Ever noticed that box full of phrases and numbers called a guaranteed analysis? Every pet food has one, but I for one never knew what it meant until I started doing this research.
AAFCO asks pet food manufacturers to list guaranteed amounts for certain nutrients. Under their model regulations (which are actually just recommendations), pet food manufacturers are expected to list guaranteed minimum amounts of protein and fat, and maximum amounts of fiber and moisture. The idea is to give consumers a way to compare pet foods and know that their pet's food contains plenty of the core nutrients they need.
But here's the big problem: AAFCO's nutrient profiles don't guarantee the source or digestibility of ingredients. Just because a pet food contains a minimum of 8% protein doesn't mean a cat can actually digest it or access its important amino acids. In fact, in a documentary I watched a couple of weeks ago, one woman made a "pet food" out of sawdust, motor oil and old shoe leather. And that slop would meet AAFCO's requirements! Gross.
On top of that, AAFCO doesn't ask or expect products to meet their nutrient profiles. All manufacturers have to do is list how much of each nutrient their product contains.
Manufacturers can choose to include other guarantees based on AAFCO's nutrient profiles. For example, cat foods often list a guaranteed maximum for ash. Ash is left on meat after it's been cooked at high temperatures, and it's made up of important minerals, but for years scientists thought it was bad for feline urinary tracts. The link between ash and urinary crystals isn't as strong as the scientists used to think, but some people still choose low-ash food. Manufacturers are also instructed to include guarantees for vitamins or minerals in any pet food that's marketed as a vitamin or mineral supplement.
Sometimes pet foods contain nutrients that AAFCO hasn't investigated, and they may want to put these in the guaranteed analysis. For example, omega-3 fatty acids might be very good for pet health, but they aren't recognized by AAFCO. When manufacturers put omega-3s on the guaranteed analysis, they have to include a note saying that the nutrient is "Not recognized as an essential nutrient by the AAFCO Dog (or Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles."
So, while it's good to know what percentage of your pet food is fat and protein and how much is filler, it's just as important to know what the source of those nutrients is, and that's why you have to look at (wait for it. . .) the ingredients.
A Close Look at a tiny Pet Food Ingredient, Selenium
Read the fine print of many pet foods, and you’ll find the ingredient sodium selenite. More than 90% of pet foods include sodium selenite in their recipies, the other pet foods have chosen a safer alternative. Why? Everything you wanted to know about Selenium, but probably didn’t know you should ask.
Selenium is an essential element necessary in trace amounts in the diet of humans and animals. Fish, meat, poultry, whole grains, and dairy products are typical sources of this nutrient in the human diet. AAFCO and the FDA approve a selenium supplement to animal diets, most commonly in the form of sodium selenite for pet foods. Although it sounds simple enough, there is far more to the selenium story.
How to Understand Pet Food Label Ingredients – the basics
You walk into the pet store, stroll towards the dog food section or cat food section; the confusion begins. Hundreds of different varieties; your heart starts to race, you begin to feel light headed; how are you going to choose? Your mind is screaming ‘I don’t know how to decide! Someone Help Me!’ Fear no more, weary pet owner. Welcome to Understanding Pet Food Label Ingredients 101.
The first rule of pet food selection is to ignore the front of the bag or can. The quality of nutrition a pet food can provide to your dog or cat, can ONLY be as quality as the ingredients IN the pet food. Bypass all the pictures of ingredients on the front of the food label, and look for the ingredient list on the back or side of the pet food. Understanding just a few things about this ingredient list can help you find a healthier food for your pet.
Ingredients are listed on a pet food label in order of pre-cooking weight; heaviest to lightest. The first five or so ingredients – by weight – make up the majority of the pet food. Some pet food ingredients can be considered a red flag; a potential health risk to your pet. Other ingredients are not ‘red flag’; however, they provide the pet with little to no quality nutrition. Learning to spot these ingredients is easier than you think. READ ON...
