Dry, cereal-based pet foods (aka kibble) caught on during World War II, when tin rationing put a stop to non-essential canning. Pet owners were delighted because dry pet food was less messy, stinky, and more convenient. As a satisfied Spratt’s Patent Cat Food customer of yesteryear put it, the little biscuits were “both handy and cleanly.”
To meet nutritional requirements, pet food manufacturers blend animal fats and meals (i.e., corn, chicken, etc) with soy and wheat grains and vitamins and minerals. This yields a cheap, but nutritious pellet that no one wants to eat. Cats and dogs are not grain eaters by choice. So kibble manufactures’ job is to find ways to entice them to eat enough for it to be nutritionally sufficient.
It’s been shown in studies that dogs and cats cannot smell or otherwise sense nutrition. They will continue to eat foods that appeal to them based on taste, smell, and texture, regardless of the nutritional value. In other words, don’t depend on your pet to ‘tell’ you how nutritious a food is by how enthusiastically they eat it. Humans can’t tell either. Consider how tasty fast food or junk food can be. Many of us won’t eat it because we know how unhealthy it is, not because how it tastes. We wouldn’t know the nutritional value unless we read the label or something similar.
Pet foods come in a variety of flavors because that’s what humans like, and we assume pets like what we like. We’re wrong. For cats especially, change is often more difficult than monotony. Marketing is geared toward humans, making it appealing from packaging to how your pet responds to the food. That makes perfect sense, since your pet can’t select or buy the food, so the manufacturers appeal to the ones that carry the wallet.
This is where “palatants” enter the scene. It’s a billon-dollar-a-year business that designs powdered flavor coatings for the edible extruded shapes. Humans enjoy palatants too. Usually the worst foods contain palatants because the food wouldn’t be eaten without heavy, artificially produced taste camouflage.
Cheetos, without the powdered coating, have almost no flavor, require a palantant to have a cheese-like taste. The sauces in processed convenience meals are heavy with palatants for humans. The cooking process for the chicken in a microwaveable entrée imparts a mild to nonexistent flavor. The flavor comes almost entirely from the sauce—by design.
Outdoor cats tend to be either mousers or birders, but not both. But don’t worry: Most of the difference between Tuna Treat and Poultry Platter is in the name and the picture on the label. The ingredients are similar. One may have more fish meal in one and more poultry meal in another, but the flavors only change because of palatants.
Pyrophosphates, palatants, have been described as “cat crack.” Coat some kibble with it, and the pet food manufacturer can make up for a whole host of gustatory shortcomings. The feline passion for pyrophosphates might explain the animal’s reputation as a picky eater. We make pet food choices based on what we like, humans, and then when cats don’t like it, we call them finicky.
Dogs rely more on smell than taste when making choices about what to eat and how vigorously. The takeaway lesson is that if the palatant smells appealing, the dog will dive in with instant and obvious zeal, and the owner will assume the food is a hit. When in reality it might have only smelled like a hit.
The challenge is to find an aroma that drives dogs wild without making their owners yak. Cadaverine is a really exciting thing for dogs. And putrescine. But not for humans. These are odoriferous compounds given off by decomposing protein (think roadkill). Dogs lose interest when meat decays past a certain point. They’ll eat it only while the decaying meat still has not hit a putrid state, based on smell.
Carnivorous pets have not evolved to digest and assimilate foods like corn, wheat, rice or potatoes yet. These are the very foods the vast majority of pet food manufacturers use as primary ingredients in their formulas. Fortunately, dogs and cats are extremely resilient creatures and will eat these detrimental ingredients disguised with palatants.
This is what passes for pet food and it’s sold to consumers at a tremendous profit. This “advancement” in manufacturing, coupled with additives like flavor coatings to bribe pets to eat the stuff, allow pet food companies to capitalize on the popularity of kibble. Today, there are hundreds of kibbles on the market. This is remarkable given that 80 years ago, commercial pet food was almost unheard of.
For optimal health to occur, animals (including humans) must consume the foods they were designed to eat, and preferably in whole, fresh and unadulterated form, like Fetching Foods. This is known as species-appropriate nutrition, and the better the match with the species, it’s more bioavailable. You shouldn’t have to trick your pets with palatants to eat food not species specific or has low bioavailability.
One of the reasons we’re able to deceive ourselves into believing convenience foods like kibble, or ‘fast’ food for pets, are good for dogs and cats is because the changes to a pet’s health and vitality brought on by a dead, processed diet are usually not immediate or acute. For over a half-century, our pets have been fed inappropriate diets that have kept them alive, but not thriving. In fact, we’ve created dozens of generations of animals that suffer from degenerative diseases linked to nutritional deficiencies.