Basics To Choosing A Pet Food

Over the last 3-5 years the food industry for pets has really changed and grown. Now when you walk into the pet store there are over 3 aisles of dog food alone and another 1-2 aisles for cats. These foods vary in protein source, carbohydrate source, supplements, and additives, and in general provide a complete and balanced meal for your pet. So how do you choose between these foods and not fall prey to all the marketing gimmicks pet food companies are employing these days? Some people rely on long standing brand names, some look at number of recalled products a brand has had, some go purely based on the listed flavor profile on the bag. No matter the brand or food style you choose, there are some important things to look for on the bag to determine if that product is safe to feed long term.

  1. AAFCO statement – Association of American Feed Control Officials is a non-profit organization that sets standards for feed and pet food in the US. If a pet food has been properly formulated they will have a statement near the ingredient list which states one of the following:
    • a. “(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO (species) Food Nutrient Profiles for (life stage).” This indicates the food has been laboratory tested or formulated to meet the recommended nutrient profiles.
    • b. “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition for (life stage).” This indicates a food trial has been done to prove the food meets the recommended nutrient profiles.
  2. Life Stage – Within the AAFCO statement, there will be an approved life stage. This is either adult maintenance, growth and reproduction, or all life stages (both adult maintenance and growth and reproduction). As you can imagine, the recommended fat content, calcium content, and other nutrients are often much different for growing puppies and adult dogs or kittens and cats. It is important to choose a food that is labeled (on the AAFCO label, not the food brand name) for the appropriate life stage of your pet. For example, feeding a growth or all life stages food to a sedentary older dog may result in weight gain and obesity, even if they are feed the recommended amount listed on the side of the bag.

As long as you have found the AAFCO statement, and chosen a product appropriate for your pet’s life stage, you should be safe feeding that product. The other things to consider are cost of the pet food, size of the kibble (for our smaller pets), or moisture content of the food. Some foods, like some Purina Pro Plan foods, are semi-moist, meaning they have more moisture in them than a typical dry dog food but less than canned food. These may be better for pets that do not drink as much at home but owners want to stick with a dry dog food.

While we are talking about marketing gimmicks, I want to address one big one. There is a current fad leaning away from grain in dog foods. The canine small intestinal tract has adapted and evolved as the canine has evolved from its wolf ancestor. Most dogs tolerate grains without a problem. In one study, only 13% of food allergic dogs were allergic to grains, where over 60% of food allergic dogs were allergic to some form of protein. The current push towards expensive grain-free dog foods seems to be more marketing in nature rather than based in science.

As always, if you ever have any questions about the food you are feeding your pet, please consult your veterinarian. Be sure to bring in the bag or send a photo of the bag to your veterinarian so they will be better informed about the product in question. Pets who are established patients with Falconbridge Animal Hospital and Village Veterinary Hospital are welcome to make an appointment for a complementary nutrition consult.

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