Dry Kibble Foods and Why You Might Reconsider Using Them

Hero’s Pets doesn’t seem to like dry or canned foods much, why not? – Ultimately this stems from Hero’s Pets involvement in the regulatory side of the industry. In depth understandings of AAFCO, FDA, USDA and DOA regulation has proven to us a variety of scary and unwanted issues with dry and canned foods. Issues associated with poor health, poor quality, and even some sneaky things that even we never would have come to consider if it weren’t in black and white in the regulatory Official Publications.

Here are some issues that we have:

Recalls – Based on FDA, CDC, USDA FSIS and market share statistical data canned food is the most likely category of pet foods to experience recall for causes from Salmonella to Thiamine deficiency to foreign contaminants. Canned foods come in at 8 times more likely to experience recall than dry kibble products. Dry kibble foods are the only products in history to of caused CDC regulated outbreaks in which humans (in 16 states) got sick from handling a pet product (in these cases it was from Salmonella contaminated kibble products). Dry kibble and canned foods are officially responsible for illnesses and deaths in hundreds of thousands of pets, while raw, dehydrated, air dried and freeze-dried products have never been linked to a single illness or death in pets or humans. Dry kibble is 664 times more likely to experience a recall than dehydrated, air dried or freeze dried raw foods.

Dehydration – (does not apply to canned foods) If you ate a bowl of dried rice the body would lend itself the water to rehydrate itself from your muscle tissues. Consuming large amounts ingredients that absorb water leads to chronic, often extreme dehydration which taxes the organs, in particular the kidney’s and heart. Unfortunately, adding water does not resolve this and in most cases simply makes a petri dish out of a questionably sourced product. Fully soaking a dry kibble food, on the rare occasion that it’s safe to do so, assists in preventing the dehydration but does not eliminate the other concerns associated with dry kibble feeding, listed below.

Dental Health - Tartar and Plaque feed on sugars and sugars are found in starches and carbohydrates. Kibble products must contain a minimum of 30% carbohydrate and/or starch to bind together into a kibble shape, otherwise it falls apart when cooked.  Just like when you eat pretzel, these sugary binders tend to cake up in the teeth and then feed bacteria.  Think about when you eat pretzels... there comes a point where you have to take your finger and wipe the backs of your teeth free of the build up... dogs and cats don't have long fingers that allow them to wipe sediment build up from their mouths.  These thick, sugary lumps sit on the teeth and feed bacteria while also altering the pH in the mouth and eating away at the enamel on the teeth.  Prescription Diets claim to assist in breaking up tarter and plaque because they are harder than average kibble and therefore have more abrasive action... however, this logic is like assuming that you could clean your dirty teeth by eating peanut brittle because it's harder than pretzels.  Did you know that AAFCO only allows mechanical (abrasive) action to be classified as having dental benefit?  If a product has a scientifically proven chemical action (such as baking soda or peroxide) it is illegal for a company to claim it can benefit teeth!!  Dry kibbles, more than any other types of pet foods, cause tartar and plaque buildup.  Do you think it's any coincidence that 80% of dogs and cats suffer from some sort of dental disease, infection or damage which is the same percentage of dogs and cats that consume dry kibble foods???

Ratios – Guaranteed analysis labels can be highly confusing and misleading. If you have a product that is 15% protein, 6% fat, 20% Fiber and 10% moisture that totals 51%... leaving 49% of the product unaccounted for. Binder ingredients such as grains and grain-free alternatives make up this remainder as well as the fiber content that was accounted for in the calculation. Therefore, 49% unaccounted for and 20% subtracted from the original calculation and incorporated into the only fiber containing ingredients in the product means that 69% of the product is binder/filler. Most sources state that dogs require an absolutely minimum of 75% protein and cats require a minimum of 90% protein in their diets. This product has 15% protein + 6% fat. However, ingredients such as wheat, corn, lentils, potato, peas, chickpeas, etc are all high in protein and usually high in fats. Therefore, a significant portion of the protein in this food is actually not from meat. This product could legally contain as little as 2% meat (which would actually eliminate it from USDA regulation). Worse yet, a product like this could get the vast majority of its protein and fat from sources such as Corn Gluten Meal which is officially regulated under the Toxic Chemical Substances Act of 1990… where’s the “nutrition” in that???

Antinutrients in Binder Ingredients – All grains and non-grain binders contain anti-nutrients. Anti-nutrients are naturally occurring chemical components that protect the plant they are found in from overconsumption and extinction. Some examples of anti-nutrients are phytates, lectins and trypsin inhibitors. These chemical constituents, found naturally in binding ingredients in your pets’ food such as lentils, peas, corn, wheat, etc, are scientifically linked to health conditions such as pancreatitis, leaky gut, diabetes, obesity and much more. As it is impossible to make a kibble shape without a binder (no binder = powder… not a little kibble pellet) it is therefore impossible to create a kibble without anti-nutrient containing binders. While these ingredients indeed have health benefits (we all know lentils are a great source or protein and are less likely to have contaminants than corn or wheat) they are not intended to be consumed at every meal. When a human consumes these ingredients we only get intermittent doses of their nutrients and anti-nutrients. Dogs and cats, however, tend to eat only one food with no breaks, leading to dis-ease states and acute conditions caused by their negative components much sooner than an average human would be capable of experiencing.

