Lately, there has been a lot of talk about fillers and by-products being added into commercial pet foods. Many people see these ingredients as un-healthy and there is a common belief that they are only being used by companies in order to add bulk to the food, with no actual nutritional benefit. Some may also see these ingredients as harmful. Yet new studies have shown that ‘fillers’ can actually be good for your pet after all, and by-products are not as harmful as they’ve been made out to be…
Fillers are considered to be ingredients used by producers to add bulk to food, without actually being nutritious for your pet, or so it is believed! Grains (considered the main filler), are actually appropriate sources of carbohydrates for your pets. And Grain free diets do not appear to offer benefits over diets containing grains.
Grain ‘fillers’ also contain beneficial nutrients for your dog or cat. They contain important sources of essential fatty acids, protein and fibre, and they also help by reducing the amount of calories and fat in a diet. For example, corn is a good source of linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid), proteins and carbs. Corn meal actually contains approximately 60-70%protein, whereas whole corn is a highly digestible energy source. Furthermore corn also contains large amounts of antioxidants. This doesn’t sound like an un-beneficial filler, does it?
What about digestibility? Even though dogs and cats do not require grains, they still benefit from them and are able to digest them. Digestion of grains is no different than digestion of other carb sources commonly added to grain free pet foods (such as potatoes). Grains are usually 95% or more digestible for both cats and dogs.
Some people also believe that grains added to diets may be a common source of allergens. The truth is that ANY protein source in a food can be a potential allergen. In actuality, the most common food allergens in dogs happen to be: beef, dairy, wheat, chicken and egg. In cats, beef, dairy and fish are the most common. And even if an animal has a true allergy to one type of grain, there is no reason for them to avoid other grains all together.
But consuming grains can lead to obesity…can it not? This is another belief. But, when you look at the big picture, obesity is caused by an excess of calories, the source of calories is not important. As well, diets which contain more meat and have grain free carb sources (such as potato), tend to be higher in fat. Fat contains 2 times the amount of calories than similar amounts of carbs. High fat diets increase the risk of obesity more so than carbs. And don’t forget, any pet food diet which is over fed can also lead to obesity.
All in all, grains don’t sound so bad once you break down all of the nutritional benefits and separate fact from fiction. Have a question about fillers? Drop by the Lansdowne Animal Hospital for more info!
Moving on to …By-Products
When it comes to by products, there are also a lot of misconceptions. When most people hear the word ‘by product’, they assume that it is a poor quality product. When it comes to pet foods, by products are basically parts of animals which are added to the food, which aren’t muscle meat. Muscle meat is what most Canadians and Americans consume; therefore they assume it is what is best for their pet.
But, by-products are not necessarily poor quality. They are merely a side product from the making of another. And the term by-product doesn’t refer to the actual nutritional quality of the ingredients being used, but the part of the animal. Many by-products actually tend to be higher in nutrients than muscle meat and many are also considered delicacies in other areas of the world (ex: haggis is sheep’s stomach with heart, liver and lungs).Therefore they are parts which are able to be consumed by humans as well, contrary to popular belief.
Many by-products are also sold as treats (ex: pig ears) without actually being called a by-product, and yet they are still popular with customers. Therefore the word by product may in actuality be a marketing ploy. It appears as though many people who do not feed their animals foods with ‘by-products ‘ as ingredients will feed them by-products as treats. And many foods marked as containing no by-products actually list the by-products by their actual name instead of using the term ‘by-product’ (ex: they will simply list them as “kidney” or “liver”). Therefore the word ‘by product’ simply appears to be a strategy used by media in order to give a certain undesired impression of the word, and to possibly sell more of that company’s own product.
The best method of obtaining high quality pet food ingredient is by purchasing foods from companies who are very selective with their ingredient suppliers, and not necessarily by looking for the term ‘by product’ on the ingredient list. The ingredients should also be analyzed by nutritionists to make sure they meet every specification. This way you can obtain high quality ingredients, and therefore a high quality finished product for your pet.
Also remember that individual ingredients do not define the product as a whole. When purchasing pet food, it may be helpful to research the following information first:
-Make sure you see a complete nutritional analysis for the diet
-The amount of kilocalories per cup of food: make sure you can access this information, many times it is on the side of the bag.
-Check to see if there is a vet nutritionist on staff or available through the food manufacturer who can be available for consult if needed.
-Find out who makes the diets and make sure you check into their credentials.
-Find out whether or not there were feeding trials conducted.
-What types of research has been conducted on this diet
-What types of quality control steps does this manufacturer use in order to assure the quality of the diet.
-Find out where the diet is produced and if the facility also produces any other products for other companies.
If ever you drop by our clinic, you are welcome to all of this information and more. Choosing the right diet for your pet can be difficult, let us help make it a little bit easier for you!