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"The Thinking Person's Pet Food"™ – Since 1979

How To Choose Healthy Pet Foods

Dr. Wysong

Consumers who rely on commercial pet foods while seeking optimal health have a daunting task before them. For one, there are over 5000 pet food and supplement choices. Also, since processed foods do not look like real foods, one cannot use the usual senses like sight and smell. Producers know this so they try to trick people with processing technology capable of turning dye and starch into what appears to be bite-sized toy pork chops.

Moreover, taste enhancers can entice pets to eagerly devour bowls of food unsuitable for long term health. Nutrient analyses, the presence or absence of this or that ingredient, and short term feeding studies also do not reveal the true health measure of a pet food, namely long, active, vital life, free from chronic degenerative disease conditions.

Long term results, results consumers can only truly know after the fact, are the true measure of good nutrition. After all, humans and animals can survive on water and rice for years. Mere survival should not be the goal.

Advertising, marketing brochures, and pet food package labels can also be confusing, and even deceiving.

So too is feeling safe because pet food companies are regulated (actually they are regulated to death). Although it would seem that regulation would assure quality and not permit danger, this is simply not the case. Instead, regulators focus on such things as terminology, spacing on labels, and whether a comma is out of place. For example, recently, regulators in one state actually put a stop sale on products because a sentence was ¼" out of place, chicken was called "meat," and the word "health" was used. In the meantime, issues that truly have something to do with the well being of pets are ignored by these same officials. (See The "Pet Food Regulation Protects the Public and Guarantees Health" Myth, The Pet Food Ingredient Game.)

So if the commonly used criteria for judging the merit of a healthy pet food are unreliable, what is the concerned pet owner to do? As in all other important decisions in life, gathering information and applying reason is the best way to the best answer. This process is even more important in food decisions because life and death are at issue.

Ultimately a pet food can be no better than the motives and the competency of those producing it. Everything flows from that. If the pet food producer's main objective is profit, then health will be a secondary consideration. If a producer's understanding of the sciences underlying processing, health, and nutrition is weak, so too will be the food. Evaluating companies and the people behind them, therefore, becomes a critical element in making pet food choices

If asked, every producer will say that health is their objective. But one cannot assume that a given producer even knows how to create long term pet health. So the challenge for the consumer becomes twofold. First, what are the features of a food and feeding program most likely to cause health. Two, is the producer competently achieving those features.

Everyone reading this will think I am going to lead them to A particular food, made by A particular company, which they can feed at EVERY meal with confidence. No I am not. That would simply perpetuate what is the most dangerous pet feeding practice of all.

Most people have the intuitive wherewithal to not exclusively eat or feed to their children some fortified food trinket from a bag or can for every meal, even if an expert says they should. No such sense exists in pet feeding because people have been told by the pet food industry, nutritionists, veterinarians, and Internet pet food reviewers that pet foods are 100% complete. (See The Myth of "100% Complete and Balanced" Processed Pet Foods.)

So, if you seek health for your pet, don't make your objective finding the ONE right food to feed at EVERY meal. Rather, seek the best products from the best companies using rational and scientific criteria (not the same as lore and myth), and learn how to feed in rotation and variety.

A final word about dos and don'ts, goods and bads. Although it is natural to hope that decisions in life can be made based upon black and white, such is not our reality. Particularly is this so with a complex subject such as nutrition. Nevertheless, people want an easily identified enemy (such as an ingredient) and a ready made savior (such as A particular food).

I have been engaged in pet nutrition and processing technology for some 35 years, and before that 15 years in veterinary practice. But never have I seen the degree of pet food paranoia and misinformation that abounds today. Every day at our offices we are beset with people questioning the safety of this or that ingredient. This usually springs from claims by a company seeking a niche in a saturated and highly competitive pet food market. What better way to sell a product than to advertise that every product but yours has toxins. (Examples would be the current "grain free" craze, another is the "vitamins and minerals are toxic" scare, but there are many more.) Then pet food review websites take up the cause and further entrench the misinformation by giving stars out to companies that don't have the "toxin," and keeping stars away from those that do. And all of this can occur without a shred of scientific evidence that the "toxin" (such as a grain or vitamin), if fed at reasonable levels in a varied feeding program, has ever caused even one illness! Multimillion dollar enterprises are regularly built on such nonsense.

