HAPPY NEW YEAR!
As we reflect on 2016 we can’t help but think about all the new furry friends we made, the wonderful new pet owners we met and the pet owners we got to see through the year who have become more like family to us at Westway Animal Clinic. At the same time, I’d like to take a moment to pay our respects to all the loved and treasured pets who said goodbye to their families in 2016, and wish their families well in this coming year.
After my last blog on pet food labels we received questions from people asking for specific tips in assessing their nutritional choices for their pets. SO, let’s bring in 2017 with a resolution to ensure each and every pet is on a food appropriate for them – something that will help them live long, healthy, happy lives!
As a proud AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) accredited practice, we take great pride in our standards of care and quality. AAHA is always there to help us stay at the leading edge of pet care and pet health by publishing standards for both pet owners and veterinary health care teams, to ensure easy and consistent guidelines are available.
The opening statement to the AAHA Nutritional Assessment guidelines reads:
“The American Animal Hospital Association recommends these nutritional-assessment guidelines because good nutrition enhances pets’ quality and quantity of life, and is integral to optimal animal care. Incorporating nutritional assessment into regular animal care is critical for maintaining pets’ health, as well as their response to disease and injury.”
So allow us to help you set your pet up for success in 2017 by using the below questions to decide if your food is right for your pet!
First, check the label. Look for the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement (usually located near the bottom of the ingredient list):
- Does the wording indicate the food is “complete and balanced” or does it say “intermittent or supplemental use only?” Unless it is a food used to treat a disease condition by your vet, you should only ever feed a food that is complete and balanced.
- Does the nutritional adequacy statement indicate the food is “formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO” (which means a chemical analysis) or “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate the food provides complete and balanced nutrition” (which means an appropriate feeding trial). It is always better to feed a food that has actually been fed in a controlled feeding trial to ensure it is safe and effective.
- Which life stage does the nutritional adequacy statement indicate the food is designed for? “Growth and reproduction,” “Adult maintenance” or “All life stages?” For whatever reason, AAFCO doesn’t regulate senior foods and does recognize “all life stage” (the criteria for “growth/reproduction” foods and “all life stage” are the same – these are not appropriate for most adult pets and definitely not safe for mature or geriatric pets).
- Can you easily find the caloric value per cup or can of the food? Does it indicate, with easy to read terminology and small ranges of weight categories, how much to feed your pet? It is important you know what the correct feeding amounts are so that your pet is not over, or under-fed. It is also important that the weight ranges are not so broad that you cannot easily figure out what your pet should be receiving. A benefit of higher calories per cup is that you have to feed less and bag will last longer. With weight loss foods, a benefit of lower calories per cup is you can feed a larger quantity without exceeding your pets’ caloric requirements.
Next, check in with the manufacturer (there is usually a toll-free number available on the bag) and ask them a few questions:
- Do you have a veterinary nutritionist (or equivalent) on staff in your company? Are they readily available for consultation or questions? This is very important should we ever have questions about the food as it relates to your pets’ health or individual needs.
- Who formulates your diets, and what are their credentials? The ingredients are not what make a “good” or “bad” food – it’s all about the recipe. Formulation of the diets is a critical step and must be done by people who understand pet nutrition and the ever-changing advancements in veterinary medicine as they relate to nutrition.
- Which of your diets are tested using AAFCO feeding trials, and which by nutritional analysis (formulation method)? As we stated earlier, a feeding trial is an important step in knowing if the food is effective and safe. You don’t want your pet to be the proverbial guinea pig for the company’s latest recipe.
- What specific quality control measures do you use to assure the consistency and quality of your product line? Every time a new batch of food is made it should be undergoing rigorous testing to ensure that between the ingredients, manufacturing and bagging/canning, nothing has gone wrong. You want to know that from bag to bag, can to can, you are getting a consistent product.
- Where are your diets produced and manufactured? Can this plant be visited? While we recognize they may not offer daily tours for anybody, it is important that they do not hide their processes. Many good companies regularly invite veterinarians and pet store employees to tour their facilities in a transparent manner. It is also important to know that the foods are being manufactured in consistent facilities and not out-sourced to various factories who may make hundreds of different types of food out of the same place for different companies. You can imagine how inconsistencies will arise under those conditions.
- Will you provide a complete product nutrient analysis of your best-selling dog and cat food, including digestibility values? Many foods share the bare minimum values on the labels themselves, making it next to impossible for us to ascertain whether or not the food is truly appropriately balanced. Even if not listed in entirety on the bag, the complete analysis should be made available, without fuss, when requested. There should be absolutely no reason to withhold this type of information.
- What is the caloric value per can or cup of the diet I am feeding? Important if you cannot find it on the bag/can… but also a big red flag if it is not already on the label!
- What kinds of research on your products has been conducted, and are the results published in peer reviewed journals? False claims are regularly made in the pet food world. Unfortunately, due to the lax restrictions on marketing, anybody can say just about anything. Claims of urinary health, joint support, weight loss etc. should have scientific evidence to corroborate that this particular food can make a specific claim. Many companies will design marketing pieces made to look like “a study” that are simply their own creation and have no real factual basis.
So…What do you think? We are committed to helping every pet get on an appropriate food because our team at Westway Animal Clinic has seen what good nutrition can do for our patients long-term. Remember, quality and cost do not go hand-in-hand when it comes to pet foods so don’t be fooled. There is a great food for every budget and every discerning taste! Don’t forget, we are always available to answer any questions you have so visit or call us today!