There is so much we don’t know or aren’t told about pet food. But we do have clues. Clues to how much salt is in a pet food or how much of an ingredient are really in that pet food. In search of pet food clues.
Clue #1 Salt
Have you ever looked closely at the salt ingredient in your pet’s food? Where the salt ingredient is located in comparison to other ingredients? Perhaps you should.
Current AAFCO regulations have no established maximum for salt in dog foods or cat foods. The AAFCO 2013 Official Publication states “Since sodium is generally very available from commonly-used ingredients, 0.06% DM (dry matter) sodium was deemed adequate for maintenance or growth. Since palatability would suffer before adverse health effects were observed, a maximum level for sodium was not of practical concern.”
However others feel there is a concern with sodium levels for our pets…
The National Research Council states excessive salt can cause in dogs “Restlessness; increased heart rate, water intake, and hemoglobin concentration, dry and tacky mucous membranes” and excessive salt can cause in cats “Anorexia; impaired growth; excessive thirst and drinking; excessive urination”.
More…“Too much sodium in a dog’s diet can lead to increased thirst. It can also cause swelling throughout the body. This puts a strain on the circulatory system and the kidneys as the body tries to rid itself of the excess fluid. Too little salt can cause dehydration, which can be life-threatening. Vomiting, diarrhea and seizures may indicate sodium ion poisoning, which occurs when a dog eats too much salt.”
Even some pet food manufacturers warn against excessive salt…“Salt is an important component of your dog’s diet and has a crucial role to play in his well being. Salt (or sodium chloride) maintains bodily fluids and is needed for the functioning of organs and nervous system. Salt can be added to products to improve their taste. Excessive salt intake may lead to increased blood pressure and aggravate the signs of heart disease. Also, most dogs with kidney disease already suffer from hypertension. Particularly when dogs are older these conditions may already be present without owners being aware of it.”
So how would a pet food consumer know if our choice of pet food might contain excessive salt?
Remember, despite clear risks associated with excessive salt intake, AAFCO has not established a maximum for sodium content of pet foods. So legally a pet food can contain excessive amounts of salt and that is acceptable to regulators.
As well, the pet food consumer has no way of knowing the salt content of each ingredient in the pet food. As example, per the USDA nutrient database, one cup of roasted chicken breast contains 104 mg of sodium. A pet food could actually meet (or surpass) the sodium requirements in ingredients alone.
But, if the pet food ingredients list ‘salt’, there are some clues as to how much salt the pet food contains. Such as where the salt ingredient is located as compared to other ingredients.
Comparing the calcium ingredient in pet food to the sodium ingredient…
AAFCO regulations tell us an adult maintenance dog food needs to have a minimum of 1.7 grams of calcium, and 0.17 grams of sodium (per 1000 kcal). AAFCO regulations tell us an adult maintenance cat food should contain a minimum of 1.5 grams of calcium and 0.5 grams of sodium (per 1000 kcal). AAFCO regulations also tell us that pet food ingredients should be listed according to weight – heaviest to lightest.
So, based on the above, in both dog foods and cat foods the calcium ingredient should be listed before the salt ingredient (more calcium by weight is required for both dog food and cat food than salt by weight). But that’s not what we found in all pet foods. As example in this dog food…
Freshpet Deli Fresh Chicken, Vegetable & Rice Slice & Serve Dog Food Roll
Ingredients: (bold added)
Chicken, Eggs, Chicken Liver, Chicken Broth, Carrots, Brown Rice, Peas, Rice Bran, Dried Kelp, Carrageenan, Natural Flavors, Salt, Inulin, Flaxseed Oil, Green Tea Extract, Choline Chloride, Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin, Biotin, Riboflavin Supplement, Manganous Oxide, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Calcium Carbonate, Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Proteinate, Copper Sulfate, Niacin, Manganese Proteinate, Calcium Pantothenate, Manganous Oxide, Thiamine Mononitrate, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite.
…we find that the salt ingredient is listed 15 ingredients before the calcium source ingredient in this dog food.
The cat food below lists the salt ingredient 5 ingredients before the calcium ingredient.