So, with these thoughts in mind, and with the understanding that no processed food should be fed exclusively, what follows are the best criteria to measure commercial food merit–with health as the primary objective.

Some will conclude, and reasonably so, I understand, that this analysis will be self serving. But please consider this. I went into the field of health with the objective of preventing pain and suffering. Finding that conventional medicine was more about naming diseases and treating symptoms than curing or preventing, I turned to nutrition and holistic approaches. Our present organization, although developing and producing products, remains true to my original ideal of preventing, i.e., helping people not need any doctor at all. In my present situation, that translates to helping people learn how to not need any commercial products at all, even Wysong's.

So, given my goal of helping you be self sufficient in your pet feeding, not building a multibillion dollar pet food company, I hope you will open your mind to the following tools you can use to get you to where you need to be—a truly informed pet owner.

Choose or reject companies and products based upon the following:

1. PET HEALTH PHILOSOPHY: Does the pet health philosophy expressed by the company make sense, have scientific backing, and clearly put health as the number one priority? Or do sales seem to be the main objective? (See Pet Nutrition Is A Serious Health Matter, Comparing Pet Foods Based Upon What Matters, and The Real Problem in Pet Feeding.)

2. RESPONSIBLE EDUCATION: For many people, the pet food company producing the products they use is their only source of pet nutrition and health information. Nutrition is fundamentally about health so a company taking on this role must be health competent and put education foremost. Such education must come from competence and experience and include teaching consumers how not to use any processed commercial products at all.

3. LEADER SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE: Most pet food companies are led by a marketing person, movie star, venture capitalist, or a board of directors. But supplying foods that have the best prospect for achieving health requires competency in health, nutrition, biochemistry, food science, nutraceuticals, nutrigenomics, epigenetics, and processing technology. (See Comparing Pet Foods Based Upon What Matters, Pet Nutrition Is A Serious Health Matter.)

4. MANUFACTURING CONTROL: Is the pet food company also the owner of the manufacturing facility? Consider that anyone off the street can go to any number of toll pet food manufacturers and have them make a "new" food. Such contract manufacturers have files full of ready-to-go formulas. Then the marketing company can add a "special" ingredient, or remove a "demon" one, create a beguiling label and then make unsubstantiated claims about the superiority of the "revolutionary new" product. But, in fact, all the different brands of foods coming off the same production line are essentially the same. Since nutrition, health, and food technology are rapidly unfolding fields of knowledge, innovation is critical in order to make state of the art products. Such innovation is near impossible without owning a manufacturing facility.

5. GREATER GOOD: People can choose a career in an attempt to make money, or to do some greater good. Obviously, consumers should choose products, especially those having to do with health, coming from people with a preeminent greater good motive.

6. THE "100% COMPLETE & BALANCED PET FOOD" MYTH: This claim is a myth and is directly responsible for far-reaching nutritional diseases. Promotion of the claim proves a manufacturer does not properly understand animal nutrition and pet health and is under the mistaken view that manufactured foods can be complete, in other words, perfect. This false view can limit product improvement. Why improve products if they are "100% Complete?" (See The Myth of "100% Complete and Balanced" Processed Pet Foods.)

7. RAW: Does the company either supply or advocate the use of raw foods? There is no creature in existence, other than humans, that cooks food. Rawness is as essential to health as is air, sunshine, and water. It is the stuff of nature. (See Should You Feed Raw to Your Pet?)

