Cat and Dog Nutrition in Hanover, PA

Pet food is one of the most highly regulated of all food products. Pet food is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the states through their feed laws and state feed control officials, and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). This multi-layered regulation and the industry’s commitment to research and education help ensure that pet food products continue to be safe and nutritious for pet dogs and cats.

There is NO one best food for dogs and cats.  The most expensive foods are not necessarily best.  Price is the last thing to consider.  Nutrition and quality are not necessarily higher in pricier foods.

What is a Natural Pet Food?

It is a pet food in which the ingredients are derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources.  No chemically synthetic ingredients can be added, such as artificial flavorings, preservatives or coloring.  The ingredients can be rendered, cooked, ground or blended enough to make the final product (kibble, pellets, etc.).  If vitamins and minerals are added, it must be labeled “natural with added vitamins and minerals.”  Natural pet foods use preservatives like Vitamin E, which do not last long, so the bag should have a “freshness date/best used by” notice printed on it.  Also, the company should have field tested these dates for confirmation.

dog and pet nutrition in hanover, pa

What is Organic Pet Food?

“Organic” refers to the way the product is raised, harvested and processed.  For a food to be organic, it needs to be so “from field to plate.”  Meat used in the product must come from livestock that were not given hormones or antibiotics.  No chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides can be used on crops.  As with natural, no synthetic preservatives, colorings or flavorings can be added to the final product.  ALL organic products are natural, but not all natural products are organic.

What are Holistic, Ultrapremium, Premium, “Designer Brand” and “Human Grade” Pet Foods?

These are unregulated terms that have no official standard definition in the pet food world.  They are marketing terms not recognized or verified by federal regulators.

cat eating food from a bowl and licking her mouth

What are By-products?

By-products, simply put, are the parts of animals that “we” (in this case, most of the meat consuming public in the U.S.A.) have decided not to eat; primarily organ meats.  This would include the organ tissues such as the heart, kidneys and liver.  Many cultures consider these tissues a delicacy and from a food sustainability perspective a good way to maximize use of our valuable food resources.  The by-products used in pet food are an important source of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids. Like all pet food ingredients, by-products from animals or grains are safe, nutritious and approved for use in pet food by federal and state government agencies. By-products do not contain hair, horns, teeth, hooves, feathers, stomach or intestinal contents.

What are Meals?

Meals listed in pet food ingredients are not “fillers.”  Meat or poultry meal is a concentrated source of the animal protein from cooked, dried, and ground meat from which most of the fat has been removed.  There are also non-animal meals which consist of the high protein portions of corn (after the starch has been removed) or soybeans (after the oil has been removed).

Are Raw Diets Recommended?

No. They are associated with health risks to pet and family without scientifically proven benefit to date.

Are There Artificial Colors Used in Pet Food and Are They Safe?

Yes, artificial colors are used in some pet food products. Just like those used in food for people, the artificial colors used in pet food are approved as safe by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

What Preservatives Are Used in Pet Food and Can They Harm My Pet?

The same preservatives are used in food for people and pet food. They are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, are safe and are used in very small quantities. Pet foods contain preservatives for the same reason food for people does – to keep it fresh. Preservatives keep food from spoiling. Eating spoiled food can cause illness in pets just as it can in people.

cat and dog eating from a bowl

Are Fillers Used in Pet Food?

The term “filler” has no regulatory meaning. It is a marketing term. Many times this is a derogatory term meaning “poor quality useless stuff.” From the pet food manufacturing side “filler” doesn’t make a lot of sense. Every ingredient used in pet food is there for a reason. Decades of research have gone into making pet foods that meet the nutritional needs of dogs and cats. The makers of pet food do not put in anything that’s not needed. The term “fillers” has been incorrectly applied to cereals, but they provide not only starch for a good source of energy, but also vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and some protein.  Fiber sources, such as cellulose have also been falsely tagged as “fillers,” but these have positive effects upon stool quality and colon health.

woman kissing her dog

What are Prebiotics and Probiotics?

Prebiotics and probiotics can restore the balance of bacteria in your digestive tract.

Prebiotics are non-digestible foods (fiber) that make their way through the digestive system and help good bacteria grow and flourish. Prebiotics help feed and keep beneficial bacteria healthy.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can be found in various foods, or in the form of dietary supplements. When probiotics are consumed, these healthy bacteria are added intestinal tract.

What is AAFCO and Why Is It Listed on Pet Food Labels?

