What’s In Your Dog Food? (Maybe) Not What You Think!

Oh Pooch, if only we knew!

This past December we had some issues with Nature’s Variety and their Instinct line of dried kibble products for dogs.  Which led us to discover additional issues with their cat line as well as reported problems with their dehydrated raw, frozen raw AND canned food products.

Just when we thought they couldn’t surprise us any more, this little gem came knocking through my email.

Now normally I take pet food studies with a pretty big grain of salt – they are, after all, sponsored and often conducted by the companies themselves, similar to the current issues surrounding prescription drug trials.  They’re often carefully worded and phrased, and angled just so – to support whatever product the company pushing.

This study, however, is an entirely different story.

Some of you will remember back in 1999 the CVMA did a study testing pet foods for sodium pentobarbital residue and canine/feline DNA in an effort to determine a) whether pentobarbital was present in significant amounts, and b) whether there was any truth to the rumour that dogs and cats were being recycled back into pet food.  It took years for them to publish the results, and I understand they did so begrudgingly.  You see, despite the companies’ screams to the contrary, many of their products DO contain pentobarbital.  Neither canine nor feline DNA was ever found, although even the president of AAFCO is on camera admitting that it’s absolutely 100% possible.

After this shocker, few independent studies have come across my desk that have actually named the brands used in testing.  This is due to many reasons, including legal issues and of course the ability to make the data look better – after all, if your food tests superior to 10 other brands, that looks good.  It doesn’t look quite as good when it comes to light that you’ve been comparing your “superpremium” brand to grocery store fare and not to comparable products.

In this latest blow to what little trust pet owners may have had left in pet food companies, we discover that allergy diets are not always what they seem.  In fact, it appears they rarely are.

Venison is an extremely popular alternative protein at the moment, right up there with Rabbit and Duck.  All three are being used as “hypoallergenic” diets (which they are not, they are merely novel proteins the body has not yet developed allergies to) in various forms.  But what if that bag doesn’t just contain Venison – or what’s listed on the ingredients list?

Ok, ok – we already know this occurs.  Chemicals like preservatives and artificial colours are frequently added to raw materials before being purchased by the manufacturer.  This means that if the manufacturer purchases say, chicken meal that has been preserved with ethoxyquin and coloured with FD&C Red #40, all they have to put on their label is “chicken meal.”  Not only that, but they can add phrases like “no artifical colours or preservatives.”  Why?  Because they didn’t use ethoxyquin as an ingredient – they simply bought chicken meal.

This is a royal pain in the a$$ for those of us feeding dogs with sensitivities, as they could be reacting to an ingredient in the food that’s not even on the label.  Which leads us to these limited or novel protein diets, like Venison.

This most recent study took a look at four “OTC” (over the counter, or “non-prescription”) foods that were Venison based and recommended for allergies.  They were:

  1. Eukanuba Naturally Wild New Zealand Venison & Potato
  2. Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Pet Foods, Limit Ingredient Diet Sweet Potato & Venison
  3. Nature’s Variety Prairie New Zealand Venison Meal & Millet Medley
  4. Wellness Simple Food Solutions Rice & Venison, Old Mother Hubbard

Each product was tested for the presence of soy, poultry and beef.  The only product which tested identical to its label was Wellness Simple Food Solutions.

"Limited Ingredient Diet" must mean something different to Natural Balance than it does to me

"Limited Ingredient Diet" must mean something different to Natural Balance than it does to me

Eukanuba contained poultry – not surprising since their product contains chicken meal as a listed ingredient.  A bit surprising that any company would consider putting out a novel protein diet and then add chicken – although also not surprising because let’s face it, chicken meal is much cheaper than venison.  Unfortunately, they also tested positive for soy, coming in at 8.5 ppm – despite the fact that soy is a major allergen and, yeah, not on the label.

Then on to Natural Balance.  Sadly, this company has a long history of “mystery” ingredients.  Those of you who remember the 2007 melamine recalls may also remember it was Natural Balance who suddenly came forward and announced that their product was also on the recall list despite not having any of the affected ingredients on its label – turns out it was adding rice protein on the sly (and on the cheap) and escaped too much scandal by blaming it on their canning company (a pretty sore excuse).  Well, despite not being listed on the label, their LID Sweet Potato and Venison tested positive for soy at greater than 25 ppm (it appears as though this is the maximum level they tested for) as well as testing positive for beef – what is considered possibly the worst allergen possible for dogs, at least by the veterinary community.

Now, this is particularly infuriating in the case of Natural Balance, as it wasn’t too long ago that their products were called “Venison and Sweet Potato” – the reversal of ingredient listings automatically means that there is now more Sweet Potato than Venison in this product – and with Venison now coming second in the name any idea the minimum amount of venison required under AAFCO regulations?  3%.  Sadly, the worst is yet to come – not only have they vastly reduced the amount of meat in their products across the board, but now we come to find out that what little is there is not even the meat source they claim, exchanging a portion of the “hypoallergenic” and very expensive venison for a top allergen and cheaper substitute!

