What to look for in a pet food

As more and more concerns come up almost every day, many people are starting to look at their pet food, and the producers of those foods, with much more scrutiny. This is a great thing. For far too long we have been expected to accept what we are offered in pet foods as being safe, complete and the best things for our pets.

Simply knowing who makes your pet food, where it is made, and what it is made from can tell you volumes about whether it is a food you can trust with your pets. We tend to assume familiar names and association with large-scale retailers will provide us with safe products but, as with our own food, there are supply chains that we now question.

Regular readers will know, I am a raw food junkie. I’ve just seen so much positive happen with a real food diet not to be. However, as raw foods become more popular, there is a lot of potential for issues in this supply. Finding a trusted source of food, raw or otherwise, is an investment of time that is well worth it.

There are many discussions of the term “human grade” in reference to pet foods. For something to be labelled as “human grade” it must be produced in a facility that is inspected and certified for human food production and use ingredients that have been inspected and approved. The chain of custody of the ingredients also must conform to human food production standards. Some raw and dry foods that meet these criteria, but they are expensive and difficult to find.

Many pet foods, especially raw ones, are made from “human-grade sourced” ingredients. These can be very good but once they leave the inspected facility, they are no longer “human grade” and, depending on how they are handled and processed, they may not be as safe as we would like. Other terms to pay attention to include “intended for human consumption” or “inspected by”. Unless the words “approved for human consumption” are used, these ingredients could have been intended or inspected but failed. You really must watch for the buzzwords.

In the fresh/frozen pet food market, there is an increasing number of lightly cooked or sous -ide products, which some people look for because they are worried about bacteria. These foods are made and balanced as cooked, and their nutritional analysis reflects the food as it is fed.

Lately I have seen several references to people cooking raw foods. I’m not sure why, although I guess people are worried about bacteria. A properly made and handled raw, food, however, should be very low-risk. Cooking, even sous vide or slow cooking, does change the nutritional profile of the food. If a food claims it can be cooked, you should have separate nutritional analysis of the food, both raw and cooked, so you can be sure your animal is getting the required nutrients. The main issues are that things like calcium, taurine and many vitamins are damaged or destroyed in cooking. If a food is made well, in inspected plants from inspected meats, there should be no need to “cook off” bacteria. Some companies also add bacteriophages, harmless natural bacteria hunters which can neutralize any salmonella or listeria that might be present owing to improper handling.

If a company is transparent about its production, makes nutritional analysis available, and uses a Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspected plant and CFI- inspected ingredients, feeding its product freshly thawed should never pose an issue. If you-are really concerned about bacteria, rather than cooking the food, buy a high pressure pasteurized product. No Canadian company makes these yet, but many American products are available.

I often say, “You don’t always get what you pay for, but you never get what you don’t pay for”— it’s not cheap to do it “right.”

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