Peas are one of the most prevalent ingredients in modern dog food. From the low-cost grocery store brands to the premium high-protein brands, peas remain ever-present.
But for those of you who take an interest in the ingredient list of your dog’s favorite food, you will likely come across several other pea-related ingredients.
Examples of these other Pea ingredients include Pea Protein, Pea Fiber, Pea Flour, and Pea Starch. But what exactly are these ingredients, and are they a beneficial addition to your dog’s diet? Or are they perhaps poor-quality ingredients that you should aim to avoid?
Whole Peas are an extremely common sight in grain-free dog food, being one of the most popular plant-based ingredients.
Peas are utilized so heavily by dog food manufacturers as they can provide a broad mix of nutrition, including carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and small amounts of several beneficial vitamins and minerals. Some examples of these beneficial Vitamins and Minerals are Vitamin K and Manganese.
However, what makes Peas especially popular is the fact that they also contain a noticeable quantity of plant-based protein.
While many in the industry would argue that animal-based proteins are preferred over plant-based proteins like those from Peas, this protein is not insignificant and can supplement the protein found in dog food from meat or fish ingredients.
Some also argue that Peas are also preferable to other vegetables or sources of carbohydrates due to their low glycemic index. If you aren’t familiar with what glycemic index means, it is simply how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels.
In humans, there are studies to show that eating foods with a higher glycemic index can cause diabetes or cause weight gain.
However, while many dog food brands advertise their low-glycemic-index ingredients, as of yet, there is no conclusive proof that this significantly benefits dogs and should therefore be taken with a pinch of salt.
In contrast to Whole Peas, Pea Protein is not considered a beneficial ingredient to be added to dog food by most. It is a by-product of pea processing and is the pure plant-based protein from Peas.
Peas, alongside most legumes, are naturally high in protein, so it is relatively easy and cost-effective to extract the protein in this manner.
Unfortunately, a relatively small amount of Pea Protein can be used to inflate the overall proportion of protein within a dog food formula and is often one of the leading culprits of a technique called ingredient splitting, which will be discussed later.
Pea Protein is extremely common in many mid-quality and premium dry dog food formulas and can often be as highly listed as the 3rd or 4th ingredient on the ingredient list.
Blue Buffalo is one of the biggest offenders of this, and you can see this in the below ingredient list of their Blue Buffalo Wilderness Chicken Recipe.
As you can see, Pea Protein is the fourth listed ingredient, alongside Whole Peas, which is the 3rd listed ingredient.
This inclusion and use of Pea Protein is almost certainly because of the high focus on the proportion of protein in dog food.
Dog food manufacturers have to resort to ingredients like Pea Protein to stay competitive without shelling out on more expensive meat ingredients and increasing their prices.
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention performed a study in 2018. This showed that only 21.8% of dog owners answered yes to the question of whether they would consider feeding their dogs pea protein.
When this small percentage of support for Pea Protein is compared to the proportion of dog food recipes that contain Pea Protein, it shows that many dog owners must be completely unaware of the ingredient list of their dog’s food.
Similar to Pea Protein, Pea Flour does not have a good reputation and is a highly processed ingredient that appears in a powder that is created by milling roasted peas.
Pea Flour is not too dissimilar to Pea Protein, but in addition to its protein content, it contains a significant proportion of carbohydrates and would be best compared to Whole Peas without their moisture.
Like Pea Protein, Pea Flour is often labeled by critiques and knowledgeable consumers as a cheap and poor-quality ingredient, especially when used in large quantities.
You can see a classic example of the use of Pea Flour in the ingredient list of Taste of the Wild’s Pine Forest Grain Free Dry Dog Food.
While not as abundant as the whole legumes present (Chickpeas, Lentils, and Peas), the portion of Pea Flour is notable and not insignificant.
That being said, some in the industry argue that Pea Flour is a superior alternative to traditional grain flours like Wheat Flour or Rye Flour.
While this could be true, dogs shouldn’t be eating any flour from grains or whole vegetables at all as they are dense sources of carbohydrates and a poor reflection of their natural diet.
While Pea Flour use certainly isn’t as common or widespread as Pea Protein, it is still a regular occurrence in many mid-quality dog food formulas.
As one would imagine, Pea Fiber is very high in dietary fiber, primarily insoluble fiber rather than soluble fiber. Compared to some of the other Pea By-Products discussed here, Pea Fiber gets relatively little use in dog food recipes.
You can see one of a few examples of its use in the ingredient list of Nulo Freestyle’s Grain Free Turkey & Sweet Potato recipe.
The portion of Pea Fiber present in this recipe is extremely small and only just above minor ingredients like Natural Flavor and Yeast Culture.
Sadly, beyond its fiber content, Pea Fiber has little to no nutritional value to dogs, including a lack of carbohydrates or plant-based protein.
While dietary fiber is an important component of a dog’s diet, Pea Fiber, in particular, can often be labeled as a filler and, in high quantities, can, in fact, have an adverse effect on a dog’s digestion.
