Behind The Bag


Selecting A Healthy Food For Your Pet

Do you know the difference between chicken and chicken meal? Do you know if grains are good or bad for your pet? Should cats eat fruits and vegetables? What causes allergies in dogs? Can you name the first five ingredients in your pet food? If you’re not sure, please don’t panic–you’re not alone; in fact many pet owners feel this way. A recent study by Harris interactive found that more than half of all pet owners worry about what’s in their pet’s food today. And frankly, they should.

With just six corporations now making more than 85 percent of all pet food sold today, nutritious ingredients have taken a back seat to quarterly earnings, and many once-healthy formulas have quietly changed their ingredients over the past few years. It’s why inexpensive, less-digestible “filler” ingredients such as corn (in all of its glorious forms), wheat, soy, and animal by- products have ended up in our pets’ bowls.

Fortunately, there are three simple steps you can take today to help your dog or cat eat healthier.

  1. Turn your bag of dog or cat food over and read its listing of ingredients.
  2. If that list contains any of the low quality indicators below, switch. Since your pet can’t make this decision, do the right thing and select a healthier alternative.
  3. Order it direct from the manufacturer. Store bought foods can be anywhere from 9-14 months old before they hit the shelves. Pet food is perishable, and the consequence is that many of the fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins have broken down by the time you first open the package.

Indicators of A Low Quality Pet Food

Meat By-Products.

Using an animal by-product for a food’s main protein source is indicative of a low-quality product (i.e., ‘chicken by-product’). Animal by-products are any part of an animal not acceptable for human consumption. Ingredients listed as by-products are not required to include actual meat at all!

Corn, wheat and soy.

These cheap and nutritionally empty ingredients have found their way into many pet foods. They are high on the glycemic index and produce essentially the same highs and lows as table sugar, putting a great deal of stress on the pancreas and adrenals, which may ultimately lead to diabetes.

Corn Gluten Meal.

This is a concentrated source of plant protein that is substituted for more costly animal proteins such as lamb or chicken. in many bargain-brand dry dog foods, corn gluten meal provides a large proportion of or the total protein in the food rather than healthier and more digestible forms of protein such as named meats. After all, dogs and cats are not corn-ivores!

Animal Fat.

Generic “animal” fat can be just about anything: recycled grease from restaurants or an unwholesome “mystery mix” of fats. Animal fat is far inferior to named fats such as chicken fat, which is much more expensive for manufacturers but far healthier for your cat or dog.

Artificial Preservatives.

BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin, and propylene glycol. Quite simply, these have been known to cause cancer in pets. Enough said.

Artificial Coloring.

Your pet doesn’t care what color his food is and doesn’t need daily, lifetime exposure to these unnecessary chemicals. Watch out for ingredients such as Yellow 5, red 40, Yellow 6 or Blue 2.


Corn syrup, sucrose, sugar and other sweeteners are sometimes added to lower-quality foods to increase their appeal. Dietary sugar can severely aggravate health problems in pets.

Low Price.

Although the purchase price of pet food does not always determine whether a pet food is good or bad
(as there are some terrible foods at high prices), low price is often a direct indicator of poor quality. It would be next to impossible for a company that sells a 30-pound bag of dog food for $29.95 to use quality proteins and carbs in their food. It’s simple economics.


High-Quality Foods Contain The Following

Named Meat First.

Chicken lamb, salmon, turkey and so on. Fresh meat is the most natural source of protein for cats and dogs and contains the amino acid profiles most important to pet health. These foods taste great to your pets as well.

Named Meat Meal Second.

Then a fresh meat is listed first in a dry formula, its animal protein “meal” must be second in a supporting role to augment total protein in the diet. Fresh meats do not contain enough protein to be used as the sole protein source in a dry food (they are 70 percent water and only 15 percent protein). Animal protein “meals”–the meat with the moisture and fat removed–contain only 10 percent moisture but three times the level of protein! This ensures that the majority of protein in your pet’s food is coming from animal sources, not plant sources.

Low glycemic grains.

Look for such carbohydrate sources as whole brown rice, oatmeal and sweet potatoes, excellent hypoallergenic grains that are easy to digest, gluten-free and release energy more slowly over time. Avoid the ‘grainfree’ marketing hype in which cheap potatoes are instead used as the carbohydrate source, as they are a nutritionally inferior sources of high-Glycemic carbohydrates and contain glycoalkaloids that can cause diarrhea and cramping in pets.

Dried Fruits and Vegetables.

Even more so than meats, fruits and veggies are mostly water–nearly 95 percent, in fact. Unless they are dried first, only a trace amount will be found in the final food, and nearly all phytonutrient benefits (antioxidant properties) are nothing more than marketing claims. Best when dried first, then blended with the kibble.


Michael Landa is the CEO of Austin-based Nulo, Inc., an all-natural pet food company with a full menu of nutritionally supercharged dog and cat kibble, canned and treat products. Learn more about pet nutrition at, where nutrition meets love.