Pet food labels are required by AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials, to list the ingredients contained in the pet food in descending order. This is just like human foods. However, many of the ingredients that you see listed on that bag of dog or cat food can be difficult to understand. AAFCO has definitions of what each type of ingredient can contain. For example, what is a “meat meal” versus a “by-product meal”. To help you understand the differences we are going to breakdown what each of these ingredients can contain.
Sources of Protein
Meat – Examples: Beef, Bison or Pork. Clean flesh from slaughtered animals limited to skeletal muscle or that found in the tongue, diaphragm, heart, or esophagus, with or without accompanying fat, sinew, skin, nerve, and blood vessels. Can be from any animal species such as pigs, goats, rabbits and so forth. If meat has a descriptive name, such as beef, it must correspond to that species.
Meat meal – Example: lamb meal. Rendered mammal tissue without added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure and stomach contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It can contain meat from 4D animals, which come from animals condemned for human consumption. However, meat meal can be of high quality. (Some manufacturers of higher quality natural dog and cat foods make their own meal.) As a rule, it should be avoided unless you contact the manufacturer to find out exactly what is in the “meat meal”.
Meat By-product – Non-rendered, contains fat and water, clean parts other than meat, including lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, stomachs and intestines freed of contents. Cannot have hair, horns, teeth and hoofs. While this protein source may be more wholesome than meat meal or meat and bonemeal, since it comes from non-rendered tissues and from slaughtered animals rather that from already dead animals, there is no way to tell by reading the label how much of which “by products” are included in the food.
Meat and bone meal – rendered, fat and water removed, mammal tissue, including bone without added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure and stomach contents, except in sum amount as may occur unavoidable in good processing practices. This is a by-product with variable amounts of meat and bone (differing between batches) and variable protein quality. Like meat meal, it can contain meat from “4D” animals (dead, dying, diseased, or disabled), which come from animals condemned for human consumption.
Poultry – Clean combination of flesh and skin, with or without accompanying bone, and does not contain feathers, heads, feet, and guts. The origin is any fowl – turkeys, ducks, geese and so forth. If it bears a descriptive name such as Chicken, it must correspond to that species.
Poultry meal – Dry, rendered flesh and skin, with or without accompanying bone, that does not contain feathers, heads, feet, and guts, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidable in good processing practices. The quality is very inconsistent between batches. Because it is a by-product it is best avoided in dog and cat food.
Poultry by-product – Non-rendered, clean, slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet and viscera free from fecal content and foreign matter, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidable in good processing practices. The quality is very inconsistent between batches. Because it is a by-product, it is best avoided in dog and cat food.
Poultry by-product meal – Ground, rendered, clean slaughtered poultry carcass parts such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines. Cannot contain any feathers, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. The quality is very inconsistent between batches. Because it is a by-product, it is best avoided in dog and cat food.
Corn Gluten meal – the dried residue of corn protein with the starch and fat removed, and the separation of the bran by a process employed in wet milling manufacture of corn starch and syrup. Corn gluten meal is a by-product and low in critical amino acids. Ground corn, which contains the entire corn kernel is preferred.
Brewers rice – a by-product of milling consisting of the small milled fragments of rice kernels that have been separated from larger kernels of milled rice; not as wholesome as ground brown or white rice. This is a by-product and is not as healthy as whole rice.
Ground brown rice – The entire product obtains in grinding rice kernels after the hulls and pericarp have been removed. Brown rice is better than white rice, which has fewer nutrients than brown rice.
Ground corn – The entire ground kernel of corn including carbohydrates, protein and fat. This is preferred to corn fractions which are missing ingredients.
Peanut hulls – This ingredient consist of the outer hull of the peanut shell. It is a by-product that is often added as a source of fiber in “Lite” or restrictive diets. It has no nutritional value. There is the potential for contamination with aflatoxin mold, which can cause disease in pets.
Wheat middlings – Also called wheat mill run or wheat mids, they are a by-product of milling consisting of the the particles of wheat bran and flour from the end of the mill from commercial flour milling. This is a by-product and is not as healthful as whole wheat.
Soybean meal – The product obtained by grinding flakes, which remain after most of the oil has been removed.
Preservatives and Miscellaneous
BHA, Butylated hydroxyanisole – a chemical preservative and antioxidant, I can cause allergic reactions and affect liver and kidney functions.
Ethylenediamine – can be used as a solvent, urinary acidifier and as a substance to promote color retention. It can be irritating to the skin and mucous membranes and can sensitize individuals leading to asthmatic reactions and allergic skin rashes.
BHT, Butylated hydroxytoluene – can cause liver and kidney problems.
MSG, Monosodium Glutamate – functions as a flavor enhancer.
Sodium metabisulphite – in people it has been linked to weakness, loss of consciousness, difficulty swallowing and brain damage.
Sugar, Sorbitol – used as preservatives and sweeteners, artificial sweeteners may be related to diabetes, obesity and are empty calories.
Propylene glycol – used in semi moist foods to retain moisture, can cause anemia and should be avoided in cats.
Ethylene glycol – also called antifreeze, can be fatal to pets in high doses.
Ethoxyquin – also used as a rubber hardener, insecticide and pesticide. It is permitted in pet foods at very low concentrations 0.0075%
Digest - enzymatic liquefaction or hydrolysis of animal tissue used for flavor.
Erythorbic acid – Prevents the heat of canning from destroying food color.
Guar Gum, carrageenan, locust bean gum, cornstarch-modified, xanthan gum – thickening ingredients used to hold canned food together.
Sodium tripolyphosphate – helps to hold food together by binding water. Also help keep food tender and helps it come out of the can.
Phosphoric acid – used to provide the acid flavor cats love.
This is only a partial list of items that can be included in pet foods. As a general rule, avoid foods that contain unidentified sources of meats, by-products, non-natural preservatives and artificial colors. The only use for coloring in pet food is to make it visually appealing to humans. Just a few weeks ago a customer commented that they like the ingredients on pet food to read like a it was a grocery list. I like this description. It makes it easy to tell if you are choosing a quality food.