The quality of pet food available is increasingly of major interest to consumers when they shop and purchase food for their pets. Natural pet food is currently the fastest growing segment of the market. Sales of natural pet foods doubled from 2008 to 2012, much of this driven by the toxic contamination of pet foods by melamine and other derivatives from the Chinese market in 2007.
Quality of natural pet foods, much as with other pet food categories, includes food safety. Quality and safety involve nutrient content and variability, stability, digestibility, bioavailability, and impact on palatability and fecal quality. Pet food manufacturers develop standards that cover the important elements related to quality and food safety.
Pet owners should recognize the importance of these factors and how they can rely on veterinarians as a source for this information. Exactly how a pet food manufacturer handles their quality control will also be a guide in selection of a pet’s diet. Testing of a finished product for salmonella is not required yet is a very worthwhile part of a manufacturer’s implemented quality control system. Also, assessing for contaminants (eg, aflatoxins) assures quality of raw ingredients.
Most pet food manufacturing companies use formulation software to determine the nutrient content of the final product. Accuracy in this aspect of pet food manufacturing is critical to the nutritional value. Feeding trials are performed according to AAFCP protocols and how well the product performs is also tested through palatability, digestibility, and fecal quality tests. The staff of the company should include companion animal nutritionists and one board-certified veterinary nutritionist with a strong knowledge of nutrition, physiology, and pet food ingredients.
Processing of the food, time and temperature, has a large influence on nutritional performance. Preservation is also a key part in avoiding changes to the food quality when a food becomes rancid. Natural pet foods mandate the inclusion of natural antioxidants (eg, mixed tocopherols).
Veterinarians can ask a manufacturer’s technical support team a number of questions to better assess the quality of their pet foods (one example: is there a veterinary nutritionist or equivalent on staff). Knowing the importance of each of these factors can help veterinarians select a safe and quality diet for a client’s pet. (VLT)
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