and cause gastric distress. Soy also interferes with thyroid function AND is linked to seizures in cats and dogs. The list goes on and on. We do not recommend feeding your pets treats or pet foods containing soy and especially not soybean hulls. Some common brands containing soybean hulls: Hills prescription diets (some varieties), Hills Science Diet Light, Purina Dog Chow Light.

Pet Food Ingredient of the Week #2 - Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil is found in some higher quality pet foods. Flaxseed oil is derived from the seed of the flax plant. It is a quality source of essential fatty acids (Omega 3s), though not as beneficial as fish oil because flaxseed oil contains both Omega 3s and Omega 6s (found plentiful in pet foods).

Essential fatty acids are vital for the health of your pet’s s kin, coat, heart, immune and nervous system. It is also essential for your pet’s kidneys, liver and joints. Since these fatty acids cannot be produced by your pet’s body, they have to be supplied through food or supplementation. Essential fatty acids should be included in every pet’s diet. Flaxseed oil is easily destroyed by exposure to heat, light and oxygen and can get rancid pretty quickly. Refrigerate flaxseeds and flaxseed oil just as you would fish oil.

One established benefit of flaxseed oil is that it can improve the coat and skin conditions in most pets. It is also helpful for the nervous system, regulating blood pressure and for certain health conditions such as Canine Cushing’s disease. Ground flaxseeds are high in fiber and can help relieve constipation in pets. The lignans in flaxseed oil may have anti-cancer properties. Based on research studies though, flaxseed oil does not appear to be as effective as fish oil in treating inflammation associated with diseases such as allergies or kidney disease. Plant seed oils are not considered a replacement for fish oils.

Since pets have different dietary sensitivities and the nutrients they need can vary over time, we recommend including Flaxseed oil as a part of a pet’s dietary regimen, rotating with other essential fatty acids such as Amazing Omegas Fish Oil, coconut oil and cod liver oil. Flaxseed oil can be found in many dry food brands such as Blue Buffalo, Zignature and Innova. It is also found in canned foods brands such as Instinct Pet Food.

Pet Food Ingredient of the Week #3 - Barley

What is Barley?

Barley is a common ingredient found in both human and animal diets. It is part of the grass family and has been grown for over 10,000 years. It grows in over 100 countries and is a grain that is only surpassed by wheat, corn and rice in production and consumption.

Why Is It in Pet Food?

One thing is for sure---Neither barley or other grains high in starchy carbohydrates essential to your pet's diet.. ...So why is barley (and other grains) such a major ingredient in many commercial pet foods? Since the 1950s, pet food companies have found that grains were very abundant, added to the shelf life of the product, and of course cheaper to produce compared to animal protein sources. When it comes to pet food, DO THE MATH! If you can get protein derived from a glutenous grain vs wild-caught fish or grass-fed animals, which would you choose to sell the most pet food?

Pet Food Profits vs. Nutritional Benefits

Remember: commercial pet food companies are making pet food for a profit. What constitutes a "natural, healthy pet food" depends upon who is doing the marketing. Barley and other grains contain gluten, can cause food allergies, digestive problems and weaken the immunity in sensitive pets. The majority of your pet's immune system resides in the gastrointestinal tract so inflammation resulting from poor digestion of grains can contribute to chronic infections. The modest benefits of barley, e.g. fiber and calories can be well offset by feeding your pet pumpkin, vegetables and real protein in the form of fish, poultry and animal protein.

Avoid Barley & Grains In Pet Food and Treats

Since barley offers only a modest nutritional benefit and can cause more harm than good, we do not recommend feeding your pet treats or pet foods containing barley. Some common brands containing barley: Wellness Complete Health (dry), Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula, Fromm Family Gold (canned), Avoderm Natural Lite (canned), Hills prescription diets (some varieties), Hills Science Diet Light, Purina Pro Plan Turkey and Barley and many, more more.

Pet Food Ingredient of the Week #4 - Brown Rice

What is Brown Rice?

Rice is one of the world’s most popular foods, is a major component of many people’s diet and often considered a “comfort” food, but should it be for your pet? It is important for us to remember that what is considered a “healthy” diet for humans does not always translate to be the same for our canine and feline companions. Brown Rice is less processed than white rice and is produced by harvesting the seeds running the rice through a rice huller that removes the outer grain husk. White rice has the added step of removing the germ and the inner husk which then removes even more nutrients and fiber.

Why Is Rice An Ingredient In Your Cat or Dog's Food?

Many pet food companies use rice as a “healthy” inexpensive carbohydrate that has less incident of being an allergen then other grains such as corn. It is a filler that can bring up the protein percentage on the label INSTEAD of using the more costly real meat, fish or poultry. “Premium” brands may market the fact they use brown rice or even organic brown rice as a benefit, but the fact is, the rice is still a replacement for the real nutrition a pet needs. Feeding brown rice and starchy carbohydrates can affect the pet's overall nutritional balance contributing to obesity, yeast overgrowth, diabetes and a weakened immune system. Most pet nutritionists agree that dogs (and cats) were originally meat-eaters and although they have become more “domesticated”, this still holds true. Cats are carnivores and do not need carbohydrates while dogs thrive when their diet consists of minimal carbohydrates.

Effects of Rice on Your Pet's Health

If your pet is showing signs of itching, licking, chewing, digestive problems, urinary tract infections, hypothyroidism (dogs), hyperthyroidism (cats), upper respiratiory infections and so on (the list goes on and on), grains such as rice, no matter how wonderful they sound for you to eat, should not be a part of your pet's. The ONLY time rice may be helpful (and even then our preference would be to feed sweet potatoes instead) is when the pet requires a low protein diet due to kidney failure or liver disease. Yes, there are plenty of exceptions where some pets seem to do just fine on diets with plenty of grains, but as a general rule, grains such as rice contribute to inflammation and an increased carbohydrate load.

Avoid Rice & Grains In Your Pet's Food and Treats

We do not recommend feeding your pets treats or pet foods containing brown rice or any rice. Just a few examples of cat and dog food brands that contain rice: Rachael Ray Nutrish, Canidae Life Stages, Blue Buffalo Life Protection, Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diets, Nature's Recipe Limited Ingredient, Nutro Wholesome Essentials, California Naturals Dry, Simply Nourish, Royal Canin and Hills Prescription Diets, Purina ProPlan and many, many more.