8. MEAT AND PROTEIN: Carnivores require meats, organs, and bones for best nutrition. Pet owners should seek foods where these, not starches predominate. (Epigen™ Starch Free Booklet)

9. VARIETY AND ROTATION: Pet health is best served by a variety of foods combined in various ways, rotated, and supplemented. Included can be processed canned, dried, frozen, and TNT™ (True Non-Thermal™) dried, as well as fresh foods and supplements. This optimizes nutrition as well as minimizes the chance of toxicity. Companies that do not provide products to accomplish such a method of feeding, or teach how it can be accomplished, are not serving your pet's health interests. (See the Wysong Optimal Health Program™, How to Rotate Wysong Pet Diets and Can Pet Health Be Simple?)

10. FOCUS ON ANALYSES: Although some general information about a food's ability to maintain an animal can be gleaned from the analysis on the package, focusing on such is misleading. Pets should be fed a variety of foods, not one food with the supposed "correct" percentages or ingredients. If this is done using quality foods, the body will select what it needs for health. Animals in the wild do not eat by analysis and yet have robust health. Pet foods with the "proper" analysis have been (and are) responsible for terrible disease and countless deaths. (See The "Don't Feed Your Pet Table Scraps" Myth, www.WysongEpigen.net, chapters 4, 5 and 14 of The Truth About Pet Foods and Does Your Pet Need a % of Something?) A focus on analysis by a producer leads consumers to believe the lie that feeding one food meal after meal with "just the right analysis" is the key to health.

11. FOCUS ON PATHOGENS: Although regulators are devising ever more stringent requirements with regard to food borne pathogens, creating a gnotobiotic (germ free) food does not advance health. For one, we live in a world of microbes, many of which are essential to health. Secondly, studies have proven that animals raised in germ-free environs  are actually more susceptible to disease. And thirdly, carnivores thrive on germ infested prey and carrion in the wild. A company's emphasis on "Germ free" products to create public confidence is not the answer to health. This simply distracts from what truly does cause health and natural resistance to disease. (See Germs Don't Cause Disease, We Do.)

12. CERTIFICATIONS: A variety of manufacturing certifications are now being imposed on food manufacturers. These add yet more costs to manufacturing which are passed to consumers. Yet there is no evidence that facilities with an alphabet soup of certifications produce products that are any more healthful than products produced by facilities with no such certifications. True, good manufacturing practices are prudent and beneficial, but they are not the key to health in pets.

13. DOMESTIC SOURCING: Ever since toxic melamine was introduced into the pet food supply by China, people have been suspicious of nondomestic sources. The assumption is that the US has cleaner and safer ingredients than elsewhere. But there is no evidence that this will achieve the health desired. China, for example, produces almost all of the world's vitamins and amino acids. These have been consumed in millions of doses everyday by humans and animals without event. Not only are there no untoward events, such nutrients are responsible for raising the health status of millions upon millions of humans and animals. Taurine, the amino acid responsible for curing dilated cardiomyopathy and other maiming and deadly diseases, is supplied by China. The deficiency of this amino acid—caused by feeding fully "proven" 100% complete and balanced US pet foods containing only US ingredients—killed and maimed thousands of cats in the 1980s. Nondomestic taurine solved this problem. The solution to pet health is not about finding domestic ingredients. A simple solution, yes, but so are all non-solutions.

14. NATURAL VS SYNTHETIC: Given ordinary (natural) circumstances, natural is safer and more beneficial than synthetic. We all intuitively know that. However, processed pet foods are not ordinary. They are, by definition, synthetic regardless of how natural the ingredients are. Processing subjects natural foods to unnatural temperatures, pressures, shearing, hydrolytic forces, racemization, oxidation, Maillard combinations, acrylamides, chemical reactions, chelations, and the like. These create alterations from the natural state, diminish nutritional value, and create potential toxins. The only way to protect such foods and salvage their value is with the concentrated effects of synthetics that duplicate natural elements, such as vitamins. Products that are processed but them claim no vitamins, minerals, or antioxidants (preservatives) are a danger, not a solution. See No-Vitamin Mineral Processed Foods.