FDA Continues to Allow Mad Cow Disease Material in Pet Foods
The deadline to finally remove one of the highest risk materials from pet food was only two weeks from taking effect. Instead, the FDA announced April 6, 2009 it will extend the deadline until June 26, 2009. Pet Foods can continue to be the dumping ground for Mad Cow Disease material for 60 more days. Will there ever be an end to this? http://www.truthaboutpetfood.com/articles/320/1/FDA-Continues-to-Al...
Here begins the mass confusion thanks to AAFCO ingredient definitions. AAFCO defines ‘meat’ to be exclusive of any animal material resembling by-products. However, AAFCO’s definition of ‘meat meal’ (such as ‘fish meal’, or ‘lamb meal’) allows any animal part to be included except ‘hair, hoof, horn, hide, manure, and stomach’. One more definition to add to the confusion is ‘poultry meal’ (such as ‘chicken meal’ or ‘turkey meal’); ‘poultry meal’ unlike ‘fish meal’ or ‘lamb meal’, cannot include animal intestines, poultry heads or feet. The term ‘meal’ implies, according to AAFCO regulations, the moisture is removed from the ‘meat’ prior to manufacturing of the pet food. Pet owners would think that a ‘meat meal’ is what AAFCO defines as ‘meat’ with the moisture removed; such is not the case.
In an attempt to explain this confusing ingredient definition mess…’meat’ is nothing similar to by-products, a ‘meat’ meal such as ‘fish meal’ or ‘lamb meal’ can include intestines which anyone in their right mind would consider a by-product, but another type of ‘meat’ meal such as ‘chicken meal’ or ‘turkey meal’ cannot include intestines but can include other internal organs that AAFCO defines as a by-product (liver as example).
Whew! Are you lost yet? Buckle your seat belt, it gets worse…
AAFCO defines ‘meat by-products’ (such as ‘chicken by-products’) to be completely exclusive of meat (“includes but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, stomach, intestines”). Despite by-products having their own definition, by-products can be (at the sole discretion of the pet food manufacturer and without the knowledge of the pet food purchaser) included in other safe sounding pet food ingredient names such as ‘fish meal’ and ‘chicken meal’.
One more twist…all of the above pet food ingredient definitions can come from animals rejected for use in human foods, again at the sole discretion of the pet food manufacturer. Each of the above AAFCO definitions includes “it shall be suitable for use in animal food”; any animal rejected for use in human foods, regardless of why, is ‘suitable for use in animal food’ per regulations. This does NOT mean that all pet foods that contain ‘meat’, or ‘meat meal’ ingredients includes animal intestines or is sourced from diseased, rejected for use in human food animals; it means that some do and some don’t. It also means that those pet foods that do use inferior sources of ‘meat’ and ‘meat meal’ ingredients, don’t have to tell you.
Veterinarians reporting Possible Blue Buffalo Dog Food Concerns
Written By: Susan Thixton8-31-2010Categorized in: Pet Food News
VINNews is reporting some concerning news about Blue Buffalo Wilderness Diet Chicken Flavor; "veterinarians have revealed cases of hypercalcemia secondary to vitamin D toxicosis occuring in dogs..."
From VinNews Service:
Veterinarians report mysterious link between dog food and hypercalcemia
August 31, 2010
By: Jennifer Fiala
For The VIN News Service
Veterinarians are trying to discern whether roughly a dozen dogs testing positive for hypercalcemia and consumign the same high-end diet is merely coincidence or a problem with the pet food in question.
The reports have cropped up on the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), an online community for the profession and parent of the VIN News Service. In message board discussions, veterinarians have revealed cases of hypercalcemia secondary to vitamin D toxicosis occurring in dogs that eat a single brand of dry pet food: Blue Buffalo Wilderness Diet, chicken flavor. In each of the cases, veterinarians report that dogs’ conditions have improved after switching brands.
So far, nothing concrete has identified a causal relationship between the food and illnesses in dogs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while reportedly alerted to adverse events tied to the food, has not prompted a recall, though the VIN News Service has been unable to reach officials with the regulatory agency directly.
