Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli Oh My! Why feeding raw diets are not recommended|
PET FOOD NUTRITION MYTHS AND FACTS
creative commons photo by Dancing Dog Blog
Have you been to the pet store lately and left confused! We have too! What is all this stuff about grain free diets and raw diets? Have you seen the prices of these foods? Does my pet need all of this, or is this marketing hype? Want to know the truth? Read below to get to the bottom of all this confusion!
PetDiets.com Nutrition Library If you want to do some quick Myth Busting, click on this link from Rebecca Remillard, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN. Dr Remillard provides expert answers to just about every question you can think of regarding pet nutrition. Highly recommended website!!
Pet Nutrition Alliance Get science based information from "non-branded" (meaning they don't work for a for profit pet food company) Veterinary and Nutritional Experts from all around the world.
Click below for some more informative links on pet food
Pet Nutrition Corner from VINs Veterinary Partner Client information Handouts
How To Choose A Pet Food! read how a holisitc veterinarian who has completed a nutrition residency chooses a food
FDA Regulation of Pet Food
FDA Tips for Preventing Foodborne Illness Associated with Pet food and Pet Treats
Feeding Raw Food Can Be Dangerous! Get the Facts from the FDA
FDA: Avoid the Dangers of Raw Pet Food
Campylobacter, Salmonella, E.coli Oh My! Why Feeding Raw Diets are not recommended
Worms & Germs Pet Owner's Guide to Raw Meat Diets
We caution our clients that taking pet nutrition advice from the employee at the pet food store is like taking nutrition advice for ourselves from the cashier at the grocery store, or someone behind the counter at a fast food restaurant. What is their educational background? Are they able to offer more than anecdotal evidence? Is there science behind their claims?
We acknowledge that even with our doctorate degrees in veterinary medicine, we still struggle trying to understand nutrient profiles and that we do not always have the most in-depth nutritional information. Imagine how a pet store employee or breeder must feel? Can they analyze this complex information any better than we can? Understanding nutrition is extremely complex and we need to look to Nutrition Experts for the science and proven evidence for our answers.
One thing we can confidently say, as experienced general practice veterinarians, is that the number one nutritional disease we see in our patients is OBESITY! We see this far more than problems caused by nutritional deficiencies, "poor quality" ingredients in pet foods, or food allergies. We believe we need to first consider how MUCH we feed our pets. Obesity causes and complicates many health issues including orthopedic problems, diabetes, respiratory diseases, skin issues, and anesthetic risks and complications. Click on our WEIGHT LOSS HELP webpage for tips on how to slim down your pet.
"Free choice" feeding practices in both cats and dogs, as well as "treat" feeding are big contributors to the obesity epidemic. If we could help our clients control how much they feed vs. what they feed, we could prevent the majority of nutritional disease.
If you feel you need help knowing HOW MUCH TO FEED, please schedule a consult with us and we will be glad to help you. If you own a cat, please read How to Feed Cats. Learn how canned foods can help prevent feline obesity and help your cat lose weight. Read how canned food can benefit cats in other ways too!
To find the best nutrition information for our clients, we seek the recommendations of Veterinary Nutrition Specialists who are Board Certified by the Amercian College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN).
Most Veterinary Nutritionists in addition to their DVM degrees, their nutrition residency training, and their ACVN Board Certifications; also have other advanced degrees, such as Ph.Ds in nutritional science. These specialists have devoted their entire professional careers to understanding nutrition with years and years of study and training.
View our Nutrition Experts web page to learn from and about them.
We realize that it is very popular to get information from the internet but we want our clients to consider the source of information. The nutrition information we are offering on this webpage is coming from what we have learned from highly educated and dedicated Veterinary Nutrition Experts. This webpage is NOT a place for our opinions, it is to provide you with facts that we have learned from the experts.
Veterinary Nutritionists do not tell us there is any one "best" diet or diet type for dogs or cats. We need to recognize that what many people claim is "best" or "optimal" is very subjective. It is like trying to figure out "what is the best car?" or "what is the best beer?". It is difficult to select just one type, and favorites vary with individuals.
