PET CORNER: A closer look into pet food ingredients

By DEB GREEN
Guest Columnist

In last month’s Pet Corner I went over the basics of what is on pet food packages. Time to get a little more specific.

The food you give your dog or cat plays a critical role in its well-being, both on a daily basis and long-term. They need a diet with the right nutrients to keep them active, happy and healthy. How do you decide what food to feed your pet?

What is in a name? As per the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), if an ingredient in included in the name of the product it is required to conform to one of four rules:

 

• The 95 percent Rule  – the product must contain at least 95 percent of the named meat ingredient. Ex: “Beef Dog Food”;

• The 25 percent or “Dinner” Rule  – The product must contain at least 25 percent of the named meat ingredient. Ex: Beef Dinner;

• The 3 percent or “With” Rule – The product must contain no less than 3 percent of the named meat ingredient. Ex: Pet Food with Beef; and

• The “Flavor” Rule – If “Flavor” is used in the name, no minimum percentage is required. Ex: Beef Favored Pet Food.

Remember also such words as “premium” and “gourmet” have no standard definition and are not required to contain any higher quality ingredients.

Next look at the “Guaranteed Analysis”. The Guaranteed Analysis, as you may remember, states the percentage of protein, fat, fiber and moisture. Knowing the minimum requirements for an adult dog or cat will help you in determining what your pet will need.

Remember that every pet is an individual. Age, size, activity level and health needs affect your pet’s nutritional needs.

I discovered there is controversy about the amount of protein, fat and carbohydrates that dogs and cats need.

According to the AAFCO the minimum percentages for an adult dog are 18% protein and 5% fat. Many experts recommend that carbohydrates for dogs be kept below 50 percent.

Cats require more protein as they are considered an obligate carnivore, meaning their nutritional needs are met by eating animal-based proteins which provide essential amino acids cats need.

The AAFCO minimum recommendation for an adult cat is 26 percent protein and 9 percent fat. Many experts think this is too low. There is debate as to whether cats need carbohydrates at all.

Carbohydrate percentage is not usually found on the label. If you want to figure out the percentage of carbohydrates in your pet’s food use this formula, protein + fat + moisture + ash subtracted from 100 = carbohydrates. This method works for dry food only. To figure out canned food you will need to get the dry matter values first.

As a pet owner, you want to buy the best quality pet food you can afford. While most commercial pet foods meet the minimum nutritional requirements, remember not all ingredients are created equal. When looking at the ingredients, these are a few things you should look for:

• Superior sources of protein. Look for two meat sources in the top three3 ingredients. They should be a whole source meat such as “chicken” or a single source meal such as “chicken-meal.”

• Whole, unprocessed grains, vegetables and other foods. An unprocessed food has the best chance of surviving the food-making process with its nutrients — vitamins, enzymes, and antioxidants — intact.

Ingredients that you should avoid include:

• Meat by-products. One school of thought is that by-products should be avoided. It is simply too hard to know what exactly is included in by-products. Those that say by-products are fine say you should look for a single source, such as “chicken by-product.”

• “Generic” fat sources. A preferable ingredient would be a single source fat such as “chicken fat.”

• Artificial preservatives, colors and flavors. Chemical preservatives, like BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin have been under scrutiny, and many companies are switching to natural preservatives like vitamin C (ascorbate) and vitamin E (tocopherols). Your pet does not care what color their food is. And good quality whole foods should not need artificial flavor.

How much should you feed your pet? The labels have recommendations. There are also calculators online that ask you for your pet’s ideal weight, activity level and life stage. They then can tell you approximately the calories your pet should have. Many labels include caloric count. These are good places to start. If you have questions, consult your veterinarian.

Basically feed your pet the highest-quality food you can afford. Select diets with real, recognizable, whole-food ingredients. If several ingredients are unfamiliar to you, keep looking. Choosing a high-quality food from the hundreds available can be challenging. The pet food industry is very competitive. Read labels. Be an informed and educated consumer.

For the Manistee County Humane Society, “PUBS 4 PAWS” is coming the month of November. While visiting your favorite Manistee County bar/restaurant, purchase a “paw” for a dollar or more and support Homeward Bound! Help your favorite bar win the Traveling Trophy for collecting the most money for Homeward Bound.

Deb Green is a member of the Manistee County Humane Society Board of Directors. She can be reached at dgreen1004@gmail.com.

MORE INFORMATION

Homeward Bound Animal Shelter is located off M-55 at 736 Paws Trail in Manistee. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays and noon to 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

For more information, contact Homeward Bound at (231) 723-7387 or visit www.homewardboundmanistee.org or Facebook. Manistee County Humane Society/Homeward Bound is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

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