Yes, it does indeed read "no corn, no wheat, no soy" on the front of this bag. Pity they didn't test for corn or wheat...

Our old pals Nature’s Variety of course makes this list as well, being another company that loves to throw chicken in everything it makes (why is there chicken in every single Instinct kibble product for cats?  Don’t cats deserve an allergy free meal too?) – unless, apparently, they list it on the label.  If that sounds confusing, it is!  Despite listing Chicken Livers as an ingredient, this product tested negative for poultry.  And despite claiming to be free of soy, this product tested at 22ppm.  Now, it seems that Nature’s Variety has since removed Chicken Livers from the ingredients list of this product (online conformation only – your bag may vary) – but hey, who knows, maybe that means now it does contain them.

Three of the four products tested were positive for soy, one for beef, one for poultry and three of their ingredient panels failed to match their actual ingredients.  Wellness is the only company whose product appears to be what they claim it to be.  At least, according to this particular battery of tests.

It’s time to stop this ridiculousness.  There is big money to be made for a laboratory somewhere – one who will offer pet food companies a certification program, requiring quarterly samples to be obtained off store shelves and independently tested from front to back, top to bottom, with full results available online for customers to view.  Trust me, the companies that truly care about quality will become evident quickly.  As for the rest, well… as we always say – VOTE.  With your dollars.  In the meantime, we’re adding Eukanuba and Natural Balance to our “Do Not Buy” list.  Nature’s Variety, on the other hand, has been on it for a while with this latest news serving only as an assurance that they belong there.

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13 comments on “What’s In Your Dog Food? (Maybe) Not What You Think!

  1. Darienne says:

    Thanks Kim for this post. The above is why we feed our dogs meat, real meat, human grade (now that says a lot, considering the recent reports on human grade meat. It’s the best we can do.)

    I wonder about so many dogs being allergic to chicken. It seems like a normal canine food in the wild. Could it be connected to some chemicals which are in chicken dog feed? and not the chicken itself.

    Years ago, we almost lost Nigel, our epi-pup to lymphocytic plasmacytic enteritis with protein losing enteropathy. He was to go on Azathioprine for the rest of his life. I took him off all commercial foods that day, put him first on cooked real food and soon enough on raw. He got better and never had this problem again. End of story.

    It has been 14 years since we fed commercial food to our dogs. Sorry for the rant, Kim. You know my stance on the subject already.

  2. No apologies necessary, Darienne.

    First, let me address your chicken question. I am of the school of thought that because low quality chicken ingredients are potentially coloured, flavoured and preserved, this certainly does nothing to help potential allergies. Whether they are the cause or not is up for discussion (for example, I don’t seem to see the same problem with fish diets, even though 99.9% of fish meals are preserved with ethoxyquin as a matter of law). Also, I’ve had numerous people tell me their dog was allergic to (insert ingredient here) and as soon as we put them on a raw diet or even a grain free high quality kibble the allergies seem to disappear.

    It’s odd that I didn’t know that Nigel had protein losing enteropathy. I treated a Wheaten Terrier for this disorder after his owners spent almost a year trying to treat through conventional means with little to no success. We had his problem cleared up in 48 hours, and the only time the symptoms came back was a few years later when they thought they’d “just try” something else. Lesson learned.

    About 12 years ago we went raw, as you know. Unfortunately Molson eventually began to do poorly on it. When we swapped out his raw food for a grain free kibble, his undercoat grew for the first time in three years.

    He’s the exception to the rule (like the 20 year old dog who eats Kibbles N Bits) but he certainly opened my eyes to the fact that raw is not the miracle cure. Intellectually I understood that, but to see my dog do better on processed food – well, confusing would be an understatement.

    Lexus was raised on raw, but after seeing Molson’s change I began to doubt myself. We investigated company after company, finally settling on Champion. I then detoured several hours out of my way on a trip from Lethbridge, AB to Goodsoil, SK to visit their Morinville, AB factory and speak face to face with their nutritionist and their head of quality control. I got a full tour of not only the factory but the testing facilities and the raw materials as well.

    Our dogs still eat raw quite often, and of course raw meaty bones are a big part of our dogs’ diet, but we use a base of Champion products.

    I tell people all the time that the worst dogs I’ve ever seen ate a raw diet that was obviously lacking in something. The best dogs I’ve ever seen ate a raw diet that obviously agreed with them.

    I wish I had the final answer, but I don’t. We use what works with our dogs, and we provide them with the highest quality ingredients we can. Everything they eat is free range, chemical free, grain free and locally sourced. We haven’t had a single vet visit for illness or injury since Molson’s passing, everyone is their ideal weight with beautiful coats, clear eyes and tiny stools. Do I wish that we once again had the money, time and space to do a raw diet for all of our dogs? I used to – but after several years of positive results, I’m pleased with what we use.

    I only wish it was easier to discern the total crap from the quality products. As we see here, it’s not always as easy as you’d think.

