Where does one turn to in Guelph for a safe and nutritious pet food?
Our previous post discussed Prescription Diets – what they are and why they might be recommended for pets with certain health conditions.
But what about your ‘average’ healthy pet? What is safe, affordable, and nutritious?
Let’s tackle this systematically by looking at the facts and fiction on various ways one might assess a pet food. For general background, check out this short article first: How to Read A Pet Food Label.
Fact: A bag of pet food is more than just the sum of its parts. Individual ingredients do NOT determine the quality of a pet food. It’s the nutritional value of each ingredient blended together that delivers a product specific for a pet’s age or condition.
Fact: The ingredient list can be helpful if your pet has a particular allergy to an ingredient. However, the ingredient list tells us nothing about the quality of the ingredients used. To determine this, we must either contact the manufacturer or nutrition experts for more information. Sounds like a lot of work! Other options include asking your veterinarian, or trusting the reputation of the manufacturer (more on this later).
Fact: Clever marketing may confuse the issue of what type of meat you are actually feeding your pet. For example, a bag boasting “Beef Dinner (or Platter or Entrée)!” by law only requires 25% of the total weight to be beef. The rest could be a composition of other meats or ingredients. If only the word ‘beef’ is in the product name, then beef should comprise at least 95% of the total ingredient weight. Note: This type of marketing exists for human goods too! For example, ‘grape drink’ only requires 10% grape juice as opposed to ‘grape juice’, which requires 100%.
Fiction: Feeding anything with ‘byproduct’ is harmful to your pet. The word ‘byproduct’ is just that – a word todescribe certain parts of an animal carcass that might be used in a product. Some examples of by-products include human-grade pork and beef liver, tripe, and spleen. Perhaps tripe doesn’t tickle your fancy, but to your dog this is highly palatable!
Fiction: Gluten and corn are allergens for dogs. Celiac disease and food allergies are recognized, unfortunate realities in our human population. Every individual pet is different, just like every individual human, and certainly some pets do suffer from food allergies. However, dogs and cats are not humans, and current science supports that the protein in a food is most likely to cause a pet’s allergy rather than a grain. Chicken and beef are the most common allergens. Side note: Do you know the signs of an allergic pet? Soft stools, gassiness, frequent skin/ear infections or itchy paws/skin may be associated with a food allergen.
2. Nutrient Amounts.
If you read Part I of our series, you are already well-versed in what the ‘guaranteed analysis’ panel on the side of a food bag actually guarantees you – a maximum or a minimum amount of a certain nutrient. You also know that you cannot just compare one bag’s panel to another – you have to do some math! Take another look at the How to Read A Pet Food Label, for more information.
3. Meeting Nutrient Requirements.
Fact: Senior pets have different nutritional requirements than pediatrics, just as certain breeds or individuals with certain conditions also have different requirements. But how do you know what your pet needs without getting a degree? Thankfully, companies can choose to meet a set of nutritional standards outlined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. If a food has undergone an AAFCO protocol feeding trial, this is your best indication that it lives up to its product claim nutritionally. Check out AAFCO standards, for more information.
Fiction: Cats need low carbohydrate, high protein diets. Higher protein is better for dogs too. We need to be careful when making blanket assumptions about a pet’s nutritional requirements. This is particularly true regarding some of the higher protein foods. Higher protein, higher fat foods are often very calorically dense, and so even if they might be a suitable choice for some pets in some ways, in others they might be detrimental. For example, feeding portions of the high calorie diet similar to those of the pet’s previous food will cause obesity. Before trying one of these less common diets, have a conversation with your veterinarian first about your individual pet’s requirements.
Fact: Finding a brand you trust can makes picking a pet food much easier! But how do you determine what brands are safe? What brands are not just glamorous marketing but provide scientific evidence to support their claims?
This is a tough one.
In Canada there is currently no third-party regulatory body testing pet foods. What does this mean? Based on current regulations any person could go out and manufacture their own pet food providing they write the generic name (dog or cat food), weight of the product, and manufacturer’s contact information on the bag. There is no accountability to determine if ingredients on the label match what is in the bag, nor if the purported benefits of the diet (catering to a specific population such as ‘seniors’) are actually based on any science. Although most pet foods are likely made with the best of intentions, this does not translate into best medicine or best health.
That is scary.
Fact: Your veterinarian has done their own homework and looked at the evidence-based medicine behind certain brands (prescription and non-prescription). They have likely chosen to recommend two or three. Contrary to popular belief, veterinarians do not get ‘kick-backs’ from selling certain foods; if they are making a recommendation it is usually due to an honest level of comfort in that product providing quality, safe nutrition for your pet. Your veterinarian is there to help you wade through the confusing, poorly regulated pet food industry.
Clear as mud? If the above seems overwhelming, that’s because it is!
The take home message:
- Try as best as possible to make an educated decision about your pet’s diet. Nutrition is critically important to their health, and may prevent certain diseases down the road. Things to look for at the very least include meeting “AAFCO” standards and a reputable brand which has had no product recalls. Calling the manufacturer for actual nutrient contents gets you bonus points!
- Certain brands are more reputable than others. Use an educated professional (your veterinarian) as your resource rather than the internet or a minimally-educated pet-store clerk attempting to sell product. If you do not want a ‘veterinary food’, be honest with your vet and start a discussion about what you feel is important in a diet. Hopefully together you can work towards a consensus everyone is comfortable with.
Stay tuned for Part III of our Safe Pet Food Series – “Let’s Talk Price!”