Pet Talk: How pet food is made

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Strolling along the pet food aisle in a large pet food retail outlet is an amazing event. Playful puppies and adorable kittens almost seem to jump out of the colorful packages, beckoning the pet owner to choose their very special brand of food. Large pallets containing bags of dry food, stacks of orderly cans and rows of moist pouches often leave a pet owner literally dazed and confused with the overwhelming selection.

In the past half century, the production and marketing of pet foods has grown into an $11 billion dollar a year industry with more than 3,000 manufacturers producing over 15,000 separate brands of dog and cat food alone. Marketing ideas leap off the products claiming, "more protein," "rich, meaty taste," and "real wholesome ingredients." All of these speak to us ways to provide the very best for our family members. But, in light of pet food recalls and concerns about pet food manufacturing, how can a pet owner really know that they are truly providing the best?

Although feeding dry kibble to dogs is an idea that was born more than 150 years ago, the latter half of the 20th century saw many advances in the pet food production industry. Not only was dry food advancing, but canned diets and newly created semi-most diets began to find a loyal following among pet owners as well. Food safety and hygiene were becoming more highly developed as the concern for the health and well-being of the pets continued to grow among pet lovers. Here in the United States, the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine oversees the safety of pet food ingredients.

The process of creating and producing a pet food begins with the selection of appropriate ingredients. Huge train cars and tractor trailers haul in the enormous amounts of grains and meat meals that are used in producing a commercial diet. Many high quality pet food companies use inspectors at the rail yards and shipping terminals to scrutinize the raw ingredients before it ever enters the food plant. Diets such as Hill's Science Diet, Iams, Eukanuba and others will use human quality meats and grains to insure an optimal balance of the nutrients needed for the pets good health.

According to the fourth edition of Small Animal Clinic Nutrition, one of the most important steps is the compounding and mixing of the ingredients. It is important for the diet to contain an equal distribution of essential nutrients and unequal compounding may lead to a lack of key ingredients in the diet. Harmful microorganisms and potentially destructive hydrolytic enzymes are then destroyed by a thorough cooking process.

Many pet owners are concerned with the safety and adequacy of the foods that they buy their pets. According to Dr. Andrea Fascetti, a nutrition professor at the University of California Davis' School of Veterinary Medicine, pet owners should feel very comfortable with commercial diets.

"People should realize this pet food recall is not a common occurrence. Over the history of commercial pet foods, they have been very safe and a very good way to feed animals to ensure that they're meeting their nutritional requirements."

Additionally, all pet food companies are required to meet guidelines that are set forth by the Association of American Feed Control Officials for the nutritional adequacy of their foods. Many companies will go beyond requirements and actually have inspectors from the human food industry come and examine production facilities as a means of insuring the best product for the animal consumers. The Pet Food Institute, www.PetFoodInstiture.org, has stated that pet foods are one of the most highly regulated food products. In fact pet foods require more information on their labels than human foods.

Still many pet owners are turning to home cooked meals and organic substitutes for the more common commercial diets. Proponents of home cooked meals feel a pet's health can be better managed than with commercial diets. Pet owners are urged to speak with their family vets who may then recommend a veterinarian nutritionist. Many home made diets do not meet the nutritional needs of the pets.

It is extremely easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged with the sheer numbers of pet foods and reports of potential concerns with the diets.

However, remember that your family vet is a great source for dietary recommendations for your pet. He or she understands your pets needs as well as your own concerns much better than any source online.

To learn more about how pet foods are produced, visit www.MyVINN.com and watch the pet food video.

Dr. Norette Underwood is a veterinarian at Trumann Animal Clinic. She may be reached at catdoc@centurytel.net.

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