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Ash in Pet Food: Filler or Nutrient?

Ash As an Ingredient in Most Pet Foods

By Ryan Gellis. October 23, 2012 | See Comments

Ash in Pet Food: Filler or Nutrient?

The lowdown on why there is ash in your pet's food and whether or not it's safe.

Caution: This article may contain: Arachidonic Acid, L-Carnitine, Ash?!

There are plenty of ingredients that don’t sound a lot like food when you are reading your pet food labels. It is important to be an educated pet parent, and stay on top of everything that goes into your dog or cat’s body. So what do you do when you see that there is ash in your pet’s food?

So what is ash?

Maybe it's an acronym for Always Super Healthy?

Not quite--ash that is reffered to on pet food packaging is pretty much what it sounds like: the inorganic material that remains after organic material is burnt up. But don't be alarmed--it's a measurement of non-organic mineral content, including calcium, phosphorous, zinc, iron, and other essential minerals.

Ash has always been a useful by-product of fire, which burns everything with calories and leaves some portions of vitamin residue and all of the minerals behind. In fact, the FDA mandated a food composition test in which producers determine how much fat, carbohydrate, and protein is in a certain food by burning each organic element out of it at different temperatures. All that is left after a test like that is ash.

Is ash safe to feed my pet?

Ash is not a dirty word in the pet food industry; in fact it's a measurement of minerals that have to be in foods, to some extent, since your pet needs calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and a plethora of trace minerals. In general, dry pet food is always going to contain ash content (aim for something under 8%) while wet food will occasionally have it too, in smaller amounts (typically 2% or less).

Though it may be essential, there are a few situations where extra ash in the food can be detrimental. The important exceptions here are for cats or dogs with crystals in their urine, and for large breed puppies who soak in the most nutrients in their impressive growing stages. In these two cases the ash content needs to be appropriately reduced.

Ash is a generic term for a compilation of important minerals. As consumers, it would be better for us to know how much calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium and iodine there is in the food. Ash contains some or all of those minerals but as of now it isn't necessary to give the breakdown. Some pet foods will supply these amounts separately, and some list them under the bundled heading of ash.

Why do pet foods have different amounts of ash?

Ash can be produced through the incineration of any organic substance. Sometimes, extra meat meal is used to make higher protein foods, and this results in higher ash content in many cases.  Since meat and poultry meals often contain bone in them (which contains a lot of calcium and phosphorus), adding more of these meat and poultry meals can result in the ash content of food creeping up. So if your dog or cat were to have problems with urinary stones or is a growing large breed puppy, then knowing the ash content of the food is important, if you still want to feed a high protein food.

It has been suggested that an increased mineral boost helps simulate the extra elements of a wild animal’s diet. In a natural environment dogs and cats supplement their meat-based diet by crunching on bones and foraging anything from vegetables to dirt to get the essential minerals needed. In many ways ash fills this nutritional role.

Although ash seems to be perfectly harmless from a scientific point of view, it still leaves a bad taste in many pet owners’ mouths. Many consumers have expressed opinions that, more than anything, ash is mostly filler and takes up space where more healthful ingredients should be included. As of right now, though, there is an essential amount of ash required by the AAFCO to meet nutritional requirements.

The final word

Ash is safe and even beneficial to most pets in appropriate amounts, but pet parents should be mindful of the percentage in food and be especially careful if they have a large breed puppy or a dog or cat with urinary stone issues. The easiest way to ensure your pet’s nutritional wellness is to serve a well-rounded diet of different quality protein foods and treats.

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