Carcinogens – Canned and kibble foods are generally cooked between 230-350 degrees. When starches are heated they create acrylamides, which are known to contribute to cancer growth. When proteins are heated they create heterocyclic amines, which are also known to contribute to cancer growth. As it is not possible to create a kibble or canned food without cooking them, it is also not possible to create a kibble or canned food that does not contain cancer causing carcinogens and, as stated previously, dogs and cats tend to not get breaks from these cooked meals which can induce dis-ease states faster than they would in Humans that get to experience rotation in their diets.

Synthetics – When vitamins and minerals are heated over 104 degrees, most of them are denatured which means they are no longer available to the body as nutrients. When this occurs, these nutrients must be replaced in pet foods simply because these foods are intended to be the only thing pets ever eat and thus must be “complete and balanced.” There are 2 ways a pet food manufacturer can go about getting a “complete and balanced” statement on their packages: 1) they can add a pre-mix of synthetic vitamins and minerals (literally sold with a skull and crossbones on it) or 2) they can send their product out for laboratory testing and identify which nutrients are insufficient/sufficient until they meet the AAFCO requirements for nutrients without using synthetics. Obviously, option 2 is far less cost effective but far more natural. While one might argue that adding the synthetic vitamin/mineral pack ensures nutrient levels and not adding it does not, this is not true from a regulatory standpoint. It is heavily regulated (this is one of the only things that is legitimately heavily regulated in the pet food industry) that a product MUST meet required nutrient levels to have the “complete and balanced” claim on their products. Additionally, when a product does NOT use the vitamin/mineral pre-mix they are aware of their nutrient levels of their ENTIRE product whereas a product that uses the vitamin/mineral pre-mix is literally only aware of the nutrients in the pre-mix as they were never required to test the ingredients separate from the pre-mix. Therefore, a product could be made from Leather Shoes, Sawdust and Motor Oil and add the synthetic vitamin/mineral pre-mix and they would never know if they had toxic levels of anything because simply throwing in the vitamin/mineral mix made it officially “complete and balanced” (one company actually did this to prove a point and it passed as a “complete and balanced” pet food). Aside from this, Hero’s Pets spends significant amounts of time researching the safety of specific synthetic “nutrients” from a scientific and regulatory angle. We utilize the AAFCO Official Publication and MSDS reports to develop an understanding of what these synthetics are made out of and whether or not they are safe. A couple of examples of disappointing, yet commonly used synthetics include: 1) DL-Methionine – this is an essential amino acid and in this synthetic form it is manufactured from bio-engineered E.coli 2) Sodium Selenite – this is a synthetic form of Selenium. Scientific documents prove that it is 109 times more toxic than Arsenic and is linked to a variety of health conditions including liver necrosis. 3) Lysine – this is an amino acid that is well known for benefiting cats. It is sourced from genetically modified corn which means it was soaked heavily in toxic chemicals for production 4) Vitamin C and Citric Acid – nowadays this ingredient is sourced from a mold and can be highly allergenic 5) Tryptophan – aside from what this is made from, Tryptophan was actually banned from US sales for 10 years due to the death of 30 individuals as a result of the synthetic being contaminated with Melamine. This evidences that whether or not the sourcing is good, synthetics still have the potential of lethal contamination in production. Obviously, synthetic ingredients are a double-edged sword, with one side potentially leading to nutrient toxicity and the other side potentially leading to sourcing toxicity and even chronic dis-ease, condition or even death.

Denaturing – Ingredients (particularly meats) that are not suitable for human food consumption must, by law, be denatured prior to use in pet food products. This prevents humans from accidentally consuming possibly toxic pet food products. Denaturing can be done with 1) Charcoal – for discoloring (seems ok, at least it’s not toxic. However, charcoal absorbs nutrients AND toxins and can cause nutrient deficiencies in already deficient, synthetic products) 2) Pre-Mix of Coal Tar, Carbolic Acid, Citronella, Red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2, Yellow 5 – This alters the color and smell of the food 3) Bone Meal – this is the best option, but few companies do it as its not officially allowable (yet some states don’t care enough to say no). As denaturing is mandatory the ingredients used for denaturing are not required to be put on the label and in most cases companies will not actually even know which denaturing agent is used in their own products. Products containing meats that may legally be used for human food consumption do not have to denature. Hero’s Pets has many products available that do not denature, however in the case of dry and canned foods the other concerns still apply.