Goodlife Recipe Food for Cats with Real Chicken, Brown Rice & Garden Greens
Ingredients: (bold added)
Ground Corn, Chicken-By-Product Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Animal Fat, Chicken, Whole Grain Brown Rice, Natural Poultry Flavor, Dried Peas, Dried Beet Pulp, Wheat Flour, Rice, Brewers Dried Yeast, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Wheat Gluten, Choline Chloride, Titanium Dioxide, Calcium Carbonate, Dried Spinach, Dried Tomatoes, Dried Carrots, Skim Milk Powder, Dicalcium Phosphate, Taurine, Dl-Methionine, Minerals (Zinc Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Potassium Iodide), Iron Oxide, Vitamins (Dl-Alpha Tocopherol Acetate [Source Of Vitamin E], Folic Acid, Vitamin A Acetate, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate [Source Of Vitamin C], Vitamin B12 Supplement, Niacin, Riboflavin Supplement [Vitamin B2], D-Calcium Pantothenate, Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Vitamin D3 Supplement, Biotin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride [Vitamin B6] ), Vegetable Oil (Source Of Linoleic Acid), Chlorophyll, Naturally Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols, Marigold Meal.
Again – the above two pet foods have violated no regulations. And the placement of the salt ingredient as compared to the calcium ingredient is merely a guess there is more sodium in the pet food than calcium. However, because pet food labels don’t provide nutrient information similar to human food labels (which lists sodium content), we do need to look for clues for what our choice of pet food actually contains. The placement of a salt ingredient and calcium ingredient in the ingredient list is one clue.
Clue #2 Past the Salt
A thirty pound active dog needs approximately 1000 kcal per day. So based on AAFCO’s 1000 kcal diet recommendations, a thirty pound dog would require 0.17 grams of salt in their diet each day. Thus, any ingredient that follows the salt ingredient should weigh less than 0.17 grams (per a 1000 kcal meal). As example…
By Nature Adult Dog Formula Dog Food Dry
Ingredients: (bold added)
Chicken Meal, Whole Barley, Whole Oats, Brown Rice, Chicken Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols, source of Vitamin E), Flaxseed, Tomato Pomace, Natural Chicken Liver Flavor, Lamb Meal, Dehydrated Alfalfa Meal, Salmon Meal, Yeast Culture (Saccharomyces cerevisae), Potassium Chloride, Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Hydrolyzed Yeast, Dried Enterococcus faecium fermentation product, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, Dried Aspergillus niger fermentation product, Dried Bacillus subtilis fermentation extract, Choline Chloride, Biotin, Vitamin E Supplement, Zinc Sulfate, Lysine, Zinc Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Sulfate, Taurine, Ferrous Sulfate, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphopsphate (source of Vitamin C), Betaine, Methionine DL, Copper Sulfate, Blueberries, Dried Chicory Root, Cranberries, Dried Carrots, Raspberries, Sweet Potatoes, Dried Tomatoes, Turmeric, Niacin Supplement, Sodium Selenite, d-Calcium Panthothenate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Fish Oil, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Iodate, Folic Acid.
Following the salt ingredient in the above dog food we find blueberries, cranberries, dried carrots, raspberries, sweet potatoes, and dried tomatoes.
So…any ingredient listed after the salt ingredient (such as in the above pet food – blueberries, cranberries, dried carrots, raspberries, sweet potatoes, and dried tomatoes all listed after the salt ingredient) should weigh less than 0.17 grams (each) – that is IF the pet food contained the recommended amount (remember, there is no legal maximum for salt in pet foods). As example, 1 blueberry weighs approximate 1.3 grams. Based on the 0.17 gram salt recommendation, if blueberries were listed as a pet food ingredient AFTER salt, by weight (per 1 day food for a 30 pound dog) the food would contain approximately 1/10th of one blueberry. If cranberries were listed as a pet food ingredient AFTER salt, the pet food would contain less than 1/8th of a teaspoon of raw cranberries. Or if flaxseed oil is listed as a pet food ingredient AFTER the salt ingredient, the pet food would contain about 1/100th of a tablespoon. (See USDA Nutrient Database for all types of food nutrient information.)
Even if a dog food contained a full teaspoon of salt per 1000 kcal (which would weigh 5.69 grams and would be lethal), we can safely assume any ingredient that is listed past the salt ingredient is in such a tiny, tiny proportion it provides the pet little to no nutrients.
We can safely speculate, because there is no maximum sodium level regulation for pet food, that some pet foods include excessive salt in their formulas. Salt has been used for years as a preservative which could be utilized by many pet foods/pet food ingredient suppliers. As well, high salt levels included in kibble foods could be a means to control moisture. If you have any doubt to the sodium content of your pet’s food, call your pet food manufacturer and ask them. Ask them to provide you with lab results confirming the sodium content of the pet food (proof).
And we can safely speculate tiny portions of ingredients found following a salt ingredient on a pet food label could be there simply to influence the consumer, not to benefit the pet. Tiny amounts of blueberries or flaxseed oil allows the pet food to advertise health promoting ingredients – pretty pictures of healthy ingredients on the label. Remember, they make no promise of how much of these ingredients are actually in the pet food. Make sure you ask them.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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