Veterinary nutritionists do point out that quality control is important. Larger pet food companies will have more resources to have control over their formulation, manufacturing,and processing than the smaller companies. For example if specific nutritonal requirements are needed for a health problem, a veterinary therapeutic or prescription diet is probably "best" in that it will have a defined formula that does not change and undergoes rigorous quality control batch to batch during manufacturing.
Veterinary Nutritionists tell us the optimum food for an individual pet is
One that the animal likes and accepts
One that the pet is doing well on
One that is nutritionally balanced for the pet's life stage
One that fits the owner's lifestyle
One that fits the owner's budget
This will be true no matter if the diet is Iams, Science Diet, Purina, Royal Canin, Pedigree; or a home cooked diet, or one of the ultra premium "gourmet", "holisitic", or "natural" diets.
We can compare pet food options to choosing organic fruits and veggies for ourselves. You can pay more and shop at Whole Foods and perhaps be, or at least feel, healthier about your decisions. Whole Foods certainly does sell nutritious foods! But in reality, the majority of us still do fine eating grocery store apples. We can make a similar comparison for grain free diets. Some people are vegans, or a derivation thereof, and it works for them. But this does not mean that if you are not a vegan you are unhealthy or harming yourself. It is an individual decision unless you fall in the small percentage that have a medical requirement for a special type of diet.
What's true is this; common pet foods often contain ingredients such as grains, or by-products, that some people would never eat, but that are still very safe and nutritious for pets. Of course, we humans do not eat cat poop or bones buried for weeks in the ground like our pets do either! Grains and by-products actually do contain important nutrients, that when well balanced, can well provide the complete nutritional requirements for a pet.
For people who prefer to avoid foods with ingredients such as grains and by-products, the trade-off will be to feed significantly more expensive super premium "natural" or "holistic" pet foods. These diets can be very nutritious! In fact these diets are often very energy dense, meaning high in calories. Due to the energy density content, much smaller volumes need to fed. This might be an important factor to consider if your pet is a chow hound or struggling with obesity!
Another option for owners is to make a homemade diet. Doing this properly also requires more expense and significantly more time and effort. Homemade diets also run the risk of being unbalanced if not done properly under the guidance of a nutritionist. We strongly caution pet owner's from trying this on their own! Ask us for assistance linking you to a veterinary nutritionist that can make sure your home cooked diet is nutritionally complete and balanced. You can also go to two great websites developed by veterinary nutritionists at BalanceIT.com or PetDiets.com for help.
The decision of what to feed should be made based on an owner's perosnal philosophy and abilities, and the pet's medical needs; not because of a false rumor that common commercial dog foods are harmful, bad, or provide poor nutrition.
The bottom line is that if your pet is on a commercial super premium "Holistic" or "Grain Free" Diet, and your dog is doing well, and it fits your budget, we support that!
If your pet is on a commercial diet from one of the big companies such as Hills, Purina, Iams, Pedigree, or Royal Canin, and your dog is doing well, and it fits your budget, we support that as well!
If your pet is not doing well, or has health issues, we recommend consulting with your veterinarian to see if a diet change might be of benefit. If your pet has a specific problem or disease that can benefit from dietary therapy such as kidney disease, or diabetes, a therapeutic veterinary diet might be recommended versus a pet store diet. However if our medical training does not provide enough answers, we will help you work with a veterinary nutritionist that has the scientific training to get the best solution.
Different dogs respond differently to the same foods - a food that gives one dog a great, shiny coat might give another horrible gas. Broccoli might be known as a healthy food, but if it gives you gas and cramps, you probably should not eat too much of it!
Veterinary Nutritionists caution against over "analyzing" the pet food label and the pet food ingredient list. Unfortunately pet food labels and ingredient lists are often misleading and confusing. They can be about as useful as agonizing over the elbow to learn about the whole person. What is more crucial to know is the nutrient content of a diet versus just the ingredient content.
When trying to interpret a pet food label, we are often looking at values given as a percentage; this is useless unless the units for the percentage are given. Are the percentages on the label based on an "as fed", "dry matter", or "energy basis"?? Using the energy basis is the most accurate method of comparison. This allows micronutrients to be expressed on a per 1000 kcal basis, and diet macronutrient profiles to be expressed on a % metabolizable energy basis (the % of calories coming from protein, fat, carb).