Adulteration – It is technically illegal to use Adulterated (poisonous and deleterious) ingredients in pet foods. However, there are a variety of reasons they may still get into your pets’ foods. 1) Some states value commerce over regulation. Depending on what state you’re in, some states don’t care to enforce regulation if they feel it will interfere with commerce. Colorado State cares more than most, but less than a few. 2) Regulation is a way to guide manufacturers to abide by certain rules and ethical principles, but the reality is that inspection and enforcement officials are not capable of looking over ever manufacturers shoulder all the time and there is nothing to be done for unethical companies that slip things in while no one is looking 3) The government doesn’t have an alternative solution for where to put adulterous trash. Currently 15.12 million tons of waste per year is put into pet and agricultural feed because landfills will not accept it and the government has nowhere else to send it (though they are working on it). Ultimately, the quality of the products that you’re buying come down the ethics of that particular company. Hero’s Pets specializes not only in providing educated and scientifically backed advice to consumers, but also in questioning manufacturers to learn the truths of their products. We have spent years learning the right questions to ask and how to ask them to find out what standards and ethics a company has and how they implement them in their business every day. We know that any company is capable of keeping their floors clean, making their label read nice, making claims that they can’t back up because no one is making them tell the truth, and we know that recalls (or a lack of them) are not always an indicator of a company’s quality (as the FDA does not actually have the authority to enforce recalls unless humans get sick). We have learned that there are other more important ways to get information from companies and not be fooled by tactics that they have learned work to falsely convince consumers and visitors of their quality.

Sourcing of ingredients - Hero’s Pets doesn’t just look at what an ingredient COULD be… we find out what it is. While Hero’s Pets doesn’t carry any food products that contain corn (except a bag of non-GMO, organic corn for chickens), Corn is an excellent example of how we look at what a product IS vs what it implies. Whole, fresh corn can be highly nutritious, high in protein, full of fibers and amino acids and all around awesome (potentially). However, when you look at a pet food whole, fresh corn is not what is actually used… rather, whole corn gets sent to the human food producers who mash and mill it into human food products, leaving a portion of powdered waste that gets transferred to the wet milling industry. Wet and dry milling are two entirely separate industries, one being a food industry and one being a chemical industry. Then the corn powder is soaked in toxic chemicals to remove the ethanol and a steep liquor which can be used in such things as petri dishes. The remaining corn steep liquor (which is classified as toxic for consumption) is then combined back in with a bulky fibrous corn residue and that creates a product called Corn Gluten Meal which is then sold to pet food companies, as well as being sold as a natural Rat Poison and Insecticide. So, while the picture of corn may be in mind when reading the label, at Hero’s Pets we want to know not just what can a company buy, we also want to know what can and did they get away with? We do this with every ingredient from “Tapioca” (is it sourced from Cassava or Chicory? If it’s from Cassava, how long was it rinsed and cooked prior to use?...) to “Vitamin E” (is it sourced from Genetically Modified Soybeans? Is it preserved with Propylene Glycol?...) Relating all this back to dry kibble and canned foods, it is obviously easier to “hide” questionable ingredients in a sludge that turns into a kibble or canned food than it is to put it into a raw, dehydrated, air dried or freeze-dried product where you can actually physically identify the ingredients in the product when you touch or rehydrate it. At Hero’s Pets we ensure that we know what’s being used even in the dry kibble and canned food products that we carry; however, it is not possible to source as well for a dry kibble or canned food and have it turn out to be a reasonable price point and the other concerns still remain.

Cost – In order for dry kibble products to be inexpensive they must cut corners. The popular Iron Triangle Paradigm reminds us that we can either have a product be High Quality and Done Quickly but not Low Cost, or we can have it be Done Quickly and Low Cost but not High Quality, or we can have it Low Cost and High Quality but not Done Quickly… but we can’t have all three. We know that dry kibble and canned products are almost all Done Quickly to keep up with consumer demand. In the case of dry kibble, most are going for Low Cost which means they can’t be high quality. With canned foods you, the consumer, are paying for metal, water and shipping on metal and water which significantly increases your cost (canned foods are far more expensive, and much healthier, than raw foods). Canned food companies are aware of this added expense and generally cut costs dramatically to attempt to provide a moderately affordable canned option despite these added expenses… which means decreased quality. At Hero’s Pets we do carry some High Quality dry kibble and canned foods that were Done Quickly, but they are not as low cost as their grocery store or big box counterparts… if they were they would have to be low quality.

However, quality in and of itself is relative and so is cost. It’s important to remember the value of your purchase in comparison to these conditions. While Hero’s Pets carries “High Quality” dry kibble at a lower cost than raw or dehydrated foods, those products still have the issue of being dehydrating, unavoidably carcinogenic, and they, by nature of what they are, inescapably contain synthetics, binders and anti-nutrients. So relative to any raw diet that does not have these qualities yes is more expensive (though generally not as much more as people tend to think), raw is a better option. This is why we don’t recommend dry kibble or canned food as much as we recommend alternative, healthier options. However, we do strive to provide the best option that will fit in your personal budget and if you can’t swing exclusively raw or dehydrated we will gladly assist you in finding a dry kibble (and hopefully addition) that will work for you and your family, without judgment.