By Candace Dannenbaum, Co-founder and CEO, Barker Kitsen
Though most national brands are regulated by the FDA, it can be challenging for consumers to find high-quality pet food. While many of the major pet foods are created by brands that also develop human foods and products, pet foods get the short shrift from these industry giants when it comes to ingredients.
Foods for humans are highly regulated, which allows for identification of ingredients that are unsafe for human consumption, Pet foods, however, don’t have the protective advantage of this layer of regulatory oversight. The result is that inferior ingredients often get processed into pet foods made by the industry’s larger manufacturers.
The bottom line is this: Making smarter choices shopping for pet products is really no different than how you make choices when you shop for yourself and your family.
Here are a few tips about how to ensure your beloved furry friends enjoy the same level of quality that you’ve come to expect from human products:
Read the labels. Choosing the best products for human and pets is all about reading the labels. Just like on food nutrition labels for human products, the ingredients that make up the highest percentage in pet foods appear at the top of the list. For example, if you see three ingredients—chicken, potato, and rice—listed in that order, then the product contains more chicken than potato and more potato than rice.
Watch for unknowns. Avoid products that use generic terms for ingredients rather than specifying what the product contains. In products containing meat, you should be able to clearly determine what type of animal the ingredients are coming from—for example, chicken, beef, or pork. If you see broad, ambiguous words like meat, fish, or poultry, steer clear.
Look for the right kind of protein. One of the most important things that discriminating pet parents should look for on labels is how much protein is in the food. But this information alone is not enough, since not all protein is created equal. Many manufacturers include ingredients that will boost the protein level, but your dog or cat may not be able to absorb and utilize that type of protein. Manufacturers are only required to list crude protein, rather than the amount your pet can actually digest and use. So always think in terms of biological value (how useful is that protein?) and digestibility (can your pet’s body readily absorb the protein?).
Be carb conscious. As with human foods, carbohydrates in pet foods are not all bad and are actually an important source of nutrients. But like protein, not all carbs are created equal. High-quality products will use complex carbohydrates like whole grains, which are more nutritious—so look for these on the label.
Know how it was processed. Labels should also indicate how the food was processed. Certain processes use very high heat, which depletes the products of vital nutrients. To avoid buying food that has been drained of nutrients, seek foods and treats that are all natural and human-grade. Certified organic products also indicate ultra-premium pet foods.
Ask yourself: Would I eat it? Just as with human products, if you can’t pronounce the names of the ingredients and the list on the label looks like it was written in a foreign language, then don’t buy it. If the ingredients don’t deter you from taking a nibble yourself, then you’ve found something worth buying. The most steadfast test to determine just how healthy, nutrient-rich, and safe a pet food really is, is to ask yourself: would you eat it?
Candace Dannenbaum is co-founder and CEO of Barker Kitsen, a discovery e-commerce platform connecting in-demand, emerging, and undiscovered small businesses with pet parents who seek innovative, high-quality pet products. She has a passion for identifying inefficiencies and creating unique solutions—particularly for the pet industry. Candace previously served as an executive director at J.P. Morgan both in New York and San Francisco. Before that, she was a vice-president at Bear Stearns and an analyst at Merrill Lynch. Candace has a BS in operations research from Columbia University. She is also a devoted pet parent to three dogs and two cats. You can follow Barker Kitsen on Facebook.