It is difficult for most of us to make the conversions needed to get the pet food label information into these energy basis percentages. The pet food companies unfortunately do not make it easy to do this. Most of us over interpret, or at least misinterpret, the percentage numbers given on pet food labels. If we do not understand this, we may end up comparing apples to oranges. For more information read this FDA Handout on How to Read Pet Food Label, Pet WebMD also has a handout for consumers with some basic tips What to look for on a Pet Food Label
Veterinary nutritionists explain that when one truly understands the highly variable composition within the range of pet food ingredients possible, one will stop attempting to "read" a pet food ingredient list. The ingredient list has very limited positive or negative value in evaluating a food. Hence pet food rating systems that place significant emphasis on the items listed have announced to the world they know very little about what they preach. Dr. Rebecca Remillard, Ph.D., ACVN cautions that there is no way to know the quality of the ingredients found on an ingredient list When a word such as "meal" is used on the list, we do not know the nutritional composition of the "meal" and hence do not know the quality. We often guess or assume the worst and then derive a conclusion from that assumption. And we could be completely wrong.
Proper pet nutrition is based on providing a "complete and balanced" diet, i.e. providing a certain amount of each essential nutrient per calorie consumed. For humans, there is no one product claiming to be "complete and balanced". We have to piece our human diets together by knowing the relative contribution of the different foods we eat in one day. Hence the dogma to eat a variety of foods according to the food pyramid. For our pets we are usually trying to feed one diet that does it all!
This concept of understanding each ingredient is unique to human nutrition, and is not necessary for animal species when nutritionists balance the pet foods for dogs and cats. So veterinary nutritionists point out to us that the quality (and placement in the list) of any one ingredient is nearly irrelevant if the essential amino acid profile is present in sufficient quantity in the whole diet and bioavailable. The concept of "complete and balanced" is lost on most of us probably because it has not been taught well, and is a foreign concept in human nutrition.
The words "whole food" and "holistic" don't have any scientific or official regulatory meaning. Any pet food company (or human food company) can plaster those terms all over their products - it's just marketing and advertising, not nutritional science. Now let us look at some other "labels" we find on pet foods.
Grain Free Diets
Some companies proudly advertise "grain-free". These foods fall into two groups: canned low carb diets, and dry or canned diets that substitute grains with potato, tapioca, or other starchy vegetables. Grains are mainly used in pet foods to supply energy (calories) but they also have essential amino acids, fatty acids, and a variety of vitamins, minerals, different types of fiber, etc. In most cases these grain-free substitutions are just a marketing gimmick.
Veterinary nutritionists warn "Grain-free" does not always mean 'low carb' or 'high protein'. Even if they are high in protein there is no real benefit for the vast majority of dogs, since excess protein is not stored. Anything eaten above and beyond normal protein requirements just turns into really expensive urine.
With the exception of a small number of dogs known to be gluten sensitive, dogs do not generally react poorly to "grains" as a whole. Some dogs can be allergic or intolerant of corn or wheat or soy. Avoiding these ingredients could cause dramatic improvements in these individuals. But canine and feline food hypersensitivities or allergies are more commonly seen to protein antigens such as beef, poultry, or dairy. So only a small population of pets will truly benefit from avoiding grains such as corn, wheat, or soy. If food allergy is suspected in a pet, avoidance of all grains AND proteins that the pet has been previously exposed to needs to be done. We recommend consulting your veterinarian if you think your pet might be food allergic. Many lifestyle changes are needed before being able to successfully complete a food allergy trial.
According to the Veterinary nutritionists at the University of California at Davis, nutritionally, grain subsitutes such as white potato and especially tapioca contain LESS nutrients than traditional cereal grains. Tapioca is basically a straight starch, bringing few nutrients to the diet and no fiber. It's only used in commercial pet foods so that the food can be extruded into a dry kibble and the manufacturer can call it "grain free". It could also be used as an elimination diet for a pet suspected of an allergy to one or more grains common in pet foods.
