Prescribed vs. commercial: If it’s dry food, think twice
May 7, 2011 6 Comments
Update: I wrote this article six years ago, and my concerns still apply. However, here’s an interesting update: A variety of big pet food manufacturers touting “prescription” pet foods and commercial enterprises that support them now face a class action lawsuit, which asserts that the ingredients in their food do not warrant a prescription.
Hill’s has come out with yet another prescription diet, and this one claims to address any and every kitten and cat concern.
As with all of Hill’s products the foods are chock full of ingredients no carnivore would be caught eating.
First of all, it’s dry food. More and more dry food is being fingered as causing diabetes, obesity, liver disease, pancreatitis, and urinary tract problems.
Secondly, to facilitate the extrusion process, it’s full of grains, in this case two permutations of corn, plus brewer’s rice. But the grain-based ingredients are “split,” which appears to minimize the amount. That’s a classic kibble caper. Speaking of corn, Hill’s posts an article titled, “Corn – An Amazing Grain,” which says, in part:
Corn has been called a filler, a “hot grain” and a major cause of allergies. The facts are, corn is NOT a filler (an ingredient providing no nutrition) as it supplies many essential nutrients. In pets, corn is NOT a hot grain (causing gastrointestinal upset) because it is safely and easily digested.
As far as meat is concerned, that is in the form of chicken by-product meal. An inferior source of protein, it’s defined by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) as “the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice.” In terms of other meat- or poultry-based ingredients, there’s “chicken liver flavor,” which is not recognized by AAFCO; however, I read that as waving a piece of liver over the batch of food and not an adequate source of protein.
For kittens, the food is supposed to cover immunity, weight management, bladder health, digestion, and skin and coat. For adults, oral health is substituted for immunity (Says the web site, “Clinically proven kibble technology naturally scrubs teeth clean like a toothbrush reducing plaque & tartar buildup.”) Its protein is listed at 42 percent (dry matter) as opposed to 33.8 percent for the adult version. Of course, Hill’s touts “high quality ingredients” in both formulas.
Then there’s powdered cellulose, which replaces high quality ingredients in weight loss diets.
Finally, as is typical of all commercial pet foods, all the vitamins and minerals that are destroyed when the ingredients are processed to death are added back in, along with DL-Methionine (a urinary supplement) and Vitamin E for skin and coat.
Elizabeth Hodgkins, DVM, JD, comes down hard on veterinary diets. She says they are no better than regular commercial foods that are made from salvaged. She says they are not tested like drugs and do not have the curing properties The former director of Technical Affairs at Hills Pet Nutrition, Hodgkins adds that these foods are the result of flawed, marketing-driven science.
A few years ago Hill’s came out with its Nature’s Best formula. My heart skipped a beat for a moment. Until I read the ingredients list, that is. Chicken and chicken meal are accompanied by four different grains: corn, rice (but it’s brown rice!), oats and barley. I suppose the various fruits and veggies also capitalize on the natural theme.
Not surprisingly, Iams and Purina have also jumped on the Healthy/Natural bandwagon and their ingredients list is similar.
Top ingredients for Iams Healthy Naturals with Natural Chicken include: Chicken, Chicken By-Product Meal, Corn Meal, Brewers Rice, Ground Whole Grain Barley, Chicken Meal, Dried Beet Pulp, Dried Egg Product, Natural Flavor, Sodium Bisulfate, Potassium Chloride, Fish Oil (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of Vitamin E), Animal Fat (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of Vitamin E), DL-Methionine, Dried Apple Pomace, Dried Carrots, Brewers Dried Yeast, Fructooligosaccharides, Dried Peas, Calcium Carbonate, Choline Chloride, Dried Spinach, Dried Tomatoes.
For Naturals by Purina, the list includes: Chicken meal, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, brewers rice, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), corn meal, chicken, salmon, powdered cellulose, ground whole wheat, soybean hulls, malt extract, brewers dried yeast.
Not much different from the veterinarian-prescribed food. Except for the veggies, which, while a nice touch, aren’t nutritionally vital. And look how far down on the list chicken and salmon are found.
AAFCO has defined the term “natural” when used in pet foods as the following:
A feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subjected to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices.
An exception was made for the synthetic vitamins and minerals that must be added back after the food is processed (albeit, to death…). That list is as long as the list of “natural” ingredients.
And the term “healthy?” It’s all in the eyes of the marketing departments. Would they dare not say their food is not healthy?
So before you accept that bag of kibble from the vet’s office, do some research. Check out my comprehensive list of nutrition resources and decide for yourself what is best for your cats.