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How to choose a healthy pet food

How to choose a healthy pet food

In this day and age of pet food recalls, salmonella poisoning, pet obesity and even cancer, how is one to know which pet food brand to choose? Well, because I believe part of being “green” is being healthy, I have put together this informative article which clearly tells you which brands are safer and healthier for your cherished pets.

I used to work in the pet food industry and was specialised in holistic pet nutrition. I was shocked, jaw dropping disgusted and angry when I learned what was actually considered “acceptable” by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the organisation responsible for monitoring pet food. In 2005, I wrote The Truth about the Pet Food industry (which has since been updated) which gives full descriptions of why certain ingredients are bad and which ones are necessary.

Here, I give you a black and white list of what I approve. My goal, is that your pet doesn’t just survive, but can prevent a wealth of diseases plaguing companion animals these days such as obesity, excessive shedding, itching and scratching, paw licking, tumours etc. My opinion, which is shared by many, is that the majority of health issues faced by pets today are all directly linked to improper nutrition.

GENERAL GUIDELINES TO FOLLOW:

  1. If it’s advertised on TV, it’s probably crap (pardon my bluntness)! Generally, the lower the quality of pet food, the more advertising money is needed to promote it. Since they can’t promote it on the merits of their ingredients, ads will often portray cute looking dogs while throwing the word healthy around that has absolutely no legal meaning whatsoever.
  2. If it’s sold in a grocery, corner or warehouse type store, it’s probably crap! The exception of course is for some holistic brands which might appear in the natural/organic food aisles.  Generally, these low quality pet foods are able to offer the retailer high profit margins because so little is actually invested into the product.
  3. If it contains artificial colours, it’s crap! Dogs are colour blind, so these pet food companies must really think we’re stupid if we believe that the kibble is really red, orange or green because of the vegetables.
  4. If they can’t specify the type of meat (meat-by-products, chicken by-products or meat meal), it’s crap! A brand that can’t specify the type of meat leaves the door wide open for what would be accepted from feathers, cow udders and tumorous parts to euthanised pets and expired grocery store meats (I’m not joking).
  5. Only buy human-grade (holistic) quality pet food. This means that every food ingredient is the same quality as what you would eat, and all the vitamins and preservatives are pharmaceutical grade. By doing this, you are sure that the food is made in a plant that has been inspected by a regulatory food board like the USDA for example. It will also help you avoid foods from plants that try to save money by turning the refrigeration off when inspectors aren’t around, use dubious quality ingredients and are not clean, increasing the risk of listeria or salmonella type poisoning. However, because of the lobbying power that some gigantic (low quality) pet foods companies have with AAFCO, it has become increasingly harder for the smaller, healthier pet food companies to label their food as human-grade or organic. Thus, the only sure way to know is to contact them. Through my work in the pet food industry, I was personally able to speak with most of the approved brands below.

So here it is, healthy pet foods that get my stamp of approval. None of the brands below will contain non-human-grade meat, (some might even be hormone or antibiotic free), meat by-products, rendered meats or fats, expired meats from grocery stores, euthanised dogs or cats, corn, wheat, soy, (major allergens) peanut shells, BHT & BHA, (suspected carcinogenic preservatives), ethoxyquin (pesticide used to preserve fats and rubber in car tires), beet pulp (artificial stool hardener), feathers or meat from downer animals (those too sick to make it to slaughter). And, in keeping with the “green” theme, I have listed them by country of origin for those who prefer to buy locally, although they are all available across North America.

PET FOOD BRANDS I APPROVE AND USE:

Canadian Pet Foods

Holistic Blend
Orijen
Go!, Now, Summit (Petcurean Pet foods)
Amoré (raw food)
Pets4Life (raw food)

American Pet foods

Wellness
Solid Gold
Innova
Natural Balance
California Natural
EVO
Karma
Evolve
Nature’s Variety (Prairie)
Canidae (dogs), Felidae (cats)
Azmira
Wysong
Newman’s Own Organics

Pinnacle
Merrick
Fromm
Eagle Pack Holistic Select (Although human grade, it does contains corn meal, brewers rice and dried beet pulp, 3 ingredients I advise to stay away from. Avoid if your pet has a corn allergy.)

New holistic brands are constantly being added to the market so it’s possible that there might be other great brands out there that I am not aware of. None the less, these are the most well-known and available. In the unlikely event that one of the above mentioned brands changes its formula or doesn’t live up to holistic standards, I will not be held responsible! At the time of writing this article, they were all deemed holistic!

