It’s important that you feel confident and at ease with the food you give your furry pet. This includes knowing the source of your pet’s food and being able to ask them questions.
Asking the right question is a great way of determining if a pet foods company is honest and transparent, says Dr. Tony Buffington.
But what questions should you be asking? Here are 10 questions approved and recommended by the American Animal Hospital Association. These will help you narrow down your choices for pet food so that you can find the best one.
1. Do you employ a veterinary nutritionalist or an equivalent?
“A veterinary nutritionist–especially a board-certified veterinary nutritionist–is someone who has extra (and special) training in formulating pet foods,” says Dr. Joseph Bartges, DVM, PhD, and Professor of Medicine and Nutrition at the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
It is vital that someone with a solid background is involved in the development of food for dogs and cats.
2. Who creates your diet and what credentials do they have?
This question might seem very similar to the first, but it lets you find out who actually developed the food. The brand may have a veterinary nutritionalist on staff. However, is this person involved in formulating the food?
“I believe that this question is the most important,” Dr. Ashley Gallagher DVM.
Pet food producers should have a veterinary nutritionalist (or someone who is trained in what cats or dogs require) on staff.
3. Do they have experts who can answer questions?
Dr. Bartges states that experts should be available for questions on diet. This is even possible via email. “This allows pet owners to ask questions and verify that a nutritionist is involved.
While there might be a cost to this process as it takes more time to answer questions from pet owners, most pet food company are reputable and offer this option even if the product is not advertised.
4. Which of your diets have been tested using AAFCO feed trials, and which were tested using nutrient analysis
There are two ways to test pet food
Nutrient analysis: It is a requirement that pet food diet ingredients are analyzed and compared with the AAFCO profiles.
Association of American Feed Control Officials. Feeding trials
AAFCO’s feeding trials are the gold standard. This is because, while diets may appear to be good on paper, there is no way to know if they are actually palatable when being fed to a real cat or dog.
Dr. Buffington explains that there are upsides to the decision of manufacturers to conduct feeding tests. This may reflect the company’s commitment in producing quality foods.
Be aware that pet food companies often don’t conduct feeding trials because they’re the most expensive way of testing foods.
Do you know if your pet food manufacturer offers feeding trials for its products? It is easy to check the nutrition statement on pet food labels, which can be found under the Guaranteed analysis chart. Here’s one example:
“Animal feeding studies using AAFCO procedures support that (Named Food) provides balanced nutrition for maintenance.”
5. What quality-control procedures do you use in order to guarantee consistency and quality?
Dr. Bartges explains that “a company should be capable of describing their quality control measures, and providing proof of quality if requested.”
This includes the separation of raw ingredients and cooked products to ensure cross-contamination. To avoid allergen or pathogen contamination, you must ensure strict control over the ingredients. A diet that claims to be gluten-free isn’t good for dogs with allergies, such as soy contamination.
Also, inquire about how recalls and food testing are handled during the manufacturing process. Safety is always a priority. Companies will test the food for potential contaminants and then wait for results before releasing it to retail outlets.
6. How are your diets manufactured and produced?
A product that’s co-manufactured–meaning a third-party plant makes food for the company–may have less ingredient control and be more prone to contamination and other issues. These third-party plant may also produce food products for other companies, which may contain other species.
Dr. Gallagher advises that you check whether the meat came from USDA-inspected factories.
Larger manufacturers might be able offer more safety and quality controls because they own their facilities. They also have more consistent and high-quality ingredients.
7. Can you visit the petfood plant?
Dr. Bartges said that it’s always an eye-opening opportunity to visit the facility where your pet food is made. Visit local manufacturers if possible. This is one way to get more information from pet food companies.
8. Can you provide a full product nutrient evaluation of your most popular dog and cat foods, including digestibility?
This is a lot more information than what you see on the pet food label. Dr. Bartges said that if a company doesn’t have the information or won’t share it, then it would be worth looking into other diets.
Every pet food label must contain a Guaranteed analysis chart to help pet parents understand the product’s nutritional contents. Guarantees must be provided for the minimum amount of crude protein and crude oil, as well as the maximum amount of crude fiber or moisture.
While the Guaranteed Analysis cannot list all nutrients or indicate how easy they are to digest, manufacturers should be able provide this information on request. For example, the full listing of nutrients may include the amount calcium, phosphorus, vitamins A and C, E; vitamin V, C, and D; omega fatty acid; taurine, etc.
9. What is your daily caloric intake per can or cup?
Caloric values are a key element in maintaining your pet’s trim figure. On the bag, can or container of food, you will see the caloric content listed as kcal Me/kg or kcal Me/cup.
It’s rare for this information to be absent from pet food packaging.
Dr. Bartges explained that if a person calling you can’t provide this information, then I would look elsewhere.
10. What research has been done on your products and were the results published by peer-reviewed journals.
It is a benefit if a petfood manufacturer has published food tests or scientific research. These tests are costly and time-consuming.
Dr. Bartges states that it is possible to find information on life stage diets as well as therapeutic diets for managing diseases, so don’t worry if you are not able to.