Pet Food

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Pet Food - Therapeutic

Dr. Wright often prescribes a therapeutic food that was designed to assist in the treatment or support of the pet and its current health condition. He highly recommends the pet foods made by Hill’s, Royal Canin, and Rayne. These companies are excellent producers of therapeutic pet food.

Many of the foods that can be purchased in the grocery store or pet food stores are co-packaged by a third party company contracted to produce a specific food. That facility maintains contracts for multiple pet food companies. The facility will dedicate the production lines to one particular company’s pet food product, and then switch to producing another company’s product. The producing facility is in charge of buying all the ingredients required to fulfill the recipes for each food it produces. The parent companies have no control over the quality of the ingredients used to produce their product. You may recall the massive pet food recall in 2007. One of the ingredients used to manufacture pet food in the Menu Foods manufacturing plant was contaminated. Many of the pet food brands were affected because Menu Foods was under contract with those companies to manufacture their products.

Hill’s, Royal Canin, and Rayne have their own processing plants. They have complete control over the production of their products from the purchase of each

ingredient until the product leaves the loading dock. These companies: 

All of these steps are taken to maintain the quality and safety of their products.

In 2019, Dr. Wright was invited to visit the Hill’s complex in Kansas, Missouri. During his three day visit he was able to observe first-hand the manufacturing process of Hill’s dry dog foods. Shortly thereafter, our technician at the time, Jennifer, was able to tour the Royal Canin facility south of Guelph, Ontario.

Dr. Wright and Jennifer were extremely impressed by the measures that Hill’s and Royal Canin took to ensure that they produce a quality product. They are dedicated to manufacturing the highest quality and safest maintenance and therapeutic diets for your pets. Therefore Dr. Wright recommends their products to you with confidence.

Raw Food Diet Debate      

Occasionally clients will ask questions as to whether a raw food diet would be more beneficial to their pets. The wild ancestors of the domestic dog and cat ate raw food, so it is perceived that this must be a natural healthy diet. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The average life span of a wild wolf is 4 to 8 years. A captive wolf can live to 16 years. The average life span of a feral cat is about 2 years. A house cat can live to be 16 to 20 years. As dogs became domesticated, they were fed our leftover table scraps. Since people cook most of their food, dogs evolved on a cooked diet.

Wild wolves, eating raw meat and bones, can be prone to diarrhea and vomiting caused by food-borne bacteria and viruses, and bowel perforation or impaction from bone fragments. Either the wolves slowly get better on their own, or they die. Our companion dogs have the availability of medications and/or surgery through our veterinarians, when stomach or bowel problems arise. Domestic cats continue to eat a raw diet, when available, e.g. mice and other small rodents. These rodents carry tapeworm, which consume the nutrients meant for the cat. A trip to the veterinarian for some deworming tablets usually resolves this issue.

There is a public health concern with raw meat diets. Even if the companion animal shows no symptoms, the feces and vomitus can be contaminated which then can be transmitted to children and immunocompromised individuals. Some of the bacteria found in raw food diets include: salmonella, campylobactor, escherichia coli (E coli), and yersinia entercolitica (bubonic plague). Intestinal parasites can also be present in raw meats: toxoplasma gondii, toxocara canis (round worm), trichnella spiralis, etc.

Through testing it is found that 89% of commercial raw food diets are contaminated. There is no specific evidence that shows raw food diets are superior to homemade or commercial diets. In fact, there have been no feeding trials done to evaluate the nutritional adequacy of raw food diets. Most are nutritionally unbalanced.

It is important to know why a raw food diet is chosen. Some pet owners believe that cooking food, as with a commercial diet, destroys the enzymes that are necessary for digesting food. These enzymes are digested in the animal's stomach and are non-functional. Pets secrete their own enzymes in the stomach and duodenum (small intestine) to digest their food. Owners who want to feed a homemade diet are encouraged to cook the meat and have a board-certified veterinary nutritionist advise in making the balanced diet. Cooking meat kills bacteria and parasites and makes nutrients more available by breaking down the cellulose and proteins. If owners still insist on feeding a raw meat diet, great care must be taken in thoroughly washing all cutting boards, counter tops, mixing bowels, utensils and especially hands, to avoid bacterial contamination. These owners should also be alert for signs of food borne illness e.g. vomiting and diarrhea. "Nutrients" determine a balanced diet, not "Ingredients".

