There is more choice in pet food brands, flavors and ingredients that any other time in history. A person walking into a large retail pet store is literally bombarded with so much choice of pet foods that it can be overwhelming. Making things more complicated, pet owners are bombarded with more information and misinformation than ever before in the age of the internet and social media. On top of that, every one is now an expert, from your breeder or groomer, to the 17 year old shelf stocking boy at the pet store.
Because nutrition is such an important foundation for health, I implore you to not ignore the one real expert in all this: your veterinarian. Not only were we trained in general animal and clinical nutrition in veterinary school, we have access to all manner of advancements in animal nutrition via continuing education. We also have important insights into the pet food industry that even part time pet store boy may not be privy to.
A pet food label stating “Natural” or “All Natural” is nearly meaningless merely signifying the absence of one particular dye and two preservatives. All other dyes, preservatives, and animal byproducts are fine under this label (byproducts are not necessarily a bad thing, but explaining that would entail an entire additional post). Any labels containing “Holistic” or “Homeopathic” are completely meaningless, as there are zero criteria for such designations in pet foods.
Grain free diets are the new rage now making up 46% of market share in the pet food industry. They tend to be expensive yet still offer zero evidence that they make pets any healthier. In fact the opposite may be true with the FDA investigating unusual spikes in heart disease in dogs exclusively fed grain free diets. In practice, I commonly see grain free diets cause chronic soft stools or outright diarrhea.
So how does one sift through all of the choices and “opinions?” I am not a cheerleader for any one brand of food, but a good starting point are three basic criteria that any pet food should meet for pet owners to even consider feeding it to their pets. You will note that they are common sense really.
1.) Feeding trials
Feeding trails and the monitoring of a diet’s effect on short and long term health, growth, life span, etc. before going to market is basic research any pet food company should engage in.
2.) Having at least one veterinary clinical nutritionist on staff
A veterinary clinical nutritionist will provide nutrient guidelines that go into any one diet based on the physiology of individual species, size, and recently, even breeds of pets. They will also supervise the results of the feeding trials via the interpretation of stool quality, regular blood and urine testing, physical examination and imaging.
3.) Certification by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)
AAFCO is a voluntary certification and not required by law. When a pet food company volunteers to be audited for AAFCO minimum standards, they are telling the world that they had an unbiased third party inspect their food. While it is not as impressive as many vets would like it to be, AAFCO certification remains a base criteria for selecting a pet food.
So…of all of those pet food brands that you see in the pet store and online, how many to you think fulfill all three of these criteria? Ready to be blown away? 3!
That’s it folks! At least the next time you walk into a pet store, you will be able to take a lot less time browsing!
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a globally recognized expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.