  3. Viatecio says:

    Very interesting. We had decided to go with Wellnes for the venison diet with our last dog when he had food sensitivities. Vet actually recommends the company since she switched from Hill’s, so of course my parents (the actual owners of the dog) started getting that. My discount also helped since I worked for a few months at the place which sold it. Looking at this now, I’m glad we went with it, but even if we had chosen any of the other brands, there’s not much we can do about it now except stew (he’s long since dead), and that’s really not worth it right now.

    I’ll have to read through the entire study later, but the results you summarize are very interesting. These are supposed to be reputable companies in the “holistic” field, so it’s a mite surprising.

    As an aside, I’d like to see them do the same research on Hill’s z/d prescription diet, which is supposed to be very similar (allergy diet). The ingredient list really creeps me out just looking at it…I’d be interested to see what all they find in it that’s not supposed to be there.

    • Rebecca Tucker says:

      We have been feeding our pup z/d after his being diagnosed with acid reflux and IBD. When I read the ingredient list I felt sick. We are looking for a quality food with venison for the main protein source. He can’t tolerate chicken so many foods aren’t acceptable as they have that as a filler. Any ideas?

  4. […] What's In Your Dog Food? (Maybe) Not What You Think! « Dogs In … […]

  5. You do not site the source of this test. Can you tell us who conducted the test and give us the link to the study? That would be great.

    Keep up the fight, BPF is too big for it’s own good.

    Remember petsumers – vote with your wallet. Write your reps in Congress. Phone /email the companies – go to their FB pages and tell others how crummy you think their food is. Be the voice for pets.

  6. I absolutely cited the source by providing a link directly to the study.

    In case you missed it, here it is again: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1439-0396.2010.01016.x/full

    You can also view the 1999 study here:

    http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/CentersOffices/CVM/CVMFOIAElectronicReadingRoom/ucm129134.htm

    Although I do stand corrected regarding the source of the second study – I originally attributed this study to the CVMA when in fact the CVM was responsible.

  7. Viatecio – they’re not going to find anything unusual in Science Diet. They’re just not.

    SD is VERY careful about how they conduct themselves, and they are extremely careful about their ingredients list.

    The reason you see such fluxuation in recipe with smaller companies such as Nature’s Variety and Natural Balance is due to flux in pricing of source ingredients. When one source gets too pricey, they skip to a cheaper source or substitute an ingredient.

    Larger companies like Eukanuba, Science Diet, Purina, etc, make HUGE quantities of product at a time and as such their suppliers don’t change much. It’s not too hard to find another supplier when you need a few hundred tonnes of an ingredient – when you need tens of thousands, it’s a big deal (Eukanuba/Iams of course was involved in the melarecall but only in reference to the products that they themselves don’t manufacture – canned foods).

    The best way I can describe Z/D is… a product made of ingredients your allergic dog is likely sensitive to – but processed to the point that the body no longer recognizes it.

    To me, this is NOT a suitable alternative – especially for over $100 a bag. Particularly when one can feed a high quality canned, raw, home cooked or carefully selected kibble and achieve the same results. In fact, I would estimate about 30% of the food allergy issues I have dealt with had already been to the vet’s office and tried Z/D, only to have the pet continue to suffer.

    There DOES seem to be the odd dog or cat who responds well to this diet, but overall I would say the product is a failure, at least in my experience. I like that it exists, because let’s face it – if your dog is suffering, anything that solves the problem is going to be welcome, even if it isn’t ideal. Similar to our experience with our retriever and kibble – after years and years on a balanced raw diet (which didn’t cure his diseases but left him almost totally asymptomatic) he began to decline and we had to switch to a kibble product.

    I think what’s most important is that YOU are comfortable with whatever you’re feeding. Of course, just because you’re comfortable doesn’t mean you’re done learning – new information is discovered all the time, and it’s up to us to keep on top of it and make adjustments to our beliefs and practices as necessary. And of course what’s really important – that you NEVER stop asking questions.

  8. […] A few months later we discovered a study done to promote a particular brand of “alternative protein” food for allergies.  During the study, the authors learned that with many products what was on the label was NOT what was in the bag.  Surprise, surprise, Nature’s Variety had made the list – by adding Soy to their Venison and Millet diet, despite having a very clear “NO SOY” advertisement on the front of the bag.  Interestingly, chicken livers were on the list and yet no chicken livers were found in the product.  Since then, the online ingredients list has been altered to remove chicken livers, so it could have been an ingredient change issue… but the soy pretty much convinced me that this line of pet products was not what it claimed to be.  You can read our entire report by clicking here. […]

  9. […] that even their Limited Ingredient Diet contained protein sources other than what was claimed. What’s In Your Dog Food? (Maybe) Not What You Think! Dogs In Training __________________ Christine Blackthorn Working German […]

  10. Hey There Dogsintraining,
    Thanks you for your post, A Healthy Dog Food Recipe is a Homemade Dog Food Recipe.http://www.bestdogfood.xqsonline.com
    Regards

  11. […] like Purina are absolutely full of dyes and preservatives. I was stunned to learn that the all natural food I thought I was feeding our dogs was really making them sick. I was […]

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