“AAFCO” stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials. AAFCO is a group made up of state and federal officials who develop model regulations that many states adopt. For example, AAFCO defines the ingredients that can be used in pet food, establishes nutrition profiles for dogs and cats and sets the approved practices for conducting feeding trials.

Choose a food with the AAFCO assurance printed on the label.

Pet Food Label

The ingredient list will tell you what’s in there, but no idea of the quality (as in digestibility and nutrient profile). The ingredients are listed in descending order by weight.  Because of the high water content, beef, chicken and other meats weigh more than dry ingredients such as grains, meals and vitamins, so they are listed first. This variance in moisture level make it difficult to compare actual nutritional information. Just because an ingredient is listed first, does not mean it predominates.

The guaranteed (chemical) analysis will give you minimums and maximums of some nutrients (fat, protein, fiber, moisture), but no information on all the essential nutrients for cats and dogs.

dog wearing glasses sitting on book

The nutritional adequacy statement (AAFCO statement) is the most important one: it will tell you the lifestage the diet is intended for and how they reached the decision that the diet was adequate (either using requirement tables or doing feeding trials). Caution: It is always wise to consult with your veterinarian since individual pet needs may dictate a certain nutrient composition and therefore certain dietary choices that would be ideal for that pet.

How Can You Evaluate the Quality of a Dog and Cat Food Company and Their Products?

A reputable company will have good quality control. As a general rule, larger companies often have the resources to implement high quality control standards and the resources to contact product research.

kittens eating food

Questions to ask:

  1. Do they facilitate contacting them? Company contact information (e.g. 800 phone number) on the product is a good sign. Using this contact information and talking to an actual person who is willing to discuss and defend the food is very important.
  2. Do they readily have the information I request? (such as calories and listed expiration dates on their products)
  3. Do they have a nutritionist (veterinarian or PhD) on staff?
  1. Where does the company get their raw ingredients? Are they from established sources or do the sources vary?
  2. Do they have a research and development department (R&D)?
  3. Do they invest money in AAFCO feeding trials? Do they run trials on each of their products or product families?
  4. Do they invest money in research to back up their claims?
  5. Is their marketing true? Does the company market their product on evidence-based claims? Do they market their product by attacking other products?

Grain Free Diets are a marketing fad, not a nutritional strategy. Also, most grain free diets use potato or other carbohydrates instead, and are not low in carb and/or high in protein.  It’s more useful to evaluate individual diets on their specific nutritional profiles when assessing for specific patients or life stages. Grains are NOT bad. No published studies show otherwise.

Rather than asking for information proving grains do not cause problems for healthy pets, one should ask critics and companies that make these claims what evidence/studies they have to prove their assertions. What matters is NUTRIENTS needed NOT SOURCES, so whether grains, potatoes, or beets, etc, ALL are a source of carbohydrates and the body knows no difference on a molecular level.

Corn provides a source of high quality proteins, carbohydrates and essential fatty acids.

What’s in a Name?

CHUCK’S Beef for Dogs

Beef must comprise at least 70% of the total product

Chuck’s Beef Dinner

Beef must comprise at least 25% of the total product

Chuck’s Dog Formula with Beef

Beef must comprise at least 3% of the total product

Chuck’s Dog Formula Beef Flavor

There can be less than 3% beef in the total product (manufacturer must show that the animals can distinguish it as beef flavor)

dog leaning to the right

Odds and Ends

Dogs are omnivores (like coyotes and foxes, which scavenge food from prey) and eat fruits and vegetables also.

There is no published research that states natural or organic is safer or better than commercial diets.

The synonym for anecdotal evidence is “no data.”

Keep in mind, even water is a “chemical.”

Canned and dry food are both fine. Canned food is around 70% water. Dry food is around 10% water. Dry food must be made with more carbohydrates to be formed. Dry is more calorie dense.  Canned cat food may have more nutritional merit overall than dry. Cats eat and fill up based on volume, so more calories can be taken in by dry, instead of water-dominated canned food. Dry food does not cause disease such as diabetes, but increased calories and obesity can precipitate it.

woman sitting on floor with cat working on laptop

Great General Reference Pet Food Nutrition Websites:

The contents of all the above information have been peer reviewed and found accurate and evidence-based by:

Kathryn E. Michel, D.V.M., Diplomate ACVN (Nutrition)

Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University (1983)

Professor of Nutrition, Department of Clinical Studies – Philadelphia

Medical Director, Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania


Laura Eirmann, D.V.M., Diplomate ACVN (Nutrition)

Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine (1993)

Oradell Animal Hospital

Paramus, New Jersey