News Item | PAWS Chicago

Pet’s Health Do You Know What’s in Your Pet’s Food?

by Dr. Barbara Royal, DVM | Nov 01, 2013

Being an advocate for your own health and well-being is difficult; add to that staying on top of what’s best for your pet and suddenly nutrition becomes overwhelming. And with thousands of pet food products on the market today, it’s tough to know where to start. But the most important overall health decision you can make for your dog or cat is what you put in their bowl so it makes sense to start with labels and understanding pet food ingredients. Here are a few basic rules to jumpstart good decision-making when it comes to feeding your pet.

Royal Rule #1

High Protein

Our dogs and cats are carnivores so they should eat like carnivores. That means a diet predominantly comprised of meat protein, no grain and minimal carbohydrates. Most pet foods today have that ratio backwards. Too much carbohydrate is being fed to our pets in the form of grains (especially corn and wheat) and other foods (potatoes, rice, oats, and many more). This is not healthy. 

There are specific side effects associated with this ratio imbalance, especially in cats, who are obligate carnivores (with bodies designed to eat and get its energy and nutritional values from animal meat). These deficiencies manifest in the form of dental disease, allergies, skin disorders, obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, cancers, kidney disease and more. 

Dogs, because they are carnivores and scavengers, have a little more leeway, but not much. As scavengers, they can make do with a diet of shoe-leather and blueberries, but their bodies need well-balanced meals for optimal health. 

Royal Rule #2 

Read, Read, Read 

Every label provides important information: 

Ingredients: They should make sense to you and not sound like a chemical factory. Remember, you are feeding a carnivore. This goes for treats too. 

Guaranteed Analysis: Determine the proportion of the three major food groups – fat, protein and carbohydrate. 

Royal Rule #3 

Look Beyond the Label 

If you do, here’s what you might find: 

Carcinogens: The high heat process of extruded kibble foods produces a byproduct of Acrylamides and Heterocyclic Amines, which are both potent cancer-causing agents. 

Chemicals: There can be pre-manufacture ingredients that aren’t required to be on the label because they were put in before the manufacturer got them. One big concern is ethoxyquin, a quinoline-based antioxidant used as a food preservative and pesticide that is often sprayed on fish. Another is pentobarbital (typically used in the euthanization process), a chemical used to treat the food animals that has shown up in traces in meats. 

Royal Rule #4 

Look for Products Made and Regulated in the U.S. 

In the United States, all pet food is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Federal Trade Commission(FTC). It is also further regulated at the state level. So stick close to home when purchasing pet food. Products that are imported may have lax standards when it comes to labeling, food safety laws and overall regulations. Unless I really know a company well, I tend to avoid foods and treats made in China after the Melamine disaster of 2007 where more than 13,000 pets died because of poor regulation in pet food ingredients. 

Royal Rule #5 

Keep Pets Trim 

We may not know anymore what a normal weight looks like in our pets. Recent studies show that over 50 percent of our pets in this country are overweight to obese. Sadly, this is, as Temple Grandin says, “when bad becomes normal.” 

The secret to weight management and weight loss in general is carbohydrates. Carbs cause weight gain. The carnivorous bodies of dogs and cats know what to do with protein and fat, but carbs get transformed into quick, cheap energy, which gets stored – as fat. So if your pet is overweight, look hardest at the carbohydrate percentage, not the fat content of the food. 

One aspect of weight management that does differ between cats and dogs is the speed with which the pounds can be safely shed. Dogs are uniquely suited to lose weight fast. As scavengers, when they can’t find food, they just eat their fat. Simply decrease (often by half) the volume of food (good quality food) for a dog and they lose weight. Sometimes in just a few weeks they are down to a manageable size. Weight gain and loss in dogs is all about the food. If they are not burning the calories with exercise, they need to eat even less than they would if they were active. Simple. 

Cats, however, must lose weight slowly and carefully or they can become very sick. I count weight-loss time in cats in terms of months. The diet should be changed to provide more protein and fat and fewer carbs per meal to really make a difference, And a slow, steady weight loss over the course of a year should be a benchmark for success. 

Remember, treats and everything that goes in a pets mouth are included in my rules for health. Often when owners decrease meals to help with weight loss, they quietly increase treats because they feel guilty. But treats can be very calorie dense, so beware! 

If your dog doesn’t seem to be able to lose weight with careful diet regulation, ask your vet to check the thyroid function. Many dogs have undiagnosed hypothyroid conditions that hamper weight loss and affect many other aspects of health over time.

Royal Rule #6 

The What, the Where and the How 

Buy from food companies that source their food from sustainable farms, using more natural and organic products. Meats that come from feed lots/factory/ industrial farms, etc. tend to have been produced by feeding cheap food to animals in close quarters. They are often given very little room to move, and don’t get normal exercise, stimulation or family connections. These animals are more likely to have been treated with drugs and chemicals and quite frankly, in my opinion, the stressors, medications and unhealthy diets that these food animals endure cannot make a healthy body, or healthy meat. I suspect that we may find this industrial meat quality is also to blame for many of our pets’ illnesses. 

It’s hard not to feel frustrated with the pet food industry and the hidden dangers of ignoring your pet’s dietary needs. We can certainly do better. With all the wheat, corn and other inappropriate ingredients we feed our pets, it’s no wonder our pets aren’t wildly healthy. 

As humans we can choose to be a part of nature or collide against it. Medicine, nature and wellness have parted ways for too long. There is a natural health in every creature and I know that excellent food provides the tools to maintain it. We must simply get back to the basics, pay attention to diet, and watch our animals regain their wild health.  

Commercial raw foods, cooked commercial raw foods, cooked fresh foods, and canned or unprocessed freeze-dried foods are preferable to kibble foods. If you must feed kibble, choose a low-heat processed, high-quality meat-protein based food with greater than 30% protein.  

Appropriate and ideal pet foods for The average pet should have: 


  • At least 30% meat protein (and more like 40-60% if possible) 
  • Low carbohydrate percentage
  • No corn or wheat or other grains 
  • No soy or soy protein, or peanut butter 
  • No unpeeled white potato 
  • No chemicals, toxins or fillers (See ROYAL RULES #2 and #3) 
  • Appropriate moisture content  

Appropriate Moisture Content Adding water to dry food does not make up for the drying effect of the dry processed kibble. Moisture is super important for health, especially in cats. Be careful with cats that will only eat kibble.  

Dr. Royal’s new book, The Royal Treatment: A Natural Approach to Wildly Healthy Pets is now available in paperback on For more information about Dr. Royal’s integrative approach to keeping your pets wildly healthy through sensible nutrition and preventive medicine, visit