Every dog food company must use some degree of preservatives to maintain a stable shelf life for their products. The main purpose of preservation is so that the product remains fresh for longer for your dog to enjoy it for a longer period. Dog food usually travels from the factory to the retailer/go-down and sits on the shelf for a few days before it is picked up by a dog owner. Preservative help keep the pellets fresh and edible till the time it reaches your pooch.
If used correctly, preservatives can actually protect your pet from food poisoning or any other food born ailments. However, many pet food companies use this as an incentive to use cheap preservatives that not only increases the life span of the product but also has an adverse effects on your pet. Which is why, in the recent years, companies that care for pets have shifted to what we call natural preservatives. They have no side effects and protect meals from spoiling shortly after they were made into pellets.
However, this does not stop a few companies from using harmful preservatives and putting your pet’s life in danger. In this article we have put forward both safe and harmful preservatives so that you can make the right choices for your pet.
What are Natural and Artificial Dog Food Preservatives
As the words may suggest natural preservatives are those that are naturally occurring and hence have lesser side effects. However, not all natural preservatives are good for your pets. For instance, sugar and salt are a common naturally occurring preservatives for human food but is not a good food source for your canine. When it comes to our pet, companies must work hard and come up with a preservation technique that is effective and harmless. Some do use salt and sugar as preservatives as they are cheaper and safer than artificial preservatives.
Artificial Preservatives, on the other hand, are those that are made usually in a laboratory. Since they can be produced in large quantities, they are cheaper. But they have a higher risk of side effects. Allergies to artificial preservatives are quite common and in serious cases, pets may develop serious ailments like cancer, organ failure etc, from prolonged consumption of these meals.
Examples of Natural Preservatives
As said earlier, natural dog food preservatives are those that have no side affects and may even cater to your dog’s health and overall well being. They are expensive when compared to artificial dog food preservatives and this is why the products that use natural preservatives will have a higher price than those that do not. Since they provide a nutritional purpose and keep the food fresh and healthy without harming your dog, you receive a lot more than just ‘dog food’ with that price. Below are some examples of natural preservatives.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C, often listed as “ascorbic acid,” is a natural preservative that we, as humans, have used for centuries. Pickles and sauces usually have a higher shelf life because of its sour ingredients. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that works to stabilize fat and prevent food from going rancid. It is also a necessary nutrient for your dog, so it is a great natural preservative for dog food.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E, also known as “Mixed Tocopherols,” is another natural preservative that bolsters dog nutrition. Vitamin E is an antioxidant preservative like Vitamin C and will stabilize fat and oils. It is an essential nutrient to dog health, supporting healthy coat, skin, and joints, so it is a great option for preservation.
Potassium Sorbate: Potassium sorbate is a potassium mineral salt. Like Vitamins C and E, it adds nutritional value to their meals and reduces the growth of fungus and microbes. This extends the shelf life and reduces the risk of foodborne illness. Potassium sorbate also helps the food taste good, so it’s a great natural preservative.
Rosemary, Clove, Thyme, and Oregano: Rosemary, clove, thyme, oregano and other similar herbs are natural antioxidants that stabilize fat. Herbs are beneficial to dogs and they usually like the taste of food enriched with herbs. So, it is a wonderful ingredient that you must look for in your dog’s food.
Natural Preservative Methods
Below are some methods that don’t involve a new ingredient to the kibble but the process caters to increasing its lifespan without altering it too drastically. It does not cause any harm to your pet and therefore is recommended to all pet food manufacturers
Freeze-Drying: Freeze drying is a mechanical process that quickly freezes the food and uses a strong vacuum to remove the ice. With the ice gone, we are not left with any moisture; the food becomes dry and ready to be stored. Freeze-drying is great because it does not chemically alter the food and leaves most of the nutrients intact.
Air Drying: Air drying is a natural cooking method that dries the food on low heat to remove all the moisture in the food. Though this method can significantly increase the lifespan of your product, it may lead to the loss of certain nutrients. Nevertheless, this method is much better than chemical additives.
Refrigeration: Freezing and refrigeration is another natural preserving technique that companies use to keep their food fresh for a longer period. The cold naturally keeps the ingredients stable and prevents bacteria from accumulating on the food. It also preserves the nutritional value of the food but can be costly to the consumer. Food that require refrigeration, also take up more space which is why customers decide to opt out and go for dry dog food.
Vacuum Sealing: This is mostly done to moist food items because the water content of the food can react with the oxygen and carbon di-oxide and lead to spoiled rancid food. A vacuum sealer, however, absorbs all the air therefore the food does not get in contact with anything that might potentially reduce its quality.
Examples Of Artificial Preservatives
The preservative mentioned below are artificially created. They are cheaper than natural preservatives because they are manufactured in bulks. Artificial preservatives benefit no one, other than the manufacturer. They are cheep and reduce the cost of production significantly. However, they do not add any beneficial properties to the kibble. Some of these preservatives are so harmful that they are not used in edibles made for humans and are banned in certain parts of the world. Please check the dog food ingredient list for the following preservatives.
Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT): It is a common preservative found in dog and cat food and stops food from getting rancid. Is carcinogenic, or cancer causing in nature which means that it definitely increases the chances of getting cancer by constant exposure to this drug.
Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA): This preservative prevents oils and fats from going rancid. Though there is yet to have concrete evidence, this preservative has been linked to cancer and vets are looking into it in the recent years.
Ethoxyquin: Ethoxyquin is banned in Australia and the EU. We can often find this in pesticide but is also used as a preservative to avoid contamination. Ethoxyquin is linked to kidney and bladder failure, digestive issues, and stomach and colon tumours.
Propylene Glycol (PG): It is often used to stabilize vitamins and also sweetens the product. With the added sweetness dogs are more likely to relish it. However, this preservative does not have any health benefits. It has been linked to liver and cellular damage.
Tertiary Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ): This is also a fat preservative but prolonged consumption of it can cause cancer and cellular damage.
Propyl Gallate: This preservative is so harmful that it is banned in the U.K. it is largely used to stabilise fats. Studies have shown that Propyl Gallate can cause allergies, skin irritation and cancer.
Dog Food Preservative Controversies in India
If you are a pet owner in India, you must know that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) does not have any rules and compliance forms for pet food manufacturers in India. This gives Indian companies the complete freedom to use any ingredient and preservative of their choice. Many use this freedom to their complete advantage and produce products with limited nutritional value without the worry of being penalised. Our lack of regulations also enables companies to hide ingredients that may actually harm our pets.
This affects Indian pet food companies that want to make a difference. Most Indians are already aware that the FASSAI does not cover dog food, which is why they buy foreign brands. Indian Pet food companies that want to supply quality dog food often consult the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from the U.S., or the Food Standards Agency from the U.K. Some of us go out of the way and make sure our food is manufactured in a place where strict dog food safety rules are followed strictly. We then ship it to India resting assured that it follows international standards.
How Can We Stay Away From Harmful Preservatives
It might be a little overwhelming to know that some companies don’t even list all the preservatives they use. So, when you think you are making the right choices for your pet, you may be picking a food with a harmful un-named ingredient. But don’t worry, we have a simple suggestion that will help you cope with this. First, go through the ingredients and search for the danger ingredients we have mentioned above. If you don’t find any ‘danger ingredients’ always look into the shelf life of the product. If a product claims to have natural ingredients, it is more likely to have a lower shelf life (of around 6 months). But if you see a product that claims to use all natural ingredients but has a shelf life of 2 years or more, it is a good idea to put it back on the shelf and move on.