What about Corn?
Creative Commons photo by bitman
There are several myths out there that corn is in commercial diets either as a filler or a protein source, and that it is poorly digested and causes allergies. The truth is that fillers are indredients that serve no nutritional purpose, and corn does not fit that description. Corn is a nutritionally superior grain compared with others used in pet foods because it contains a balance of nutrients not found in other grains. Corn provides a highly available source of complex carbohydrates and substantial quantities of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid important for heathy skin. Corn also provides essential amino acids and fiber.
In a survey of veterinary dermatologists, corn was not listed among the ingredients most often suspected to cause food allergies. A review of over 200 confirmed canine cases of food allergy in the veterinary literature revealed only three were caused by corn. The same number was reported for rice." However,if we suspect a patient is suffering from "food allergy" we will recommend feeding a corn free diet, as well as a diet with a different protien source.
Whole Corn is used as an energy source in many commercial pet foods. Just because it is listed high or first on an ingredient list, it should not be assumed that it is in the diet as a protein source, it simply is not. One is again mixing apples and oranges. Whole corn is NOT used as a protein source because it only contains 8-10% protein, it cannot be directly compared with an ingredient that is used as a protein source such as soy or meat.
What about Corn Gluten? The term Corn Gluten when used on a pet food label does refer to the protein provided by the grain. According to veterinary nutritionists, depending on the form of corn present, the biological value and nutritional value can be quite high. For example, corn gluten meal is a reasonably good source of protein - perhaps not as good as meat or chicken, but still good.
Gluten intolerance is an immune response to a specific protein called gliadin, present as part of gluten in wheat, barley, rye, corn, etc. Some humans and Irish Setters do have Gluten Intolerance. These individuals need to avoid gluten in their diets.
Raw is natural, and natural is good, right?
What do we think about rattlesnake venom, or tsunamis? They are natural, are they good for us? Mother Nature is not always kind to us! Sure wild dogs and cats ate raw diets but they also did not live long lives and did not live in homes with people!
Get the Facts from the FDA: Feeding Raw Food to Pets Can Be Dangerous.
FDA: Avoid the Dangers of Raw Pet Food
Recent research suggests Feeding Pets May Cause Serious Illness
Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli Oh My! Why feeding raw diets are not recommended
For great information based on science and not myths visit Worms & Germs Blog-Raw Meat Diets and read Worms & Germs Pet Owner Handout on Raw Meat Diets. The Pet Nutritional Alliance also provides unbiased information on raw diets.
Creative Commons photo by VirtualErn
Some feel that cooking destroys certain beneficial enzymes such as enzymes, vitamins and certain amino acids, and that these are preserved in raw food diets. In reality, enzymatic destruction is generally of little relevance, as many (but not all) enzymes are inactivated in the stomach by peptidases. Further, all necessary enzymes utilized for digestion of dietary components are made by the healthy gastrointestinal tract and pancreas.
Unfortunatley benefits of raw food diets are usually restricted to testimonials, which are frequently posted on the internet. However, no published peer-reviewed studies exist that would support any claims made by raw food diet advocates, and no published studies have examined differences in animals fed raw animal products to those fed any other type of diet (kibble, canned, or home cooked). Those studies are currently in progress but findings have yet to be published. We may feel differently if appropriate preformed and peer reviewed studies prove differently. We should all stay tuned!
Advocates of raw food diets claim benefits ranging from improved longevity to superior oral or general health and even disease resolution (especially GI and dermatological disease). In an unpublished study, cats fed a raw food diet were judged subjectively by observers to have found the diet more palatable, and had better hair coats and stool consistency after 10 months of feeding. This is consistent with what many owners report. However, no control group was described in this study, and therefore the results have never been subjected to peer-review, so clinicians must still view this information with some skepticism.
Role of Diet in Feline Intestinal Health and Inflammatory Bowel Disease This is a recent study feeding cats a raw rabbit diet. Although cats on this diet had better bowel movements than control cats on a commercial diet, there was an unexpected finding in that the raw diet turned out to be deficient in taurine. This caused the rapid and unexpected death of one of the cats! So although there was some benefit, the diet was not nutritionally adequate, and had a disasterous outcome. More work is needed to determine the ideal diet for cats.
