Food, food, food and more food. The information out there is overwhelming. Not only can you read tons of articles giving you every suggestion under the sun, but when you actually walk down a pet food aisle, you become even more stressed and frustrated.

Lots of brands out there slap the words ‘natural’, ‘complete’, and ‘holistic’ on the package with enticing pictures. But what does that mean exactly and what is really in the food? Is it really worth the money? Let’s see, shall we?

How can we guarantee we aren’t putting unknown and toxic products into our pup’s system? How do we avoid doing that without breaking the bank? Here are some tips for you.

Labels

When buying your pet’s food, look for an AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials) label. This will give you a clear idea of the purpose and benefits of the food.

If the packaging has ‘complete and balanced nutrition’, this is your best bet, no matter the cost. Also, always make sure a clear meat source is labeled as the first ingredient.

Type of Food

For a young and spritely pup with no clear health issues or allergies, they can generally handle cheaper food. If you’re concerned, asking your vet is always a good idea.

Some dogs and/or breeds may need specific food with special ingredients and nutritional content to care for their health. This is especially true for Bulldogs, larger breeds and ones that suffer from allergies and sensitivities. Unfortunately, if your dog falls under the special needs category, then spending more is necessary.

Description

Buzzwords like ‘grain-free’, ‘all-natural’’ and ‘holistic’, and ‘human-grade‘ are loose adjectives that do not have a clear definition. Steer clear of these and don’t fall into the trap. A word like ‘organic’, actually does have meaning because it has a definition under the law.

Ingredients

It’s often said that meat by-products and fillers are terrible for your pet. Meat by-products are just what typical consumers don’t want to eat, and this includes organs. What is ‘meal’? You might often see ‘meat meal’ or ‘chicken-meal’ on a label. This is rendered meat. The parts are heated up and ground up into minced meat or powder.

People argue that the by-product and/or meal is harmless. Organ meats actually contain higher amounts of nutrients compared to muscle meats. The stigma lies more with the parts that are being used, rather than how unhealthy it is.

It has also been reported that antibiotics and chemical substances can’t be transferred to your pet via the food they eat. This is because the rendering process cooks the food at such high temperatures that any trace amounts of these chemicals will most likely be eliminated in the process.

Even meats that test positive for E. coli can be safely ingested because, after the rendering process, there is a second heat treatment that kills any dangerous bacteria. This is a touchy subject, and if you are still hesitant to give your pup food like this, we totally understand.

By-Products are More Sustainable

Dog foods display

By-products are a form of recycling by using parts of animals consumers don’t want to eat. Since many Westerners don’t believe chicken feet is a delicacy, a lot of animal parts are wasted. Meat rendering is a huge recycling business, without which our environment will suffer greatly.

Rendering also produces fewer greenhouse gasses, cutting down emissions by about two-thirds.

Quality Control

Some smaller pet food companies claim they have a more hands-on approach in the manufacturing process, and therefore able to better ensure quality. You never know what goes on behind closed doors, what kind of slip-ups may happen, and how much control they really do have over their suppliers.

Recalls

Pet food recalls actually happen quite often. It’s all about the source. Some ingredients may be contaminated with some bacteria or pathogen, and paying extra for ‘higher quality food’ unfortunately does not exempt you from this danger. Whether the pet food company is small or large, recalls have happened.

Ironically, the food that causes the most diseases is also the most expensive. What is it, you ask? The answer is raw pet food. Raw pet food has had increasing amounts of recalls and has significantly higher levels of salmonella and E. coli. Many of the food safety organizations out there discourage owners from feeding raw food to their pets. Not only might your pet get sick, but you also run the risk of exposing your family and yourself to these pathogens.

Your Pet Doesn’t Like What You Like

All the pretty packaging on pet foods is for our benefit, not our dog’s. They probably don’t mind if the steak isn’t a rib-eye and they didn’t get carrots in this meal. Our diets don’t need to mimic each other. We are essentially different animals and have different preferences and needs. What’s good for you, may not be good for them.

Conclusion

The bottom line is, there is still no right or wrong answer. Maybe some of you have found an affordable pet food brand that you trust and it happens to be very expensive, has all the buzzwords plastered on the packaging, and contains wheat as well as by-products but your dog is in tip-top shape!

As for the more unfortunate among us, it’s also possible you’ve spent tons of money on expensive food that just doesn’t sit well with your pet. As luck would have it, the day you decide to try a lesser-known and cheaper brand, you see tremendous improvements in your pet.

We can only do the best we can to the best of our knowledge. Labels are important and it’s necessary to read through the ingredients in hopes that the company operates under a level of relative transparency. Get to know your pup, do your homework on what’s out there and understand what your dog needs.

For pets that require a more tailored diet, please consult with your vet first. They will always know better than a label, or any article you will read online. If you feel like spoiling your pooch, just give them a treat here and there or one of the dog bully sticks or chews we’ve mentioned before.

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Jess
Jess' life is never boring and full of loyalty and love from her fur babies. Being able to write about all of these products and being a doggy mom herself, gives Jess insight into what’s important when choosing the right products for our cuddly pals.