Is your pet doing well on the food?
At the end of the day, this is the most important question. Unless a particular brand is known to have quality control issues or a bad batch, we do not recommend changing brands of pet food if your pet is doing well and has no major health issues that require a special diet.
Does the Bag have an AAFCO Statement on the Bag?
While the AAFCO standards are not perfect, it is currently the only national standard for commercially prepared pet food. You can find more info at www.petfood.aafco.org. AFFCO has three statements they will put on a bag:
“Animal Feeding Trials” – This tells you the food was fed to real dogs or cats and that they did well on it for 6 months as adult dogs or have grown well as puppies or kittens. This is AAFCO’s highest standard and is considered the “gold standard” that you want on your pet food.
“Formulated to Meet” – This says that the formulation analysis of the food meets the AAFCO guidelines, but the food did not pass or was not put through feeding trials to real pets.
“Meant for Intermittent or Supplemental Feeding” – this tells you that the diet is not complete and balanced. A diet with this label should never be fed as a sole diet to a dog or cat.
Who Owns the Pet Food Plant?
There are only four or five companies that own their own pet food plants. The companies that do not own their plants are in the business of printing bags and bidding out who will make their formulation. We recommend pet foods that are made in plants owned by the manufacturer. We have greater confidence in the sourcing of ingredients and the controls over the quality of the food when the manufacturer controls the plant producing the food.
What Kind of Quality Assurance Testing is Done on the Food?
We only recommend brands that meet the most rigorous quality standards. The companies we are impressed with operate their own on-site, in-house labs. In the best plants, samples are taken before the ingredients are even received, checking for toxins and contaminants, thus keeping the food safe for your pet. In-Line testing makes sure that the food is meeting formulation standards at every step of the manufacturing process. After the food is made and packaged, storage testing ensures that the product meets all of your dog or cat’s requirements the day you buy it as it did when it was made.
What is Below Salt on the Ingredient List?
In pet food, ingredients are listed in order of weight. Salt (NaCl or Sodium Chloride) is typically 1% of a pet food diet. Anything lower than salt on the ingredient list makes up less than 1% of diet. If you see things that you recognize like blueberries, carrots, acacia root etc, ask if there is a nutritional benefit of blueberries at less than 1% of diet. If not, why is that company putting such a small amount in but making big claims about it on the front of the bag. Ask yourself, what are the ethics of that company? Which do they value more highly: marketing or science?
Does the Food Claim “Human-Grade, Holistic, or Natural”?
Human-Grade and Holistic are marketing terms that have no definition in pet food. The term Human-Grade is not an accepted, or defined, or legal term on pet food labels. Holistic is a term that has a lot of inferred meanings but also is not defined. If the terms are undefined, a statement using these terms by one company can mean something very different than another company. Further, no pet food can be 100% natural. Thiamine, for example, is an important supplement, but the thiamine supply is a synthesized vitamin just like that found in human multivitamins. Thus it is very hard to meet AAFCO’s requirements from 100% natural sources. What are pet foods companies claiming and what are they really telling you when they use these labels? We think it says that they put marketing ahead of science and nutrition.
Does the Pet Food Company Sponsor Basic Nutritional Research at U.S. Veterinary Colleges?
The knowledge base of pet nutrition is always growing and changing. The best companies are driving that knowledge forward by sponsoring independent researchers to ask important questions about curing diseases that can affect your pet through nutrition. These studies also help educate future veterinarians.
Does the Pet Food Company have a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist on Staff?
There are only about 85 veterinarians in the United States who have gone on to further study to become board certified in veterinary nutrition. These are the leaders in this industry. Having one or more of these uniquely qualified individuals on staff in your company is a measure of commitment toward nutritional quality and relevance.
Does the company maintain a well run kennel and cattery?
There is increased and appropriate concern over the plight of research animals. This has caused concern over the conditions of kennels and catteries run by pet food companies. We have been to the kennel facilities of Hill’s & Science Diet Pet Foods and we have seen how well cared for their pets are. The cats and dogs there are well loved, cared for, and socialized. The best companies do not conduct any animal studies that involve anything more that taking a blood sample. They maintain a kennel and cattery of happy, well socialized pets that help insure complete nutrition for your pet in all life stages and the palatability of their food.
Does the company have an “800” number on the bag?
If they do, call it and get their answers to these questions. If they don’t, or don’t want to answer your questions, why not?
Further Information is Available at ACVN.org, balanceit.com, petdiets.com and of course at Lien Animal Clinic.