Let's talk a little more about the pet food industry and some of the myths about various ingredients. I'm calling this Part 1 since I'm sure I'll have updates as time goes on and the industry comes up with new marketing ploys.
Pet food is a multibillion dollar industry. Last year revenues were almost 28 Billion dollars. Purina alone did over 12 Billion in sales last year. Their profits? About 2.4 Billion dollars. That's Billion with a B. Just for comparison Zoetis, the animal drug division of Pfizer, only had profits of 821 Million. If you thought the pharmaceutical companies were only interested in profits and willing to use sketchy methods to make money how much worse must the pet food industry be if they're making so much more money? To protect these kinds of profits Purina (and every other pet food company) are going to pull out every marketing ploy and advertising psychology trick they can. So pretty much everything you read on the label or see on their advertising is just part of their marketing ploys to get you to spend more money.
There is actually an entire field of advertising psychology. Turns out it's pretty easy to trick our brains with clever advertising. For example if someone tells you their product is “X Free!” our brains automatically assume that X must be bad and that the competitors must not be X free. It's just a thing people do. We'll talk about a couple of commons ones that lots of companies try to trick you with.
Grain Free. Unfortunately this is just marketing. It's not grains that are the problem for animals; it's high carbohydrate, low protein diets. Food allergies (and all allergies really) in animals are actually very different from what people experience. It's actually very different types of immune cells being 'set off' so the things they're allergic to and how they manifest those allergies are very different than in people (I have a whole separate blog post about allergies in animals). So it's actually the meats that cause the most issues with food allergies (chicken and lamb are the biggest offenders). The food companies figure that you don't know that so they put “Grain Free” on the package so you'll assume grains are bad for animals and pay more for their food because it says it doesn't have grains in it. All they do is switch from using one cheap carbohydrate like rice to using another cheap carbohydrate like potato and charge you extra for the potato. Meanwhile your pet is still getting an inappropriate diet that's high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fat.
But By Products really are bad, right? By Products is actually term which has a legal definition as far as being in food. It means any part of the animal that isn't skeletal muscle. So liver, kidney, bone etc are all technically By Products. In fact you've probably been paying extra for a fancy brand where they just changed the ingredient list so instead of saying “Chicken By Products” it says “Chicken Liver” even though it's the same thing. Organ meat like kidneys, heart, liver and spleen are actually good for dogs and cats as part of a balanced diet since they're high in protein and contain vitamins and minerals that regular muscle meat doesn't. Even things that seem gross to us like bone and feathers are actually really good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. In the wild cats and dogs (and their wild cousins) do eat all of these parts because they do have nutritional value. There's some myth that By Products are used as “filler” in pet food. If you were a pet food company trying to make a lot of money you'd want to use the cheapest thing you could find as “filler” right? Well any animal product will always be more expensive than plant products. It takes a lot more resources to grow animals than plants so they're always going to be more expensive. If they want cheap “filler” they use things that are really cheap like potatoes and peanut hulls.
Those are some of the most common ones people ask me about but really pretty much anything you see in a foods marketing that says “Made without X”, “No X”, or “X Free” you can be pretty certain that whatever X is it's probably not actually bad for your pet and that it's just a marketing ploy to charge you more money.