“New” Isn’t Always Nutritious For Your Pet

Choosing good, nutritional food for your pet can feel overwhelming. According to the Dog Food Advisor, which has reviewed 950 dog foods, there are now more than 2,200 varieties of pet foods currently offered in the American marketplace! That’s a far cry from when James Spratt created the first dog biscuit in England in 1860. Add to that the current trends of gluten-free or raw food diets and figuring out what is best for your pet can be more confusing than ever.

All pet food is required to have two main sections, the principal display panel and the information panel, which is just like the nutritional information for human food. The display panel must have the name of the food, the species it is designed for, and the net weight of product. This sounds simple, but terminology gets confusing when you see phrases that have legal requirements associated with them. For example, the words “chicken for cats” must have 70% chicken whereas “chicken entrée” is at least 25% chicken by weight and “with chicken” only has to include 3% chicken. There is a difference between “all natural,” “made from organic materials” and “all organic.” The terms “holistic,” “human grade,” “premium,” and “gourmet” are pure marketing terms and have absolutely no legal definition.

The information panel is a little more helpful. It must include the ingredients in descending order by weight and only standard terms from The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) may be used. However, most pet owners do not find the terms “minimum crude protein and fat” or “maximum crude fiber or moisture” very helpful in choosing a good dog food. Veterinarians are often frustrated because companies are not required to list energy or kcal/cup. This makes it difficult to design a diet for an overweight pet.

A recent fad to hit pet nutrition is the corn-free, gluten-free, and grain-free selections of pet foods. These diets sound healthier, but it’s important to understand how your pet’s digestive system works. Cats are obligate carnivores and benefit from having lower levels of carbohydrates and more meat protein. In contrast, dogs are omnivores, like humans, and thrive on a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fiber. For most canines, gluten is a highly digestible complex carbohydrate that is an excellent source of linoleic acid, essential amino acids, and fiber. Grain-free food might contain potato or rice starch, which is a simple carbohydrate much lower in nutritive value. New research is finding cases of amino acid taurine deficiencies in pets fed grain-free diets.

Another nutritional fad involves raw, freeze-dried, and frozen diets. Some of these commercially available diets are sterilized and deemed nutritionally complete, while others are marketed as a supplement to another commercial diet. Regarding raw protein diets, The American Animal Hospital Association, American Association of Feline Practitioners, and the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians “…opposes the feeding of raw or dehydrated nonsterilized foods to pets due to scientific evidence…”

For guidance on nutritional information, you can ask your veterinarian for clear food recommendations based on your individual pet. You can also research useful websites such as Dogfoodadvisor.com, vetnutrition.tufts.edu, and the WSAVA.org and search for the global nutrition committee recommendations

Dr. Donna Warren is a veterinarian with LakeCross Veterinary in Huntersville. The vets in the big yellow house have been treating pets like family for 20 years. For more information, call 704-948-6300.