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This holiday season many of us will focus on the wonderful foods and tastes of the season. Our pets, of course, may get into the spirit and share some special treats with us. Always in moderation, and never too fatty or sugary, please! With that in mind, the holiday season seems a perfect time to discuss pet foods and what pet owners should look for when trying to find the best food available to provide daily nutrition for their beloved pets.

Pets require different nutritional needs for different times of their lives. Growing pets, active working dogs or elderly pets all require a different nutrient balance to support growth and maintain health. Pets with certain diseases such as renal disease or liver disease have different requirements than healthy pets. A pet food manufacturer needs to have the expertise on hand to help meet the nutritional needs of the pets consuming their food.

There are many buzzwords today surrounding pet foods from grain-free to natural and holistic. Purchasing a diet that professes to be all of the above, can make a pet owner feel great to know they are doing the “best” for their pet. However, buzz words printed on attractive packaging do not guarantee your pet receives adequate nutrition from that food.

Important things to look for in any food you are purchasing for your pet starts with knowing who is helping the company formulate a food. A good pet food company has veterinary nutritionists on staff. These specialists in veterinary nutrition may be diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition or specialists with a Ph.D. in animal nutrition. Some companies hire nutritionists who work full time on staff, while others simply consult with specialists. Regardless, it is of utmost importance to your pet to have these professionals involved in the creation of the food your pet is eating.

After formulating a diet, procuring high-quality ingredients is important. A properly formulated diet may not contain the nutrients it purports to if the quality of the ingredients has not been validated. Serious pet food companies will inspect each ingredient and run quality control tests before even allowing a shipment to be used in their food. Quality control assesses for the presence of contaminants, metals, insects, toxins, and harmful bacteria. It also evaluates the nutritional claims of each ingredient, for example verifying protein content, mineral content, etc of raw materials. After verifying the quality of ingredients, quality food companies will employ food scientists to help make sure the process of cooking, extruding and packaging the ingredients does not alter or diminish the nutrient content of the food.

Dog and cat eating dry food in bowls.From a packaging standpoint, one of the most important parts of reading a food label to help determine the appropriateness of a food includes determining if an AAFCO statement is present on the bag of food. From their website, AAFCO is “The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies. Our members are charged by their local, state or federal laws to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies.” Pet food manufacturers adhering to AAFCO guidelines for formulation adhere to a higher standard than those not voluntarily adhering to the guidelines. Ideally, a pet food label should state the food is adhering to AAFCO requirements for both formulation and testing. By testing the food, you may be assured a particular food continues to hold up to vigorous nutritional standards even after cooking, extruding and packaging the food. Feeding trials are conducted whereby pet foods are fed to pets to ensure they do provide the nutrients needed to maintain the health and well-being of a given age group of pets.

We hope these simple guidelines will provide some assistance when you wade through the seemingly limitless choices for pet food available in stores and online. Calling or visiting the company website to determine if nutritionists are part of the staff, and closely reading labels to make sure a food meets AAFCO formulation and testing standards are imperative in wading through the hype to ensure you are feeding the best food you can find for your best friends. Please call our office if you need further assistance or have other questions.