Many pet foods boast their inclusion of ‘all-natural’ ingredients and lack of by-products. However, are these claims true? Or are they simply marketing? Pet owners are overdue for straightforward information, and quite frankly deserve to know what is actually in their pet’s food. Unfortunately, marketing has created a pervasive issue that blends the lines between science and fiction creating deception leaving the consumer with false information. How is this so? Let’s look at some examples:
What is animal digest?
Animal Digest is a material which results from chemical and/or enzymatic hydrolysis of clean and undecomposed animal tissue. The tissues used shall be exclusive of hair, horns, teeth, hooves and feathers, except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidably in good factory practice and shall be suitable for animal feed. If bears a name descriptive of its kind or flavor(s), it must correspond thereto. (AAFCO, 2020)
What is natural flavor?
The FDA defines the term natural flavor or natural flavoring as the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.
Additionally, the FDA takes the definition and labeling a step further by stating the following: “In cases where the flavor contains a solely natural flavor(s), the flavor shall be so labeled, e.g., strawberry flavor, banana flavor, or natural strawberry flavor.”
What is the difference between animal digest and natural flavor?
In short, nothing. Both are used to enhance the palatability (taste) of pet food, most often being sprayed on or mixed with kibble or wet foods. As you can clearly see from both definitions above, both can start out with meat or meat by-products. Both definitions allow for the hydrolysis or enzymolysis of the original starting material. Both ingredient names and definitions can result in the same end material, an animal-derived palatant for dog or cat food.
Which ingredient naming sounds more appealing to the consumer? Historically, the marketplace looked at a poor-quality food as one containing animal digest because it is not species-specific. It makes you wonder why the same is not true for natural flavor. There are companies that will call out natural pork flavor, natural chicken flavor or even avoid the naming convention together by calling it a hydrolysate (i.e. chicken liver hydrolysate).
Why is this important?
Many people will seek out novel protein foods like venison, duck, rabbit, etc. if they believe their dog or cat has food allergies or intolerances. Unfortunately, if pet companies do not label their source of natural flavor by species, consumers may believe they are buying a food free of beef or chicken when they have not. Thus, further justifying the need for more transparency in ingredient labeling. Consumers should be able to ask the pet food company, “What is the source of your natural flavor?” If they state it is proprietary, then I would look for another food. Below are a few examples for what you should be looking for in an ingredient statement. As you can clearly see, even “premium” kibbles avoid calling out the protein source for their natural flavors. It makes you wonder what they are hiding.
Guardian Pet Food does not use any natural flavors or animal digests in our foods and treats.
Examples: Non-Animal Specific Natural Flavor
Food #1: Chicken Meal, Brown Rice, White Rice, Rice Bran, Cracked Pearled Barley, Peas, Chicken Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Millet, Tomato Pomace, Natural Flavor, Flaxseed Meal, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Sun-cured Alfalfa Meal, Inulin (from Chicory Root), Lecithin, Sage Extract, Cranberries, Beta-Carotene, Rosemary Extract, Sunflower Oil, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Dried Enterococcus Faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Casei Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus Plantarum Fermentation Product, Dried Trichoderma Longibrachiatum Fermentation Extract, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin, Niacin, Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Riboflavin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid), Minerals (Iron Proteinate, Zinc Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Potassium Iodide, Manganese Proteinate, Manganous Oxide, Manganese Sulfate, Sodium Selenite), Papaya, Pineapple.
Food #2: Humanely farmed turkey, humanely farmed chicken, ocean caught whitefish meal, russet potatoes, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), green lentils,field peas, coconut oil (preserved with mixedtocopherols), ocean caught menhaden fish meal,tomato, apples, pumpkin, natural flavor, flaxseed,sun cured alfalfa, carrots, chicory root, salmon oil,salt, potassium chloride, choline chloride rosemary extract VITAMINS:Vitamin E supplement, calcium pantothenate, niacinsupplement, vitamin A supplement, riboflavinsupplement, vitamin D3 supplement, vitamin B12supplement, thiamine mononitrate, pyridoxinehydrochloride, folic acid MINERALS: Zinc proteinate, calcium carbonate, iron proteinate, copper proteinate, manganese proteinate, sodiumselenite, calcium iodate
Example: Animal Specific Natural Flavor
Food #3: Deboned duck, deboned turkey, turkey meal, whole red lentils, whole green peas, whole yellow peas, duck fat, duck meal, turkey giblets, whole green lentils, whole pinto beans, whole chickpeas, turkey broth, quail, pollock oil, lentil fiber, duck giblets, natural duck flavor, turkey cartilage, duck cartilage, sea salt, mixed tocopherols (preservative), whole pumpkin, collard greens, whole carrots, whole apples, dried kelp, zinc proteinate, calcium pantothenate, vitamin A acetate, freeze-dried duck liver, copper proteinate, riboflavin, chicory root, turmeric, sarsaparilla root, althea root, rose hips, juniper berries, dried lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, dried bifidobacterium animalis fermentation product, dried lactobacillus casei fermentation product.