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Choosing a pet food supplier

It is important to feel comfortable and confident about the food your pet eats. This means that you need to know who made your pet’s food so they can answer all your questions.
Asking the right questions can also help you determine if a pet food company is transparent and honest, according to Dr. Tony Buffington. He is Professor of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center.

What questions should you ask? These are the 10 questions that the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), has approved. They will help you narrow down the options for pet food to find the best option for your pet.

1. Are you able to have a veterinary nutritionist on your staff?

“A veterinary nutritionist–especially a board-certified veterinary nutritionist–is someone who has extra (and special) training in formulating pet foods,” says Dr. Joseph Bartges, DVM, PhD, and Professor of Medicine and Nutrition at the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dogs and cats have different nutritional needs than other animals, so it is important to involve someone with strong backgrounds in food development.

2. Who and what qualifications are required to formulate your diets?

Although this question may seem similar to the previous, it allows you to discover who actually created the food. Although a brand might have a veterinary nutritionist on their staff, are they actually involved in the formulation of the food?

Dr. Ashley Gallagher DVM, says that “I believe this is one the most important questions.”

Pet food companies should have a veterinarian nutritionist or someone who has training in the needs of cats and dogs.

3. These experts are available to answer your questions.

Dr. Bartges says that “I believe these experts should be accessible to answer questions regarding the diet,” even if it is via email. This gives pet owners the opportunity to ask any questions they may have and confirm that a veterinary nutritionist is involved.

This process can be costly as it takes time to answer pet parents’ questions. However, most trusted pet food brands offer this option, even though it isn’t advertised.

4. Which diets are subject to AAFCO feeding trials and which are subject to nutrient analysis?

Two methods can be used to test pet food

Analysis of nutrient content: This is the most common requirement that pet food ingredients be analyzed in order to compare them with AAFCO profiles.
Association of American Feed Control Officials – Feeding trials

AAFCO feeding tests are the gold standard. Because diets can look great on paper but are not palatable when given to a dog or cat, nutrient analysis cannot be used to determine if they will be able to be fed to them.

Dr. Buffington says that there is a positive to this: the willingness of manufacturers to conduct feeding trials may be a sign of a company’s commitment towards producing good food.

Be aware that not all pet food companies conduct feeding trials. They are the most expensive way to test foods.

Are you unsure if your pet food company conducts feeding trials? It is as easy as looking at the Guaranteed Analysis chart and checking the nutrition statement for your pet food brand. Here’s an example.

“Animal feeding testing using AAFCO procedures confirm that (Name Of Food) provides adequate nutrition for maintenance.”

5. What quality-control measures do your company use to ensure consistency and quality in your product lines?

Dr. Bartges says that a company should be able show proof of their quality control procedures and outline them.

This involves separating cooked and raw ingredients to prevent cross-contamination. It is crucial to ensure that allergen or pathogen contamination does not occur by strict and stringent control of the ingredients. You don’t want to allow soy into a diet claimed to be free from allergies for dogs.

Ask about food safety during manufacturing and recall procedures. Safety is a top priority for companies that test food for contaminants before it is released for sale to retailers.

6. Which country is the source of your diets?

A product that’s co-manufactured–meaning a third-party plant makes food for the company–may have less ingredient control and be more prone to contamination and other issues. These plants can also produce food that is compatible with other species for companies.

Dr. Gallagher recommends that you also check to see if the meat is from USDA-inspected facilities.

Larger manufacturers may be better able to ensure safety and quality control because they have their own facilities and can access more consistent quality ingredients.

7. Is it possible to visit the pet food plant?

Dr. Bartges says that it is always an eye-opening experience to visit the place where your pet’s food is manufactured. It’s worthwhile to visit a local manufacturer if you have questions about transparency.

8. Do you have the ability to provide a detailed product nutrient analysis for your top-selling cat and dog food?

This information is more detailed than what’s printed on pet food labels. Dr. Bartges says that if a pet food company doesn’t have it or refuses to share it, it might be worth considering other diets.

Pet food labels must include a Guaranteed Analysis Chart to inform pet parents about the product’s nutritional content. Minimum percentages of crude protein, crude fat, and maximum amounts of crude fiber and water must be guaranteed.

Although the Guaranteed Analysis doesn’t list all nutrients, nor how easily they can be digested, manufacturers should be able to provide this information upon request. The full list might include information such as the amount of calcium, phosphorous, vitamins A,C and E, omega fatty acids, taurine, and so on.

9. How many calories are in a can of coffee or a cup of food?

The caloric value is an important information to maintain your pet’s slim figure. The caloric value will be listed on the bag of food as either kcalME/kg or cup.

This information is very rare, but it should be on every pet food packaging.

Dr. Bartges stated, “If a phone person can’t give this information to you, I’d look somewhere else.”

10. Which research was done on your products? Are the results published in peer reviewed journals?

A pet food manufacturer’s published food trials and scientific research is a plus. These are not always necessary for new products. These trials are expensive and time-consuming.

Don’t be surprised if this information is not available, “especially for therapeutic diets used in managing diseases and life stage diets,” says Dr. Bartges.