The two credible concerns related to raw food feeding are:
Food Safety Concerns of bacterial and/or parasitic contamination and the associated public health concerns these bring.
Nutritional Adequacy and Nutrient Balance of both commercially available and home prepared raw food diets is also an important issue, particularly during growth. One study determined nearly 70% of home-prepared diets were deficient or unbalanced in key nutrients. Certain essential minerals, especially calcium, zinc and choline, were often below NRC recommendations. In other recipes, the diets were unbalanced (i.e. contained all essential nutrients but one or more nutrients were included in disproportionate amounts within the recipe).
The FDA does not believe raw meat foods are consistent with the goal of protecting the public from significant health risks, particularly when such products are brought into the home and/or used to feed domestic pets." Thus, the FDA expresses concerns about human health issues in preparing raw food diets, either at home, or commercially.The danger is that pets fed raw can shed significant numbers of pathogens like e. coli and salmonella without appearing ill. This is why Delta Society recently banned raw fed dogs from doing therapy work in human hospitals. We need to understand that we dont want raw fed dogs pooping in places the elderly or immunocompromised are living or where kids might be playing. Knowing that, do we even what dogs fed raw diets living in our homes?
Some veterinary nutritionists advise pet owners interested in feeding raw food diets that most, but not all, healthy adult animals will tolerate a raw food diet. But also caution that not all raw food diets are equivalent, or nutritionally sufficient to prevent problems. Recipes should be evaluated by a nutritionist, bones should be ground and never fed whole or in pieces and safe food handling practices are essential in minimizing risk of contamination. Nutritionists counsel that there are no clinically proven benefits of a raw-food diet, but there are documented hazards and risks. Pet owners are also be warned of the potential for intestinal perforation or obstruction by bones. Dental fractures can also occur as a result of chewing raw bones.
In summary regarding raw diets, there are NO nutritional advantages gained, but there are 3 potential risks:
1. Nutritional imbalance
2. GI problems from bones
3. Poisoning from bacteria such as E. coli, campylobacter, and Salmonella
Raw Meat Diet Information Handout from the Worms & Germs Blog from the Ontario Veterinary College's Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses.
Human Grade Food has no formal legal definition.
Creative Commons photo by maksbarzo
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine has taken the position that if every ingredient in a product is edible, meaning that it was processed according to rules of sanitation required of food sold to people, then the product may be labeled "human grade", said Dr. William Burkholder, a veterinary medical officer and the agency's resident pet nutrition expert.
The fact that the FDA does not frown upon the term does not mean that the claim always is used appropriately.
Human Grade Pet Food is a made-up term used by marketing interests to describe and promote products in light of anthropomorphic responses people have to their pets according to the Association of American Feed Control Officier's (AAFCO's) David Syverson, chair Pet Food Committee. AAFCO is an advisory body of state and federal feed regulators that develops nutrient standards and ingredient definitions for animals, whether livestock or pets. Regardless whether a pet food product meets the standard for human-edible food, people tend to misunderstand the term, Syverson said. He suspects consumers believe it applies to various body parts, such as intestines versus muscle, for instance, but it does not.
Whether a food is edible for humans has little to do with the nature of the product. It has everything to do with how the product is handled. If two steaks come out of a USDA processing plant, one will be edible and can be sold for human consumption, but the other slipped off the belt and hit the floor. This one is inedible and would no longer be considered "human grade".
Furthermore, what is acceptable for one species to eat may be harmful for another. Humans consider eating raisins and grapes as healthy snacks; however if raisins and grapes are fed to dogs, they are toxic enough to cause renal failure. Chocolate and the artificial sweetner xylitol, that many of us eat in candies, are also toxic to dogs.
What About Meat By-Products?
