There are three basic standards that any good pet food can follow to be a good food for cats or dogs that can easily help guide you through pet food labels:
The brands boycotted in this campaign do not meet and often legislate against these basic standards. However the brands supported in this campaign meet at least 2/3 of these standards and often go above and beyond for nutrition. Here is a rating system for pet foods: if it meets...
Please, understand that the three standards that we have applied here are not difficult to meet as requirements, and any pet food company makes an effort to accomplish the 2/3 star rating will be labeled as 'Has Complied.'
Isn't all pet food basically the same?
No. We'd like to think that everyone who works in the pet industry likes animals and wishes the best for our pets, but in this modern, profit-driven era even pet product brands have fallen to the wayside from what their priorities used to be. However ethical pet product businesses are all but extinct. Those that make the effort to provide even a decent and consistent standard of pet products deserve our business.
How's this campaign going to help the pet industry standard?
In addition to helping you navigate the frustrating labels and shelves at the pet food department through the app, I will keep the campaign target list update every few weeks, report on pet food recalls and news, and continuously work on sourcing all the campaign targets. To maintain consistency in sources I will use every brand's adult dog and adult cat dried foods as the primary source of the brand's star-rating, as those should be their most commonly purchased product (see the 'Little Bit on Nutrition' below to better understand this decision). If you have suggestions for additional efforts that could be included in the campaign, then, please, message me. I really appreciate your input!
What could really be all that bad about feeding a pet less than decent food?
We're not talking about just diseases and health risk, but also long term consequences and the money you loose. When your pet doesn't get good nutrition, they are a lot more likely to need a lot of extra attention and money from you. From vet visits to grooming expenses, pet nutrition is the first step to cutting all those extra costs and a lot of your time. Between the possibility that your pet could be dying from their food to the fact that you WILL loose more money on a bad food, it's hoped that spare a little attention in the awesome preventative care that good pet food will afford you.
Why should anyone support better pet food?
There have been many different reactions to wisdom shared here about pet food. It seems everyone likes better pet food for very different reasons. A friend and neighbor likes that it cuts back on the amount and smell of her cat's feces. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Some like the behavior improvement. Others like the improvement in their pet's skin and coat. Personally, I like that better nutrition means that my pet will live a lot longer with less ailments, less emergency vet visits, less aging issues, etc., and that I save more money on my pet than most folks. Remember all of this is true for both cats and dogs.
Who are you, that started this campaign, and what makes you an authority on the subject?
I would prefer to remain anonymous for the time being, but I started out in the pet industry as a dog groomer right before I went to college to major in pre-veterinary medicine. Like most of my peers I changed my major (now it's environmental policy), but I still remained in the pet industry. I changed gears from being a dog groomer to apprenticing as a dog trainer, while I worked at a major pet supplies franchise that shall remain nameless. After a year of apprenticing I was excited to actually start training, which I did under my mentor. However the company would not let me train my own classes, due to conflicts in management. I continued to work towards it, but after a year of that limbo and finally being yelled at in front of clients (again management), I chose to move on. I started working as a professional stay-in pet sitter, and continued to offer my training services for any of my sitting clients who needed them. Having spent three years in the pet supplies franchise I learned more than I had ever wanted to know about pets and pet supplies brands. Most of that was thanks to my mentor, who required a lot more than the company would have in my apprenticeship. I want nothing more than to share that knowledge in the same way that I have with my clients.
Why should pet food have real meat and real fat high up on the ingredients list?
This, in my opinion, is the most controversial out of the three standards, because of the variety needed in sources of protein and fat. For example, there has been a recent fad towards peas for pea protein in the health food industry. Since this fad has taken hold, the pet food industry followed suit. Well, here's the problem with pea protein being the new hot protein source for pets. Pets hate the taste of it! That's right. If you had a taste-o-meter for people the nastiest foods might be on one side while chocolate, salty-foods, and creams might be on the other (that is roughly gauging the preferences of the universal human palate). For dogs and cats peas are on the low side of the taste-o-meter while savory-tasting meats would be on the other. If you have a picky eater for a pet, then this whole fad means troubles ahead. Pets, like people, need a variety of protein sources, not just peas or meat. Soy just does not count, as neither pet can develop the enzymes needed to digest it, so it is essentially a filler. Not only that, but it also interferes with the natural processes of the thyroid (A Vet's Writing on Soy).
