Kibbles, canned, semi-moist, raw food – So many options out there, but does it really make a huge difference as to what type of food we buy for our pet? Of course, it does! If you think you’re doing just fine as long as your pet gobbles down whatever you buy them, then we have news for you: you’re wrong.
Whenever we go shopping for pet food, we always go for the best dog food brand on the market. Obviously, that’s an important aspect of pet food, but it’s also important to fully comprehend what’s actually cooking behind the scenes to get an account for the well-being and standard of the final product.
We always assume that whatever we pick for our pets is definitely safe and food manufacturers are always considerate about the food safety measures. For any concerned pet owner, this is assuming and hoping for the best is simply not enough.
Here are 10 absolute important questions that you will need to ask your pet manufacturers’ food safety programs.
Q: Does the company have a veterinary nutritionist or someone of equivalent qualification working in the company?
A: Now, who’s a veterinary nutritionist? Well, that’s someone who has an additional and special training in composing pet food. You must be aware of the fact that cats and dogs, both have completely different nutritional needs than any other species, including human beings. Therefore, it’s highly important for someone with a specialized background takes part in the pet food development program.
Q: Can the experts be consulted or questioned?
A: Generally, these experts should be available and be able to answer any questions about pet food and their dietary needs via e-mails or any other hotline. The biggest advantage of this is that pet parents will have the chance to get their questions answered through a qualified informant. Plus, they will also have the chance to verify the fact that whether a veterinary nutritionist was rather involved.
Q: Are there any specific quality control measures that your company uses to assure the quality and consistency of the product?
A: Any pet food company should summarize their quality control measures and be able to prove the standard of their product if asked. Typically, a standard quality product includes one that separates raw ingredients from cooked artifacts so that there’s no cross-contamination involved in the process. Strict and careful control of ingredients is essential for pathogen and/or allergen contamination. In addition, don’t forget to inquire about their food-test process throughout manufacturing and how cross-contamination procedures are handled. Remember that companies of which safety is a priority, they often re-examine the food and wait for the results before they could finally release it to the retail outlets.
Q: What is involved in the company’s food safety program?
A: The main objective of a food safety program is to reduce, eliminate and possibly prevent any food safety threats to a fair amount. Therefore, the food safety management system should depend on effective necessary food safety programs, which involves the following:
- Supply-Chain Management: In order to protect the brand name of the product, all the specifications of the ingredients should be of an orthodox. The manufacturers should only purchase from well-known suppliers and regulate a quality check on their suppliers.
- Sanitary Transportation of the Food: In the case of food products, the manufacturer must ensure hygienic practices followed by their suppliers and other operations involved in the operation process. A strict monitoring and verification are important to ensure that the hygienic practices are followed.
- Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs): There is no mercy for not following CGMPs. This includes washing hands of the staff, who would be working with the food, to wearing proper gloves, using hair nets to avoid food contamination and process continuous sanitation practices in the factory as needed.
- Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOP): This is a step-by-step system that dictates how the equipment used in production should be cleaned, sanitized and maintained to minimize pollution.
- Regular Audits: Both internal and external audits must be conducted at the plant, and the reports from a certified firm should be made available for review when requested.
- Committed Culture: It is the manufacturer’s duty to involve their employees in training programs and introduce them to the policies related to food safety. This is to ensure that the basic component of their workplace culture is met. Don’t fall into the trap if an employee says that they were not informed about a certain policy.
Q: Where is the diet produced/manufactured?
A: A company that co-manufactures its products, which means a consigned vendor makes the food for them, in addition to those factories outsourcing their raw materials, is likely to have less control over the ingredient and in turn be more susceptible to contamination and other issues. In that case, what you need to find out is whether the meat that is used in the food production comes from a USDA-inspected plant. Large-scale manufacturers are more likely to provide safety and quality control since they have their own provision and access to a much more quality, consistent ingredients.
Q: What are the signs that the dog food I currently feed my pet is not the best option for them? Does that mean I need to consider changing their diet?
A: When you have bought a food product from a particular brand and you are not satisfied with their pet’s activity level, stool quality, their fur, and other bodily conditions, then it’s probably time for a change in their nutritional needs. More signs of this include vomiting, diarrhoea, drastic weight loss, too much flatulence, stomach ache, uncontrollable shedding, and dental health problems, there’s certainly something wrong and you need an immediate trip to the vet. Most of these symptoms occur when the pet parent brings about a change in their pet’s diet, but it might be addressed by other non-food related causes too. You just have to make sure that your pet is getting the right amount and quality of diet for his age and lifestyle.
Q: Are the food ingredients and instructions mentioned on the pet food label all true?
A: Food labels are the most reliable way to determine the quality of the food. But the question is, how true are the facts written there? This, of course, is a concern for most pet parents. For instance, if the food label says “100% Real Chicken”, does that necessarily mean that they used the chicken that you would eat yourself? Simply put, no. The label doesn’t tell us which type of chicken is used or whether it’s acceptable or not. The ingredient information is always written with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in their mind.
To make matters worse, the ingredient definitions are collectively owned by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). For instance, did you know that manufacturers might make changes to the ingredients without immediately changing the food label? There’s no law that defines that the ingredient listings on the food labels must be changed immediately; FDA urges to update the information “as soon as practicable”.
Q: Are all your pet foods tested using AAFCO feeding trials? If so, which nutrient analysis is used?
A: So, basically, there are two methods for testing pet food: Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and nutrient analysis. Nutrient analysis, most commonly, checks that the diet ingredients are analyzed and differentiated against AAFCO profiles. These effective diets may look attractive on paper but do not show any potential signs of hedonic rewards when fed to a pet. On the contrary, AAFCO feeding trials are considered to be of some standard. Companies that perform a well nutrient analysis reflect their commitment to producing quality foods. Do take note that not all food manufacturing companies perform feeding trials. These are quite expensive modes of testing food, hence just check the pet food label to re-confirm yourself that the brand you choose for your pet is following these practices.
