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What are some specific considerations when choosing a dog or cat food?


  • First, a nutritional assessment should be performed on the pet by evaluating the following factors: the animal, the current diet, feeding management, and environmental conditions.
  • Below are some of the recommendations suggested in the AAHA Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for Dogs and Cats on choosing a satisfactory diet:
    1. Check the AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement on the label for the following:1
      • Is it complete and balanced? If so, for what life stages?2 Confirm that the life stage on the label matches the life stage of the pet.
      • Does the statement say for “intermittent or supplemental feeding?” If so, the diet may not be complete and balanced. This designation is most often used for:
        1. Treats or products not intended to provide a complete meal (i.e. “mix-ins”).
        2. Therapeutic diets which are intended to be used with veterinary supervision and used for a specific purpose (i.e. weight loss).
      • Complete and balanced products will have a nutritional adequacy or “AAFCO statement.” The food should either be formulated to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles or have undergone feeding tests to prove nutritional adequacy. In formulated foods, the ingredients meet specific nutrient levels but have not undergone feeding trials.3,4 The disadvantage of this method is that nutrient bioavailability and palatability cannot be determined.
      • Although feeding trials utilizing the AAFCO protocols are the preferred method of validation,2 they are not a guarantee that the food provides adequate nutrition under all conditions1 or through the pet’s entire lifetime.3,4
    2. What is the company’s reputation as a pet food manufacturer?1
    3. What objective (not testimonial) evidence does the company provide about its foods to help in evaluation?1
    4. Contact the pet food company3,4 and ask:
      • Is there a veterinary nutritionist (and/or other experts in pet nutrition and food science) on staff? Is she/he available and responsive for consultations and questions?1,5
      • Who formulates the diets and what are their credentials?1
      • Which of the diets are tested using AAFCO feeding trials and which by nutrient analysis (formulation)?1
      • What specific quality control measures are used to guarantee consistency and quality of the food?1,5,6
      • Where are the diets produced and manufactured?1
      • Can a complete product nutrient analysis of the best-selling dog and cat food be provided, including digestibility values?1
      • What is the caloric value per can or cup of the diets?1
      • What kind of research has been conducted? Are the results published in any peer-reviewed journals?1
      • Does the company have a tracking system for recalls?
  • For homemade or unconventional diets, it is highly advised to contact a board-certified nutritionist to evaluate an existing diet or formulate a complete, balanced, safe, digestible, and palatable diet for a pet.
The Science Behind our Recommendations
1. Baldwin K, Bartges J, Buffington T, Freeman L, et al. AAHA nutritional assessment guidelines for dogs and cats. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2010 Jul-Aug; 46(4): 285-96. 2. Frequently asked questions about general pet nutrition. Foster Hospital For Small Animas, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University Web site. http://vet.tufts.edu/nutrition/faq/general_pet_nutrition.html#1. Accessed July 14, 2013. 3. Debraekeleer J, Gross KL, Zicker SC. Feeding young adult dogs: before middle age. In: Hand MS, Thatcher CD, Remillard RL, Roudebush P, Novotny BJ, eds. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition 5th ed. Topeka, KS: Mark Morris Institute; 2010: 265. 4. Gross KL, Becvarova I, Armstrong PJ, Debraekeleer J. Feeding young adult cats: before middle age. In: Hand MS, Thatcher CD, Remillard RL, Roudebush P, Novotny BJ, eds. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition 5th ed. Topeka, KS: Mark Morris Institute; 2010: 384 5. Thompson A. Ingredients: where pet food starts. Top Companion Anim Med. 2008 Aug; 23(3): 127-32. 6. Zicker SC: Evaluating pet foods: how confident are you when you recommend a commercial pet food? Top Companion Anim Med. 2008 Aug; 23(3): 121-6.