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27th Apr 2020

You Get What You Pay For, Or Do You?

by John Burns BVMS MRCVS

I frequently get asked the question ‘with pet food, is it true that you get what you pay for?’ My answer, yes, but only up to a point.

The prime consideration for a pet food must be the effect that it has on the health of the pet that eats it. That is of course the main aim of Burns – to provide optimum health benefits.

Around a year ago I did a study on the daily feeding costs of around 1000 dogs. Burns came in the bottom 25%, or should I say 75% of dog foods cost more in the study than Burns to feed. The majority of foods that WERE cheaper to feed than Burns were ‘supermarket’ type foods. Supermarket being another way of saying ‘low quality.’

Looking on a different website which claims expertise on pet nutrition I came across a dog food which had a rating of 94% for nutrition value whereas Burns (not sold by this site) rated 48%.

I looked at this particular dog food which cost £90 (!) for a 10kg bag.  Using the company’s own figures, the feeding cost for a 20kg dog would be around £2.50 a day compared to our 74p a day. The headline grabbing first ingredient for this food was whole free range chicken which has to be desirable.

Looking down the ingredients list I found among the main ingredients – sweet potato, tapioca, vegetable fibres and pea protein.  Among the minor ingredients were 0.01% each green lipped mussel, dried carrot and cranberries.

I looked at the possibility of using free range chicken for our dry foods some years ago but it wasn’t feasible – the amount needed wasn’t available.

Now of course, we do use free-range chicken in the Penlan Range and it’s organic too.  Bearing in mind that whole chicken has about 65% water whereas the finished dry food has only 8% water and doing some maths (stay with me) I concluded that the whole chicken in this particular pet food (50% listed) was insufficient to meet the listed 22% protein in the finished product.  Why, if the first headline grabbing ingredient is whole chicken would you need to add protein from peas? See pea protein bit, below.

Sweet Potato

Sweet potato - Burns Pet Nutrition

Sweet potato sounds good but the sweet potato in pet foods is not usually the flesh of the pulp that humans consume. It’s much more likely to be the fibrous husk which is a bi-product of the human food chain produced in China, in a dried pellet form. Not quite what one might be looking for in a high-end pet food.

Tapioca

Tapioca

“Tapioca predominantly consists of carbohydrates…it is low in saturated fat, protein and sodium, it has no significant essential vitamins or dietary minerals. One serving of tapioca pudding contains no dietary fire, a small amount of oleic acid and no omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids.” (Wikipedia)

So, tapioca contains starch but not much else whereas other carbohydrate sources such as wholegrains, contain vitamins, minerals, fibre and essential fats.

Vegetable fibres

Vegetables

Vegetable fibres? What can that be? Why add fibres when there is fibre in other vegetable ingredients including sweet potato or peas?

Pea protein

Pea Protein

Nothing particularly wrong with using pea protein; I’ve done it myself to get the required protein level while controlling the mineral content in puppy food. As I mentioned earlier, the amount of chicken in this very expensive food doesn’t meet the need for protein so pea protein has been included to make up for that.

Green-lipped mussel, dried carrot, cranberries

Green lipped mussels fresh red cranberries

Again this looks impressive in an expensive pet food. But the listing for each ingredient is 0.01% of the total. That means one hundredth of a gram in 100 grams of finished food, in other words a trace! Enough to put it on the bag but not enough for it to be meaningful or beneficial to a diet.

The self-proclaimed experts have given this food a top billing for nutritional value. Will it deliver similar health benefits to Burns?  In my view the ingredient selection doesn’t come close to Burns and certainly has a hefty price tag with a feeding cost of three and a half times compared to Burns food amounts.

Why have I highlighted this? As I said at the beginning, the best pet food is not necessarily the most expensive. Secondly, the pet food industry is plagued by so-called experts (not me of course).

Thirdly, the unwary consumer who lacks specialist knowledge can be easily misled by unrealistic claims which can be hidden by hype. Fourthly, some manufacturers make misleading allegations about my food and what I stand for.  For example, I quote from another pet food website:

“The vast majority of dry foods contain grains such as wheat, corn or barley. Grains in dog foods have been linked to allergies including skin conditions and stomach upsets but due to the fact that grains are cheap and ‘bulky’, dog food manufacturers continue to use them.

We believe it is important to feed dogs foods that best suit their digestive make-up and are most likely to keep them strong, supple and active. We put our emphasis on canine health above cost and ease of production.  For this reason recipes never have and never will contain grain of any kind.”

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his opinion but not his own facts.”

For those of you interested, here’s more information on our daily feeding costs.

by John Burns BVMS MRCVS
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