When you go to the store to buy food for your pet, how do you know which one to choose? Most people pick the food depending on advertising, not nutrition and research. The companies are very good at convincing owners that their food is the best. They do it with fancy commercials and pictures of wolfs on their food. “Well, if it’s good enough for a wolf, it must be good for my little Chihuahua!” Another thought is usually: “The food is expensive, so it must be good.” Not always the case! You have to pay for that company to use those commercials to convince you their food is the best way to preserve your companion’s life. There are a few misconceptions out there that I will go through and discuss what I feel is important when it comes picking food for your fur babies.
1- AAFCO Statement
Association of America Feed Control Officials or AAFCO. This is an organization that establishes the nutritional standards in the states. These standards ensure the pet foods are balanced with the minimum nutritional requirements. There is one of two statements that are going to be on every bag of food you buy from the store. One statement is like the picture: “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (brand name) provides complete and balanced nutrition for the maintenance of (age and species),” the other option is to say “(Name of food) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO (cat or dog) Food Nutrient Profiles for the maintenance of adult (cats or dogs).” Either of these two statements are required to be on the bag. They are usually located near the “Guaranteed Analysis.” This guaranteed analysis is the part of the bag that tells you how much protein and fat are in the food. Now, I prefer to see the statement that is pictured up top as opposed to the other statement. The feeding trials are important to me because that tells me the company is at least feeding it to some animals to make sure they do well on it. Just because a food product meets the minimum established by AAFCO, doesn’t mean it will agree with your pet’s stomach. The feeding trials tell you the majority of the animals didn’t have blow out diarrhea from the food, so you should be good to try your pet on it. ANYONE can make food. I could make food out in my back yard and sell it to you as the highest quality food out there, as long as it meets the minimum. Without those feeding trials, I would essentially be experimenting with your pets to see how they did on the food. So, for me, feeding trials are the most important part of picking a food.
2- Contact Information
Each food company should have contact information. This is usually going to be a 1-800 number. This is important because you need to know if there are questions you have about the food that somebody will be there to answer them. These questions may be along the lines of “how much phosphorus is there in the food,” or “how digestible is the diet?” The question of how digestible is the diet is also important to me. This is essentially how much of the food is the pet using and how much is being pooped out! I would prefer a diet to be above 80 % digestible. This also means if you pick a higher quality diet, the stool will not be as bulky as you are used to. The stool should be the consistency of soft serve ice cream (ew). If these questions can not be answered, then we need to search for another food.
There has been a lot about ingredients in advertising lately. They all say corn is bad, by-products are bad, wheat is bad! These ingredients are not as bad as some companies are saying. They say corn has no nutrients, by-products include feathers and poop, and animals are allergic to wheat. Corn has vitamins and minerals in the main piece, not the shell that gets passed through. By-products include the clean part of the carcass. These include the organs such as liver, heart, and lung. They do not include feathers and poop as some people protest. By-products are not bad for your pets. If they were hunting in the wild, they would not ignore the heart and liver and just eat the thigh! So I would not get too hung up on these three products if you are looking at a good company. If a company meets my other standards, I don’t worry as much about the corn, wheat and by-products. Lastly the allergens. Yes, some animals are allergic to wheat! They are also allergic to chicken, milk, beef, and fish! Some pets are allergic to much more, these are just the most common allergens. So, simply removing corn will usually not cure a food allergic animal. Food allergies is much more complex. I will save that for another installment.
Most people are starting to catch on to how the ingredients are listed. Whatever weighs the most, gets pushed up to the top. Since it weighs the most, we want Chicken up top, right? Well, sure, the company is weighing that chicken and then adding it to the mix. But if you have a chicken sitting on the scale, what else are you weighing? That chicken sitting there has a lot of water in the muscle still. Water can weigh quite a lot. So, just because the first ingredient is Chicken, doesn’t mean chicken meat is the most product in that bag. If that first ingredient is a meat “meal,” then that means that meat is ground down to a small size. This small size ensures they are not weighing water which is making the product heavier. When the bag says “chicken meal,” or “beef meal” first, you can be sure the protein from that meat is the highest weight ingredient.
4- Which To Choose?!
So, with so many pet foods out there, which one do you choose? As always, I try to keep things simple. There are two choices for me that I recommend. The first is a veterinary exclusive product. *GASP* “Veterinary exclusive, so you just recommend it to make money for you?!” Believe it or not, practitioners don’t make much money off food. We make enough to cover our costs to have it in the clinic. It does not have a very high mark up. I would just prefer that it is me, or a veterinarian, educating you about food. There is a lot of mis-information that is being passed around by specialty pet stores. So, anyway, the first food is called iVet. It is overall a great company with lots of good things about it! They own their own manufacturing plant, the food doesn’t leave the warehouse until the lab says it is clear of contaminants, and they have AAFCO feeding trials. It is a company I feel very comfortable with. Plus there are not 50 different formulas to choose from, so making a choice is very simple.
The next brand I prefer is higher-end Purina. Purina has the most research when it comes to dog food. You can be confident if they are selling it, they know it is a good formula for your pet. Now, I don’t recommend Dog Chow just because it is their cheapest food and it will be made with a little cheaper ingredients. The higher-end I like is going to be Pro Plan and Natural Selects.
I am not a fan of the foods at the front of the specialty stores. Basically opposite of what the specialty stores recommend. They don’t have feeding trials or research with the food and they bump up the price so you will think it’s great because of the price. I would much prefer to see you spend the money elsewhere.
I know this is a lot of information! There is even more that could be covered but I feel these are the important parts to help when choosing a food.