[polldaddy poll=5670035]by Sandy Gregory, M Ed, RVT, CCRA
Adapted from the October 2011 issue of Critter Communique, courtesy of the Foothill College Veterinary Technology Program.
Humans have had a long history of companionship with dogs and cats. As time has evolved, so has that bond. One of the forms that bond has taken is the care and concern for proper nutrition for the beloved family dog, and advances in food science have extended and enriched the lives of our compation animals. Today there are so many choices for the best dog snack, food, and even dietary supplements, that selecting one for your dog can be overwhelming. There are foods that are advertised for better skin, stronger joints, weight loss, and better memory; there are also foods that promise to be more palatable for pets, that look good enough for humans to eat, and that are more widely available through pet stores. The consumer can easily get lost in all the options for his or her pet.
To help pet owners make the right choice for their pets, there are two sets of nutritional profiles that have been established as the basis for regulation of dog food in the United States: Adult Maintenance and Growth and Reproduction. Anything other than this has no legal mandate for specific nutritional levels.
The consumer, however, should not rely on government standards to dictate his or her dog’s food. A basic understanding of nutrition is most helpful when deciding on your dog’s nutritional needs. The consumer should keep in mind the dog’s specific needs (age, weight, etc.), the ingredients, and how well the dog ingests those ingredients (avoiding a food that has corn as an ingredient when the dog is allergic to corn, for example). It can be a science all by itself.
The listing of ingredients in commercial pet foods is not random; they are listed by weight in descending order. The ingredients are governed by American Association of Feed Control Models, or AAFCO, model regulations. Further to those regulations, every ingredient in that product also needs to be recognized by the FDA and be approved by AAFCO. It is important to read the list of ingredients and know what is in your pet food.
The first two ingredients should be a whole protein, such as chicken, lamb, or beef. The third and fourth ingredients might be a vegetable or whole grain source, such as brown rice, but the consumer should be careful that it is not corn filler. Lastly, you have the bulk of the food. The sources for this might be corn, rice, or wheat. Sometimes you might see barley or sorghum, and even gluten for thickener.
It is just best to stay away from foods that list meat by-products as ingredients. If the dog’s dietary restrictions leave no choice but to feed a food with by-products, at least choose a food that lists the specific source of the by-product. For example, “chicken by-product” is not a great protein source, but it’s better quality than “meat by-product,” which is a mix of feet, feathers, beaks, hooves, hair, tumors, and other low quality products made into a meat mix.
When looking at the preservatives in dog food, look for foods preserved with vitamin E and vitamin C, sometimes labeled as “mixed tocopherols.” Avoid foods with BHA, BHT, or other chemical preservatives.
These are some of the many examples of ingredients consumers will find in many commercial pet foods. It is important to look at the label and not always trust what picture is on the front of the bag or the can. Since the company wants to sell food, it will whet your palate with inviting photographs. And some of the ingredients advertised might include things like berries, fruit, and herbs, but while they sound good to you, those ingredients may be in such a small amounts that their benefits are negligible.
So, do your research. Knowing and understanding good pet nutrition and food labels will help to extend the life of your pet. There are many resources out there to aid your research, including AAFCO (http://www.aafco.org), the American Pet Products Association (http://www.americanpetproducts.org), and the Pet Food Institute (http://petfoodinstitute.org). Bon appetit!
Sandy Gregory has a Master’s degree in Exercise Science and specializes in pet nutrition and weight management. A Registered Veterinary Technician and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Assistant, she works as a physical rehabilitation therapist at Scout’s House and as an Instructor at the Foothill College Veterinary Technology Program.