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What to look for in a pet food manufacturer

You need to feel confident in the food you choose for your furry friend. It is important to find out who manufactures your pet’s food, and make sure they are able to answer any questions you may have.
Asking the right questions will also help to assess a pet food business’ transparency and honesty, according Dr. Tony Buffington (DVM, PhD), Professor of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center.

What should you really ask? Here are 10 questions the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), which can help you narrow your options and find the right pet food for your pet.

1. Do you have a veterinarian nutritionist or someone equivalent in your company?

“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.

Because dogs and cats require different nutrition than humans, it is essential that someone with a strong background in food development be involved.

2. Who is responsible for formulating your diets and what are their qualifications?

This question is similar to the one above, but it will allow you to determine who actually formulated the food. While a brand may have a veterinarian nutritionist on staff. But are they involved with the formulation process?

“I think that this is one of our most important questions,” Dr. Ashley Gallagher DVM.

Pet food manufacturers should employ a veterinary nutritionist, or someone with the training and knowledge to help cats and dogs.

3. Do these experts have the ability to answer my questions?

Dr. Bartges believes that these experts should be available to answer any questions about diet, even if this means via email. “This gives pet owners the chance to have their questions answered by qualified sources and verify that a veterinarian nutritionist is actually involved.”

Although there may be some cost, it can take time to answer any questions pet parents might have. Most reputable pet food companies offer this option, even if they are not listed.

4. Which of your diet(s), which are tested with AAFCO feeding tests, and which are tested via nutrient analyses?

Two ways to test for pet food are available:

Analyzing nutrient profiles: This is the most commonly requested requirement.
Association of American Feed Control Officials, (AAFCO), feeding trials

AAFCO feeding trials are considered the gold standard. This is because diets that are based on nutrient analysis may appear good on paper but don’t feel right when they’re given to a pet dog or cat.

Dr. Buffington states that “the upside is that the manufacturers’ choice to do feeding trials could reflect the company’s commitment to producing satisfactory food.”

Be aware, however, that most pet food companies do not conduct feeding trials as they are the most expensive method to test products.

Do you know whether your pet food brand offers feeding trials? It’s easy to check the nutritional statement of your pet food label, located underneath the Guaranteed Analy chart. Here’s a sample:

“Animal feeding tests using AAFCO protocols substantiate (Name of Food’s) provision of complete and balanced nutrition for maintaining animal health.”

5. What quality control measures do you employ to ensure the consistency and quality your product line?

Dr. Bartges states that companies should be able explain their quality control processes and show evidence of quality when asked.

This includes seperating raw ingredients from cooked foods to avoid cross-contamination. For allergen and pathogen contamination, it is essential to control ingredients with care. Soy contamination is not something you want in a diet that claims it is soy-free.

Inquire about the testing of food during manufacturing, and how recalls are handled. Companies that place safety first often test the food for contamination and wait for results before shipping it to retailers.

6. Where are your diets made and manufactured?

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 third-party plants could also produce food for other businesses that might include other species.

Dr. Gallagher suggests that you find out if the meat was raised in USDA-inspected farms.

Large manufacturers may be able provide greater safety and quality control as they own their factories and have access to higher quality ingredients.

7. Is the pet food factory accessible?

Dr. Bartges states that visiting the plant where your pet’s food is made is an “eye-opening experience.” A local manufacturer is worth visiting. It’s a way to ask a pet food company about their transparency.

8. You will provide a comprehensive product nutrient assessment of the best-selling pet and cat food products, including digestibility.

This gives you more information than the label on your pet food. Dr. Bartges states that “if a [petfood] company doesn’t have or won’t share it”, it would be worthwhile looking at other diets.

To inform pet parents about the nutritional content of pet food, all pet food labels must have a Guaranteed Analys chart. For minimum amounts of crude protein or crude fat and maximum levels of crude fiber, and for maximum percentages thereof, guarantees are required.

While the Guaranteed Analysis does NOT list all nutrients and how digestible they are, manufacturers should be willing to provide this information if requested. For example, the complete list of nutrients could include the amount and quality of calcium; phosphorous; vitamins A,C,and E; omega-fatty acids; taurine, among others.

9. What is the caloric content of your diets per cup or can?

Caloric Value is an essential piece of information that will help you maintain your pet’s lean figure. On the bag or can of food, the caloric values will be indicated as kcal me/kg and kcal me/cup.

It is rare to not see this on the package. However, if it is, it shouldn’t take more than a call to the pet food manufacturer.

Dr. Bartges said, “If someone on the phone cannot give you this information I’d consider looking elsewhere.”

10. What types of research were done on your products and where are the results published?

It is an advantage if a pet food company has published food trials or scientific research. This is because these are not always required to create new pet foods. It’s costly and time-consuming for these trials.

So don’t be shocked if you can’t locate this information “especially for life stage diets or therapeutic diets used as a management tool for diseases,” Dr. Bartges says.