confused about pet food?
you’re not alone.
Some of the most nutrition-savvy athletes in the world asked us to help make sense of all the pet food marketing claims out there. Want to learn what we shared with them? We’ve outlined the facts below – keep reading so that you too can... Know Better.
The fact is, today’s pet food industry is jammed with misinformation and false truths, leaving pet parents at a loss of who or what to believe. And regrettably, it's designed that way. Large manufacturers, internet “experts”, trade associations and even the regulatory system itself are all selfishly intermingled to the point where only the profit-minded thrive.
Pet food bags showing images of restaurant-grade salmon falling from the sky with claims of "farm-raised" and “real” ingredients. Sounds delicious, right?
Unfortunately, this is the work of savvy corporate marketers targeting pet parents who simply don't know better when it comes to reading a pet food label. While their goal is to distract you from the actual nutrition, we want to break down some simple facts to help you better navigate these marketing landmines.
Stay with us, and hopefully by the time you're finished reading, you'll be better equipped to sift through the noise out there.
Hear from our Athletes
As a professional football player, Jordan Hicks’ life has been centered around health – making sure he’s healthy enough to play on the field, that he’s nourishing his body to recover from football and as a parent to two young babies, fueling his energy as a dad. For Jordan though, it’s always a been a team effort with his wife, Ivana – they’re living the crazy pro football life together. Jordan and Ivana know that balancing Jordan’s football schedule and a happy, healthy home life takes a lot of work and prioritization, and one thing they never compromise on is quality nutrition. With three active Yorkie Maltipoos, a breed that is prone to health issues, making the switch to Nulo made a difference in their personalities and their long-term health.
Born and raised in Telluride, Colorado, Gus Kenworthy has skied his whole life. At the age of 23, he earned the privilege of representing the USA in 2014 in Sochi, Russia, and proudly brought home the silver medal in slopestyle skiing. Gus returned to represent the USA again in 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea, and while there, he made several trips to a dog meat farm with the Humane Society International. He was exposed to the inhumane and cruel living conditions of the dogs on the farm and worked with the HSI to bring the dogs back to better living conditions in North America. While on his visit, he watched a litter of puppies being born, one of which is now his beloved daughter, Birdie. When it comes to pet advocacy and inclusion, two of Nulo’s most cherished brand values, few people are as passionate as Gus.
A native of Granbury, TX, Dana Vollmer is a gold medalist swimmer and mom to her bulldog, Mallie. After having her first child in March of 2015, Dana returned to the pool and quickly regained her place among the top swimmers in the World and her gold medal in 2016 was team USA Swimming's first-ever won by a mother. For years she defined her life through her success or failure in the pool, but now it is her family that matters the most. Now more than ever, Dana understands the importance of nutrition not only for herself as a mom and pro swimmer, but for her family, too – and that includes Mallie girl.
did you know?
- Pet food ingredients are listed on the bag in order of weight, before cooking.
- All proteins aren’t created equal…
- "Grain-Free" food is not suddenly killing your dog.
- You need to calculate the carb content yourself.
- It’s the type of carb that matters – look for low-glycemic ones.
- Price tag does not always reflect quality.
- Probiotics. They are useless unless they make it to your pet's digestive tract.
- Healthwashing is meant to distract you from actual ingredients.
- The Nulo Difference.
know the facts. know better.
Did you know...
Pet food ingredients are listed on the bag in order of weight, before cooking.
What does this mean? The ingredient listing on the bag does not exactly reflect what's in your pet's bowl. Unlike human foods for which nutrient information is reported as consumed, the pet food industry allows nutrient information to be reported on bags before the cooking process.
Why does this matter? Because even if you take the time to read the label, you’re still not getting all of the relevant information about the food's final composition. As an example, when fresh meat is the #1 ingredient and claims of "real meat first" are sounding good to you, in reality, when the meat is cooked at high temperatures, its water content (74-78% of the ingredient weight) is cooked off and "as fed" the remaining "meat" is likely the 5th or 6th ingredient in terms of what its contributing to the final product.
Meaning? Many companies are able to design premium-sounding foods, but despite what the bag says, the food in the bowl may actually contain very little animal-based protein and instead, you may be giving your little carnivore a vegetarian-forward diet full of carbohydrates/starches, fruits and veggies.
Solution? Look for fresh meat first (always) and then immediately following, 2 to 3 named meat meals (e.g., salmon meal, turkey meal). “Meals” are the dehydrated versions of the meat with fat and moisture removed before cooking. This ensures meat content remains high after cooking. Don’t settle for anything less in the first 3 ingredients!
What else could be misleading?
All proteins aren't created equal.
What does this mean? 30% protein on one bag doesn't equal 30% protein on another bag. Yes, the percentage amounts may be equal but it's how you get to the protein level that can differentiate. Protein doesn't always mean meat.
Go on... Many companies are "boosting" crude protein levels using vegetable protein concentrates like Pea Protein and Potato Protein. Plant protein simply cannot compete with biologically appropriate animal-based proteins for dogs and cats.
How so? Your pet is not getting the proper amino acid profiles with these sneaky protein boosters. Vegetable protein concentrates do not have the adequate nutritional values, absorbability or digestibility your pet needs. Not only are the protein levels being manipulated, so are consumers.
What else should I know?
"Grain-Free" food is not suddenly killing your dog.
How can I be sure? There is still no scientific evidence of any direct link between "grain-free" pet foods and the 0.0007% of the canine population that have been diagnosed with possible Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in the last five years.
So is there a need to be concerned? There is no fact-based correlation between grain-free food and DCM despite the scary rhetoric. The evidence does suggest a potential link with products that are lacking sufficient levels of the amino acid taurine and its precursors cysteine and methionine (aka: the ones derived from meat).