Officials with Wilton, Conn.-based Blue Buffalo report that “tens of thousands of dollars” and hundreds of hours have been spent analyzing various batches of dog food, including samples from bags directly linked to specific cases of dogs testing positive for hypercalcemia and vitamin D toxicity.
Richard MacLean, vice president of business affairs, says one thing is certain: Test results thus far have shown nothing unusual about the product’s formulation; amounts of calcium and vitamin D, in particular, are within the company’s specifications and well below levels that might be considered toxic.
The company’s focus has been on Blue Buffalo Wilderness Chicken Recipe, manufactured in April 2010 with a best-used-by date of July 2011.
Vitamin D toxicity, or hypervitaminosis D, induces bone loss and abnormally high serum calcium levels, which could result in kidney stones and the calcification of organs like the heart and kidneys if left untreated.
“We really do take very seriously our commitment to providing health nutrition to pets,” MacLean says. “From the moment this issue came up, we are looking to find out if this is something we can do something about.”
Dr. Joy Mueller, a veterinarian in Santa Rosa, Calif., says the condition isn’t one that an owner will likely miss.
Recently, her two-year-old Australian shepherd became lethargic, releasing copious amounts of extremely dilute urine throughout her house and drinking large amounts of water. Heeding the red flags, she tested the dog’s blood and noted elevated calcium levels and a low platelet count. Hypercalcemia is often associated with kidney cancer and lymphoma.
Yet after ruling out possible problems with kidney function, Mueller turned to the Blue Buffalo Wilderness chicken and turkey flavored dry food that the dog had been eating for two weeks and changed brands.
The result was dramatic; the dog's condition improved within 24 hours.
Mueller came to the association between the food and her dog’s condition independently of the VIN discussions on the topic, though she did not test her dog for elevated levels of vitamin D and cannot be certain that toxic levels of it prompted the animal's illness. Still, she e-mailed the VIN News Service last Friday to spread the word about her findings to other veterinarians.
Reflecting on the turn of events, she says: “Vitamin D toxicosis was not my first thought. Various types of cancer including kidney cancer were the big rule outs. I wasn’t thinking food until I switched him.”
While Mueller believes that the food is tied to her dog’s condition, she suspects the reaction was idiosyncratic.
“It’s such a dramatic response that if a large number of dogs that ate this food had it, you would hear about more cases,” she says. “You can’t miss it peeing all the time and going through gallons of water.
“I suspect this has more to do with the dogs than the food,” Mueller adds. “I'm thinking beyond vitamin D. There may be dogs that have a genetic predisposition to the developing this condition after eating this food. It’s quite a mystery.”
Dr. Kathryn Cochran, a practitioner in Michigan, agrees. She reports that dogs of two different clients were examined in the practices where she works on June 30 and July 16. Both presented with hypercalcemia and test results showed high levels of vitamin D.
Another common thread: Both ate Blue Buffalo Wilderness Diet, chicken flavor, purchased at a PetSmart in Traverse City, Mich.
Cochran’s employer, Dr. Charles Morrison, posted the cases on VIN, and called the company. As a result, Blue Buffulo’s MacLean reports that seven bags were pulled from the Traverse City PetSmart, and tests were conducted on two. He reiterates that nothing unusual has come back on any of the samples analyzed by the company’s labs.
Cochran reports that the dogs have since recovered after being switched to a different brand of pet food. She notes that Blue Buffalo has been proactive about paying for tests, sending out claim forms and preparing to make restitution to owners if the product is found to have caused illness.
She’s concerned that other cases might not be identified.
“I’ve been tearing my hair out trying to get people to talk to me on this,” she says. “Maybe there are more cases out there like this.”
Experts in the field of diagnostics think so, too. Dr. Kent Refsal, an endocrinologist with the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health at Michigan State University, works at one of the only labs in America running tests for vitamin D toxicity.