Q: What about the different types of grains on pet food? Are they injurious to pet’s health?
A: Certainly, grains are not “injurious” to your pet’s health, but some animals might have allergies or sensitivity that might have an adverse effect on how your pet responds to certain grains. In the ingredient listings of the food label, you’ll see there is a selection of many different types of grains. Make sure you know which one your pet is allergic to, which will make it easier for you to select the right food for your pet.
Just so you know, grains provide starch, specific fatty acids, and fibre to your pet’s diet that is essential as a part of their overall nutritional needs in their diet plan. Moreover, products must be cooked correctly in order to get the most out of them. To explain things easily, you wouldn’t want to eat rice or corn that is uncooked. Neither would you want to eat them if they were left on the stove for too long? In that case, make sure that your pet doesn’t receive that kind of food either.
Q: Why is the colour and shape of the dry food different than the last time I bought it?
A: Pet foods are usually manufactured in batches. The ingredients listed in the food label might not change, but there might be variations in shape, size, and colour over time from one package to another due to the different manufacturing process of each batch.
Common Myths About Pet Food
Over the years, there has been a revolution in the pet food industry with all the new products and diet obsession being promoted among pet parents. Undoubtedly, pet parents are concerned and have been asking a lot of questions about what exactly to feed their pets. Therefore, here are some of the common pet food myths that you’ve always heard about and might even have thought it of as the truth:
- Natural foods are better than canned foods
We do see the word “natural” on some of the pet food labels and is kind of difficult to get the real meaning of it. The FDA does not also offer any official definition regarding this. People have always assumed that food that does not contain artificial flavours, preservatives and/or colours are more natural and healthier for their pets. There’s no right or wrong in this because as long as the food is not causing any harm to your pet, let that be in the short-run or long-run, it is absolutely fine. Artificial elements are hardly used in pet food and even if it consists some form of it, make sure that it is approved by the FDA.
- Feeding a raw diet is a healthy choice
The truth is, there are many risks if you’re feeding raw diets to your pet. They might break their teeth, damage their gastrointestinal tract, it might cause intestinal blockage, they might not get a sufficient amount of nutrition or get contaminated from infectious diseases. Additionally, pet parents, who have been feeding raw diets to their pets are prone to having a higher risk of getting affected with Listeria and Salmonella bacteria.
- By-products are “bad”
When we say by-products, we mean beet pulp, tomato pomace and other organ meats of animals such as kidney, liver, heart, lungs, spleen and so on, are an excellent source of protein and nutrients if added in your pet dietary plan.
- Kibbles prevent dental disease more than semi-moist or wet food
Kibbles don’t necessarily prevent dental disease or produce healthier gums and teeth. In fact, most dry food has the chances of getting stuck in between their teeth when they eat it. If not cleaned properly, it can build up to form tartar and plaque. There haven’t been any shreds of evidence yet that prove kibbles are the best method to prevent dental diseases in pets.
- It’s fine if my pet gulps those table scraps
Ask your vet and they will completely disagree with you regarding this. If your pet swallows those leftovers, they might end up vomiting or having diarrhoea. When pets eat foods that contain a high amount of fat such as fatty meat scraps, pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) will occur. Usually, once they get habituated eating table scraps, they might beg you to allow them to eat those, which by the way, is a difficult behaviour to fix it back to normal.
How to Select Pet Food that is Actually Good for Your Pet’s Health
Whether you shop online or walk past the aisles of your local grocery or pet store, you’ll see that today, more pet food choices include nutritious, healthy and high-quality food for your pet than in the past. Now, with so many choices, how do you know which is the ideal for your pet? Here’s a brief summary of what makes your pet’s food the best for them:
Calories: Always keep an eye on the term “calorie content”. This will ensure how much calories are there in the food pack. Talk to your vet about how much calories should be given to your pet per day and based on that, each cup will allow you to make small adjustments and serve them a more accurate amount of food.
Consider their needs: We know that the quality of the pet food makes it perfect, but do consider the individual needs of your pet. Even if you have two or more pets, what works for your Tommy might not work for Fido. Therefore, look for these ingredients in the food label:
- Readily digestible sources of protein such as poultry, meat or fish as the top two ingredients. Do take note of the specifically mentioned poultry or meat. If it says “meat-by-products”, it’s best to avoid it.
- Vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, blueberries, cranberries and any type of natural sources that contain fibre and antioxidants.
- If you’re giving carbohydrates to your pet, make sure they are of standard sources like brown rice, whole grains, lentils and
- Fat sources that are entirely natural such as fish oil, sunflower oil and omega-3/6 fatty acids for a natural shiny skin and healthy coat.
- No added preservatives, hormones, food colours and flavours.
- Probiotic microorganisms and prebiotics to support a healthy digestion for their system.
Coming back to asking questions to your pet manufacturers, some of them will promptly reply to the questions, while others might be reluctant or evasive when answering the questions. This simple gesture of cooperation speaks volumes. Do take notice of how your questions are replied to.
Either way, it’s very important that you ask questions to your pet manufacturers if you’re in any sort of doubt. If you don’t, it would mean putting your pet’s life at a huge risk by trusting any random brand of pet food. Your little buddy is your responsibility, they deserve your utmost attention and care.
- Dog Food Dilemma, Hope Veterinary Clinic PA
- 10 Questions Every Food Manufacturer Should Answer, PetMD
- Questions You Should Be Asking About Your Pet‘s Food, Vet Nutrition