Sunday, October 04, 2009

Bob Vila would not eat meat by-products (but your dog should!)

I went to a talk by a veterinary nutritionist yesterday at Tufts Vet for Obesity Awareness Day. Her talk was really educational. For instance, I learned that the body that regulates pet food nutrition, content, etc. is called AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). They seem to be a lot less stringent than FDA regulating human food. Anybody can make a pet food and put it on the market, regardless of whether it meets your pet’s nutritional needs. Moreover, pet food does NOT have to be tested in feeding trials to go on the market. Why does this matter? Well, our pets generally have only one or two sources of food – whatever we feed them on a daily basis (compared to people, who eat a variety of different foods and obtain different nutrients from each one). Our pets cannot synthesize certain vitamins and amino acids, so it is important that their food provide these.

The label will tell you whether or not it’s been tested. Definitely buy one that has been tested. How will you know? Read the labels. Here is how to interpret:

TESTED wording (example): “Animal feeding tests according to AAFCO procedures substantiate that…”

NON-TESTED wording (example): This food has been formulated to meet AAFCO standards…”

Key point here: “formulated to meet” = “HAS NOT BEEN TESTED”

When buying a pet food you also need to look for the words “complete and balanced” on the label. That means the food meets all your pet’s nutritional needs.

Wording (example): “Animal feeding tests according to AAFCO procedures substantiate that XYZ food provides complete and balanced nutrition…”

If the food is appropriate for puppies/kittens, it will say, “provides nutrition for growth of puppies/kittens,” and for adults it will say, “for maintenance of adult dogs/cats.” Foods can be appropriate for both youth and adult stages. But some foods are only for one or the other.

Wording (example): “Animal feeding tests according to AAFCO procedures substantiate that XYZ food provides complete and balanced nutrition for growth of puppies and maintenance of adult dogs…”

The only marketing claim word that means anything on a pet food label is “natural.” So “organic” is just a marketing term. Which is of course the opposite of people food, where “natural” is meaningless and “organic” has to be backed up.

Don’t worry about buying the fanciest food for Fido. More expensive or prettier packaging does not necessarily equal better nutrition. Just make sure the food has undergone AAFCO feeding trials and provides for all your pet’s nutritional needs: “Complete and balanced” – just like FOX News!

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