Why should pet food be balanced?
Please, read on below under the 'Little Bit on Nutrition,' for a more detailed answers. Cat and dog metabolism is not unlike our own. They need only so much fats, proteins, and carbohydrates at different parts of their daily metabolic cycles. The balance chosen in our standards meets those needs well enough.
Why should pet food be made in America or select other country?
Foods that are made in America or Canada have most of their ingredients quality controlled by our fair standards, and that meet our legal requirements. Foods that aren't made here are can often cut corners that can really cause harm to your pet. For example, there is a very inexpensive preservative called ethoxyquin that is also a pesticide. It is illegal to put in foods, particularly those for human consumption, here. However it is not illegal to put in pet foods. There are no regulations on it currently, but pet food brands don't want to be caught putting enough in that it kills pets. In large dosages ethoxyquin causes seizures to begin with. This is what Ann N. Martin included on the subject:Ethoxyquin is another antioxidant preservative that has since been proven to be highly toxic to animals. It was developed by Monsanto and used extensively in pet foods, however, due to protests from many pet owners, ethoxyquin is not as prevalent as it once was. Yet, it is still approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Center for Veterinary Medicine, as a preservative in pet food.When most of the ingredients in a food are made here, as is required to for the label, "Made in America," then companies cannot get around having it added before shipment from foreign nations. Ethoxyquin is illegal in pet foods made in Canada, Australia and and New Zealand. Please, note that Orijen pet foods is a very reasonably-priced pet food from Canada that is on our 'suppor' list. While our quality control is not the best, it is better than most foreign countries. What comes from Argentina or China or even Mexico is a mystery to us in it's quality. The worst ingredient I came across while I worked in pet supplies retail was "animal innards" right in the middle of the ingredients list. This is organs from the intestinal area of some mysterious animal. Because the ingredients came from a foreign nation, we do not know the species or quality of animal much the less if it had been processed of the fecal matter inside the animal. I don't feel it is necessary to go into anymore detail beside the fact that pet cannibalism is not something I can endorse.
The Animal Protection Institute (API), stated in 1996 report: "Ethoxyquin has been associated with immune deficiency syndrome, leukemia, blindness, skin, stomach, spleen, and live cancer in companion animals." Many pet food companies state that they do not add this substance to their foods. What they neglect to mention is that their suppliers, the suppliers of the raw material used in pet foods–the meat and fats–can add ethoxyquin before they ship it to the pet food company. The pet food company does not need to state this on the label. Pet food companies simply have to state what they have added, not what their suppliers have added to the raw material. If you ever see this preservative listed on a can or bag of food, stay away from that product. (Martin, 2003)
How can I learn more about pet supplies brand issues, and pet food?
Feel free to send a message and ask anything. You will receive honesty from my experience or direction to a better source of knowledge. You can also read the book, Foods Pets Die For, by Ann N. Martin, but get a box of tissues first. The internet is an excellent source if you know how to sort through the opinions of others. If there is one subject that people can easily get sensitive about, it is their pets and how they care for them. Understanding the business side of it, please, keep in mind that a lot of companies have developed amazing business strategies to get you to feel strongly about using their products. It's rather impressive in so many ways, because when a brand gains a reputation that it is the "Vet's #1 Choice," or that it has "never has a recall," then that brand tends to gain a pretty defensive following by their consumers and can begin to skimp on a lot of nutritional aspects that matter a great deal. People want to think they are making the best decisions for their pets. My response to anyone that feels that thought is being challenged, is this: You have made the best decision for your pet; you gave it a home! Now let us pet professionals and advocates help you from there, because it's never too late to make a difference in the already great relationship, health, and bond with your pet and often times enough that difference will make YOUR life easier as a pet owner.
