They say, ‘You are what you eat’, and that is as true for animals as it is for people. Poor or unbalanced nutrition is one of the most common reasons we see animals in the clinic. For example, obesity is a major issue with our pets, partially because we solidify our bond with our animals through food. Treats are fun ways to show our pets our affection, but many pets perceive attention such as a good chin scratch or back end pat are just as rewarding.
Less than 10% of an animal’s daily calorie should consist of treats. Since pets need to eat much less than us, many pets are consuming too many calories from their regular diet or from treats. Let us know the next time you visit the clinic for an estimate of the number of calories your pet should eat, based on their size, shape and body weight. Many people have seen the small displays in each exam rooms demonstrating that even one ounce of cheddar cheese for a 20 pound dog equates to the same number of calories as 2 ½ hamburgers (with all the fixings!) do for a person! It really is astounding how we can perceive a piece of food as being so small, “its just a teeny bit”, but it can really mean a lot of calories and weight gain!
Aside from obesity, a poor quality diet can lead to other important health conditions, such as: urinary tract stones, inflammation of the GI tract, pancreas, or gallbladder, diabetes, and skin infections. All conditions which may be prevented using good nutrition for our pets.
Reading pet food labels can be quite overwhelming and difficult.
It is very difficult to ascertain the quality of a diet based upon the ingredient list. This list merely tells us what is in the diet, not how the ingredients are balanced or the quality of the diet (or ingredients). A common misconception is that we should see a meat listed as the first ingredient. Meat should be weighed without it’s water content (water obviously makes it heavier and therefore higher on the ingredient list).
This is made to provide information regarding nutrient information. It indicates a minimum or maximum level of nutrients such as fat, protein and fiber. However, this guaranteed analysis is not an indication of actual nutrient content of the food! A minimum guarantee is the lowest amount of the nutrient the diet will contain, not the actual amount. Therefore it may say a minimum fat content of 10% but this does not mean this is the level of fat, it could have much more. On the flip side, it could say a product has maximum guarantee of 5% fiber but actually only contain 1%.
You should always be able to get the Actual Nutrient Analysis from any food company by calling the provided phone number listed on the bag. If a company cannot or will not provide this information, this sends up a red flag that this diet may be made from a variable formula. A variable formula diet can change depending on availability of ingredients, quality, cost of ingredients, supplier etc. This means that the diet you buy bag to bag can be very different.
There is no way to determine the true quality of a pet food by the simple ingredient list or even the guaranteed analysis. There can be two products that appear to have the same guaranteed analysis but vary significantly in nutrient levels and balance. Individual ingredients do not determine the quality of pet food. It is the nutritional value of the blended ingredients that determines the quality. Nutritional quality is not based upon the ingredient list, the presence or absence of certain ingredients or the guaranteed analysis.
NUTRITIONAL ADEQUACY STATEMENT:
This is the information that verifies the food provides complete and balanced nutrition for growing animals, pregnant or nursing mothers, adults or seniors-or it might say the product is nutritionally adequate for “all life stages”. We recommend caution with diets that are considered proper for “all life stages”. They may contain excessive levels of some nutrients adequate for young animals or pregnant and nursing animals (for example, higher carbohydrates or calcium) but make them inappropriate for adult and senior pets.
FORMULATED VS FEEDING TRIALS
This information is also listed on the bag of food, typically with the nutritional adequacy statement. AAFCO stands for Association for American Feed Control Officials- these standards are also recognized within Canada.
(This diet is formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of…. Or
Animal feeding trials substantiate this diet to meet the nutritional requirements of…)
This method is less expensive as no actual feeding or digestibility trials are performed. There is no guarantee of the animal accepting the food or nutrient bioavailability. (The diet is “formulated” on paper (like a recipe), produced and placed onto pet store shelves.
This method is typically known as the “Gold Standard” for determining nutritional adequacy. The food manufacturer has performed AAFCO protocol feeding trials for the specific group the diet is made for. It is the best way to determine how a pet will perform and react when fed a specific food. (For example, specialized diets such a urinary or allergy diets)
You can check www.petfoodnutrition.com for information as well. This is a wonderful site, monitored by veterinarians and nutritionists, which has great information. It helps to dispel some of the myths and questions surrounding pet food and how we feed our animals.
There is a vast amount of information regarding pet nutrition, and we have just touched upon the tip of the iceberg (woah!). We hope this little bit will help the next time you are staring at the giant wall of pet food and wondering which direction to take! If you have any questions about nutrition for your specific animal, feel free to contact us and we can give you a recommendation best suited for them.
Dr Kimberley Quinn and the staff at South Windsor Animal Hospital