Guess the number one question I am asked in my office. Think about it. Something you do for your pet every single day, all it’s life. You feed it, of course. So the number one question I get is… “what’s the best food to feed my pet?”. My clients LOVE their pets. They want to feed them THE BEST and they want them to live forever. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of information flying around lately, specifically about dog food. I’ve been avoiding writing about this because, frankly, it’s HARD. There’s so much information out there. There’s so many strong opinions. And there’s all this data that is just now being collected. And then there’s the pain in the butt issues of CORRELATION and CAUSE AND EFFECT data. Ugh!
But it’s time to address some of the most recent issues. Many of you smarty pants owners are already asking in your office visits and it’s time to stop pussy footing (ha) around the issue. Because they are affecting the lives of our dogs. This past year there was an FDA warning about some specific diets being linked to the development of cardiac disease in dogs. These diets were correlated with the development of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) and dogs are dying from it. An excerpt from the FDA statement:
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting pet owners and veterinary professionals about reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients. These reports are unusual because DCM is occurring in breeds not typically genetically prone to the disease. The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine and the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network, a collaboration of government and veterinary diagnostic laboratories, are investigating this potential association…”.
The issue is being investigated, but at this time there is a strong suspicion that diets that are potato or legume based (meaning, “Grain Free”), are of an unusual protein source, or are considered boutique-types of small batch foods may play a roll.
What we know is that no matter how “high quality” the food you feed, the tested nutritional content is what matters. Your dog does not need a keto-diet. The current Grain-Free fad that has taken over the dog food market is a reflection of current human dietary trends. Yes, there is the rare case of diet intolerances in our pets, but for the most part, if you dog has no health issues, he or she should be eating an all-inclusive, broad ingredient diet.
Most importantly, that diet should meet nutritional standards. Many of us assume because we are paying a lot of money for a “high quality” or “organic” dog food and our local pet store is recommending it, that the food in question has been tested and is adequate in it’s nutrition (if not better). The fact is that the majority of dog foods are NOT tested. Many foods follow AAFCO guidelines and are thus “compliant”, but few actually undergo feeding trials, or even employ veterinary nutritionists. The costs involved in maintaining a veterinary nutritionist and running these feeding trials is substantial, so many of our small batch foods simply can’t tolerate the costs involved in actual testing.
So what do we recommend? I am loathe to name specific brands at the risk of sounding like a sales person. I’ll dance around it like crazy in the office if you try to pin my down. Which is silly. This IS my job, afterall. So talk to us. I would encourage every dog owner to talk to their veterinarian about diet, but also to do their homework. Google, check out websites, and call the contact numbers for your pet food company (they are required to list those phone numbers). Find out how many veterinary nutritionists they employ. What food trials did they actually conduct (and what was the sample size). Was it for nutrition or just palatablility? Most importantly, do they meet AAFCO (see below) standards? What I would NOT do is believe the hype. Don’t fall for pretty packaging with wolves running through the woods, or words like “natural”, “holistic”, “single protein source”, and “organic”. Don’t look to the average pet store employee to guide you through these complexities (are they nutritionists? Did they go to vet school?), and don’t project our paleo obsession on your pet.
I did a little Google myself. I plugged in “what pet food companies have veterinary nutritionists” and “pet food companies that conduct feeding trials”, etc. The answers were a little shocking. I also found this really great article from Tufts summing up how to chose your food. Check it out:
This is one excerpt from the article I found pretty helpful. Stop reading the ingredient list first (I’m guilty of this too!). Start with the AAFCO statement:
“Instead of starting with the less-than-useful ingredient list to make a decision on pet food, go to the two most useful pieces of information on a pet food label. One of these is the “Nutritional Adequacy statement.” This may also be called the “AAFCO statement” because it is based on the nutritional profiles that that the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) publishes annually.
All pet foods sold across state lines must print one of three statements clearly on the package. These statements answer these important questions:
- Does the diet contain all the essential nutrients that a pet needs?
- How that was determined?
- For which age or life stage is the diet appropriate?
Pull out your pet’s food and look for the statement on the label. These statements are typically written in very small font on the back of the bag or can (or on the side in the fold). They may be difficult to find. It’s worth looking for, though, as this little bit of information can be really valuable. It should look like one of the following:
- Product X is formulated to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles for Y species and Z life stage. Life stages include “maintenance,” or “growth and reproduction,” which is frequently called “all life stages”. All life stages means it meets growth/reproduction requirements in which case it will automatically meet adult requirements because a puppy or kitten has higher calorie and nutrient requirements than do adults.
- Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Product X provides complete and balanced nutrition for Y species, and Z life stage. Life stages for feeding tests include “maintenance,” “growth,” “gestation and lactation” (pregnancy and nursing), or “all life stages.” (The latter means they’ve done feeding trials for both gestation and growth.)
- This product is intended for intermittent and supplemental feeding only.
If your pet’s label had one of the first two examples, good news, it’s nutritionally complete and balanced. However, if your label had the third statement then that food is not meeting all of your dog’s nutritional needs. The one exception to this is if your pet is eating a veterinary diet used to manage a medical condition. Some of these veterinary diets are specifically designed this way to help manage a medical condition. However, for diets purchased over-the-counter, you definitely want it to have all the nutrients your dog or cat needs to stay healthy.
Remember this caveat, though: if the food is complete and balanced—examples 1 and 2 above—that means that it is supposed to contain minimum levels of all the nutrients that a normal, healthy pet requires (and avoids going over any maximums). It does not guarantee that the company actually tested the final product to be sure that it still had those levels (we’ve tested numerous pet foods from stores that do not meet AAFCO minimums). This is why it’s so important to use a food made by a manufacturer with the highest nutritional expertise and the most stringent quality control measures – not just one with good marketing.”
So that’s it folks. Next time you’re gazing down the aisle at the beautiful bags of food, consider how you’re choosing the nutrition your dog eats every single day. And be sure to talk to us. We’ll keep you posted as the data comes together, and we can help guide you through these challenging issues.