Cats and dogs are natural scavengers (not unlike ourselves), which means that they will eat whatever is readily available and edible for periods of time until something else presents itself. Both are omnivorous, but cats are more carnivorous than dogs or humans. Through the process of domestication, dogs and cats have learned to seek out what's already there, rather than hunt for new food. We observe this when homeless pets revert to wild behaviors as a defense mechanism. Cats that have lived inside most their life, won't start to kill mice right away. Rather they'll search through trash cans, munch on plants, eat convient insects, and finally work toward becoming really good rodent hunters. Consider that the abandoned, formerly indoor cat food pyramid; rodents at the top, insects and plants below that, and finally human food waste being the most common food meal. Ferral cats are a bit different, and indoor/outdoor cats get the same spoils as ferral cats. Both wreak havoc on the local ecosystem (Wildlife Impact of Indoor/Outdoor Cats). If we knew a bit more about what they eat in the wild, we might have a much better understanding of the nutrition that is best suited for their bodies.
Fortunately our pets don't live in the wild. They are provided for, but if they don't get the complete nutrition they need, they will still revert to scavenging behaviors; shoelaces, grass, headphones, jewelry, etc. Anything to fulfill their spectrum of nutrient (or behavioral) needs. By complete nutrition, I mean balanced variety in their food ingredients without being excessively processed, preserved, or cooked. I myself would love to conduct studies in which dogs and cats live in an environment with soy plants, corn husks, grasses, bugs, etc. to better observe what they would scavenge for the most.
It is so important for pets to have a BALANCED diet, with foods they might scavenge for in the wild. That is the premise of animal nutrition by which I was taught; if they wouldn't eat it in the wild, then they shouldn't be eating it. This rules out a lot of pet foods that have only been created for the purpose of product differentiation, such as puppy and kitten food!
In the wild, puppies do not eat baby bunnies, unripened fruits and veggies, and bug larvae. They eat what their parents eat or they get kicked out of the pack. When it comes to the domesticated processed diet, the only difference between the adult food and the puppy food is extra fat for growth and rarely a few alternative ingredients. Extra fat means puppy food becomes unbalanced. An example as to why this is a bad thing exist with large-breed puppies. Large-breed puppies go through tremendous growth spurts. When their diet is developed around growth, they grow too fast. When dogs grow too quickly through development, their growth is a lot more likely to go through abnormalities, especially dysplasia. From there, of course, their aging becomes a lot more painful and the risk of injury increases. Please, understand that our furry mammal friends are really good an enduring pain and discomfort. However dogs in constant pain and discomfort are a lot more likely to suddenly behave negatively, like when their petted in the spot of injury. Then the injury goes from a physical problem to an additional behavioral issue. Long-term injuries may never be noticed until the injury has become traumatic. A lot of dysplasia could be prevented, if only these puppies ate the same healthy diet as adult dogs after nursing. Additionally added fat means that puppies will have excessive energy to burn. If you've been around a puppy for long, then you know, they were pretty much born with enough excessive energy without needing help from the food they eat.
This brings up another important issue with foods that cause excessive energy. Beware of foods that contain sugar (AKA fructose, glucose, refined, etc.). Dogs and cats do not need sugar, under any circumstances. All her life I fed my first cat one of two different foods that both contained sugar. She always had an extra skip in her step immediately after meals, but ultimately it shortened her life and compromised her health as she aged. If I knew then, what I know now… Regardless I had believed that every pet food would only have done good, and that no brand would want to cause harm to my pet. 'Why else would they be in the pet industry,' was my reasoning. I was just a kid.
Now this isn't to say that pregnant/ nursing dogs and cats eat the same diets as their peers. They have different nutritional needs for that time, but we won't get into that here. Leave all that up to the reputable breeder/rescue/vet of your choice, but always ask your pet breeder/rescue/vet about the diet they feed their pets. Of course, I welcome questions if you want to know more about the dietary needs of pregnant/ nursing pets.
Lastly the amount of food that is suggested to feed your pet on the packaging is always more than is needed. There are two reasons for this:
Keeping this in mind, you can feed you pet twice a day however much they'll eat in a few minutes. Of course, this is debatable depending on your personal situation, because pets' eating behavior varies. Again feel free to shoot me any questions.
I hope this all helps you to better understand the balance needed in your pets' diets.
Anytime you come across a food that is not on our target list, please, send it my way. If possible, pictures of the nutritional information would be tremendously appreciated. Additionally if you see a food that is on our target list, but belongs in the opposite side of the target, then, please, let me know.If you are a pet professional and would like to add your input or offer your endorsement, please, message me.