Meat By-producets found in a Hungarian Human Food Market
Some ingredients regularly found in pet food would be considered less-than-desirable in the standard American human diet but may be just fine for either to eat. In fact, in many parts of the world including Europe, many people do eat what Americans consider to be "by-products". There's nothing wrong with by-products, they are quite safe. It is just that most Americans think that they are "icky". In many parts of the world humans will eat brains kidneys and other animal body parts. Think of it as eating things like tripe or chitlins or kidney pie, which again humans in many parts of the world eat. By-products get a bad rap, but they do provide nutritional value.
Pet owners should judge pet food not on what they would like to eat themselves, but on what constitutes good quality for those species. When carnivores kill, the first thing they are likely to eat are the internal organs. Wild animals know that is where the gusto is. For example, liver and kidney contain vitamins. The intestines contain excellent protein. So a lot of these things provide a very good nutrition to the animals. They will go to the "steak" meat later.
By-products are tissues that are not striated animal meat/muscle. By-products come in all different qualities, and can be very poor to superior quality food ingredients. Regulations exist to prevent contaminated tissues from being used in pet foods. Organ tissues like spleen, kidney, intestines, lung, and the pluck (espophagus, tongue) are typical good quality by-products or meals. The american palate rejects these as desirable foods but they are indeed good protein sources.
What About Novel or Exotic Protein Sources?
Creative Commons photo by USFWS Mountain Prairie
Is buffalo, rabbit, or venison better than beef?? The answer in general is NO! But if your pet has food allergies, these exotic or novel protein diets are often recommended. But before starting a hypoallergenic diet trial it is important to discuss how to do it properly with your veterinarian. Much more is involved than simply changing to a new diet.
To become allergic to a food, it has to be fed continuously over time. There is nothing truly hypoallergenic about Buffalo, Venison, Lamb, Kangaroo, or any other protein unless....your pet has never eaten it before. And over time, a pet can become allergic to these proteins too, necessitating a change to yet another diet. When trying to treat a pet for food allergy, it is more about what you ARE NOT Feeding, not what you are feeding!
Below are links to handouts with further information about food allergies.
Chicago Veterinary Dermatology Food Allergy Handout
Food Allergy Myths
"The most common proven allergens in the dog are beef, chicken, milk, eggs, corn, wheat, and soy; in the cat, fish, beef, milk and milk products."
Beef, poultry, fish dairy, chicken, wheat, egg, soy are common proteins found in commercial pet foods in the US. Food allergic pets will typically react to one or more of these foods antigens. There is nothing inherently allergenic about these listed ingredients, they are simply the most commonly used in the US. In other countries, Australia for example, more pets may react to Kangaroo and lamb because those proteins are more commonly fed in that country.
Many US pets are now also showing sensitivities to lamb and fish proteins. Some how people thought lamb was inherently hypoallergenic, so all the lamb diets were generated. Now lamb often causes allergy problems because many pets have been exposed and sensitized to it. A careful past diet history is needed to make sure there has been no prior exposure to lamp if we are going to try to use lamb as a hypoallergenic protein source. The trouble is that lamb has now been mixed into so many diets and treats and owners are often not even aware they have been feeding it.
Pet owners seem love to feed exotic protein sources for some reason, but they are more expensive and of no benefit in the majority of pets. Owners need to realize that feeding exotic or novel proteins will NOT avoid the development of food allergy. We do not recommend them for healthy, non-food allergic pets. In many cases these exotic ingredients are in there to simply sell the food.
If a pet owner feels their dog might be food allergic, they should consult with their veterinarian first before starting a novel protein diet. There is much to prepare and understand before embarking on a food trial that the pet store employee simply will not be able to explain. If a pet owner is going to invest the kind of time, effort, and money needed to do a allergy food trial, they need to increase their chance of a reliable, interpretable, and accurate outcome. Diagnosing and treating food allergy is again about what you don't eat, not what you eat!
It is also very important to do properly sequenced food re-challenges once the pet is better on a hypoallergenic diet. Only with re-challenge attempts can we identify the offending ingredients and avoid them in future.
Are Over the Counter Novel Protein Diets an acceptable replacement for a Prescription Veterinary Therapeutic Novel Protein diet? A recent study says NO!
Use caution using over the counter Novel Protein Diets to diagnose and treat food allergies in dogs and cats.
