The Scoop on Pet Food: What’s Healthy and How to Choose
Every day we are bombarded with choices, along with marketing to help influence those choices. Decision making can be exhausting no matter what the subject, and choosing a pet food is a common struggle for pet owners.
We all want the best for our beloved pets. A good pet food should be nutritionally balanced and appropriate for the needs of the pet being fed. Beyond that, it can be challenging to separate the hype from the truth. The friendly and educated staff at Old Derby Animal Hospital is here to help!
When you can identify what is marketing and what is real, things become a little easier to understand. Take some of these common phrases you might find on a pet food bag or hear in the media:
Organic — Of course eating healthier ingredients grown without pesticides sounds attractive, but is it necessary for our pets? The jury is still out as to whether organically grown foods are any healthier, and pesticide residues on both organic and non-organic food vary greatly depending on when and where the ingredient was grown. Pet foods labeled as organic must contain greater than 95% organic ingredients as defined by the USDA for human food labeling.
Grain free — The truth is that there is really no solid evidence out there to suggest that grain free foods provide any nutritional benefit to dogs or cats. Grain allergies, despite what you may hear, are relatively uncommon in pets and depriving your pet of grain may lead to missing out on valuable nutrients. In fact recently some foods including some that are grain free have been implicated in nutrition-related heart disease.
Human grade — Until very recently, plopping this label on a bag of food meant nothing, but the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has published a definition that such a product has “every ingredient and the resulting products are stored and transported in a manner that is consistent and compliant with regulations… for human edible foods.” Human grade has nothing to do with the quality or nutritional value of the ingredients in the food, but rather the way in which it was processed and handled.
Just because there are veggies on the bag, the ingredient list looks attractive (pet food companies have all sorts of tricks to make this look appealing), or there are flashy but meaningless words like “all natural” in the description doesn’t make it the right food for your pet. So how are you to choose?
How to Choosing A Pet Food
When perusing the aisles at the store, ask the following questions:
- Can you easily find the manufacturer’s name and contact information on the bag? This is so important to answer many of the rest of the questions and not a given!
- Is the food appropriate for my pet? Look at what life stage it is formulated for – a growing pet may have different needs than a senior pet. This makes food for “all life stages” less ideal for many animals.
- Does the pet food company employ at least one qualified nutritionist? You may have to dig for this information, but it is so important that someone educated in animal nutrition is involved. You are looking for someone with a PhD in animal nutrition or board-certification by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. Better yet, both!
- Does the pet food manufacturer own (and thus have control of) the plant where their food is made?
- What types of quality control does the pet food manufacturer practice?
- Are the foods tested through AAFCO feeding trials or are they formulated? Testing is the most reliable way of ensuring a great product.
Selecting a good pet food can be difficult, but by asking these questions you are off to a good start. Couple that with your pet’s own needs (weight management, health concerns, food preferences) and your own wants (price point, ease of purchase, personal priorities such as organic foods) and the field narrows considerably.
Don’t forget that we are always here to help if you have questions about your pet’s food – give us a call any time!