It can be challenging for caregivers to know whether they are making the right food choice for their canine and feline companions, which is why I’ve made a list of what I consider the top 4 questions you should have for any food or treat you even consider feeding. Some of these questions can be answered by perusing the pet food label, while others require a call or email to the company. Either way, it is important for dog and cat caregivers to become familiar with whatever food they decide to feed.
#1: Is the food completed and balanced for the given life-stage?
- Growing animals should be fed diets that support growth and adult animals should be fed diets intended for maintenance. This doesn’t mean that the diet must be a commercial kibble or canned, just that their diet should provides all of the essential building blocks to help them grow normally and have a long happy life.
#2: Who developed the diet?
- Ideally the diet formula would be developed by someone with both an understanding of the basic nutritional needs of dogs and cats as well as food science. For example, the high temperature and pressure required of canned food production will degrade the water-soluble vitamins irrespective of whether those ingredient are considered “natural” or not. This vitamin loss must be accounted for pre-production and monitored for post-production otherwise dogs and cats will get very sick. Most veterinarians have received some training in the nutrient requirements for health and disease, but have had no formal training in diet formulation or how to manufacture pet foods. The exception would be a veterinarian that has undergone additional food science or nutrition science training at a graduate level (Master’s or PhD). I think it is safe to assume that breeders, trainers, celebrity personalities, and savvy marketers have less nutrition training than Veterinarian Nutritionists.
#3: Who makes the diet?
- Do they make their own food or just provide the label? Is it a subsidiary of a large corporation or an independent company? Companies that own the manufacturing equipment or are part of a larger organization (or both) are more likely to have internal checks and balances in place to help prevent production errors and ensure food safety and quality. Smaller companies and those that outsource manufacturing may be doing this as well, but many of them do not have the resources to monitor production lines or raw materials. But these generalities don’t always hold true. I’ve come across large manufacturing companies that don’t conduct any post production testing and smaller companies that outsource manufacturing, but conduct their own independent quality and safety checks. The only way to know what a particular company does may be to call and ask.
#4: Is it safe for you and your pet?
- Feeding raw meat diets, whether prepared at home or purchased from a veterinarian or a pet supply store, will increase your household’s risk of exposure to pathogenic bacteria, such as Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, and Listeria. Yes, there have been recalls for Salmonella contamination in dry pet foods, but this is still a lower percentage than the bacterial counts on raw meat products.
I want pet owners to be informed guardians and make the best decisions for their furry companions.
Lisa P. Weeth, DVM, MRCVS, DACVN