One of the most common questions we hear—“What food should I feed my pet?”—is also one of the most difficult to answer, because pet-food brand choice is largely subjective. What should you look for when you’re lost in a maze of brightly coloured bags, all claiming to feed your dog’s inner wolf or your cat’s lynx-like needs? We’ll let you in on a little secret—some companies spend more money on marketing than they do on research. Flashy packaging goes a long way for a manufacturer trying to draw in overwhelmed pet owners. 

To solve the age-old dilemma of what to feed Fido, we’re going to break down what to look for in pet food.

What to look for on your pet’s food bag

Many pet owners believe the ingredient list contains the most important information when choosing a pet food. Unfortunately, the ingredient list is not as useful for pet foods as it is for human foods. Pet-food manufacturers focus on selling to an owner’s emotions and take special care to ensure their ingredient list sounds appealing, often adding in minuscule amounts of ingredients with wholesome health benefits. Ingredients that appeal to pet owners’ emotions include blueberries, kale, artichokes, raspberries, kelp, spinach, and more.

While pets benefit from the nutrition that whole foods add to their diet, these ingredients are often at the end of the list, meaning they are present in negligible amounts. Once a food has been processed, water weight disappears—ingredients are listed in order of weight—and the actual amount of an ingredient is practically nonexistent. So, while you may turn to an ingredient list first when choosing your pet’s food, it’s often misleading. Instead, look for the most important piece of information on a pet-food label—the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutritional adequacy statement.

AAFCO establishes nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods, although the organisation does not regulate, test, certify, or approve pet foods. It is the pet-food company’s duty to manufacture their products according to the AAFCO statement that endorses the food is complete and balanced for a particular life stage, such as growth, reproduction, or adult maintenance, or instead indicates a food is only for intermittent or supplemental feeding. 

What to look for in your pet’s food manufacturer

While an AAFCO statement holds some clout, a more important quality in your pet’s food is the manufacturer’s practices. 

The most valuable piece of information is knowing who makes your pet’s food and how much the manufacturer uses research to develop the product. When researching pet-food producers, investigate these key aspects:

  • Do they own all their manufacturing plants? — Sharing a manufacturing plant with another company can result in cross-contamination.
  • Do they practice strict quality-control measures? — Quality manufacturers put the financial resources and time into ensuring their product meets their claims. They’ll test ingredients and the end product for nutrient content, pathogens, and aflatoxins; conduct supplier audits; and achieve certification for their procedures. 
  • Do they employ at least one full-time qualified nutritionist? — Companies can claim to work with a contracted nutritionist, but there is no guarantee they follow the advice. Choose a company who invests in employing a full-time nutritionist.
  • Do they test their diets with AAFCO feeding trials? — Feeding trials following AAFCO guidelines are the gold standard for diet research. A product can be formulated with a proper nutrient profile, but feeding trials go a step further than laboratory analysis. 
  • Do they conduct and publish research in peer-reviewed journals? — Quality manufacturers want to contribute to research in animal nutrition and to always pursue optimal diets.
  • Are they able to provide exact values for any nutrient? — Quality manufacturers should know exactly what is in their products.
  • Are they able to provide the number of calories in any food measurement?  Manufacturers should be able to tell you how many calories are in a gram, pound, or cup of food.

Keep in mind that the factual information on pet-food labels is a promotional tool designed to draw in customers, meaning that much of the information on the label is of little use when deciding on the most nutritious food for your pet. The ingredient list and unregulated terms, such as “human-grade,” “holistic,” and “premium,” appeal to your emotions regarding your furry family member. Check for an AAFCO statement and research the manufacturer before narrowing down your pet-food list.

The websites below are not associated with pet food companies and contain unbiased information that may be helpful to pet owners:

There are a ton of excellent food choices available, and what works for one pet may not work for another. Schedule an appointment with us to discuss the best options for your pet’s nutritional needs.