The Truth About Fruits & Vegetables in Dog Food?

The Salt Divider

Written by Hilary Wilkie

Hilary is a qualified canine nutritionist, who is passionate about educating dog parents on optimal ways to feed their dogs so they can thrive.

8 March 2024

The Importance of Fruits and Vegetables

We know eating our fruits and vegetables is important for maintaining good health. It’s why there are standards around how many servings of fruits and vegetables we should eat a day for optimal nutrition. When we take a bite of steamed broccoli or juicy peach we feel good and happy knowing that we’re helping our bodies thrive. That feeling is our body’s way of giving us a high-five. 

You know who else knows this? The pet food industry. When they create the package for a pet food their goal is to convince us, the consumer, that their food looks so good that not only will it be good for our dog, but we might even try it. So they put pictures of real food, like fresh cuts of meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and eggs on the packages in an attempt to convince us. 

Now, we know that when we open that package of food we won’t be pulling out an apple, celery, or pieces of grass-fed beef, but the pet food manufacturer has steered us to believe that’s the food we’ll be feeding our dogs. 

The question is – how much of these foods are actually going into a package? In particular, how much fruit and vegetables are?

It’s important to remember that dogs do not have a requirement for carbohydrate, like they do for protein and fat. Dogs can survive without carbohydrates, but for them to thrive they will benefit from the addition of high quality functional carbohydrates, like fruits and vegetables. 

You know who knows this? Yep, you’re right…the pet food industry…again.

Story Time

Before we transitioned Jessie to a fresh whole food diet we bought her food from big box pet stores. My partner and I would walk down the aisles looking at the abundance of food and feel overwhelmed. As I’m definitely a “choose a book by its cover” kind of girl for a start; and the same went for packages of dog food. My eyes would immediately be drawn to the packages with images of real food, including fruits and vegetables. 

I would turn the package over and read the ingredient list. If it contained things like “meat-meal,” “hydrolesed,” “pulp,” “vitamin x supplement,” “vegetable or soya oil” I would move to the next food. Then I would come across a package that read like a delicious smoothie full of ingredients like, pumpkin, butternut squash, zucchini, carrots, apples, pears, chicory root, kale, spinach, beet greens, cranberries and blueberries. This sounded delicious! Jessie’s going to love eating these foods. And, my partner and I were going to feel awesome for feeding her such great food. I thought we were the best dog parents anywhere. Or, were we?

Here’s the thing…

As you may already know the ingredient panel on the back of packaged dog food lists ingredients from greatest to least before it’s cooked. Seeing all those fruits and vegetables on the ingredient panel made me believe that Jessie would get a daily dose of functional carbs to help her thrive. I was wrong. While pet food manufacturers don’t want to give away their trade secrets, like how much of each ingredient goes into their food, there are ways to get an idea how much of an ingredient there may be in your dog’s bag of food. 

Salt and The Salt Divider

Next time you look at your dog’s food look out for salt or the other names it can be listed as, i.e. sodium chloride, iodised salt etc (an intentional tricky move by the pet food marketerers). Salt is added to dog food for a number of reasons, including palatability.

Its addition is not necessarily a bad thing, as there are guidelines as to how much should be added. 

AAFCO (Association of American Feed Conrtol Officials) recommends that dry dog food for Growth and Production has a minimum of 0.3% salt and for Adult Maintenance has a minimum of 0.08%

This is where we figure out how much fruits and vegetables are really in your dog’s food thanks to Dr. Marion Nestle. Dr. Nestle coined the term Salt Divider, which says that as pet foods generally use similar formulas set by AAFCO, consumers can assume that any ingredient following salt on an ingredient panel must be less than 1 percent of the diet. Essentially, anything following salt will be in miniscule amounts. When I looked back at the ingredient panel all those fruits and vegetables were listed after salt. The fruits and vegetables in that bag of food equated to the tiniest sprinkle of each fruit and vegetable. Seriously?!

As an example, 1 blueberry weighs approximately 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.

Susan Thixton

Consumer Advocate, The Truth About Pet Food

The reality that the amount of fruits and vegetables in the bag of pet food would be about the same as one blueberry was a shock. How can this be? It’s not fair that pet food manufacturers can add miniscule amounts of these ingredients into their food, plaster a picture of them on the front and display it on the ingredient panel. We all got played.

What can you do?

We’re not ending on a glooming note. That’s not how we do things here.

You know the benefits of adding certain fruits and vegetables to your dog’s diet in a quantity that will actually contribute to their health and well being. How can you boost your dog’s food with fruit and vegetables? Here are few ways:

Where to from here?

The most important takeaway is to learn to read the labels of your dog’s food and research who makes your dog’s food, what ingredients they use and where those ingredients come from. Do not get swayed, like I once did, by the marketing of these foods to determine your purchasing decision. You’re better off buying a bag of frozen vegetables and fruits and sprinkling them onto your dog’s meal.

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