Editor’s note: The following is part 2 of the nutrition series. 

Pet food companies want to sell their food – this is obvious. But when there are hundreds of foods to choose from, how do they get a potential buyer’s attention? 

The human food market has long been trending toward less-processed, organic and healthier food items. The pet food market has recognized customers also want this for their pets and are looking for healthy options. 

A term like “all natural” on a bag of food is attractive to many consumers as it implies the food is a healthier choice over the many other options on the shelf. Vilifying other terms like “meat byproducts” suggests byproduct-containing foods are of lesser quality. But is that true? 

By definition, a “meat byproduct” is the non-rendered, clean parts of the carcass other than muscle meat. This means organ meat (liver, spleen, kidney, etc), which is very nutritious. Admittedly the term byproduct sadly brings to mind an unappetizing vision. 

Many people are under the impression that byproducts are inferior, unhealthy or may even be harmful to their pets. But byproducts are not hair, horns, teeth, hooves, etc. They are simply secondary products produced in addition to the principal product. For example, byproducts of milk production would be ice cream, cheese and butter. 

The terms “natural” and “holistic” have no legal definitions, so they really mean nothing in terms of the quality or nutritiousness of the food. They do not mean the food is less processed, made from whole foods or is any healthier than a food that does not have the those terms on the label.  The same goes for terms such as “high quality” “high meats” or “hypoallergenic.”  

On the other hand, food labeled “organic” is legally defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and must follow the same rules as for humans. So look for the seal. 

Pet owners want and expect the best for their pets. However, pet food labels can be misleading and misinterpreted. 

The truth is no one can tell by the pet food label alone if what is being fed is a “good” (nutritious) food or not. For owners to truly make an informed decision, they should investigate the nutritional claims made by any given pet food by contacting the company directly.

Dr. Jackie Whitlock has been practicing veterinary medicine in the Lake Norman area for nearly a decade. Whitlock has a special interest in dentistry, ophthalmology and internal medicine. Main Street is a full-service veterinary hospital located at 20306 N. Main St., Cornelius. Details: www.main

streetveterinary.com

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