That being said, Pea fiber in low quantities can be beneficial or neutral inclusion, and most dog food formulas that utilize Pea Fiber tend to use it in a modest portion.
Pea Starch is the last of the major by-products of Peas but is quite different from Pea Flour or Pea Protein. Pea Starch makes up around 40% of Peas, and when refined, this forms a neutral white powder.
From a nutritional perspective, Pea Starch would provide similar nutrition to starchy vegetables such as Potatoes or Sweet Potatoes. This includes acting as a dense source of carbohydrates.
You can see an example of the use of Pea Starch in a dog food recipe in the ingredient list of Rachel Ray Nutrish’s Real Beef, Pea & Brown Rice Recipe.
As you can see, the portion of Pea Starch present is very small and is below other ingredients such as Grains and Dried Peas.
While the other Pea By-Products are often used for their nutritional value, Pea Starch is often used as a thickening agent due to its gelling properties. Thickening agents are often used to help produce dog food that is durable.
Without a binding agent, it is difficult to form kibble into a uniform and consistent shape. However, the aesthetic appeal of kibble is mostly for the owner’s benefit and not the dog.
Ingredient Splitting – Beware
Ingredient Splitting is a somewhat sinister technique employed by many dog food brands, including some which are considered by some to be high-quality or premium.
The idea is as follows. If you split up an ingredient into a number of sub-ingredients, then those sub-ingredients will appear farther down on the ingredient list.
One of the factors that have led to this is that dog owners have been taught in recent years to pay attention to the top five or top ten ingredients listed on dog food.
This technique makes it appear as if less high-quality or nutritious ingredients such as grains, vegetables, or plant-byproducts are less abundant in the dog food recipe.
When in reality, if all these sub-ingredients or by-products were combined, they would very likely take a spot much nearer the top of the ingredient list.
The splitting of Pea-Byproducts is one of, if not the most common example of this technique. Quite often, a dog food formula will contain a combination of Peas, Pea Protein, and Pea Flour.
By executing this technique, it allows a manufacturer to vastly understate or mislead the consumer on the volume of Peas present.
They can then display biased or misleading information on their advertising, suggesting that one or multiple meat ingredients are the core components of the recipe.
For more information on Ingredient Splitting, check out our dedicated article to the technique Ingredient Splitting in Pet Food – Exposed.
Peas And Heart Disease
In July 2018, the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) announced that it had received reports about an increased occurrence of a particular type of heart disease called Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy. This condition is serious and can cause an enlarged, weakened heart and eventual heart failure in some dogs.
These reports suggested a link between grain-free dog foods and this increased rate of occurrence. These dog food recipes are high in Potatoes, Peas, and other Legumes, and many believed these could be the cause.
This type of heart disease occurred in select breeds such as Golden and Labrador Retrievers, a Whippet, a Shih Tzu, a Bulldog, and Miniature Schnauzers.
What stumped many was the fact that none of these breeds are genetically prone to the disease, which suggests that there must be another cause, and the reports pointed the finger at legumes like Peas.
At the time of writing this article, many believed that this link could have enormous consequences and massively shake up the commercial dog food world as almost all brands, especially premium brands, utilize Peas and other legumes as their primary carbohydrate source.
However, several years have passed since then, and while this link has been researched and explored in much more detail, there has yet to be any conclusive evidence supporting it.
But, as many predicted, several dog food brands have reacted to this news by re-introducing or creating grain-inclusive foods. The brands that have done this include many favorites such as Taste of the Wild, Earthborn Holistic, and Acana.
If you want to learn more about this concerning issue, head on over to our article Best Dog Food Without Peas, where we discuss some of the specific brands highlighted and what alternatives there are available.
Dog Food Brands That Use Pea-Byproducts
As mentioned previously, many brands that are typically thought of as of very high-quality or premium do have several formulas that contain pea by-products like Pea Protein and Pea Flour.
Please note that just because these brands have some formulas that contain pea by-products does not mean that all of their recipes include them.
We’d recommend closely studying the ingredient list of any recipe from these brands to confirm the ingredients present.
Dog Food Brands That Are Free of Pea-Byproducts
Sadly many of the dog food brands that we have reviewed and analyzed over the last few years include Pea-Byproducts in their recipes. Until there is further awareness of these ingredients and dog owners shift away from these brands and recipes, the trend is likely to continue.
However, it is imperative to note that in many cases, only a select few formulas of a brand contain pea-byproducts, and they often have some that do not use them.
There are some very high-quality and nutritious recipes produced by a variety of brands that do not contain pea-byproducts, and these should not be ignored just because other formulas provided by that brand do include such ingredients.
Some dog food brands that, based on our research, do not contain pea by-products, such as Pea Protein and Pea Fiber, in any of their formulas include Acana, Orijen, The Farmer’s Dog, Nature’s Logic, Health Extension, Go! and Ziwi Peak.
Instead, all of these brands choose to use whole legume ingredients, like Peas and Chickpeas, or alternate plant-based ingredients like starches or grains.