Feeding your dog a high quality dog food from Pure means he’s not getting unnecessary fillers or highly processed additives.
But, while you’ve probably heard of ‘filler’ in pet food before, what is it, exactly?
In a nutshell, filler is any ingredient that’s been added into a pet food formula to add bulk but contributes little nutritional value. Because fillers are cheap and are often the by-products of human food processes, they are added to increase the pet food manufacturer’s bottom line.
Fillers also help hold dry dog food together and bring the manufacturing cost of the food down. Fillers are usually carbohydrates; however, not all carbohydrates are bad for dogs – but they shouldn’t make up the bulk of his diet.
Fillers become detrimental to dogs when they are used as a substitute for meat as the primary source of protein or when they replace healthier, more biologically appropriate grain choices.
Furthermore, when a pet food is mainly filler, texture “additives” and “flavor enhancers” are added to the formula to make it more palatable for dogs. These low-quality “flavor” and “texture” enhancers are usually made from undesirable ingredients like animal digest – which can be dead, dying, or sick animals deemed unfit for human consumption.
Common Filler Ingredients
Common filler ingredients include gluten, corn, wheat, soy, seed hulls, citrus pulp, beet pulp, animal by-products, and animal digest.
Gluten fillers like wheat contain too much sugar and are biologically inappropriate for dogs. These fillers cannot be properly digested or absorbed and serve to bulk pet food up.
Ingredients like corn and soy are cheap, and they are also used to artificially inflate the protein count on the pet food label. They are difficult for dogs to digest, often trigger allergies, and can lead to diabetes and obesity.
Animal by-products are whatever is left over after an animal has been butchered for human consumption. Intestines, feet, chicken heads, and feathers are considered animal by-products.
Animal digest is produced by enzymatic or chemical hydrolysis – it often comprises unspecified parts from unspecified animals. There are few controls in place regarding contamination or quality, and the meat can be derived from sick, disabled, or dying animals.
Now that you know what filler is, here are the three steps to follow to decipher confusing pet food labels for yourself.
Step 1: Look at the First Few Ingredients
You already know that what goes into your dog’s food is essential, but how do you determine what ingredients are used from the pet food label?
Begin by reading the first five ingredients listed in the ingredients list on the bag or can of dog food. All the ingredients are listed in descending order of weight – so the first three to five ingredients are what the food is made up of.
If the first ingredient is a named animal protein, like chicken, and the second ingredient is ground yellow corn, you’ll know that there is more chicken by weight in the formula than corn. If corn gluten is the third ingredient, you’ll know that there’s more chicken and more ground yellow corn than corn gluten.
Step 2: Consider the Moisture Content
However, here’s where it gets trickier.
When reading dog food labels, there’s a problem with transparency because some ingredients may include water as part of their “wet” weight. For instance, chicken (or any other meat, for that matter) is around 70 percent water. Ground yellow corn and corn gluten, on the other hand, are dehydrated ingredients.
So, while chicken or any meat protein may be the first ingredient on the list, the food would have to contain a substantial amount of meat for it to outweigh the dry ingredients if they were all measured by their “wet” weight.
Unless all the ingredients in the formula are recorded on the bag by either their wet or dry weight, there’s no way to tell if there really is more meat protein than ground yellow corn. If there’s a combination of wet and dehydrated products, it’s like comparing dehydrated apples to whole apples by weight.
So, what has this got to do with fillers in dog food?
Well, ground yellow corn and corn gluten are fillers. While corn gluten may be an additional protein source, it is not what you were expecting to be in the food. The packaging probably led you to believe that the formula was packed with nutritious vegetables and meat, but reading the ingredients reveals that corn – a cheap ingredient – actually makes up the bulk of the formula.
Step 3: Watch Out for Ingredient “Splitting”
Commercial pet food companies know that savvy consumers will read the first few ingredients on the label.
Aside from making the ingredient list confusing by adding moisture content to the equation, they will also try and lead you to believe that there’s more (or less) of an ingredient than is actually in the formula. This misleading label tactic is known as ingredient “splitting.”
If, for instance, a canned dog food label names chicken broth as the first ingredient, corn gluten meal as the second, chicken fat as the third, and ground yellow corn as the fourth, the manufacturer has actually gamed the system to insert more filler.
The first ingredient – chicken broth – is basically water. And, even though chicken is listed twice in the first three ingredients, that’s not what you’re getting. Add the corn gluten and ground yellow corn together, and you’ll realize that this is actually a corn-based formula, not a chicken-based formula.
So, pet food manufacturers aren’t just adding ingredients with both wet and dry weights; they convolute the ingredients list even further by splitting the chicken into two components so you think you’re getting more. By splitting the corn ingredients into two parts, it also looks like there is less corn in the formula.
Again, when you’re paying for the chicken and healthy vegetables depicted on the dog food bag, you’re actually paying for your dog to eat corn.
If you are feeding your dog a high-quality, meat-based, human-grade food from a reputable pet food manufacturer, chances are it doesn’t contain any unnecessary or nasty fillers.
Fillers are most common in lower-tier, mass-produced, commercial dog food – big companies are more likely to substitute filler for pricier ingredients to keep their production costs low and “bulk” up the food.