Locally-Owned in Oakdale and St. Paul, Minnesota

Pet Nutrition | Part I: Understanding What’s in Your Pet’s Food

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Pet nutrition is a really important topic – yet often, pet parents may be in the dark about important details of their pet’s diet. Consulting with your family veterinarian is important to ensure that your pet’s food includes the proper nutrients for their lifestyle and stage of life. If needed, your family vet can make a referral to a board-certified veterinary nutritionist®.

In October of 2023, Dr. Rachael Adams, one of our emergency veterinarians, joined us on Facebook Live to discuss pet nutrition. Dr. Adams is not a board-certified veterinary nutritionist® but has a passion for the topic and a lot of knowledge to share! You can watch the video replay of the information she shared or read a summary below.


Name Brands 

There are thousands of pet foods out there! When selecting a diet for your dog or cat, it is best to follow the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) Criteria for selecting a brand. Some of the companies that meet these criteria include: 

  1. Hill’s 
  2. Royal Canin 
  3. Purina 
  4. Iams/Eukanuba
  5. Instinct

These pet food brands all meet the guidelines set by WSAVA. This doesn’t mean other brands aren’t appropriate, but they should be discussed with your veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary nutritionist®. When reviewing a food brand’s credibility, a veterinarian will consider the following questions: 

  • Does the company have a board-certified veterinary nutritionist on-staff? 
  • Do they have published quality control standards to ensure safety and high-quality products? 
  • Do they own their own production facility?  

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AAFCO Statements 

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a non-profit organization which sets standards for the quality and safety of animal feed and pet food in the United States. An AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement helps pet parents determine what life stage the food is formulated for. This statement is often found in small print on the back or side of a food bag – typically underneath the ingredients and nutritional breakdown label

All pet food will have an AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy Statement. Here are examples of what a statement should look like:

  • “_____is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for _____.”
  • “Animal feedings tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that ____ provides complete and balanced nutrition for _____.”
  • “____ provides complete and balanced nutrition for ____ and is comparable to a product which has been substantiated using AAFCO feeding tests.”

AAFCO also has four recognized life stages that will be listed as part of the nutritional adequacy statement.

Recognized life stages are:

  • Gestation/lactation
  • Growth
  • Maintenance
  • All life stages

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How to Choose Your Pet’s Food 

There are many different pet diets from many different brands. When choosing your pet’s food, consider not only the AAFCO Statement, but also your pet’s specific nutritional needs, especially if they have any health issues or diseases. 

For example, Dr. Adams has a 6-year-old black Labrador named Finn. Finn is on a veterinary therapeutic diet, which is a specialized diet for pets that addresses a medical purpose. This type of diet requires a prescription from a veterinarian. Finn needed this special diet for two reasons: 

  • Finn has an ongoing disease process in his shoulders that led to arthritis at a young age. Some veterinary nutrition studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids can help slow the progression of arthritis in dogs. Omega-3 fatty acids are a great supplement for middle-aged and senior dogs, especially large breed dogs, to both prevent and improve mobility issues. Instead of taking these fatty acids in a capsule, Finn’s food has a higher amount of Omega-3s to help prolong his quality of life. 
  • Finn is a Labrador who loves to eat! To prevent obesity, his food has a very high fiber content. Fiber allows Finn to eat a higher volume of food without the extra calories. In addition, Finn used to have runny stool, but the high-fiber food also resolved this issue. 

It’s truly amazing what diets can do to improve your pet’s quality of life!  

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Selecting your pet’s food may seem overwhelming, but we hope this blog arms you with the knowledge you need to make an informed decision. Remember, always check the nutritional information and the AAFCO statement, consider your pet’s medical conditions or specific nutritional needs, and always discuss your questions or concerns with your family veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. They will help you choose the best diet for your pet!  

Read Part II of this blog to learn about current pet diet trends such as raw diets, homecooked diets, “boutique” diets, supplements, CBD products for pets, and more! 

Content provided by Rachael Adams, DVM and Cassie Panning BS, CVT, VTS (Nutrition).

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