“So if a veterinarian has an animal with an abnormality of calcium, they go through lists of differential diagnoses,” Refsal explains. “Our tests can sort through that. In terms of the kind of test outcomes we get, we do not see many instances that raise concern about vitamin D toxicosis.”
Considering the rarity of such events, Refsal took notice when the sample from Cochran tested positive for elevated levels of vitamin D.
Three weeks later, when Refsal received two samples in the same assay run from dogs in Texas showing evidence of vitamin D excess, he contacted the clinics in question and determined that the dogs were eating food from Blue Buffalo.
Since then, Refsal reports that similar tests results from two dogs in Colorado have Blue Buffalo-produced food as the common factor. The lab, he says, has contacted the Michigan Department of Agriculture with the findings, though the VIN News Service could not immediately reach agency officials concerning the cases.
“If someone is presented with a question of vitamin D toxicosis, you wonder whether the animal has been put on some kind of unusual dietary supplement. Our assay is just an indicator of vitamin D intake. It does not identify the source of it,” Refsal says.
Apart from diet, there are other possible explanations for hypervitaminosis D in animals, including exposure to vitamin D analogs like calcipotriene-based psoriasis creams or pest control products made of cholecalciferol.
Veterinarians like Mueller say those explanations are highly unlikely, and even MacLean, of Blue Buffalo, believes that it's possible that there is a relationship between the food and the handful of sick dogs eating the product.
Yet, he cautions, no one has scientifically proven the link. He also notes that reports of at least three other dogs exhibiting signs of hypercalcemia and elevated vitamin D levels without a connection to Blue Buffalo products have surfaced on VIN.
MacLean reiterates that the company’s tests of its dog food have come back as low to mid-level for vitamin D content.
“Everything that we have suggests that it’s not our food,” he says. “We have 30,000 bags of this stuff out there and literally a dozen animals that have a common symptom. On an incident rate, that doesn’t invite the conclusion that there’s something defective about the product.” http://news.vin.com/VINNews.aspx?articleId=16468
Tremendous thank you to VINNews for alerting pet owners to this situation!
The following is an excerpt from Petfinder.com's The Adopted Dog Bible
Pet food labels must list the minimum percentages of protein and fat and maximum percentages of fiber and water in the food. Ingredients are listed by weight, so if chicken is listed first, it is the largest ingredient in that product.
It's important to note that some pet food manufacturers engage in a practice called splitting, which is a way to disguise the true contents of their food. For example, if a food is comprised mostly of corn products, but the manufacturer wants the consumer to believe it contains mostly meat, it will divide the corn into two small categories, such as ground corn and corn gluten meal, so they can list the meat first, making it appear that the food is mostly meat when, in fact, it's mostly corn.
The following list will help you decipher the ingredient list on a typical dog food label. Where possible, avoid foods that contain animal by-products, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, growth hormones, factory farmed and rendered meat, and meat from animals that have been treated with antibiotics.
Animal fat is a by-product of meat processing and is obtained from the tissues of mammals and/or poultry in the commercial process of rendering or extracting.
Animal meat (turkey, chicken, beef, fish, etc.) is the clean flesh derived from the slaughtered animal.
Animal meat meal and by-product meal is the clean, rendered remainder of a slaughtered animal once the meat has been removed. Often includes necks, feet, blood, bones, intestines, and tissue.
Animal meat by-products are the clean, nonrendered remains after the meat and meat by-product meal has been removed. Often includes bones, beaks, and viscera.
Artificial flavors and colors are used to enhance the look and taste of food. There is no nutritional quality in artificial flavors and, since they are not regulated by the FDA, many could actually be harmful to your dog's health.
Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is an antioxidant good for normal metabolism.
Beef and bone meal is a by-product made from beef tissues, including bone, but exclusive of any blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, and entrails.
Beet pulp is the dried residue from sugar beet. It is added for fiber, but it is high in sugar.
