The Food and Drug Administration requires that all animal foods, the same as food for human consumption, be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances and be labeled truthfully.
For any pet food product to have the words “complete” and/or “balanced” printed any place on the package, the claim must have been validated by meeting the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards based on the product’s recipe or by laboratory analysis. If the product passes this test, there will usually be a statement to that effect: “(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles.” This means the product can be fed to a dog as its sole ration, along with free access to water.
Another, more rigorous verification uses the previous AAFCO profile but also has been verified by feeding trials. If a product has achieved this standard it will carry a statement to the effect: “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition”.
Here’s a good resource to check for brands that meet these standards or have been recalled for a problem: http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com.
Dietary protein contains 10 specific amino acids known as essential amino acids. Because the dog cannot produce them, they must be supplied in the diet. The essential amino acids provide building blocks for many important biologically active compounds and proteins. They also donate carbon chains needed to make glucose for energy. High-quality proteins have a good balance of all of the essential amino acids, “meat products” not so much. Dogs will usually avoid food that lacks even a single essential amino acid.
Dogs are also unable to synthesize essential fatty acids. Animal fats and the seed oils of various plants provide the most concentrated source of energy in the diet and supply essential fatty acids. They also serve as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins. Fatty acids are needed for healthy cell structure and function. As in our own diet, fats enhance the taste and texture of the food. Butter makes most anything taste better. The essential fatty acids also maintain healthy skin and hair coat. Deficiencies in the “omega-3” family of essential fatty acids have been associated with vision problems and impaired learning ability. Maybe that dog that won’t come when he’s called is deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, NOT.
All pet food labels must state guarantees for the minimum percentages of crude (refers to the method used to test the product, not the quality) protein and crude fat, as well as the maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture. The label should also provide the percentage of the daily requirements for vitamins and minerals provided.
Dogs get some of their energy from carbohydrates — sugars, starches and dietary fibers. The major sources of carbohydrates in commercial dog foods are cereals, legumes, and other plant sources. Absorbable carbohydrates like, glucose and fructose, are directly absorbed; they do not need to be digested by enzymes. Enzymes in the dog’s intestinal tract break down digestible carbohydrates before they can be absorbed.
Certain starches and dietary fibers are classified as fermentable carbohydrates. They pass undigested through the small intestine to the colon, where microbes ferment them into short-chain fatty acids and gases. There are studies that suggest that fermentable fibers may aid in the regulation of blood glucose concentrations and enhance immune function. Non-fermentable fibers, such as cellulose and wheat bran, contribute almost nothing for energy or nutrition. Fermentable carbohydrates may be used to decrease the caloric intake of overweight animals.
Puppies need increased protein and calories for growth. Very active working dogs, such as sled dogs, require large amounts of protein and calories to remain fit. Decreased physical activity and slowed metabolism in older dogs mean they need as much as 20-percent fewer total calories than do middle-aged adult dogs. If the dog gets too fat, disrupted carbohydrate metabolism can lead to diabetes.
Common types of commercial dog foods are dry, semi-moist or canned. The moisture content of these foods ranges from 6 to 10 percent for dry, 15 to 30 percent for semi-moist, and 75 percent for canned. Most canned food has relatively more fat and protein and fewer carbohydrates than do dry and semi-moist food, and generally contain higher levels of animal origin protein. When reading labels, it is important to pay close attention to the percentages of the five top ingredients.
As always, if you have questions about your pet’s specific requirements consult your veterinarian.
Dr. David Gross of Edmonds graduated from Colorado State University’s veterinary school in 1960 and was in private practice for 10 years. He retired in 2006 as Professor and Head of Veterinary Biosciences, at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Gross is the author of “Animals Don’t Blush,” which describes the unique patients and even more unique clients of a veterinary practice in Sidney, Montana in the early 1960s. The book is available at the Edmonds Bookshop.