Good nutrition along with feeding the appropriate amount will lead to a longer, healthier life for your pet. However, the amount of information available on pet foods can be overwhelming. Information is available from many sources, including pet stores and markets, groomers, and online.
Who do you trust?
Your veterinarian earned a bachelors degree, then went to 4 years of veterinary school. She and her team are your best source of information on nutrition for your pet.
Terms On The Nutrition Label:
Some of the terms we hear when discussing nutrition include holistic, natural, by-product, meal, and life-stage. We will take a look at what these terms actually mean when referring to pet food, and ways to weed out the bad from the good. We will also explain why it is important to look for the AAFCO statement on your pet's food bag or can.
Holistic refers to the whole, as in the whole being. A holistic diet is one that consists of healthy nutrition. Legally there is no definition when referring to holistic food for people or pets. This is a term that some manufacturers use for marketing, and does not mean the food is any better than other foods.
Natural refers to something found in nature. AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials) defines natural as “a feed or feed ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mining sources...” and stipulates it cannot be subjected to chemically synthetic processing.
It sounds great that you are feeding your pet all natural products. The reality is there a many things that are natural but not good to eat. Rocks are natural, but many dogs have had surgery to remove one they have eaten. This may be an extreme example, but it does point out that not everything natural is good and not everything good has natural in the name.
Pet Food Terms with a Bad Rap:
A couple of terms that have gotten a bad rap are by-products and meal. These two terms are legally defined for use in food, and in particular AAFCO defines them when used in pet foods.
A by-product is a secondary product from the source. An example in grain would be the bran left over from milling flour. Bran is a source of nutrients and proteins. Animal by-products used in pet food are frequently what is left after processing for human consumption. An example would be the organ meat, such as liver, again a high-protein food source.
Meal is a product that has been rendered (subjected to heat and pressure) to remove most of the moisture then ground to a uniform size. If an ingredient list includes meat meal, then it contains dehydrated meat, not hair, teeth, or other non-meat parts of the animal with the exception that it may contain some bone meal.
Life-Stage & Food For Your Pet:
Life-stage refers to the age of the pet for which the food is formulated. Puppies and kittens should always be fed a food specifically for them. They have different nutritional requirements from mature pets that will help them grow at a healthy rate.
Large breed puppies should be fed a food for large breed puppies in order for their bones and joints to mature at the correct rate for their breed. Most puppies and kittens are ready to transition to adult food when they are about 1 year of age. Many pets can stay on the same food for most of their adult life.
A number of pet foods have a senior formula, and the package will indicate an age, typically 7 or 8 years old. If your pet is healthy and doing well on an adult food there is no reason to change to the senior food.
Like humans, each individual ages at their own rate and many cats and dogs seem relatively young at 7 or 8 years of age. Prescription foods should be recommended by your veterinarian before using. There are a variety of formulas created to treat different health issues. You should always check with your pet's doctor before using a prescription food to make sure it is appropriate for your pet's needs.
Check for the AAFCO Statement:
When choosing a food, make sure there is an AAFCO statement on the bag or can. This indicates the manufacturer has followed AAFCO guidelines and definitions so that the food is formulated for the life stage indicated, the ingredients listed are as defined by AAFCO, and some type of testing has been done either with this food or another product with a similar nutrient profile.
Keep in mind that different manufacturers have various standards for quality and protocols for quality control. A food is only as nutritious as the ingredients. If poor quality ingredients were used to make the food, the food will not improve in the manufacturing. Some manufacturers have strict quality control while others have little or none. If a manufacturer is checking neither the ingredients nor the end product created from them, the product may not be as nutritious. Other manufacturers test either the ingredients or the end product, and some test both.
To get an accurate comparison of foods, you should evaluate the food based on caloric density. If your pet must eat 2 cups a day to meet the recommended nutrient needs, but only eats 1 cup per day, health problems may ensue. In addition the price per meal may be more expensive than feeding 1 cup of a food that costs more per pound since you would be feeding half as much.
Your veterinarian can help you decide which food is best for your pet. There are many choices, even within manufacturers. We limit the number of brands sold through our web store, and it is still a daunting task to pick the right one for each individual pet. The various manufacturers have multiple varieties and flavors to choose from. All of our clients and patients are welcome to schedule an appointment for a nutrition consult. There is no charge for this service if your pet is a patient of ours.