Needs of pet, safe source key in choosing a food
Of all of the concerns regarding our pets’ health, few areas are as important and confusing as nutrition.
It sounds simple right? “Hey Tom, what should I feed my dog?”
But with a growing 30 billion dollar pet food industry, and hundreds of formulas to choose from, separating the truth from the hype can be difficult. Your pet’s diet is not a decision to take lightly, with ever increasing numbers of recalls and illnesses blamed on food and treats, decisions can directly affect your pet’s life.
So where do you start? Do you have to buy the most expensive “premium” food? What about grain-free, raw or natural? Should you feed beef or buffalo, chicken or salmon? It can get overwhelming very quickly. So let’s try to simplify this madness.
The first thing I like to tell clients is to try and look through the marketing.
When choosing a diet ask yourself these three questions:
No. 1: What are the specific needs of my pet?
Are you feeding a healthy animal in the middle ages of life, a fast growing giant breed puppy, a geriatric cat or a dog with allergies?
If your pet is healthy, move on to the next question. If there are specific health concerns, work with your veterinarian and specialty pet food supplier to select an adequate diet for your pet’s needs.
I would like to emphasize teamwork here, utilizing both the speciality pet store knowledge of diets, and your veterinarian’s evidence-based recommendations that are backed with scientific research.
No. 2: Does the diet carry the AAFCO label of “Complete and Balanced”?
Look for this claim on the label, AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) is the governing body in charge of oversight of the pet food industry and sets the rules that address the use of ingredients in the product name.
Foods displaying the AAFCO “Complete and Balanced” label have been proven adequate to be your pets sole source of nutrition.
No. 3: Choose a safe manufacturer.
This last one is more difficult, but a good start is to go to a website such as truthaboutpetfood.com and look for any safety recalls. You also can find a complete list of manufacturers and the foods they produce.
Understand that most pet food brands are owned by a handful of larger conglomerates such as Procter & Gamble, Mars and Diamond Pet Foods and the specific diets are manufactured by a limited number of mills or co-packers.
Co-packers will produce a given recipe for brand X then move on to brand Y. There is often less oversight in foods manufactured for someone else as opposed to a food made by and for a particular company. You cannot be sure that some of brand X ingredients didn’t end up in brand Y food.
This is why a food safety recall may apply to a number of seemingly unrelated brands. A small number of companies actually have the manufacturing capacity to produce their own formulas, exclusively. You are better off with a food made within its own controlled manufacturing facilities.
There are a few other labeling/marketing rules to understand that will help in your decision-making.
Descriptors such as “Beef Dog Food,” “Beef Recipe Dog Food,” “Dog Food with Beef” and “Beef Flavor Dog Food” all have different requirements in terms of percentages of ingredients. If a label says, “Beef Dog Food” then it must contain at least 95 percent beef.
So combinations such as “Salmon and Sweet Potato Dog Food” or “Lamb and Rice Dog Food” must contain at least 95 percent salmon or lamb respectively. This rule does not apply to the non-animal derived ingredient such as the sweet potato or rice.
Using the name “Beef Dinner” or “Tuna Platter” requires only 25 percent of the named ingredient be in the food. Describing a food as “Dog Food with Beef” requires only 3 percent of the ingredient be present.
Worse yet, using “flavor” in the name requires only that the food have a “detectable” level of the named ingredient.
Many pet owners are moving toward foods described as organic or natural assuming that these are healthier choices. Surprisingly however, foods labeled natural, gourmet or premium are not required to contain any higher quality ingredients than other foods.
Organic pet foods must comply with the USDA’s National Organic Program that refers to the handling and processing of the product only but does not regulate the quality of the product. There are no official rules regarding labeling of organic pet foods and there is little regulatory oversight.
The take-away message is that if you have a healthy pet, simply pick a food with the AAFCO “Complete and Balanced” label from a reputable manufacturer. If your pet has special dietary needs, talk to your veterinarian to select the best option that meets your pet’s needs and fits your budget.