Making Informed Pet Food Decisions

The veterinary healthcare team plays a vital role in helping pet owners make informed decisions about their pets’ food. While most owners base this decision on the
ingredient list, this does not provide enough information about the quality of the food or the nutritional composition of the diet.

Instead, we recommend basing the important decision about a pet’s food on more objective information. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) has published recommendations on selecting the best diet for pets. Key components of the WSAVA recommendations include:

  1. The pet food label’s nutritional adequacy statement provides important factual information. This statement confirms three important facts:
    1. Whether the diet is nutritionally complete and balanced according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Model Bill and Regulations.
    2. If the food is complete and balanced, for what life stage is it intended?
    3. If the food is complete and balanced, did the company determine this by formulation (either analysis or calculation) or by feeding trials?

    This information can be helpful in determining the best food for a pet. Since a nutritional adequacy statement is required on every pet food label in the United States and Canada, it is readily available for pet owners and veterinary healthcare team members to evaluate.

  2. The other most important information needed to make an informed decision about a pet food is not on the label and must be obtained from the manufacturer. Important facts that can help select a pet’s food include:
    1. Does the manufacturer employ a full-time qualified nutritionist (e.g., a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition or European College of Veterinary Comparative Nutrition, or a PhD in animal nutrition)?
    2. Does a qualified nutritionist formulate the diets?
    3. Where are the foods manufactured?
    4. What specific quality control measures are used to assure the quality of ingredients, consistency, and nutritional value of the end product?
    5. Can the manufacturer provide information on any requested nutrient or the caloric value for the pet food in question?
    6. Has product research been conducted?

Calling each manufacturer and asking these questions is daunting and time-consuming (although it is a useful exercise for veterinary healthcare team members to try). To simplify this task and create a comprehensive resource for team members, the Pet Nutrition Alliance contacted all pet food manufacturers selling foods in the US and Canada to collect and compile answers to three of the above WSAVA questions.

Our Protocol

A list of all pet food manufacturers with pet foods available in the United States and Canada was created from diets offered for sale on internet pet food retailers' websites and pet food rating websites as of June 2019. An individual manufacturer was defined by having a unique corporate name and address on the label. An individual manufacturer was assumed to have common management and manufacturing sites, even if the manufacturer produces multiple products sold under different names. This protocol yielded a total of 211 manufacturers. Due to COVID 19, PNA anticipates to collect the next set of data in May 2021.

Each manufacturer was contacted by Pet Nutrition Alliance and asked three questions:

  1. Do you employ or utilize a nutrition expert to formulate your diets in your company? If they use a contract manufacturer to manufacture their food, they were asked to provide this information for the contract manufacturer.
    1. If yes, they were asked about the qualifications of that expert and whether they were full-time, part-time, a consultant, or other
  2. Which of the following is true regarding the manufacturing plant(s) where your pet food (not including treats) is manufactured?
    1. We own all of them
    2. We own some of them. If this answer was selected, they were asked to provide the percentage of food made in plants not owned by their company
    3. We own none of them. If this answer was selected, they were asked if they use a contract manufacturer, if they manufacture in sites owned by other companies, both, or other
  3. Manufacturers were also asked for the nutritional level (on a /1000 kcal basis) of a randomly selected nutrient (i.e., arginine, calcium, sodium, copper, zinc, vitamin D, thiamine, or choline) in a randomly selected diet from that manufacturer.

Each manufacturer (or co-packer, if the manufacturer provided the contract manufacturer’s contact information or forwarded the survey to the contract manufacturer) entered its responses directly into an online survey. Click here to see full protocol.

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