Pet owners love their pets and are always looking to purchase a diet that is the best for their four footed family members. In today’s market where there are diets that are grain free, organic, natural, high protein, made with human grade ingredients …where does one turn to decipher the value of statements made by the manufacturers?
There are many commercial brands of diets on the market these days, unfortunately, they may not all be what they claim to be. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) have published nutritional assessment guidelines for cats and dogs.
Below are some of the questions to help make informed decisions with explanations as to why it is important to seek out answers to them.
1. Do you have a full time qualified nutritionist or someone equivalent on staff in you company?
What is this nutritionist’s name and qualifications? It is important to make sure that there is someone with the proper qualifications responsible to oversee the production of the diet. Appropriate qualifications are either a PhD in animal nutrition or a board-certifications by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN).
2. Who formulates your diets and what are their credentials?
One wants to make sure that it is the nutritionist who is in charge of making the diet and that it meets the minimal nutritional requirement for the pet and its life stage.
3. Which of your diets are AAFCO Feed trial tested? Which diets meet AAFCO Nutritional Requirements?
(The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) establishes the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods. AFFCO has no regulatory authority, but is rather a voluntary membership association in charge of regulating the sale and distribution of animal feeds. Pet food companies have the responsibility to formulate their products according to the appropriate AAFCO standard. If the company has done testing under strict circumstances to show that it meets the AAFCO standards, there will be an AAFCO statement on the bag.
The AAFCO statement will support that the diet meets the AAFCO Guidelines for the lifestage of the pet and is nutritionally complete. If the food is not nutritionally complete, there may be a statement indicating that the food is for “intermittent or supplemental use only”.
4. What is the caloric value per can or cup or your diet?
This will help one calculate how much food should be fed to meet the pet’s energy requirements. The recommended feeding guidelines on the bag are for un-neutered animals and therefore higher than what is required for most pets.
5. What specific quality control measures do you use to assure the consistency and quality of your product line? What safety measures do you use?
There is no point in purchasing a food where the quality one gets is like playing Russian Roulette. One wants to make sure that the manufacturer takes the precautions of testing all the ingredients that go into the food that they produce. Testing should also be done to ensure that the ingredients have not been contaminated with potentially toxic ingredients. We all remember the melamine contamination that resulted in the deaths of numerous pets in 2007.
Even though a company has tested samples of their food that meet AAFFCO requirements, you want every bag they produce to be the same. There are some pet food manufacturers that will not allow a supply truck to unload unless the material they are carrying meet specific criteria at onsite labs. They have been known to turn away trucks if they are not satisfied with the quality of the material.
Another point to consider is does the manufacturer have any testing of the product as it is produced (also known as in-line testing). This testing will aid in identifying issues before the food arrives at the consumer’s home. It will also allow traceability. Traceability is the ability to track any food through all stages of production, processing and distribution (including importation and at retail). Traceability should mean that movements can be traced one step backwards and one step forward at any point in the supply chain.
6. Where are your diets produced and manufactured? Can this plant be visited?
One wants to investigate whether the company has its own manufacturing plant or does it have third party contracting. By having control of their own manufacturing plant, a food company has much more power over quality control of their diet. Also you want to make sure that the country of production is reputable.
Hopefully more people will do some research before purchasing diets for their pets in the future.
Dr. Stephanie Chen DVM