Secret Natural Preservatives In Your Pet’s Food
BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, TBHQ. If you’re a dog owner then you probably recognize these names as artificial preservatives that you have been warned to avoid in your dog’s food.
BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) has been associated with liver diseases and cancer.
BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) has been linked to cancer in lab rats. Ethoxyquin is a preservative used with fish meals that is also used in the production of synthetic rubber for tires.
TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone) is a relatively new preservative that is under fire in Europe and the U.S. And yet these preservatives can still be found in some pet foods – one of the reasons why we tell people to read the ingredients before buying.
Artificial preservatives are chemical substances that slow down food spoilage and mold, bacterial contamination, and changes in food color.
Fortunately, there are natural preservatives that can do the same things and keep your dog healthier. Some of the most common natural antioxidants found in pet foods include tocopherols (vitamin E), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), citric acid, and rosemary. Many natural preservatives have been in use since ancient times and they are seeing a resurgence today. And better quality pet food makers are using these natural preservatives. You have probably seen some of them listed in the ingredients in your dog’s food and wondered why on earth a dog food would contain X ingredient. It might just be a natural preservative.
For example, Orijen, made by Champion Pet Foods in Alberta, Canada, is one of the most popular “super premium” dog foods. (Terms like “super premium,” “ultra premium, and the like are marketing terms. They simply denote better quality dog foods – in the opinion of the dog food manufacturer and the public.) While the company mentions on their web site that they are “preservative free,” they don’t go into details. They only say no chemicals or synthetics added. However, when you check the ingredients in any of their foods, you will see rosemary which is widely used in pet foods and human foods as a natural preservative today. Rosemary contains rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid, antioxidants which inhibit free radicals and help keep fats and oils fresh.
Orijen is by no means the only company using rosemary or other natural preservatives. Brothers Complete uses green tea extract, along with rosemary extract, cranberry pomace, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and sea salt. Nature’s Variety Instinct dog food uses dried tomato pomace (high in Vitamin C), Vitamin E supplement, rosemary extract, apple cider vinegar, and blueberries. Lotus uses sea salt, garlic, blueberries, and rosemary extract. Many other dog foods use these natural preservatives and others.
Berries can be used as antioxidants and natural preservatives because they can be a source of Vitamin C. It’s very common today to find cranberries and blueberries added to dog foods. Tocopherols from nuts and seeds, citric and ascorbic acids from citrus fruits, carotenoids from some fruits and vegetables can all act as natural preservatives. Beta-carotene and carrots are common ingredients in many dog foods. Some herbs and spices can provide phenolic compounds to preserve meats, fish, fats and oils. Basil, chile peppers (capsicum), cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin, fennel, oregano, peppers, and thyme all have antimicrobial properties. Green tea extract has been studied for the prevention of Listeria and to keep meat fresh.
Some natural preservatives cannot and should not be used in pet foods because they can be harmful to dogs. These preservatives would include onion, nutmeg, raisins, and grape seed oil. Other foods which your dog might not appreciate or which are usually frowned upon in dog food include things like vinegar and salt, though we have already seen that Nature’s Variety Instinct uses apple cider vinegar – often thought of as a cure-all by some dog owners. Vinegar has been used as a preservative since around 5000 BC when the Babylonians used the fruit of the date palm to make both wine and vinegar.
Salt is an ancient preservative but we don’t usually like to see it in dog food. However, sea salt has become popular in some quarters recently because it supposedly has some healthier properties. Whether sea salt is really any better than salt when it’s added to dog food is debatable. Cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and mustard are also considered natural preservatives but your dog probably won’t like them in his food.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the uses and dosages for food preservatives – both synthetic and natural. Some of the herb and spice extracts used have GRAS approval (Generally Recognized As Safe). This status can make them appealing to consumers who feel that nothing can go wrong with things so commonly used. And it’s true that it’s hard to imagine a dog overdosing on honey (a good natural preservative and antimicrobial/antibacterial in use since ancient times) or the blueberries in a dog food. But it’s important to remember that natural preservatives are useful and effective in pet food precisely because they do contain chemical compounds. It’s conceivable that a pet food could be recalled because the company adds too much rosemary extract to the food, for example.
There is a cost to pay when using natural preservatives: they are not as strong as artificial preservatives. Most foods in nature were never intended to avoid decay for months or years so there are limits to how long natural preservatives will prevent spoilage. For this reason, dog food preserved with natural preservatives will not stay fresh as long as food preserved with artificial preservatives. If your dog doesn’t go through a bag of kibble very quickly, you need to think about buying food in smaller bags so you can use it up while it’s still fresh.
There is no question that natural preservatives are safer and healthier for your dog. They come with their own set of problems for dog food companies and retailers who have to worry about a shorter shelf-life and keeping food shipped and stored in the right conditions so it won’t spoil. But natural preservatives are much better for dogs.
So, the next time you look at a dog food label and wonder why sage is listed as an ingredient, you would be right in thinking that it’s an antimicrobial. And it just might make your dog’s turkey kibble taste better, too.