Comparing Apples to Oranges

At some point you have probably stood in the pet food aisle of the local store and asked yourself which food should I choose? What food would be best for my pet? There are numerous brand names and within those brand names, there are those labeled lifestyle (ie.  puppy, active, senior), light, natural etc. Understanding pet food labels and the ingredients in them requires mathematics, patience, and determination. It is a complex topic. 

Most manufactured pet foods follow the standards set by the Association of American Food Control Officials or AAFCO in the United States. Canada also recognizes these standards. Examine the package to find the declaration regarding AAFCO standards. The statement may say that this product is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO. This means that the formulation was tested in a laboratory and meets AAFCO standards. However, no feeding trials were performed so palatability and taste were not tested. Or, the statement may say, animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that this product provides complete and balanced nutrient is more expensive for the manufacturer to put the product through feeding trials but it is the best way to determine nutritional adequacy.

AAFCO sets minimum or maximum standards for the various elements in the food. These elements are listed on the package under the title Guaranteed Analysis. Lets take protein for example. In the Medical Preventative Diet for dogs, the label reads, Crude Protein ...min 31.5%. This means that for this formulation the product can contain no less than 31.5% crude protein. The product may contain 33% crude protein but cannot contain 29%. And so it is with all the other nutrients in the guaranteed analysis. 

One would think that if the guaranteed analysis is listed on the package,  you should be able to compare one pet food against another. If only it could be that easy. The guaranteed analysis is presented as the nutrient value per 100g of food as fed. That means, as the food is fed from the package or can. However, the moisture content of each food may vary; kibble varying between 8-12% moisture and canned food between 75-80% moisture depending upon the brand. This is like comparing apples to oranges.

To compare apples to apples, we have to take the moisture component out of the equation so that we are comparing only the dry matter components. This comparison is known as comparison on a dry matter basis. 

Here are three different products:

Nature's Best Feline                    Hill's K/D Diet Feline                    Friskies - Mariner's Catch Feline (canned)

Crude Protein minimum 29%      Crude Protein minimum 24%       Crude Protein minimum 11%

Crude Fat minimum 17%            Crude Fat minimum 19%             Crude Fat minimum 3%

Crude Fibre maximum 2%          Crude Fibre maximum 3%           Crude Fibre maximum 1%

Moisture maximum 8%               Moisture maximum 10%               Moisture maximum 78%

The Nature's Best product has a moisture content of 8% in 100g. So the dry matter would constitute 92% or 92 g (100% - 8% = 92%/100). Crude Protein for Natures Best is 29% on an as fed basis. To determine the protein content on a dry matter basis, take 29 and divide it by 92, then multiply by 100 to get the protein content. (29/92 = .315 X 100 = 31.5%) Crude protein on a dry matter basis is 31.5%.  Now lets look at the Hill's K/D.* Dry matter = 100 - Moisture (10) or 90% or 90 g, Crude Protein = 24/90 = .266 x 100 = 26.6%. And Friskies Mariner's Catch, Dry matter = 100 - Moisture (78) or 22% or 22 g, Crude Protein = 11/22 = .500 x 100 = 50%.

Here we can see that the canned food is much higher in protein on a dry matter basis than as indicated on the label on an "as fed basis". We can compare the other elements on the label in a like manner:

Crude Fat:      Nature's Best - 17/92 = .184 x 100 = 18.4%

                       Hill's K/D - 19/90 = .211 x 100 = 21.1%

                       Mariner's Choice - 3/22 = .136 x 100 = 13.6%

Crude Fibre:   Nature's Best - 2/92 = .021 x 100 = 2.1%

                       Hill's K/D - 3/90 =.333 x 100 = 3.3%

                       Mariner's Choice - 1/22 = .045 x 100 = 4.5%

Hill's K/D is a therapeutic diet for cats suffering from renal insufficiency. Protein is processed by the kidneys so lowering the protein content of the food means the kidneys do not have to work as hard. AAFCO requires that the manufacturer report the minimum percent of crude protein on the product label. Hill's also reports the maximum percent of crude protein on the label because the protein level for cats on this diet is critical. (Crude Protein = maximum 29% as fed, Crude Protein = 29/90 = .322 x 100 = 32.2%). 

