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Have you ever stopped to actually read all the ingredients on the side of the bag of dog food? Do you find yourself wondering exactly what some of those things are? If you do, you are not alone. The wording on the ingredients list on dog food cans, bags and pouches is confusing and many people have a lot of misunderstandings about what they are actually feeding their dogs, it may not be anything like what they think they are.
It is important to keep in mind that dogs, unlike cats, are not just carnivores. Dogs are actually omnivores, which means they need to eat a variety of food types including meats, fruits, vegetables and even grains. All of these foods are digestible and necessary for the health of the dog, although not all forms of these foods are equal.
To be called meat the material must be inspected and passed and must be the muscle from a slaughtered animal. This may however include more than just the muscle that humans eat as meat. Dog food will contain the esophagus, tongue, heart, sinew, skin, fat, sinew and blood vessels as well as the heart and all other muscles in the body. Some of this material will be very high moisture content and will weigh a lot in its raw state, quickly moving it up the list of ingredients.
Meat meal is the rendered or processed meal made from meat. It is a more accurate way to present the information on the ingredient list as a great majority of the moisture is removed through processing, giving an accurate weight against other dry ingredients.
Lots of even high-end dog foods have a high percentage of meat by-products. Often consumers assume these are the trimmings from the meat portion of the lamb, goat, beef or poultry. While in part this is true, trimmings can be included in this category, it also include all other internal organs including the brain, kidney, liver, stomach, intestines and partially processed fatty tissue. It is not allowed to contain hair, hooves, horns or hide or the contents of the stomach or intestines.
These items do have protein, although it is not as digestible as protein from meat or meat meal. Since the digestible protein is what they dog will actually be able to use it is important to carefully read the label.
Poultry by-product contains the intestines, undeveloped eggs, feet, heads and internal organs of chicken or turkeys that have been slaughtered. Feathers cannot be included in this product. Poultry by-product meal is the rendered form of the poultry by-product and like meat by-product is a more accurate indicator on the ingredients list since it is in semi-dry form.
Other meats may include fish or fishmeal, both which are considered to be very digestible and provide Omega 3 and 6 oils. Fishmeal can only be produced from whole fish or fish cuttings, but the fish cannot be decomposed.
Occasionally chicken liver or liver is mentioned in the ingredients, and this must be the organ itself, without any additional tissue attached. Whole fresh eggs may also be included in the higher quality kibbles and feeds as eggs are considered one of the best sources of protein, even the egg shells are ground up in the feed to add calcium.
The more processed the grain is the less actual benefit the dog will receive from eating the food. This is very similar to humans where research has shown how important whole grains and avoiding processed carbohydrates is essential for weight control and many other aspects of health. The best possible grains to include in dog foods include the whole grains such as semolina, brown rice, barley, grain sorghum, flaxseed, linseed and oatmeal.
Grains that are followed by the word "meal" typically mean that the grain is a by-product of another process and is largely used as a filler or bulking agent. This is not always correct however so it is important to read the label. Soybean meal and corn gluten meal are two such by-products that are typically found on labels.
These grains are cooked and processed at high heat levels to mix with the meat component of the feed and add both carbohydrates as well as bulk to the food.
In addition to the meat category and the grains, dog foods may also contain vegetables such as peas, corn, broccoli, carrots or even various types of greens such as turnip. These vegetables are processed into the food to add vitamins and minerals. There may also be fruits added to some types of dog foods although this is not as common.
Preservatives are added, both naturally occurring and artificial, to keep the fat from becoming rancid in the food. In canned foods the preservatives may be less than in kibble, but the semi-moist packets will have the largest amounts of preservatives simply because of the packaging.
Some foods will indicate that they have added nutrients such as Omega-3 and Omega-6 oils, both which are essential for a healthy dog. There are some dog foods that claim additional ingredients that are essential for humans, but there may be little research that they are important for the overall health of a dog. Often marketers and advertisers try to play on peoples natural concerns for the healthy of their pet to design their labeling and marketing strategies. In most countries the manufacturers are limited or regulated as to what they can put on their labels, although not as closely as the foods consumed by humans.
Specialized diets for senior dogs, puppies, obese dogs or dogs with diabetes may also list additional items on the ingredients list. If you are not sure about these foods or if they will help your dog, talk to your vet and find out what he or she thinks. There are also many easy to read, informative web sites by vets and animal nutritionalists that provide comparisons and insights into different labels and ingredients without trying to sell a product.
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