The Critters

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How to Choose the Best Dog Food

How to Choose the Best Dog Food

When you go to buy dog food?

You might be surprised at who’s been manufacturing and selling your dog food to you. Once upon a time a pet food company was a pet food company, not a handy division that creates profits out of by-products and waste from the other product manufacturing going on under their stock market symbol.

Two of the most visible pet food manufacturers stand out as examples: Ralston Purina sold out to British Petroleum in 1986, to the Sterling Group in 1993, then was acquired by Koch Industries in 1996 and is now a subsidiary of the Nestle corporation. Waltham, a name that includes Pedigree, Nutro, Royal Canin and Cesar among its stable of pet foods, is owned by the giant Mars Corporation. Mars was already the largest dog food packer in the world, back in 1968, when it acquired KalKan. Oh, and by the way, the chain of veterinary hospitals, Banfield, the Pet Hospital, the one that operates clinics in many PetSmart stores, is now partially owned by Mars, Inc., since 2007 when the CEO sold his shares.

On the FundingUniverse site, Ralston Purina’s statement of company perspective reads:

“The corporate philosophy of Purina Mills is to continue our tradition of providing both the necessary nutritional products and the value-added services that producers, processors and retailers need to satisfy the demands of a growing end-consumer market. We remain committed to expanding our research and development to enable American agricultural entrepreneurs to capitalize on the opportunities ahead.”

Not seeing anything there about taking care of the consumer and delivering a safe, quality product…

So, what do these mergers and acquisitions and subsidiaries mean to you? To your dog?

One of the areas of largest impact is marketing.

Consider all those Beneful ads on TV. “You only think you’re getting spoiled…” Well, that much is true. All of the sponsorships, from Pedigree to Eukanuba to Iams, plastered over every major dog sporting event; the inferences “top breeders recommend,” are the power of marketing bucks. Stop and think of how many bags of dog food and packages of treats have to be sold to pay for the Pedigree’s sponsorship of Westminster or Eukanuba’s AKC National Championship. By 2000, Mars, Inc. was spending over $850 million a year in advertising their brands. That’s a lot of kibbles and bits to sell to keep those companies’ — and others like them — gravy trains delivering.

But none of those ads gives you any good, concrete reasons why you should feed your pet their products. They don’t talk about protein sources or give you any real information on digestibility. They show you a nifty Border Collie or a roly-poly puppy digging into a bowl of their food like it hasn’t seen food for a week, or a Golden Retriever puppy –when there just happens to be a high profile movie being released based on a runaway best selling book about a Golden Retriever — ripping into a bag of kibble then scarfing it up as fast as he can. The ads give you the “Awwww” factor — what they don’t give you is the “Ewwww” factor. That’s why it’s so important to learn to understand what’s on the label, and it will be as obscurely described as allowable by legal standards, for example*:

Eukanuba, the first dozen ingredients: Chicken, chicken by product meal (ground, rendered parts of carcass, i.e. necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, intestines, etc.), corn meal, ground whole grain sorghum (low in digestibility), ground whole grain barley, chicken fat, fish meal (dried ground tissue of whole or fish cuttings from unspecified fish sources), brewer’s rice (milled fragments of rice kernels), natural chicken flavor, dried beet pulp (residue from sugar beets extracted during sugar manufacturing), dried egg product (obtained from egg breakers, hatchery operations, egg graders, etc., frozen, dehydrated or liquid), brewer’s dried yeast (by-product of brewing ale or beer).

But wait! It gets more interesting!

Pedigree’s “Complete Nutrition:” ground whole corn, meat meal/meat and bone meal (rendered “product” from non-specific mammal tissues, with or without bone, exclusive of added hair, hoof horn, manure, etc, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices), corn gluten meal, animal fat (obtained from non-specific mammal and/or poultry), wheat mill run/middlings, ground wheat, natural poultry flavor, wheat flour, salt, potassium chloride, caramel color, vegetable oil.

Where’s the beef? Oh wait, that was another catchy ad campaign…

*Parenthecized information not included on packaging.