In this case, the veterinarian and the owner can be assured that the maximum percent of Crude Protein will not exceed 32.2%. You must remember the minimum or maximum standard is just that. Minimum means that the product must contain at least that "%" but may contain more. Likewise with the maximum standard, the product must not exceed the maximum percent but the product may contain less.

How is all this math helpful? This process of converting the nutrient element levels to a dry matter basis allows us to compare one food on the store shelf to another. It is the first step in understanding a pet food label. We also need to understand what the terms in the ingredient list mean and what the descriptive terms on the label mean (ie, light, natural etc.).

What Is In The Name

Many clients ask about the foods they are feeding their pet. The above article discusses how difficult it is to compare one food with another by reading the pet food label, especially when comparing foods of different moisture content. This article is a continuation of that article. Conscientious consumers wanting the best and healthiest products for themselves and their pets read product labels. This can be very difficult when one does not understand what the label is telling you. 

The advertising industry uses marketing ploys and key words to attract the consumer’s attention. If uninformed, the consumer can be led to misinterpret these words. The pet food industry is no different. Every word on the pet food label is there to sell the product. Certain label claims are regulated by the Association of American Food Control Officials or AAFCO. It is important that the consumer understand the meaning behind these words.

For example, if the label contains the word “meat”, AAFCO designates that particular product must contain 95% meat not including water added and meat should be listed first on the ingredient list. An example would be “Beef for Dogs”. On the other hand, there is no definition or guideline from AAFCO for the word “gourmet”. It is just an industry term to sell the product. Let’s look at some label claims:

AAFCO has established guidelines to define what constitutes a “low calorie” or “lite” diet. Likewise they have guidelines defining the use of the terms “low fat” and “lean”.   However, there are many other words found on the pet food labels that have no AAFCO definition or guidelines. Some of these words would be “Premium”, “Gourmet”, “Wholesome”, “Ultra”, “Choice”, “Holistic”, and “Select” to name a few. There is no basis to determine whether pet foods with these terms on the label are of any better quality than any other pet food. They are merely descriptive words used by marketing to bring your attention to that particular product.

In summary, the terms used on pet food labels are confusing and it is important to read the ingredient list and understand the true content of the pet food.   

The Ingredient List

The ingredient list is the one aspect of pet food to which the owners are most sensitive and perhaps find most controversial.  It is wise to be cautious here, but pets are animals and their diet selection is not as refined as our own. Cats hunt down their prey and usually eat most of the carcass including skin, hair, and bones. Canines will often go after the offal (internal organs) and stomach contents first. Their prey is usually animals that forage on grass and grain. It is this carbohydrate rich meal in the stomach that they go after first. Although it may not be to your particular taste or part of your culture, humans do eat organ meat (liver and kidney) and brain, stomach (tripe), and blood sausage. 

What often happens when pet owners read a pet food label is that they picture the ingredients listed as they would those for their own table. This has led some people to misinterpret the content of these ingredients and denouncing pets foods as unsuitable. The animal diet selection is different than the human diet but that does not make it substandard. Read Farley Mowatt’s “Never Cry Wolf ” for his insights with regard to eating a diet of only lemmings.

Secondly, the pet owner needs to know that there are regulations that oversee the manufacture and importation of pet foods. In the United States, pet foods are regulated under The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Although "The Canadian Feeds Act" overseen by Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) does not single out pet foods, it does define and regulate the content of protein feeds and other ingredients that become the ingredients of our pet foods. Comparing the definitions set out by AAFCO and the Canadian Feeds Act, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) says the following. “Indeed a review of the two sets of definitions indicates that they are very similar if not identical.” Pet food labelling and advertising in Canada is regulated under the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and under the Competition Act. The Competition Bureau’s Guide to Labelling and Advertising of Pet Foods was developed by a cross section of interest groups including the CVMA. This guide sets the industry standard for labelling and advertising incorporating “approved statements on nutritional adequacy modelled on the AAFCO” standards. The Competition Bureau monitors all label claims. “Labelling standards require the name of the product, the target animal, the net weight, the name of the responsible party, an ingredient list in decreasing order of concentration, a guaranteed analysis, and feeding instructions.” Definitions were also established for some but not all descriptive terms for pet food. Some of these definitions were discussed in the article above “Reading Pet Food Labels II – What is in the Name”.

