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Back to Basics - Pet Nutrition

Wednesday Aug 31 2016

By: Dr. Ann Lesch-Hollis

As a pet owner and consumer, food choices can be overwhelming. How do we understand what is best for our pets? Many factors play into our decision and information can be confusing, depending on the source

This article will be the first in a series that highlight important facts to help make better informed decisions about pet nutrition, based on scientific studies and feeding trials. 

Let's start with some basics. 


  • AAFCO - acronym that stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials. The organization sets the pet nutrition standards for food sold in the United States and is also recognized in Canada.

  • Omnivore - An animal subsisting on food from both plant and animal sources (example, dog).

  • Carnivore - An animal subsisting on food primarily from animal sources (example, cat).

  • Herbivore - An animal subsisting on food primarily from plant sources (example, cow).

  • Organic - Food sources grown with only animal or vegetable fertilizers, per USDA.

  • Natural - produced or existing in nature; not artificial or manufactured with chemical alterations, per AAFCO

  • Holistic - There is no legal definition under laws governing pet food quality, regardless of the ingredients.

We need to pause here to help with understanding the claim of organic, natural or holistic.  Natural does not mean organic.  Only pet food with 95 percent or greater organic content (minus water and salt) may display the new FDA organic seal on the packaging. 

The consumer needs to understand that natural is relative to the product. Arsenic is considered natural but we don't want it in our pet foods. We need to keep natural claims in perspective when reading labels and claims. 

Holistic claims can be made by any manufacturer, regardless of the ingredients. There is no legal definition of this term under laws devoted to pet foods, therefore making this claim relatively useless.

More definitions

  • Formulation method - It is  a method of determining the nutritional adequacy of pet foods without using feeding trials, and  stated as, "Formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by...," on packaging.  It is a cheaper method of developing pet food and is not guaranteed to be palatable (tastes good to eat) or nutrient bioavailable (nutrients absorbed by the pet). 

  • Feeding trial method - It is a method of determining the nutritional adequacy of pet foods by using live animals in a controlled environment, fed as a sole source of nutrition, with pet performance and health as measured results.  This is considered the GOLD STANDARD for determining nutritional adequacy, per AAFCO, and must meet their strict protocols. 

And more definitions

  • By-products -a common ingredient produced in making something else (ex., vegetable oils are a by-product of the grain or seed when processed for consumption)

  • Preservative - ingredients to prevent spoilage, rancidity and loss of nutritional value (ex., vitamin E, citric acid, spice extracts, BHA, BHT)

  • Ingredient - component of food that may or may not supply nutrients

  • Nutrient - a substance that must be consumed to provide energy, growth.

In our next article, we will review life stages and nutritional requirements.  The definitions above will help us understand what is important to consider when choosing a food for our pets, based on those nutritional requirements. 

Many of these definitions were supplied by the Nutrition Reference Manual and can also be found on an excellent website, WSAVA.org (The World Small Animal Veterinary Association), linking into the Nutrition Toolkit.  Happy reading!

Dr. Ann

Dr. Ann Lesch-Hollis owns Sterling Pointe Veterinary Clinic, which is at 41 Lincoln Blvd., Suite 10.  Call 543-9663 or go online to sterlingpointevetclinic.com.

Original Article: http://www.lincolnnewsmessenger.com/article/8/31/16/back-basics-pet-nutrition




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