PET FOOD BRANDS TO AVOID:

Grocery store/warehouse brands

Iams *
Friskies
Alpo *
Pedigree *
Kibbles & Bits
Whiskas
Purina
Caesar

Costco Diamond brand / Kirkland Signature Brands*
(PC) Presidents Choice Brands *
Sensible Choice
Old Roy (Walmart) *
Sportmix

Premium brands

Royal Canin *
Nutro *
Eukanuba *
Nutrience
Nutram
First-Choice
Propac
Prism
J.E. Mondou *

Vet brands

Science Diet *
Techni-Cal
Medi-Cal *
Hills *

* Indicates companies that have had pet food recalls since March 2007 according to the FDA

UNDERSTANDING VET PET FOOD
Some of you might be shocked that I have listed vet brands and I can understand your confusion. After all, the vet should know what’s best, right? Well, it’s the same with doctors who focus on illness as opposed to prevention. Vets like doctors are not there to teach you about nutrition. If you have questions about your diet, your doctor will send you off to a nutritionist or better yet, a naturopath. Well, the vet is the same in the sense that yes, their vet foods have been studied for specific illnesses (weight management, diabetes, sensitive stomachs), but they contain very few ingredients that would actually prevent illnesses. If you fed your pet great food in the first place, they shouldn’t have these problems, right? Moreover, most are loaded with fillers, contain well-known allergenic ingredients like corn, wheat and soy and are not even human-grade. Not to mention, 3 of the 4 above mentioned vet foods had issues with contaminated pet food since 2007.

Nowhere have I found a vet food that focuses on whole foods, non-allergenic grains like quinoa or brown rice, use hormone and antibiotic free or free-range meats, add in human-grade antioxidants, sufficient quantities of omega 3’s for healthy skin and coat, include probiotics (digestive enzymes & immune boosters) and use slow cooking methods so as to lessen the amount of minerals and vitamins that are killed off during the cooking process. I want the food I feed my pets to include low-ash meat and cranberries to prevent urinary tract infections not cause them. I want my pet food to include sufficient quantities of essential fatty acids so that they have glossy fur with no dandruff and itchy skin, not cause it.

Bailey eats Nature's Variety

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE:
I have been feeding my pets holistic pet food since 2004 and I have NEVER had a problem of UTI (urinary tract infection), itchy skin, bad breath, pet dandruff, obesity, diabetes, cancer or diarrhea. My 2 cats Simba and Beardie-Girl are in perfect shape, have glossy fur, big bright eyes and are extremely healthy. My dog Bailey is the same. When I adopted my chihuahua Bailey in 2004, he was fed Nutro and did have chronic skin irritations and bad breath. I realised he had an allergy to chicken and when I switched him to a human-grade salmon based diet and gave him Seagreens, he stopped his scratching, chronic paw licking and excessive shedding within about 3 weeks.

Beardie-Girl loves Wellness!

MY CLIENTS’ RESULTS:
When I managed a holistic pet food boutique in 2004, I had numerous clients who, once switched to holistic pet food, could notice a change in their pets fur in as fast as 2 weeks. Those who had overweight cats (from feeding Iams for example) didn’t even need to put their cats on a “diet” to lose weight. Simply switching to holistic did the trick because they are higher in pure meat protein and contain virtually no fillers.

HOW MUCH DOES HUMAN-GRADE OR HOLISTIC PET FOOD COST?
In terms of price, holistic or human-grade pet food is about the same or even cheaper in some cases, than premium quality brands. The reason is that instead of investing into expensive advertising or kick-backs for pet food retailers, their money is invested into higher quality ingredients. Because the ingredients are higher quality, the pets usually fill up on smaller portions reducing the amount you feed, thus saving you money. I could also argue that by preventing common illnesses, you could also save on expensive vet bills.

WHERE CAN I BUY HUMAN-GRADE OR HOLISTIC PET FOOD?
Nowadays, you can find it almost everywhere and we are finding more and more pet boutiques specialised entirely in holistic food. Otherwise, most pet stores have seen the increased demand in healthier pet foods so generally carry a few of the above mentioned approved foods. Some health food stores are even starting to carry it. As for pet warehouses like Petco or Petcetera, up until recently, they were not carrying it, although I believe Petco has started carrying holistic brands like Natural Balance and Solid Gold. This only makes perfect business sense as sales have gone though the roof in human-grade foods as people become more and more concerned about what they feed their pets. Of course, if your neighbourhood pet retailer doesn’t carry it, just ask them to bring it in. Most of the distributors they deal with carry them anyways, so they might be able to specially order a bag for you, or better yet, the entire line if there is enough demand. If you are still having a hard time finding it, then I suggest using the store locator on the websites of holistic brands. I’d also like to mention that if you have a choice, choose a pet retailer that doesn’t sell pets as they are generally buying them from puppy mills. Support those that have adoption centres or hold adoption day events!

In conclusion, my experience, coupled with that of my clients and friends, is more than enough to convince me that I would NEVER switch back to conventional pet food, especially considering that most have been recalled since 2007 for various kinds of contamination. The point after all is that pets don’t just live, but can prevent common pet illnesses through eating healthy food.

BTW- Beware of brands that claim their pet foods are “healthy” and “natural“. These words are unregulated and have no legal meaning yet they are often used to describe poor quality brands. Scrutinize the ingredients before you decide if they are or not.

Simba's been eating Holistic Blend since 2004