The Importance of Reading Dog Food Labels

July 28th, 2015

dog-food-diteIf nothing else, the class action lawsuit against Purina’s Beneful brand of dog food has reawakened the general public on issues concerning the quality and ingredients in pet food. In the case of Beneful (and many other pet food Brands), the ingredient list is laden with artificial ingredients and fillers and is far from what I would consider species appropriate. One of the ingredients used in the Beneful product line (and other pet food brand formulas), one that has been historically pointed to by complaining consumers, is propylene glycol, which is often used in antifreeze. According to the Purina website, “propylene glycol is an FDA-approved food additive that’s also in human foods like salad dressing and cake mix.”

If the FDA has approved an ingredient, it must be safe for pets, right? I am not so sure about that. Based on the way most people feed their pets, I would argue that FDA approval of an ingredient, even if it is approved for human consumption, does not mean that it should be fed to pets.

What does FDA Ingredient Approval Mean?

When the FDA evaluates a food ingredient, they look at several factors. The FDA website summarizes the evaluation process as follows.

When evaluating the safety of a substance and whether it should be approved, FDA considers: 1) the composition and properties of the substance, 2) the amount that would typically be consumed, 3) immediate and long-term health effects, and 4) various safety factors. The evaluation determines an appropriate level of use that includes a built-in safety margin – a factor that allows for uncertainty about the levels of consumption that are expected to be harmless. In other words, the levels of use that gain approval are much lower than what would be expected to have any adverse effect.

The general idea is that even if an ingredient might cause harm, if it is included in small enough levels, it can obtain FDA approval for use in food. On some level, this makes sense. Although it doesn’t make me want to switch back to drinking those colorful sports drinks full of artificial colors. But for most dog owners, extra caution should be used when evaluating their pets’ food. That is because most dog owners tend to feed their pets the same food over long periods of time.

The Cumulative Effect of Eating Unhealthy Foods

When speaking about the common practice of keeping a dog on the same food for extended periods of time, I often use the analogy of a ship sailing from London to New York. Imagine if the ship is just a little off course as it sets sail. Just a little, maybe one tenth of a degree. Over the first few miles, the deviation has hardly any impact. But as this ship crosses the Atlantic, the cumulative effect of the course deviation could result in this ship landing in Miami instead of New York.

The same logic holds true with food. It is often the cumulative effect that is the problem. Feeding a dog a food with dubious, albeit FDA approved ingredients for a few days will probably not have much of an impact on the pet’s health. But what happens when the dog is ingesting these ingredients day after day, month after month, and even year after year? Common sense says that this is not good for their health.

Back to the example of propylene glycol and its approval for human consumption. As stated earlier, this ingredient is used in things like salad dressing and cake mix and the FDA has deemed it safe in the amounts that are used in such items. However, do you think the FDA would feel the same way if they thought that salad dressing and/or cake mix were going to be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, each and every day, for weeks and possibly years on end, much like many pet owners feed their dogs the same dog food over and over?

The question for pet owners is why risk it? If an ingredient is artificially made or if it has the potential to cause harm, albeit at higher doses than typically found in food, why take the chance with your pet’s health? There are thousands of dog foods to choose from, many of which are formulated without including artificial preservatives and colorings.

Article reprinted from SlimDoggy