BHA/BHT, or Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) respectively, are chemical preservatives which are used to protect dietary fats from rancidity. They are also included in human foods in the United States, though they have been banned from human consumption in many countries. Toxicity studies have shown that BHA and BHT at high levels can be detrimental to an animal's health in various ways, promoting or contributing to dry skin, dental disease, stomach and urinary carcinogenesis, and kidney and liver impairment.
Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin, nitrogen-containing acid essential for growth and well-being in animals and some microorganisms. Eggs are a common source of biotin.
Brewer's dried yeast is a by-product of the brewing of beer and ale. Although brewer's yeast is a good source of vitamin B, it is a potential allergen for some dogs.
Calcium pantothenate is a source of pantothenic acid, a B vitamin known as vitamin B3. It acts as a catalyst in the production of fats, cholesterol, bile, vitamin D, red blood cells, and some neurotransmitters and hormones.
Choline chloride is source of choline, a member of the B-complex group of water-soluble vitamins (vitamin B4).
Copper is an essential trace mineral. The metabolism and functions of copper are closely tied to those of iron. Copper is necessary for normal absorption and transport of dietary iron.
Corn bran is the outer coating of the corn kernel, with little or no nutritional value.
Corn gluten meal is the dried residue from corn after the removal of the larger part of the starch and germ. While small amounts can be used as a source of protein, corn gluten meal, like other protein sources, is a potential allergen for some dogs.
D-Activated animal sterol is a source of vitamin D3.
Dried whey is the product obtained by removing water from whey (the watery part of milk) and is a protein source.
Folic acid is a vitamin of the B-complex that is water-soluble and essential in animal metabolism.
Gelatin is a colorless or slightly yellow substance that is nearly tasteless and odorless. It is created by prolonged boiling of animal skin, connective tissue, or bones.
Glucosamine hydrochloride is a compound that occurs naturally in the cartilage cushioning the joints and may play a role in preventing or treating osteoarthritis.
Inositol is a source of vitamin B8.
Iodine is an essential mineral element and is required by the body for the production of the hormones needed by the thyroid gland.
Lecithin is essential for normal fatty acid transport within cells.
Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid found in fats and oils and helps promote healthy skin and a shiny coat.
Manganese is a micromineral and is necessary for normal bone development and reproduction.
Natural flavors are minimally processed flavor ingredients that do not contain artificial or synthetic components.
Potassium is an essential mineral that plays various roles in metabolism and body functions and assists in the regulation of the acid-base balance and water balance in the blood and the body tissue.
Rice gluten meal is the dried residue from rice after the removal of the larger part of the starch and germ. Rice gluten is an option for a dog who is allergic to wheat or corn.
Sodium selenite is an essential trace mineral and an important antioxidant nutrient.
The following is an excerpt from Petfinder.com's The Adopted Dog Bible
Before you decide among commercial, home-cooked, and raw food for your dog, it's important to have a basic understanding of the building blocks of a healthy canine diet.
Water. Your dog should always have access to fresh water, from a clean bowl. Some people limit a dog's water supply or take it away altogether in the evenings, to avoid late-night bathroom needs. This may be a helpful house-training tool, but it is not fair or healthy for your dog in the long-term.
Water helps the body to:
Regulate body temperature
Lubricate muscle tissues
Flush away bacteria that cause urinary tract infections
Ease constipation by moving stools along more smoothly
Transport oxygen and nutrients throughout the body
The quality of your dog's drinking water is also important. Most tap water contains chemical additives, such as chlorine and fluoride, as well as heavy metals such as lead and cadmium, which can be harmful to your dog's health.
While it's true that dogs drink from ponds, puddles and -- horrors -- the toilet, these water sources are teeming with bacteria and parasites. You can reduce the risk of infection by providing your dog with only bottled or filtered water.
Proteins. Proteins build and maintain muscles, organs, bones, blood, body tissues, hair, nails, and the immune system. Many foods contain protein, but the best sources are beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, grains, and soy.