Below is the abstract from a study comparing over the counter and Veterinary Novel Protein diets done at MSPCA Angell Animal Medical Center, Nutrition Service and Dermatology Service Boston, MA
D. M. Raditic, R. L. Remillard, K. C. Tater (Authors)
ELISA testing for common food antigens in four over-the-counter venison diets for dogs
Abstract: Dog owners are requesting over-the-counter (O. T. C.) diets for food elimination trials because of price and convenience. General practitioners and specialists will use OTC diets, not understanding the difference in quality control between veterinary therapeutic and OTC diets. The purpose of this study was to determine if OTC "novel" protein diets were contaminated with common food proteins soy, poultry, or beef. Four OTC diets each containing a soy, beef, or poultry ingredient were selected as positive controls. A venison diet from a veterinary therapeutic product line was selected as a negative control. Four OTC venison test diets were selected based on not having listed soy, beef, or poultry in the product ingredient list. Each diet was tested using an enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for soy, poultry, and beef antigens by an outside food laboratory. Control diets were consistent with their labels and were positive for soy, beef, and poultry. The veterinary therapeutic diet was negative for all 3 food antigens. Three of the four OTC venison diets tested positive for soy, poultry, and/or beef. One of the OTC venison diets was negative for all the test antigens, but contained rice protein. If these four OTC venison products are representative of OTC products, then OTC diets in general may not be suitable for diagnostic food trials.
What is AAFCO?
AAFCO stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials. AAFCO is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies. AFFCO has established some guidelines to determine the nutritional value of pet foods using feeding trials and computer analysis of dietary ingredients. The AAFCO system is not perfect, but it does give some guidelines for evaluation.
There is a difference between pet foods that have been through AAFCO Feeding Trial Protocols and foods that are "formulated to meet AAFCO standards. With feeding trials, animals are fed the product and monitored with various outcomes. If forumlated to "meet AAFCO standards" a computer software program printout hopefully shows the nutrients in the pet food meet or exceed levels recommended by AAFCO. If we feed diets that haven't been tested, then our own pet become the guinea pigs. It's perfectly legal to sell a diet that has never been evaluated for digestibility, palatability, nutrient content, etc. Below are example of the labeling differences.
There is a risk if actual feeding trials are not done that there may be problems with, digestibility, bioavailability, nutrient interactions, or errors that a computer cannot catch. There are pros and cons to both approaches. Nutritionists would rather recommend products from a company that were formulated to meet at least AAFCO nutrient levels (many large companies have their own target profiles) AND then ALSO put the products through feeding trials. Feeding trials are not perfect but they are used most responsibly and with the most confidence when the diets have been 'properly' formulated as well. A few of the smaller companies do AAFCO testing, but not to the same extent as the larger manufacturers. If we feed diets that haven't been tested, then our own pet become the guinea pigs. It's perfectly legal to sell a diet that has never been evaluated for digestibility, palatability, nutrient content, etc.
There is a lot more to producing and distributing quality pet foods than just marketing and AAFCO. Veterinary nutritionists recognize that the larger companies do more thorough quality control and send samples of each batch for toxicology testing, nutrient content, etc. They even store product until the expiration date and retest, to see if there's been any loss in quality or nutrients over time. These companies employ veterinary nutritionists on their staff to help with formulations and answer questions, and do in-house research and feeding trials. Even if a product hasn't been AAFCO tested, it may well have been fed to colony animals in a stricter protocol.You won't always find these in-depth procedures in place at smaller companies.
Now, when it comes to your own pets, the question to ask is how are they doing?
If there are health problems such as gastrointestinal symptoms, food allergy signs, or urinary tract issues, we welcome you to discuss considering a diet change with us. We may advise you that a diet change or diet trial might be a good idea! If we do not know a specific recommendation that will address your concerns, we can help you to work with a Board Certified Nutritionist that will have the knowldege, training and experience to give you the best advice.
Remember, if you do not have any specific concerns, and your pet is doing well, it is unlikely a grain-free or other holistic or natural diet is needed. However if a holistic diet fits your budget and lifestyle choices, it can be perfectly fine for your pet too!