Pet Nutrition – Something to Chew On

Anyone who has walked down the pet food aisle knows how daunting it can be to buy a good pet food. Pet owners are bombarded with so many marketing claims and misinformation, particularly from “experts” on the internet, that it can be hard to decipher what is true and what can harm pets.

Nutrition is very important for your pet- it is the basis of their immune system and life. It is also one of the most confusing parts of owning a pet for those who aren’t veterinarians, nutritionists and/or marketers. That’s because pet food is one of the fastest growing area in the pet industry and every pet food company wants to make their own pet food look better than their competitors. To do this, they can employ some sneaky tactics that most people don’t catch. While there are differences in quality, it is not necessarily obvious from the label, cost or marketing by the company. To top it off, the internet has taken on a life of it’s own with misinformation on pet food and most pet store staff are not trained well enough in animal nutrition, their information being based on the marketing material from the pet food companies.

In Canada, pet food is regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection agency and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act. These two government agencies regulate the ingredients used and how the packages are labelled, respectively. Along with these regulatory bodies, there is also the Pet Food Association of Canada, a voluntary association of manufacturers that follow the Association of American Feed Control Officials guidelines for pet food formulations.

The following are some frequently asked questions pet owners have about pet food.

• Are raw diets I make better than most pet foods available- This is a loaded question. Properly prepared home-diets are the equivalent to a commercial food because they use similar ingredients. Unfortunately, most recipes aren’t properly formulated and have mineral and vitamin deficiencies. They also usually have too much fat and can cause pancreatitis in pets. Raw meat is a food safety concern for Salmonella, E. Coli and Botulism. Even if your pet doesn’t show signs of food poisoning, you can be infected from the food and their feces.

• I heard that grains are bad for pets- While our pets can have food allergies and sensitivities, grains aren’t necessarily bad. Unless your pet has an allergy, grains are an important source of carbohydrates. A grain’s glycemic index is very important in preventing issues such as diabetes and obesity in pets. The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate is utilized by the body. To prevent obesity and diabetes, pets need food with lower glycemic index grains that are slowly utilized. Non-grains such as tapioca can be as damaging as grains because they have more simple sugars that don’t take long to be utilized by your pet.

• Do meat by-products contain hooves, hair and floor-sweepings- Legally, through the Consumer Labelling Act, by-products are simply the organs and meat that is considered unusable for human consumption simply because it isn’t commonly eaten by people or wouldn’t be appealing in a supermarket. If it was rendered from hooves, feathers and trimmings it has to be labelled as a meal which is heated to make it safe to eat but still has important minerals and energy.

• Is All-Natural pet food better than conventional?- This is another marketing ploy that can catch pet owners off-guard. While there are good foods out there that utilize organic sources to make a complete diet, some pet food companies have begun selling all-natural supplements that can be mistaken for properly balanced food. All-Natural foods cannot have synthesized minerals and vitamins. If you are looking at an all-natural food, the label needs to say that it conforms to AAFCO’s requirements for a complete diet, otherwise it may be deficient in vitamins or minerals.
For more information on pet food, visit the Pet Food Association of Canada (www.pfac.com). They also have a list of manufactures that are members and follow the Association of American Feed Control Officials guidelines for pet food formulations.

Dr. Ryan Ridgway
Southwest Mobile Pet Care