When examining a pet food label the ingredients that alarm pet owners the most are the words meal and by-product. The following definitions are from Schedule IV of The Canadian Feeds Act:

False information with regard to these ingredients, have been circulated, claiming that they contain hair, hooves, feathers, and other undesirable parts from the animal. This is not true. Ingredients and labelling are regulated. Knowing what is good for our pets requires education. If you really want to know what is in your pet food become familiar with the Canadian Feeds Act, Schedule IV and the Canadian Nutrition Assurance Program of the Pet Food Association of Canada found at .

Although each label is required to show a guaranteed analysis, this does not give the true quality of a pet food. Two foods that have the same guaranteed analysis may be in reality quite different in nutrient value. This is because a minimum content requirement of 8% may be met and exceeded. The product may legally be able to contain 15% of that nutrient. Likewise a maximum requirement of 5% of a nutrient may in reality be only 2%. The best way to evaluate a product is to call the manufacturer and ask for the actual nutrient content of the food you have purchased. Not every client will desire to track down the actual content of their pet’s food.

Instead, examine the label for the AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement or a quality assurance claim. The AFFCO statement verifies that the pet food provides a complete and balanced diet for the particular life stage for which that food was designed. If there is no AAFCO statement there should be a quality assurance claim. Good quality pet foods will have a quality assurance program and will meet or exceed the AAFCO standard for pet food.

Foods claiming to be suitable for all life stages should be viewed as suspect. Puppies and kittens, pregnant and nursing mothers will have different nutrient requirements than adult animals. The nutrient requirements may exceed those required by an adult or senior pet in order to claim it is suitable for young growing animals, pregnant or nursing mothers.

The whole realm of pet nutrition is very complex. There are many manufacturers out there trying to get a piece of the pet food market. Each will try to attract the consumer with various claims and niche marketing terms. It is the consumer’s responsibility to try and decipher the labeling to determine the best food for their pet. In their search for answers, the owner should discuss their pet’s nutritional needs with their pet’s health care team. They are the most knowledgeable in pet nutrition and the best resource for nutritional information.

My Pet Will Not Eat


One of the first signs an owner recognizes when their pet is unwell is inappetence. Suddenly the pet chooses not to eat or is eating poorly. There are many reasons a pet may be off food. Illness, low energy level, aversion to the food, nausea caused by illness, medications and/or stress can all be factors. When pets are ill, it is imperative that they maintain their body mass, hydration and strength if possible. This will allow the pet to combat the illness and return to their normal healthy state as quickly as possible.

The first course of action is to determine why the pet is off food. A visit to your veterinary health care provider can assist in determining the cause. However, it must be noted that pets with severe chronic illness and\or near end of life, may not respond to the following suggestions.

When an animal is off food there are some actions the owner can take to entice your pet to eat.


Tips for the food;

One may have to present small portions of a number of different foods over time, to determine what the pet will eat.


Water - It is important that the ill animal not become dehydrated. If hydration is a concern the following methods are suggested to encourage moisture uptake:

If these suggestions do not entice your pet to eat; a return visit to the veterinarian may be warranted. It is important that your pet stay as healthy as possible and continue eating to maintain body mass. This is a vital defense against any and all illness. Your veterinarian may have additional suggestions to entice your pet to eat. Depending upon your pet’s diagnosis, he/she may suggest an appetite stimulant and/or a probiotic to encourage eating and maintain body health. If nausea is an issue, the veterinarian may prescribe a medication to combat nausea.

Medications can be ill tasting and bitter. Some pets may develop an aversion to their food and refuse to eat it, if their medication(s) is administered in the pet’s food. Try and administer medications directly into the mouth. Pills need to be inserted into the back of the throat where the pet is forced to swallow. If you are not comfortable inserting pills into your pet’s throat, you may be able to hide them in a treat e.g. piece of bread or cheese or designated treats like pill pockets. Pill pockets are available at your veterinarian’s office, and are designed to be very aromatic and tasty for the purpose of treating pets. The strong flavouring also helps to mask the taste of the medication. Some medications may be available in a different formulation e.g. liquid or transdermal formulation (generally for cats). Discuss your concerns with your veterinary team. Working closely with them, will hopefully lead to a positive resolution of your pet’s health issue and a return to normal eating.