Y’all know how much I love learning about pet food and how much I admire Dr. Karen Becker. She is part of CANWI ( Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute) who recently had their annual awareness week.
Another member of CANWI is Dr. Donna Raditic who, as part of CANWI awareness week, interviewed Nicole Hammack, a human nutritionist, about her passion for pet nutrition.
Like many of us, she became interested in pet nutrition when her dog got sick. I know it’s how I became interested in pet nutrition, and I’ve heard many others with similar stories.
You can find the interview here, but I want to give you an overview.
One of the first things that Nicole says that really resonates with me is that when she started looking into pet nutrition and pet food, she saw so many things that would “never fly in the human sector.”
How do you select pet food?
As Nicole points out in the interview, it’s not necessarily a difficult question to answer, but getting to the answer can be difficult because the pet food companies don’t make it easy, and oftentimes don’t and/or won’t provide the necessary information to properly evaluate.
Here are the 3 questions that Nicole asks pet food manufacturers:
1. Do they have a proper food safety culture and certification within the facility where the food is made?
2. Are they testing the final product to make sure it meets at least the minimum nutritional guidelines?
3. Is the food digestible?
For me, I think I’d add a fourth question to the list, and that’s where they source their ingredients and, ok, a fifth question is if it’s human grade.
Now, most pet foods are not human grade. I don’t want you to get discouraged if you call 8-10 places and find the answer is always no. There are very few foods for pets that are human grade. Very few. That’s probably why it’s not on Nicole’s list.
Food safety is so very important and not something most of us consider. One of the stories that I like to tell people isn’t actually my story, but Jae’s story from The Two Crazy Cat Ladies. Since it’s her story, she tells it better, but basically, her father worked at a pet food processing plant when she was little, and not only could he not wear his work clothes in the house because of all the toxins, but he also told stories of metal animal tag, plastic ear tags, tarps and the like all being ground up along with the animals. It was simply too time-consuming and too costly to pull them out, so they were just left in.
There are also FDA reports of pet food companies having roach infestations. you would think, ok, maybe that can happen but they clean it up and get the situation handled. Nope! The FDA has many reports on file showing plants that consistently have infestations of pests and rodents.
Why you ask? It’s cheaper for them to pay the fines than to shut down production to clean. Disgusting!
These are just some examples of what is meant by food safety.
In the U.S. the regulatory body for pet food is AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials). They have rules and regulations for pet feed (and food) manufacturers. Interestingly, since they are a private non-profit organization, they are not required to provide what those rules and regulations are to the public. You can purchase them for a fee.
Also interestingly, while there are nutrient guidelines that should be adhered to, they don’t require nutritional analysis or digestibility studies.
You may think that the nutrition label is the nutrient analysis, but they are actually different.
The nutrition label states that the food inside the package meets minimum or maximum levels of X, Y, or Z. A nutrient analysis actually provides exactly what and how much of X, Y, and Z are in that package.
If you call a pet food company and ask for a nutrient analysis, don’t accept the nutrition label, they are not the same thing!
Digestability is an interesting topic and something I was looking at before I knew there was a word for it. I’m that weirdo who checks her dogs (and cats) poop. I say I’m a weirdo, but in reality, it’s a very important part of being a pet mom (or dad).
I notice if my dog poops more on one food versus another, both in volume and in times per day. For instance, when we first moved to Texas, we only had a small fridge/freezer in the garage because the big fridge for the house was on backorder. So when I went to Pupology (the natural pet store here in town) I purchased a small bag of Steve’s Real Food for Dogs and Cats.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad food, but Kim pooped more frequently and had larger stools. I went back a couple of weeks later and purchased a small bag of Small Batch. Her poops became less frequent and smaller.
I performed my own little digestibility study! Kim is able to digest and utilize more of the Small Batch meal than she is of the Steve’s Real Food meal.
It’s also why I can confidently tell all of my in-home clients that they should expect to see smaller and less frequent stools in their dogs when they switch from kibble to raw food.
In light of all the pet food recalls, I have a bonus for today’s post for my wonderful pet parent fam!
One more important thing I’d add to the list of questions to ask a pet food manufacturer is about testing the final product for contaminants.
We’ve seen far too many pets die over the past few years of excessive Vitamin D or aflatoxin poisonings. FAR. TOO. MANY. One is too many.
These companies are SUPPOSED to be testing their products before they head out the door, but they’re not. Again, because it’s cheaper to pay a fine than to throw out whole batches of food and pay for testing and wait for testing to come back, etc, etc.
Honestly, this is largely a side effect of industrialization. Not to say that industrialization is a bad thing, it’s not, but we’ve royally f’d it up. Factory farming animals, using carcinogens to kill pests, and genetic modification of plants. There’s a lot that is wrong here and it may seem like too much to tackle, but you can make a difference.
Like with any other war, the best chance we have is to hit them where it hurts the most – their wallet. That is how we make change. Buy local. Buy from companies that ethically source ingredients. Buy from small businesses. Stop spending money with big business. I’m not perfect, I’m working on it too. One step at a time and we can get over the mountain.