Meaning? Rather than focusing on grains, focus on whether your food delivers sufficient levels of the necessary amino acids which come from animal-based proteins (aka meat and meat meals). Look for meat protein and low amounts of healthy carbs. Check the ingredients!
Still with us? Let's dive deeper.
You need to calculate the carb content yourself.
Why? Companies are not permitted to disclose the carb content of their products on the label. Pet food lobbyists like to keep it this way (because a lot of foods are high in carbs) but knowing the carb content provides a good data point for consumers to tell if the food is healthy or not for their pet.
What is a reasonable carb content? Look for mid- to low 30’s for dog, and mid- to low 20’s for cat. While this doesn’t give the entire picture of the food (remember: protein %’s can be boosted with vegetable concentrates and make carbs appear lower), you’ll have a better idea of the amount of fillers based on this percentage.
Tell me how. We can't change the law, but we can equip consumers with the formula to calculate the carb content themselves.
look for the "guaranteed analysis" panel on the back of the bag and get ready for some easy math:
calculate your pet food's carbs!
What else about carbs?
It’s the type of carb that matters – look for low-glycemic ones.
What does this mean? In order to make a kibble, some level of carbs are required to make everything bind together and form the nugget (think: bread crumbs for meatballs in human food). The source of the carbohydrate ingredients themselves play a role. For example, a serving of white potato has almost the same effect in humans as eating table sugar (a quick, high spike in blood sugar) whereas a serving of lentils has a slower, smaller effect.
I see. And? We believe that dogs and cats have similar glycemic responses and that picking more responsible sources of carbs can help support blood sugar control and a healthy weight. It can also help avoid a host of chronic conditions (like diabetes) and keep things like heart disease and various cancers in check.
Got it. So what should I look for? Avoid foods with high-glycemic carbohydrates like white potato, white rice and tapioca. Instead, look for low-glycemic carbs like oats, barley, sweet potato, chickpeas and lentils.
What else should I know?
Price tag does not always reflect quality.
How so? The highest-priced food does not necessarily mean the best food. In the pet food industry, it is easy for a food to "read well" before cooking, and it's another to have it "perform well" as fed.
How can I tell? Look for fresh meat first (always) and then immediately following, 1 to 3 named meat meals (e.g., salmon meal, turkey meal). “Meals” are the dehydrated versions of the meat with fat and moisture removed before cooking. This ensures meat content remains high after cooking. Don’t settle for anything less in the first few listed ingredients!
If it doesn't? If not, you could essentially be paying for a $90 bag of water. Some foods claim they have 10+ "fresh: meats in a row in their food, but the remaining dry ingredients do not support the amount of wet ingredients. After the cooking process (remember: water cooks out), the food contains very little of the protein in the bowl that you paid for.
What other ingredients are affected by cooking?
Probiotics. They are useless unless they make it to your pet's digestive tract.
Define useless? After you cook a live organism like a probiotic, it will likely die and offer no benefit unless it has a proper protective shell, or casing.
Say more? Many companies use probiotics, but unless it's a probiotic strain that has guaranteed survivability against cooking, freezing, shelf life and stomach acids, your dog or cat are probably not realizing a benefit.
How can I be sure? Inquire about the specific strand of probiotic used in your pet's food and ask if it is viable in the digestive tract. Ask if there is published research to support the claim.
Healthwashing is meant to distract you from actual ingredients.
What does this mean? Common "health" terms are used to convince consumers that pet food is healthy. The phrases "organic, non-GMO, gently-processed, human-grade, small batched, ethically-raised, sustainably-sourced, full transparency, vet-recommended, grass-fed, free-range, family farms, biologically-appropriate, antibiotic-free, etc." are overused and frankly, have lost their credibility.
Why does this matter? Pet food bags and marketing materials can use these terms all day long, but it doesn’t change their actual ingredients. Unfortunately, these terms make the brands seem trustworthy and unless you know a bit about pet food, you might be convinced the food is healthy for your pet.
Meaning? Know better than to believe these common phrases. Read the ingredients, look for an abundance of meat and meat meals, calculate the carbs, stick to the basics.
So... why is Nulo credible?
Nulo is different.
How? Nulo’s ingredients are high in animal-based protein (industry-leading levels, actually), use low carbs, low glycemic ingredients and use a patented probiotic that survives the cooking process. Check check check check. This means that your pet is receiving a full amino acid complement when he or she eats their Nulo.
What else? We're independently owned so we keep ourselves accountable. We don't cost-optimize and sacrifice quality just to save a few bucks on ingredients and we never cut corners. For real, our founder’s standard has always been "The Max Test" – meaning if he wouldn't feed the food or treat to his own dog, Max, Nulo isn't going to make it for yours.
And we should believe you why? At Nulo, we’ve always been committed to inspiring pet parents to live Healthier Together™ with their pets, starting with nutrition. When we noticed there was an overwhelming amount of misinformation about basic pet nutrition out there, we knew we had to do better. Because our pets deserve better.
phew, that was a lot to process. let's summarize:
As carnivores, our dogs and cats require diets rich in protein and amino acids that they can only get from real meat. Nulo's "percentage of animal-based protein" is at the top of the industry.
low carb | low-glycemic
Nulo uses ingredients like spelt, lentils & sweet potatoes to provide lasting energy & Nulo's recipes are among the lowest-carb diets on the market.
Nulo uses GanedenBC30, a natural probiotic with a protective spore casing, giving it viability all the way to the digestive tract, where it's needed to do it's job.
still have questions? give us a shout.
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