15. PET SPECIFIC DIETS: Testifying to the silliness of some pet food claims are diets designed for "morning" meals, different shaped nuggets for different breeds, breed specific diets, "indoor" pet diets, and so forth. Certainly everyone loves their pet and thinks it is very special. They want to do all they can to fulfill its individual needs. This has not escaped marketers. So, in the quest for a market, company's lead consumers to believe that pet foods are capable of being fine tooth tailored to every conceivable pet and circumstance. Compare such nonsense to the sense of what carnivores (your pet) consumes in the wild. They all eat basically the same thing, regardless of their age, size, species, tooth configuration, color of their hair, or time of the day. That is the model to keep in mind.

16. FADS OVER FACTS: Does the company follow fads or does it lead with solid responsible information? Fads include: high fiber, low cholesterol, low fat, no preservatives, four food groups, human grade, domestic sources, no vitamins, grain free, and the like. (See Fluff, Puff, and Smoke)

17. INGREDIENT BOOGEYMEN: Does the company fear monger about "boogeyman" ingredients? Popular misconceptions, dubious field reports, selective examination of the scientific and medical literature, and poorly conducted science lie at the base of most "toxic ingredient" myths.(See chapter 10 of The Truth About Pet Foods, The Pet Food Ingredient Game, Fluff, Puff, and Smoke, Grain Free Pet Food, Garlic, Digests, Yeast and Are By-Products Bad?)

18. TOXIN PARANOIA: There is a basic principle in toxicology that is essential to understand. It is: the dose makes the poison. Anything can be toxic in high enough dose, even oxygen and water. What may be toxic at one dose may be life saving at another. In the literature, somewhere, can be found a study proving that this or that ingredient fed to mice at levels that would choke a horse is toxic. Producers who champion scare tactics about ingredients that have actually never been proven to be harmful in practical feeding experience are either misinformed, naive, or purposely using fear to create sales. As a rule, ingredients that have been used for thousands of years by humans and animals are safe if fed in variety and in reasonable amounts. Yes, some things can be toxic. But that can only be determined by understanding the relationship between dosage and toxicity. Since these understandings are constantly changing, the only safe way to feed is by rotation and variety using quality products from competent producers who do not mislead. (See chapter 10, page 142, and page 144 of The Truth About Pet Foods, Vitamin K, Fluff, Puff, and Smoke and Does "Organic" Mean Healthy?)

19. PROCESSING DANGERS: While highlighting a host of features that have nothing to do with health, pet food companies and ranking sites remain silent about the dangers inherent in food processing itself. Processing destroys or vitiates nutrients, or perverts them into toxins. The only way to make up for this is with vitamin, mineral, amino acid, probiotic, enzyme, essential fatty acid, and antioxidant fortification. However, some companies use no such fortification in order to claim "natural." Processed foods need technology to address the dangers of amino acid and vitamin racemization, oxidation of essential fatty acids, cholesterol oxidation products (COPS), Maillard reaction toxins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic amines, acrylamides, and more. The inevitable consequences of processing are particularly dangerous when companies urge consumers to feed their products consistently because they are "tested," "complete," "natural," "complete," or rank high on a pet food pledging or ranking site.

20. NONALLERGENIC: Many pet foods are marketed using the claim that they do not contain this or that allergenic ingredient. However, practically anything can be allergenic, particularly if it is fed meal after meal. Also, there is no clinical or laboratory test that can determine the allergenicity of a mixed processed pet food regardless of its ingredients. (See The "Food Allergies Are Cured by Eliminating Certain Pet Food Ingredients" Myth.) The only way to know is to test feed. So claiming the merit of a food because it does not have supposedly allergenic ingredients that have been used successfully for thousands of years, such as grains, and instead has rice, potato, peas, buckwheat, tapioca, etc., is misleading. The key to immune health and food tolerance is variety and rotation, not finding the "one perfect food" without a supposed allergenic ingredient. (See Allergen Free.)

21. ORGANIC: Organic foods produced at sustainable farms are a step in the right direction. But no one thing is ever the answer to everything, especially with respect to the complexity of health. Merely being pesticide and herbicide free in order to garner the organic label does not mean the products are produced in a sustainable way using permaculture methods. That issue aside, promoting a pet food to be fed exclusively meal after meal just because it is organic, misses the point. Such feeding of starch-based foods will increase susceptibility to toxicity since even organic foods can contain tens of thousands of natural toxins. Good nutrition cannot be obtained by feeding the same food meal after meal. Whether organic or not, foods need to be rotated to optimize nutrition and avoid toxicity. (See Does "Organic" Mean Healthy?)

