Zignature is a brand of dog food that is often sold in small, holistic pet food stores. The brand has a variety of kibbles and most of their foods seem to be limited ingredient diets, with only one source of animal protein being used in each. While this can be good for dogs with dietary restrictions, this brand has a couple of issues that may make it less than ideal for most dogs.
Lack of Animal Fats:
One of the biggest issues I have with this brand is the lack of concentrated animal fats. Currently, there is a huge emphasis on making sure the main source of protein in a dog’s diet comes from animal sources, but sadly such an emphasis on animal sourced fats seems to be missing in the dog food community. All of Zignature’s foods seem to be formulated with plant oils, chiefly sunflower oil. I believe their reason behind this is that they want to make their formulas with limited ingredients for dogs with food allergies. Many of the animal fats commonly used in dog food, such as chicken fat or beef fat, may present an issue for dogs with food allergies. For dogs with food allergies, these restrictions may be permissible, but if the dog has no issues, other commercial diets that list a specific, named animal fat are probably a better choice. Dogs in nature do not eat plant oils, they consume the fat from the animals they prey upon. Plant oils are unsaturated, but dogs are designed to consume saturated fats. The makers of Zignature pet food do not seem to understand this, as they boast on their website that their duck formula is low in saturated fats.
NOTE: Something to keep in mind is that per AAFCO definitions, when fresh meat or poultry is listed, fat may be included, not just muscle meat. This means there is most likely some animal fat present in Zignature’s foods, but there are plant oils in place of where a specific, concentrated animal fat is often listed on other pet food labels.
Beyond the issue of what a dog is designed to eat, from my research there seems to be issues inherent to plant oils. While I have not found research specifically comparing the effects of feeding plant oils to dogs vs feeding animal fats, research has been done to determine if humans should be consuming plant oils (https://www.medisinfagskolen.no/userfiles/files/kostholdsveileder/The_Truth_About_Saturated_Fat.pdf). In the linked pdf, the authors discuss the benefits of saturated fats and the dangers of plant oils. While this article is written with human health in mind, I believe it is fair to assume that if humans, who are omnivores, have issues with plant oils, dogs would as well, as canines are closer to being carnivores.
From the above linked article, it can be seen that plant oils are generally high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are required by the body, but in limited amounts, and can be obtained from animal sources such as chicken fat. These fatty acids, when consumed in excess, create an inflammatory environment within the tissues and organs. Research also suggests that high levels of omega-6 fatty acids can predispose one to depressed immune function, cancer, and weight gain. In short, too much omega-6 can lead to inflammation, and inflammation in the body is detrimental.
With this said, it must be noted that Zignature uses flaxseed in their formulas as well. I assume this is to add omega-3 fatty acids to the diet. Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect and help balance out the effects of omega-6 fatty acids. But, to get omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseed oil, dogs need to convert the flaxseed oil in their body to a useable form, and dogs are not very efficient at this conversion (http://www.dogaware.com/articles/suppsoils.html#plantoils). For this reason, it is beneficial for dogs to get omega-3 fats from more bioavailable forms, such as fish oil. I assume Zignature avoids the use of fish oil in many of their formulas to keep the ingredients limited. This once again shows that this food should only be fed if the dog has severe dietary restrictions.
Overall, the sources of fat in Zignature’s line of kibbles are not ideal for dogs.
Heavy Use of Peas and other Legumes in Grain Free Varieties:
Peas and legumes have been tied to cardiomyopathy in dogs. There is an excellent article discussing the connection between legumes in food and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, which I will link here (http://www.dogaware.com/articles/wdjdcmanddiet.html#legumes). In short, issues have been found with limited ingredient diets, diets that rely on lamb as their main protein source, and diets that use lots of legumes in their foods. All of Zignature’s grain free foods are loaded with peas and other legumes.
Besides the DCM issue, foods with lots of legumes can contain less meat and still boast a high crude protein content on the label because of the high protein content in legumes. Even though Zignature’s diets all have animal ingredients listed first, these animal proteins are then followed by a whole host of legumes in their grain free line. Together, these legumes probably add up to a kibble that has more legumes than meat and derives some of its listed protein content from plants.
This protein boosting effect seems likely in Zignature’s grain-free foods, as they have some grain-inclusive formulas which can be used for comparison. For instance, we can look at Zignature’s grain-free turkey formula, which has a crude protein content of 32% (https://zignature.com/product/zignature-turkey-formula-dog-food/), whereas their grain-inclusive turkey formula has a crude protein content of 28% (https://zignature.com/product/zignature-select-cuts-turkey-formula/). Both formulas have turkey and turkey meal listed as the first two ingredients and principle sources of animal protein, but the legume rich grain-free variety has a higher crude protein content. Still, the grain-inclusive variety still has a good amount of protein, which is reassuring.
Pros and Cons of Zignature Dog Foods:
Here is a quick overview of all the issues discussed in depth above.
- All of the formulas appear to only use one source of animal protein in each formulation, which can be helpful if the dog has allergies to certain meats.
- The first ingredient in all formulas seems to be a named meat followed by a named meat meal.
- All formulas seem to have a decent amount of protein, even considering the protein boosting effects of the legumes included.
- No concentrated animal fats used, reducing the saturated fats available to the dog.
- Plant oils high in omega-6 fatty acids appear to be the main source of fat in the food.
- Flaxseed oil is used instead of fish oil; this is an issue as fish oil is more easily digested by the dog.
- Many formulas rely heavily on legumes, which has been linked to cardiomyopathy.
- Crude protein amounts on the grain free formulas may be unreliable since the foods use so many legumes, which are high in plant proteins, which are not as usable to dogs as protein from meats.
Zignature is not a food I would recommend to someone who wants to feed the best diet possible to their dog. While it may be suitable for dogs with severe food allergies, there is no reason to feed this limited ingredient diet to dogs without dietary restrictions. The reliance on legumes in their grain free varieties along with plant oils being used as the chief source of fat in all of their foods make this a brand less than ideal for most dogs.
Zignature is the not the only food that uses plant oils in place of animal fats and loads up on legumes. Many brands that can be found in holistic and big chain stores also have these issues, such as Natural Balance and several of Taste of the Wild’s varieties of dog food. Sadly, to uninformed customers who have only been told to avoid corn and by-products in pet food, these brands seem like quality products. When choosing a commercial diet for your dog, look for brands that use named meats, limits the number of legumes, and use named animal fats. Your dog will thank you.