FOOD IS THE MOST IMPORTANT HEALTHCARE DECISION a pet owner has complete control over. Veterinarians in Markham will tell you: What you feed will influence the health of your pet.
But HOW can you tell whether a pet food is the right food for your pet?
Let’s take a little quiz. Please answer yes or no if you rely on any of these methods to choose your pet’s food:
- Photos (pictures of healthy ingredients)?
- Claims (like holistic, wellness, balanced, natural, etc.)?
- Organic (is it better than non organic?)
- Breed claims (Poodle food versus Terrier food)?
- List of ingredients (i.e. chicken listed first)?
- Amount of Protein (more is better?)
- Exclusion of one ingredient (i.e. no wheat)?
- Recommendation by sales person in store?
- Expensive food is proof for better quality?
- Lifestage Claims (adult dog food versus puppy food)?
If you answered “Yes” to any of the questions above, please read on:
Unfortunately all the criteria above are quite useless in making a knowledgeable decision.
- Photos: Pictures of healthy ingredients, happy pets, etc. don’t mean anything. This reminds me of the SUV ads showing a car driving up a steep ski hill. Happy chickens and blueberries on a pasture don’t mean the chickens in the bag came from there, just as the SUV in the ad may not really be able to navigate the terrain it is shown driving in.
- Claims like “holistic, wellness, natural, premium” etc. are not regulated and anyone can and will say that in order to sell their product.
- Organic: is a regulated term and the food and its processing has to be certified organic, however, organic ingredients do not mean better quality or nutrition. There are a lot of merits to organic production, but nutritionally speaking there is little difference.
- Breed claims: Most breeds have similar nutrient requirements and a “German Shepherd Diet” claims to have joint support supplements, which a “Golden Retriever Diet” also has. We recognize a difference in the nutritional needs of small breeds versus larger growing breeds, but a Maltese and a Yorkshire Terrier’s requirements are not different.
- First ingredient: Ingredients are listed in order of weight when added into the food. However some ingredients contain a lot of water and skew the order. If you add whole chicken and corn meal, the chicken has 75-80% water while the corn meal about 12%. Chicken would be listed first, corn meal second. However, if you would dry all the ingredients to eliminate the water, the same food would have chicken in the second or third position.
- Amount of Protein: High protein diets, (some foods have over 50% protein), come from the myth that our pets are exclusively carnivores. Indeed too much protein may harm the kidneys. There are clear researched guidelines about how much protein a dog or cat needs. Any excess is not necessary.
- Exclusion of one ingredient: Wheat free is only a benefit if the animal is allergic to gluten (the protein portion of wheat) – which most animals are not. Wheat is a good and healthy nutrient for most animals. The same applies to other ingredients.
- Recommendations by pet store sales staff. There is a natural conflict of interest.
- High Price implies good quality, but it does not prove it. In reverse, really low priced food cannot be good quality. Good ingredients cost money.
- Lifestage Claims: Most foods have contradicting life stage claims: A bag marked “Adult Dog Food” may disclose in the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement that it is for “All Lifestages” and therefore is also suitable as puppy food and too nutrient dense for adult dogs. For more on AAFCO go to their website: http://www.petfood.aafco.org/caloriecontent.aspx
So, how to can you choose a diet / brand that is good for your pet?
– Best are foods that have been independently tested by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) by performing a feeding trial. Many pet food companies have some (please note SOME) of their foods tested, while most companies do not. You can check on each package whether the food has been feeding trial tested. The information is usually in fine print close to the Guaranteed Analysis. For more information go to http://www.petfood.aafco.org/caloriecontent.aspx.
– Be weary of diets that are only “formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO … food nutrient profiles”. Even if the nutrients look good on paper, they were not proven in a real life setting. This reminds me of cars “engineered to withstand an impact” compared to vehicles that are actually crash-tested.
– Can you tell who the manufactuer is? Is the brand “Made by…” or “Made for…”? Relabeled products are made for … and you have no clue who made the food.
– Is there contact information (1-800 number) for the manufacturer?
– Is the diet for ALL life stages or is it specially formulated for a certain age group. Many adult diets for instance are “all life stage formulations”, meaning the nutrient level could be too high for a mature pet. Read the label. It will say “(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for ________.” (Blank is to be completed by using the stage or stages of the pet’s life such as gestation, lactation, growth, maintenance, or the words “All Life Stages.”)
We have done the work for you. Most of the foods we recommend have been tested. However some foods, like weight loss diets, would not pass the test and are therefore never tested by AAFCO. We carry only diets we feel comfortable recommending.
Dr Marsig, veterinarian in Markham
Compassionate Advanced Health Care for a Long and Happy Life of ALL Your Pets.
For further reading you may read: http://www.dogfoodproject.com/index.php?page=labelinfo101
Disclaimer: No part of this website constitutes medical advice. Readers are advised to consult with their veterinarian.