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Vet Corner: How To Read Pet Product Labels

Mar 18, 2021

We know that pet food labels can often be confusing, especially when there’s a long list of ingredients that aren’t always familiar. Dr. Colleen Smith from Chattanooga Holistic Animal Institute in Chattanooga, TN is here to break down all the ingredients that may not be so nutritious for your pet’s health. Some ingredients found in pet foods and treats can unfortunately cause long-term illnesses, allergic reactions, and other health issues. As pet parents, Dr. Smith highlights just how important it is to do our due diligence in researching the ingredients in foods that we are providing to our pets on a daily basis. To learn about certain ingredients and preservatives you should avoid when you’re at your local pet store, read below!

Written by: Colleen Smith, DVM, CVA, CVCP

As pet owners, we all want to give our beloved cats and dogs the best nutrition we can. Luckily, there is much new information now as to how nutrition is used as medicine. Hippocrates once said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” which is the simplest way to say you are what you eat!

The veterinary and human medical fields are slowly starting to learn and realize nutrients are far more important than ingredients. For example, the protein of cooked egg is almost 100% bioavailable (meaning the degree to which the body digests, assimilates and absorbs food.) On the other hand, plant-based proteins found in pet food and treats look good on a computer to increase the protein percentage, but seriously lack most of the amino acids needed for a complete and bioavailable protein.

What are some examples of harmful pet food ingredients?

In many of the treats we give to our pets, the binders, dyes and preservatives can be a serious health risk. A popular dog treat ingredient list contains: Wheat Flour, Beef, Soy Flour, Corn Syrup, Water Sufficient for Processing, Propylene Glycol, Liver, Animal Fat (BHA Used As A Preservative), Dried Cheese Product, Chicken By-Product Meal, Calcium Sulfate, Potassium Chloride, Salt, Phosphoric Acid, Vegetable Oil, Titanium Dioxide (Color), Garlic Powder, Sorbic Acid (Used As A Preservative), Potassium Sorbate (Used As A Preservative), Natural Smoke Flavor, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Red 40, BHA (Used As A Preservative), Citric Acid (Used As A Preservative).

Let’s break this list down:

  • Wheat and Soy flour are poor quality binders and are highly processed carbohydrates that can cause glucose and insulin spikes in the body.
  • Corn syrup also is the worst offender of causing glucose and insulin spikes.
  • Propylene glycol which makes treats soft and chewy can cause skin irritations and allergic reactions, can have potential toxicity to the kidneys and liver, and possible neurologic and cardiovascular problems. It is also extremely toxic to cats!
  • BHA (and BHT) used as a preservative for fats is found to cause cancer in lab animals.
  • Titanium Dioxide particles are linked to increased oxidative stress, which causes a type of inflammation that can deactivate normal cell processes that control cancer cell development.
  • Chicken by-product meal may sound good but that can range from real meat to feathers and beaks.
  • Natural smoke flavor has a possible link to DNA damage.
  • Food dyes especially yellow 5, 6 and red 40 contain the chemical benzene, a known carcinogen. Most of the world has banned the use of these specific artificial dyes. Unfortunately, many American companies still freely use those additives.

Why is it important to research pet food ingredients?

When buying your favorite pet companion a new food or treat, take a closer look at the ingredient list and do a little research. Many people find their pets love these treats but it’s primarily because they are loaded with sugar. There is almost nothing found in the above treat that you could find in the wild as a natural food source. As a veterinarian, I’m finding more and more of my patients with preventable illnesses that primarily are caused by the food and treats they are being fed. Removing these very unnatural and chemically-laden treats and foods can have very immediate and long-lasting positive impacts on our pet’s health and well-being.

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