22. HUMAN GRADE: The term "human grade" is about language and aesthetics, not nutrition and health. In the wild, eating the ideal diet, pets consume nothing that is human grade. They eat the dead, dying, diseased, and disabled ("4-D" meats) and thrive so long as there is sufficient food available. On the other hand, "human grade" white meat, white flour, white rice, white sugar, white salt, candy, pop, hydrogenated oils, and additives can starve pets of nutrients and cause severe disease. Using the "human grade" slogan to sell pet foods is misleading and distracting from what is truly important in pet feeding. (See chapter 9 of The Truth About Pet Foods and The Pet Food Ingredient Game.)

23. NON-GMO: I am not comfortable with genetically modified foods. Not only is such modification not necessary to provide the world's food supply, nobody knows the long range consequences. No intervention by humans into the natural order changing it has ever resulted in more benefit than harm. (see GMO) The body is a microcosm of the world at large. Intrude upon its natural balances and genetic expectations and harm will eventually result. With that said, there is, at present, no evidence that GMO ingredients in pet foods have caused harm in pets. Further, GMO ingredients are so ubiquitous that it is near impossible to find those that are GMO free. Should manufacturers seek non-GMO sources and use them to the degree possible? Yes. Does health likely hang on this one feature of pet food feeding? No.

24. ENVIRONMENTAL DISREGARD: Many nutritious parts of foods would be discarded if not used in pet foods. Animals do not have the aversion to names like "by-products" (and remember that is just a human invented word) that humans do. In fact, many of the parts of food animals considered distasteful to humans (such as viscera and organs) are the most nutritious parts. To discard such because of our human tastes–imposing those frivolous tastes on our pets–is to cause enormous waste. This practice diverts human grade products to pet foods that could instead go into the human food supply. It is also inhumane to slaughter animals and then discard healthful parts that could be used by pets to great benefit. It also wastes land, feed, shipping, and other resources by increasing the demand for just the "pleasing" parts of the food animal carcass. (See Are By-Products Bad?)

25. MISLEADING PORTRAYALS: Everyone knows the cost of select cuts of meat at the grocer. We also know the cost of pet foods. Nevertheless, some pet food producers portray their products as containing prime steaks, barbecued chicken, grilled salmon, and the like. A half-pound grilled salmon dinner can easily cost $20 in a restaurant. So how can a grilled salmon pet food that is processed in a twnty + million dollar plant, spiked with vitamins, minerals, and other expensive ingredients, packaged expensively, shipped and marked up through salespeople, distributors, and retailers cost something like fifty cents for a half-pound? It can't. If you are being misled into believing you are receiving something you are not, then why should claims about the healthiness of the food be believed either? (See chapter 9 of The Truth About Pet Foods.)

26. FOODS AS DRUGS: Just because a food is marketed by prescription is no reason to believe the food is either healthy or safe to be fed at every meal. Many such foods contain a variety of low quality ingredients–such as food fractions, additives, sugars, and starches–that are known to cause, not prevent or reverse disease. The best prescription for health is whole natural foods that mimic the genetic expectation of the animal. (See The Myth of "100% Complete and Balanced" Processed Pet Foods.)

27. COSMETICS AND MARKETING OVER PET NUTRITION: Flavors, shapes, packaging, bonuses, discounts, coupons, pricing, guarantees and the like are essentially unrelated to health and nutrition. Nutrition is a serious health matter, not recreation to be promoted with balloons and raffles. (See Fluff, Puff, and Smoke.)

28. INNOVATION: Since nutritional science is a rapidly growing and expanding field of knowledge, a producer interested in pet health should be innovative. Adapting new knowledge to formulations, processing, packaging and education should be ongoing and evident.