By Dr. Simon Yen
Choosing a pet food can be a daunting experience and it can be very difficult to tell the difference between marketing and hype and the true content of the pet food. Descriptive words like “senior,” premium,” “natural, “ have no standard definition by the FDA and no regulatory meaning for pet food, but other words do have specific meaning. For example, if the product says “tuna cat food,” at least 95% of the product must be tuna, not counting the water added for processing. If the product says “tuna dinner for cats,” at least 25% of the product must be tuna, not counting the water added for processing.
Pet food specialist William Burkholder, D.V.M., Ph.D. from the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine recommends examining three parts of the pet food label: the life stage claim, the contact information for the manufacturer, and the list of ingredients.
Pet owners should look for the word “feeding” in the life stage claim. For example, a label may say: “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition for (specific life stage).” This means the food was proven nutritionally adequate in animal feed tests.
The other statement typically seen is: “(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO food nutrient profiles for (specific life stage).” This label means that the diet was deemed nutritionally adequate just based on the average nutrient content of its ingredients or by laboratory testing, but not animal feed tests. The nutrients in this diet may be in a form that is not available for the pet too use and thus potentially could be deficient.
AAFCO defines two life stages: growth and reproduction, and maintenance. When a product is intended “for all life stages” it means it has the higher levels of nutrients needed for growth, but would be fine for maintenance as well. Any other labeling for life stages such as senior, or for a specific breed is not defined by AAFCO and must meet the requirements for “maintenance” only.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), an advisory body of state and federal feed regulators, develops recommended standard for nutrient contents of dog and cat foods. AAFCO also publishes ingredient definitions and regulations.
Another item to check on the label is the contact information. Pet owners should look for the manufacturer’s telephone number, name and address. Call the manufacturer for specific details about the diet if you have questions. They may not tell you everything because it may be part of their proprietary formula, but they should be responsive to your concerns.
The ingredients list on the label is an area of consumer preference and subjectivity. For example, some people prefer to pass up animal by-product, which are proteins that have not been heat processed and may contain heads, feet and viscera. “But protein quality of by-products sometimes is better than that from muscle meat,” says Burkholder. Other items like blueberries or glucosamine may be appealing to consumers, but they may be in such small amounts and the process of making the dry food may destroy any benefits these products may have. Again, calling the manufacturer may or may not help clarify these issues.
The ingredients on a label are listed from the largest amount by weight to the least amount by weight. The first ingredients should be protein in a higher quality food. Sometimes though if the ingredient listed first is chicken muscle which contains 70% water and then the next couple of ingredients are dehydrated potatoes and brown rice, then the product will have more carbohydrates than protein.
Some animal nutritionists recommend switching among two or three different pet food products every few months. Burkholder says nutritional advice for people to eat a wide variety of foods also applies to pets. Doing so helps ensure that a deficiency doesn’t develop for some as yet unknown nutrient required for good health. When changing pet foods, add the new food to the old food gradually for a few days to avoid upsetting the pet’s digestive system.
Most pets will do fine with the majority of diets on the market. Purchase a diet that meets your personal values and criteria in a brand that you trust. There are some instances though where a pet will do better on a specific diet. We at Campus Veterinary Clinic will be happy to discuss the difference diets available and try to help you decide which diet is best for your pet.
For further information on pet food labels and definitions, please refer to the FDA or AAFCO websites.
Here’s a deliciously healthful doggie snack filled with super-survival ingredients!
- 1/2 c. quinoa flour
- 1/2 c. oat flour
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 3/4 c. fresh or thawed blueberries
- 1c. Applesauce
- 1 egg
- 1/4 c. water
Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine quinoa and oat flour, baking soda, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Blend the egg, applesauce, and water in a separate bowl. Fold dry ingredients into the wet mixture and mix well. Fold the blueberries into the mixture. Pour batter into a non-stick mini muffin pan, filling 1/2 full. Bake 10-15 minutes.
Yields 36 muffins/20 calories each)
DID YOU KNOW???
Almost 2,400 years ago Hippocrates wrote, “Let your food be your medicine.” Never has that saying been truer than today. Modern therapeutic pet foods have been designed to dissolve bladder stones, prevent allergies, slow down kidney failure and even prolong the life of cancer patients. With renewed interest in whole foods, healing botanicals and sustainable ingredients, pets can enjoy the benefits of hundreds of years of nutritional wisdom packed into a bag or can.
We would like to both congratulate and thank one of our senior staff members who recently had her 5year anniversary with CVC. Ashley Kent is our Lead technician and Assistant Manager and a valued member of our hospital team here in Berkeley. Ashley has an extensive background in the veterinary field and came to us in 2006 from PETS Unlimited in San Francisco. Originally from Louisiana, she hopes to one day pursue her goal of attending veterinary school at LSU and returning home.
Ashley currently lives in Oakland with her dog Lula the Catahoula and enjoys playing music and cooking vegan food.
From all of the management and staff at CVC we want to congratulate and thank Ashley for everything she does to make our hospital what it is. Happy Anniversary Ashley!
By Ernie Ward, DVM
Dangers in the Dog Bowls:
Not all foods are safe for pets. Chocolate has had a bad rap for many years and shouldn’t be offered to pets. Other food no-no’s include grapes and raisins (they can damage sensitive kidneys), macadamia nuts, and anything containing caffeine. If a pet eats a large volume of garlic, onions or chives they could develop problems (a pinch won’t hurt). The same goes for green tomatoes. Sugar-free sweets containing Xylitol can be lethal to pets, and nutmeg can cause seizures in some. Bones should never be given to dogs. The risk of them splintering or becoming obstructions is simply too great a risk.
Pet with bladder stones or urinary crystals? There’s a food for that. Allergies causing your pet to scratch all night? There’s a food for that, too. In fact, there are few medical conditions in pets that a diet hasn’t been created to help. So what’s fluff and what’s fact? For starters, diets to help with urinary tract issues have a long and successful record. Diets low in sodium, phosphorus and protein help with kidney and heart disease while those rich in Omega-3 fatty acids help arthritic joints, skin allergies and cancer. Newer diets are focusing on using whole foods with minimal processing to maintain optimal nutrition and health.
My advice: don’t leave your next vet visit without discussing diet. After all, food is the best medicine.