Peas are a prevalent ingredient 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 ingredients your dogs are consuming, you will likely encounter other pea related ingredients.
Examples of these include Pea Protein, Pea Fiber, Pea Flour, and Pea Starch. What exactly are these ingredients and are they a beneficial addition to your dog’s diet? Or are they perhaps fillers that should be avoided?
Whole Peas are considered a high-quality addition to dog food. They provide carbohydrates, dietary fiber and small amounts of beneficial vitamins. Some examples of these beneficial Vitamins are Vitamin K and Manganese.
Peas also contain a noticeable quantity of protein. While animal-based proteins are preferred over plant-based proteins like those from Peas, this protein is not insignificant and can contribute to a dogs diet.
Some argue that Peas are also preferably to other vegetables or sources of carbohydrates due to their low glycemic index. The glycemic index states how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels.
In humans, there are studies to show that eating foods with a higher glycemic index’s can cause diabetes or cause weight gain. 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 be taken with a pinch of salt.
Pea Protein is not considered a beneficial ingredient to be added to dog food. 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.
This is almost certainly because of the high focus on the proportion of protein in dog food and manufacturers have to resort to ingredients like Pea Protein to stay competitive without sacrificing on price.
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 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.
Pea Flour is a powder 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 filler.
That being said, some argue that Pea Flour is a superior alternative to traditional grain flours. While this could be true, dogs shouldn’t be eating any flour from grains or whole vegetables at all as they certainly wouldn’t have been a part of their natural diet.
While Pea Flour 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. Beyond its fiber content, Pea Fiber has little to no nutritional value. While fiber is an important component of a dogs diet, Pea Fiber, in particular, can often be labeled as a filler and in high quantities can, in fact, have an adverse effect on digestion.
That being said, Pea fiber in low quantities can be beneficial and most dog food formulas that utilize Pea Fiber tend to use it in a modest portion. The use of an ingredient like Pea Fiber could be compared to the use of other sources of soluble fiber such as Tomato Pomace or Apple Pomace.
Pea Starch is the last of the major by-product of Peas but is different from Pea Flour or Pea Protein. Pea Starch makes up around 40% of Peas and when refined this forms a neutral white powder. Pea Starch would provide similar to nutrition to traditional starchy vegetables such as Potatoes or Sweet Potatoes.
Pea Starch is often used as a thickening agent due to its gelling properties. Thickening agents are often used to help produce durable kibble. 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 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 lower down on the ingredient list.
Consumers 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. When in reality if all these sub-ingredients 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 Peas, Pea Protein, and Pea Flour. This technique 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 a type of heart disease called canine dilated cardiomyopathy, which can cause an enlarged, weakened heart and eventual heart failure in dogs. These reports suggested a link between grain free dog foods, high in Potatoes, Peas and other Legumes could be the cause.
The heart disease occurred in select breeds such as golden and Labrador retrievers, a whippet, a Shih Tzu, a bulldog, and miniature schnauzers. 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.
If true, this 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, at this time this link is far from conclusive and may be unfounded. Unfortunately, a significant amount of research and studies conducted in relation to pet food are funded by pet food manufacturers and therefore can be biased or misleading.
Nevertheless, this claim should be taken seriously and further investigated. However, until there is indisputable evidence to link heart disease and a diet high in Peas, we will not negatively review or exclude dog food recipes that contain Peas. However, we will continue to mark down dog food recipes that use inferior quality pea ingredients like Pea Protein and Pea Flour as we believe these are not a positive addition to dog food.
Dog Food that is Free of Pea-Byproducts
Sadly of the brands that we have reviewed and analyzed to date, very few are completely free of pea-byproducts. Until there is further awareness of this trend and real action is undertaken by consumers, 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. 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.
If your dog suffers from a Pea allergy or intolerance be sure to check out our Best Dog Foods Without Peas article. It will run you through the alternatives and suggest some very nutritious recipes.
Dog Food that Contains Pea-Byproducts
As mentioned previously many brands that are typically thought as of very high-quality or premium do have formulas that contain pea by-products like Pea Protein and Pea Flour. Some examples of this include Taste of the Wild, Zignature, Fromm, Nature’s Variety Instinct, Earthborn Holistic, Crave, Pure Balance, and Weruva.
Once again 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. All of these brands have formulas that we highly recommend that contain great nutrition and high-quality ingredients.