Is the First Ingredient a Good Judge of a Dog Food
One of the most common rules that pet owners use to choose a food is the 1st ingredient rule. The 1st ingredient rule simply means that the 1st ingredient in the ingredient list should be a meat or fish. At its core, this rule makes sense because dogs are carnivores and their food should contain animal or fish as the primary protein source. However, like many simple rules of thumb, relying solely on this quick analysis can lead to questionable choices.
There are two main reasons using the first ingredient analysis can lead a dog owner to sub optimal food choices: 1) there is a possibility that many of the secondary and tertiary ingredients that follow in the recipe might be inappropriate or even harmful to the dog, and 2) ingredient manipulation can be used to make a dog food look like its primary ingredient is a real meat when, in fact, this might not be entirely correct.
Secondary Ingredients in Dog Food Matter
Because dog foods are formulated to be complete and balanced meals, they contain many ingredients. In fact, the average dog food contains over 40 ingredients. Thus, looking at the first ingredient only means ignoring, on average, the remaining 40 ingredients. Foods with meat first could also contain a whole host of fillers, artificial colors or preservatives, and added sugars. The only way to know for sure us to check out the entire ingredient list.
Dog Food Ingredient Manipulation
First some background on why the first position on the ingredient list is so important. Pet food manufacturers are required to list the ingredients in the order of predominance by weight. Thus, the ingredients in the top of the list contribute more, by weight, to the recipe than do ingredients further down. The first position is important because it means that the first ingredient, which for dogs should be a named meat or fish, is the primary ingredient in the recipe. So far, so good.
However, pet food companies are well aware that many pet owners look only at the first ingredient when making their dog food choices. As a result, they are incented to find ways to make lower quality recipes appear as if their predominant ingredient is a meat when in fact, it might not actually be so. By breaking apart or splitting up inferior ingredients, food brands can essentially move the meat or fish protein up the ingredient list while making it appear that less stellar ingredients are lower down on the list. An example can clarify.
Here are the first several ingredients of an actual dog food:
Chicken Meal, Ground Whole Wheat, Wheat Flour, Corn Gluten Meal, Ground Rice, Rice Bran, Chicken Fat.
Although Chicken meal is the 1st ingredient, notice that a form of wheat is the 2nd and 3rd ingredient, and a form of rice is the 5th and 6th ingredient. It is quite possible that if you added the wheat and rice ingredients together, that the food list might look a little different.
If not split, he ingredients might really look like:
Wheat, Rice, Chicken Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken Fat.
Not quite the same story is it? If you still aren’t convinced to look beyond the first ingredient, consider that we did a study a few months ago and found that one out of every 3 dog foods had split ingredients in their recipes. Relying solely on the first ingredient means that you have a 33% chance of serving your pet a food whose main ingredient is, in reality, not a named meat or fish protein.
The bottom line is that while the first ingredient of a dog food should be a named meat or fish protein source, the rest of the ingredients matter as well and should be examined before choosing a food for your dog.