What is ash and why do foods price out differently?

So, a question;

"How do you know the protein in a food is of high digestibility and why are some foods more expensive than other?" This is a question where both answers relate to each other. Thanks!

 Photo credit: Nils Hahn of Nome, Alaska

The sort of short answer; You can look at the ash level of a dog food and compare that to others to compare the quality of a protein or the protein types used. Ash is the non combustible portion of a diet that is made up of minerals. Dogs and cats do need some of that ash for daily needs, such as calcium and phosphorus. Say 2% ash is needed daily, the rest is really not going to be used and passes through the animal onto the lawn or litterbox. Ash primarily comes from animal product (bones, tendons, hair, feathers, stuff like that) while the muscle meat portion or organ meat does not have much to speak of. The more ash, the less careful was the extraction of the meat products from bone is how it is looked at. Also, the more time it takes to extract said protein the more costly it is. In essence, ash is really the filler in a pet food that can be best replaced with something usable like, say, a functional ingredient so you are not paying for wasted space. A food only has 100 seats, or 100% of space to be filled up, much like an orchestra. Might as well fill each seat with a playing instrument. That is the focus of how we build a formula; use all the seats possible to get the best nutrition to your pet and bang for your buck. Often, you can feed less with this type of formulation and bring added benefits to the plate.

One must also realize the main cost in a pet food is derived from the protein portion of the formula as fat and carbohydrates are generally fairly inexpensive. Plant proteins tend to be less costly than animal proteins as well, for instance, corn. Corn brings proteins to the table as well as carbohydrates, not to get sidetracked, but dogs and cats are meant to be eating other animals and thrive when fed in such a way. Knowing the types of protein, not just listed as "fish meal" can also give you some clues as to the level of quality and cost of the product. "Fish meal" can and will be whatever type or types of fish are least expensive when that kibble was made. We like to know what is going in that pet and why that type of fish might be the best option, not what is cheapest in the market that week. And lastly, there is a reason often multiple protein sources are used; it is to balance the diet properly as often one source or even several will not happen the proper mix of proteins to afford the amino acids (those are derived from the original protein) that the dog needs. This is especially amplified with an active dog as their use of protein in muscle maintenance, growth and turnover is greater than the average house dog.

What else makes a food cost more than others that may seem similar in the guaranteed analysis besides protein inclusions? Fish oil tends to be expensive but is way more beneficial than plant based fat sources in most cases. It is all about those omega 3 fatty acids, baby. How the product is processed plays a part, the vitamins that are used, additional ingredients like taurine and the use of functional ingredients in a diet can also be pricey. A functional ingredient is one that has an intended purpose versus, say, just being a protein that is broken down and utilized in a different state as an amino acid, for example. Porcine plasma is an example of a functional ingredient as it is used in our diets for immune stimulation and gastrointestinal health benefits, not as a protein source.

So, next time you wonder why one food might cost more than the other and you think it is just a greedy company look at a few things to see if they are greedy or not. Check the ash level, it tells you a lot. If it is not listed, ask the company for that information as it is an important piece of the puzzle. And remember; the poop tells you a whole lot of info by just looking at it...ya don't need to be a rocket scientist.