Adopted dogs with a history of poor nutrition may be at risk of developing a protein deficiency. Signs of a protein deficiency include:
Dry, brittle fur
Poor muscle development
Weakened immune system
If your adopted dog comes to you with some or all of these symptoms, talk to your vet.
Protein levels that exceed a dog's minimum requirement do not pose a problem to healthy dogs, unless your dog has impaired kidney or liver function (your veterinarian can monitor organ function with regular blood tests), or an allergy to a particular protein source.
Recent research has shown that previous recommendations to reduce protein intake for senior dogs was not sound. In fact, healthy senior dogs may need significantly more protein than their younger counterparts because they metabolize the protein less efficiently.
Fats. Fats are the main source of dietary energy (or calories) in a dog's diet and provide the most concentrated source of energy in foods. One gram of fat contains more than twice the energy than one gram of protein or carbohydrate. They are needed for healthy skin, coat, eyes, brain, and other tissues.
Healthy fats come from sources such as:
Sunfl ower oil
Carbohydrates. Along with proteins and fats, carbohydrates are one of the three major nutrients in food and a major source of energy for a dog's body.
Sedentary dogs have a lower energy requirement than their more active canine counterparts to produce the energy needed to fuel their brain and muscles. Most commercial dog foods contain as much as 30 to 60 percent carbohydrates because a minimum proportion of starch is needed in the formula for the commercial extrusion process, and, many believe, because carbohydrates are less expensive than proteins and fats.
Dogs can't digest uncooked grain as easily as meats, so if grains are fed, it is important to cook them to increase digestibility. Simmer rice or other grains until they are soft. To add a little extra flavor, cook them in chicken or beef broth.
Good sources of carbohydrates include:
Whole grain breads and other grains
Vitamins and Minerals. One thing a dog's body can't do on its own is make vitamins (though vitamin C is an exception).
Vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium are essential nutrients that can be found in the following foods:
Fruits and vegetables
While most commercial pet food manufacturers claim their products are "complete and balanced," (a claim they substantiate through feeding trials or by meeting certain requirements) these products may lose necessary vitamins and minerals, which may be destroyed by the heating process.
There is some debate as to whether a dog's diet needs to be supplemented with vitamins and minerals so you may want to consult a holistic veterinarian before doing so. Holistic veterinarians have all the same training as a conventional veterinarian but incorporate alternative medicine (this might include homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, herbs, etc.) in their practice, as well.
Fatty Acids. Dietary fatty acids can be classified as essential and nonessential.
Nonessential fatty acids can be synthesized within a dog's body at a level that meets the pet's requirements, whereas essential fatty acids cannot be synthesized, so they must be supplied in the diet.
Dogs require one essential fatty acid (linoleic acid), which is a type of omega- 6 fatty acid. Linoleic acid helps the body to:
Regulate the blood fl ow to body tissues
Clot blood after an injury
Respond to injury and infection by boosting the immune system
Maintain a handsome coat and healthy skin
This fatty acid is found primarily in grains and animal fat, and is provided at appropriate levels in high- quality dog foods.
Nice addition. I agree with the higher protein for senior dogs, I notice a big improvement in Cody since I have been homecooking for him. I don't agree corn is a good carb, however. Corn is empty calories, hard to digest in canines (& human) and has very little nutritional value. It is also a large contributer in allergies in dogs. I have eliminated corn totally from my dogs diet. And I like and use Olive oil and fish oil as my sources of healthy fats. I don't like sunflower oil, flax oil is better.
"some pet food manufacturers engage in a practice called splitting, which is a way to disguise the true contents of their food. For example, if a food is comprised mostly of corn products, but the manufacturer wants the consumer to believe it contains mostly meat, it will divide the corn into two small categories, such as ground corn and corn gluten meal, so they can list the meat first, making it appear that the food is mostly meat when, in fact, it's mostly corn."
This is just one of the sneaky tricks used by commercial dog food companies to make you think it is a healthy food. This is a great list, J