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How Do I Pick A Pet Food?

How do I pick a pet food?

Information from Dr. Lisa Freeman's lecture at the Western Veterinary Conference titled : Myth Busters: Answering Common Owner Questions About Pet Food?

How do I determine if a food is nutritionally adequate for my pet?

All pet sold in the United States must contain an AAFCO statement. This Association of American Feed Control Officials statement states the nutritional adequacy of the food as well as the intended life stage for the product. You can gain valuable information about food by reading this statement.

  •  All AAFCO labels should state the food is complete and balanced. Some products marketed as food are labeled for intermittent or supplemental use only. These are not good choices for your pet's sole diet unless instructed by a veterinarian to feed this way.
  • The food you're feeding should fit the life stage of your pet. Puppy or kitten, adult and senior foods are tailored to meet the needs of each life stage. They are better than all life stage foods as all stage foods often have too many calories and the wrong mineral content for older pets.
  • The label will state how a food was determined to be complete and balanced. It is preferable to choose a food that was analyzed by testing the finished product rather than by analyzing the recipe. A food that was evaluated by food testing is also ok.

What are other determinates of a good food?
Below are some of the things high quality dog food manufactures offer. You may not have the time to find out all of the information below when in the store, but if you have the time to do some research, these are some criteria you may use to rank pet food companies and some questions to consider.

  •  A full time nutritionist should be employed by the company. Ideally, he or she is a PhD in animal nutrition or is a board certified Veterinary Nutritionist.
  • Where do the ingredients come from? Do they have their own plant?
  • What sort of quality controls are in place? The safest foods are produced when companies test the ingredients before the food is made and the final product on each batch.
  • Can they and will they provide nutritional information in addition to what is on the label should you require it?
  • How many calories are in the food?
  • How has the product been researched? Are the results published in peer- reviewed journals?

So what if you don't have time to do the above research?
Don't worry; most of us don't have that kind of time either! Here are a few basic points to consider when picking a food.

  • Expensive does not mean it?s a quality food. Inexpensive foods that have years of research and development have potential to be much better than expensive new foods with poor development.
  • Larger companies have more resources to do thorough quality controls and hire nutritionists.

What about the ingredient list? Won't that help?
The problem with looking at ingredient lists is that the ingredients are listed by weight, which includes water. This means that ingredients that are high in water content are listed before dry ingredients; however they make actually contribute less to the overall nutritional value. The overall nutritional balance is more important than each individual ingredient.

  • Another place to look is the end of the ingredient list. If whole fruits and vegetables are listed after the vitamins and minerals, they are present in such trace amounts that they exist solely for marketing reasons and present no additional nutrition.
  • Look for any suspect ingredients. For example, cats can't convert flax seed to Omega3 fatty acids. Yet this in an ingredient in some cat foods. So it may be there for marketing, or it may be an indicator that the company is not aware that it has no nutritional value for cats.

What about grains?
Dogs and cats are capable of digesting grains just like any other carbohydrate. Grains are possible allergens in dogs and cats, but veterinary research proves them to be a very uncommon cause of food allergy. Most food allergies are caused by proteins, not grains. Whole grains supply essential nutrients to our foods. When we abstain from them, they get replaced by other starch sources such as potato or tapioca. These have more fillers and are less nutrient dense than grains. There is no medical reason to feed a grain free food for most pets.

What about by products?
What are by products? They are the internal organs of animals that are not used in human food. Like any other ingredient they can come in both good quality and poor quality.

  • Good quality by products are typically organ meats and are very nutrient rich on a per pound basis. Bad quality meats are not used just like any other poor quality ingredient.
  • It is prohibited to feed hair, teeth, horns and hooves in commercial pet foods and these are NOT classified as by products.

What else should I know?

  • "Organic" has no specific definition or regulation in the pet food industry.
  • AAFCO does not recognize a "human grade", "premium" or "holistic" label.
  • Natural is defined as no chemical ingredients other than vitamins and minerals. However, most Natural Foods are NOT 100% complete and balanced.

Picking a pet food is challenging. We know that more hit the market all the time. We hope this information helps. As always, please call us with any questions or concerns about your pet's health.

Written by,
Sarah Mills, DVM using information as cited above