Anyone seeking healthy food for their dog or cat knows that it is extremely confusing! Labels can be misleading or hard to understand, and companies often have slick marketing campaigns that can make it seem like a food is “all natural”, “premium” or “holistic” when in fact it is highly processed, contains cheap fillers or meat by-products, and is deficient in many essential nutrients. Some ingredients are down-right scary while others are simply indicative of a lower quality food. The result is that pet owners often think they are feeding a really good, healthy, high-quality food, when a closer look at the ingredients tells a different story.
One of the goals here at Nilla’s Tub is to help you become aware of marketing buzzwords and deceptive practices, to look beyond the beautiful packaging and engaging commercials so that you know what’s really in the food you are feeding your pet. Given the complexity and often intentionally confusing labeling, knowing what ingredients should not be in pet food is perhaps more important – and easier to understand - as recognizing quality ingredients.
Let’s first look at preservatives. While preservatives are necessary to keep dry food shelf stable, there is a huge difference between natural and artificial preservatives. The following artificial preservatives should NEVER be found in pet food.
- BHA - butylated hydroxyanisole
- BHT - butylated hydroxytoluene
- Propyl gallate – also listed as Gallic Acid or Propyl Ester
- Propylene glycol
- TBHQ - tertiary butylhydroquinone
These have all been linked to cancer, kidney and liver problems. In addition, these have been known to cause allergic reactions, stomach problems, and skin issues. Ethoxyquin is particularly tricky because sometimes, manufacturers don’t add it directly, but add it indirectly by using poultry or fish that contains it. So it may not be listed on the label, but is still in the food.
The FDA has determined that these artificial preservatives, “may be safely used in animal feeds” as long as the amount does not go over the maximum that has been deemed as “safe.” But even a very small “safe” amount, when consumed every day, year after year will likely cause some serious negative effects.
There are plenty of natural preservatives that perform the same function as artificial ones without any risk to your dog’s health. Look for mixed tocopherols (Vitamin E), citric acid, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and rosemary. Some other ingredients that also serve as a preservative include green tea extract, cranberry pomace, and blueberries.
Better quality pet food will use natural preservatives as they are safer and healthier for dogs. However, they are not as strong as artificial ones, so be sure to check the expiration dates. If you have a small dog that takes awhile to go through a large bag of food, you may want to purchase smaller bags so you use it while it is fresh.