Commercial Pet Food Myth Busters--the First Ingredient (part 1)

by Amanda K. Jones, LVT - Date: 2007-03-29 - Word Count: 466 Share This!

The ingredient list is of special interest to pet owners. Many look at the first ingredient and if it's not a protein source like "beef" or "chicken" they assume that the food is "low-quality."

They do this because it's exactly what some pet food marketers and self-proclaimed pet food experts have taught them to do, even though it goes against all nutritional common sense.

In fact, one popular pet publication teaches pet owners how to select "quality" pet foods by comparing ingredient lists.

However, when tested, 23 out of 24 "Top Dry Dog Foods" had levels of calcium that exceeded the maximum recommended level for an adult dog and 19 out of 24 "Top Dry Dog Foods" had levels of phosphorus that exceeded the maximum level for an adult dog.

When these and other nutrients are supplied in excess for an extended period of time they could potentially initiate or complicate certain medical conditions. These conditions include obesity, bladder stones, kidney failure, skeletal disease, heart failure, hypertension, and skin disease.

Rebecca Remillard, PhD, DVM, accredited veterinary nutritionist, and staff nutritionist at the Angell Memorial Hospital in Boston, MA, offers some advice for pet owners.

She says, "I use the placement of the meat source in the list of ingredients as an indication of whether the diet is formulated correctly and that the ingredient list has not been 'rigged' to meet current consumer thinking. Current consumer rhetoric about 'fillers' and that 'meat' should be first in the list is nutritionally erroneous. The logic is flawed."

The Ingredient List Game

So, pet food manufacturers know that the consumer wants to see a real "meat" source listed as the first ingredient (we'll talk about by-products and meat-meal some other time). Because there are loop holes in the regulations associated with pet food labels, pet food manufacturers can manipulate the list to make it appear more "appealing" to consumers. Some people associated with pet nutrition refer to this as "the ingredient list game."

Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. A protein source like "beef" or "chicken" will appear first in the list of ingredients because the water weight of the protein source simply outweighs the other ingredients. (Whole meat is very high in moisture and actually contains about 75% water.) So in some cases, the first ingredient may contribute a ton of water to the diet and very little nutrition.

Manufacturers can also list several different forms of the same ingredient separately to make certain ingredients appear lower in the list. For example, to make wheat-based ingredients appear lower on the list, they can be listed individually as wheat bran, wheat flour, wheat germ meal, etc.

Veterinary nutritionists do recommend that an animal protein source should be in the first 3 ingredients listed.

So what should be the first ingredient listed? You'll have to read Part 2 to find out!

Related Tags: pet food, pet food ingredients, commercial pet food, pet food ingredient list

If you're a pet owner interested in learning more about pet food ingredients, or are looking for more information on basic pet food nutrition, you may be interested in Amanda's FREE 8-Week Course on Dog and Cat Nutrition. For more information or to sign-up please visit

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