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The Addictive Nature of Processed Pet Food

The Addictive Nature of Processed Pet Food

For all of us, no matter if it’s their first pet or hundredth, the world of pet food can be a confusing mess. From phrases of ‘hypoallergenic’ ‘sensitive on the stomach’ and ‘cooked gently’ sometimes we can all wonder why so much buss, for what can be expensive, food.

 Sometimes certain expensive foods are nothing more than a packet of minor quality food with more buzz words than a politicians election campaign, other times that extra expense is indeed paying for a great high meat and nutritional diet. Even with that said, it does make one ask themselves, what’s wrong with just going cheaper…what’s wrong with a good old tin of Chappie?

 For much of the cheaper brands of food, when closely examined highlight the dereliction of any quality of ingredients, instead substituting quality for additives. As it happens, this addictive quality is carefully engineered. Big Pet Food is a multi-billion-dollar industry which invests heavily in research into "palatants" – ingredients that make our pets want to eat their products. And from potently smelly chemicals usually found in rotting meat to an additive commonly added to potatoes to stop them discolouring, the quest to make the most scrumptious pet food has led to some surprising insights.

 Surprisingly, the concept of pet food as a comerical product, in historical terms, is quite a modern invention. For as long as we had kept domesticated animals, they had been fed more or less the same food as humans, or expected to fend for themselves. It was only in 1860 when James Spratt was looking out over the docks of Liverpool one day when he noticed stray dogs knocking back leftover hardtack biscuits (a basic form of sailor ration of water and hardbread). until that moment it hadn't occurred to anyone to check what their pets would like to eat – or that this could be monetised. Spratt had hit upon something entirely new. Over the coming months he developed the "Meat Fibrine Dog Cake", a biscuit-like concoction of beetroot, vegetables, grains and beef of dubious origins that claimed to meet all the nutritional needs of his customers' hounds. In reality, the majority of these early, and still many modern, cheap additive rich pet foods lack a truly dense enough nutrional content that one is always required, and advised on cheaper brands over higher quality, to feed excessive amounts. An interesting example that highlighted the early issues with additive pet food was with huskies. In their native territory of Arctic Greenland, Canada and Alaska, Inuit hunter-gatherers have traditionally fed these dogs on seal meat, which comprises the majority of their own diet. Sled-dogs are so well-adapted to this that when the British Antarctic Survey brought them to Antarctica as a form of transport in 1945, they found that they struggled to digest commercial dog food. In the end, they had to kill a number of local seals each year, just to feed the dogs, before they were largely replaced with skidoos in the 1960s and 70s.

Oddly, there is very little relationship between how healthy a pet food is and its inherent deliciousness. That's because in the US, the EU and many other parts of the world, in order to describe one as "complete" – containing everything the body needs to be healthy – it must meet certain nutritional standards. These set out acceptable ranges for most ingredients, however this sadly does not guarantee levels of higher quality or human grade ingredient sourcing to make our pets food more appetising. Instead for some brands more focused on profits margins and low cost, the use of chemistry trickery is utilised to create addictive food that triggers all the right smells to entice our pets, even if that smell in essence is foul.  Or to put it another way as Nestle has "animals eat faeces, They like strong animal odours and pet food manufacturers have a really difficult time, because they have to make it disgusting enough so that the animal will eat it, but not so disgusting that the owners won’t buy it." Examples of chemical compounds that produce these smells include putrescine and cadaverine, colourless chemicals produced naturally by the breakdown of proteins. They're largely responsible for the revolting smell of rotting flesh – and cats love them. While in human food, their levels are sometimes closely monitored as a way of ensuring the freshness and safety of meat, they're often actively added to cat and dog food, either as offal extracts or lab-made additives.

Pet food companies are now so successful at making food delicious that they're increasingly encountering a dilemma – it's almost too good. "The danger for cats and dogs today is the same as for people, it's overconsumption," says Andrew Knight, a professor of animal welfare and ethics at the University of Winchester. Pet obesity is a growing problem in the developed world, with one survey of veterinary professionals at a vet show in London suggesting that around 51% of dogs, 44% of cats and 29% of small mammals are now overweight or obese.

This is why here at Natural Pet Centre we recommend, no matter where you picked up the food, to check the back of the packet and look at the ingredients or go to great comparison websites like which provide an easy and useful way to see exactly what’s in your pets food. So, why do our pets find pet food so addictive? Well, because it's been made that way. Just like us, our pets find it hard to say no to the food we have designed to be tasty.

Next article The behaviour of licking.

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