AAFCO: What’s the Big Deal?
These 5 letters mean a lot when you’re talking about the proper nutrition and safety of your pet! AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials. The AAFCO standards nutritional adequacy statement should be easily identified on the bag of food for you to find. It is extremely important for you to find this statement to make sure the diet is the right fit for your dog. For example, some nutritional adequacy statements will say that a diet is complete and balanced for “all life stages.” “All life stages” means that the diet in question provides enough nutrition for nursing mothers and growing puppies or kittens. If a nutritional adequacy statement has “feeding tests” or “feed testing” somewhere that means the diet in question has been fed to patients and their physical examinations and lab work have been monitored for a specified period of time. “Formulated” means that calculations have been done and the food should contain enough nutrients to meet the needs of your pet.
Choosing the Right Food
First, look to see if the company has made it easy to find the ingredient information, the nutritional adequacy statement, and maybe look at the FDA website to see if that company has had any recalls in the last year or two. Then, decide whether you’re comfortable feeding a diet that has been formulated versus feed tested. Some companies do not feed test every single option they offer (think salmon and pea flavor versus chicken and rice flavor) but you may want to use a company that does have some of their diets tested. Lastly, look at the life stage and recommended weight/size for the diet, and if that matches your pet. Any large breeds (over 50 lbs) should eat a large breed diet and if you have a small breed pet you should look into something for small breeds. This will help provide the most appropriate nutrition for your pet to make sure a Maltese is not eating the same food as a Saint Bernard.
Obesity and Diet
Obesity is one of the most commonly noted abnormalities on my physical exam notes! Obesity in pets has links to increased chances of diabetes in cats and osteoarthritis in dogs along with other diseases. Most of the time when we discuss nutrition and intake with owners, the pet is getting too many treats, too much human food, too much food in general, or the wrong type of food. The wrong type of food is often an “All life stages” diet as discussed earlier.
What can you do to help obesity in your pet?
- Reduce human food intake (a small cube of cheese is like you or I eating a whole donut or cheeseburger!). Also, there is a lot of fat in human food that can cause pancreatitis and stomach upset in your pet.
- Reduce treat intake – treats should only account for 10% of the total calories per day. “Treats” also includes any dental chews, joint supplements in chew form, etc. You can ask your veterinarian to give you the appropriate daily caloric intake for your pet so you can see what treats are most appropriate for you to give. If you need a low cal option, you can try using the dry food kibble as treats or using some raw green beans or baby carrots. Calories are an important number, but the makeup of calories is the most important factor (I could eat only 1200 calories a day, but if all 1200 calories come from potato chips and fast food I probably won’t be very healthy).
- Check with the other members of your household to make sure everyone is on the same page! Often times I will find that my husband is giving more food than he is supposed to, or the cat will trick us into thinking he hasn’t been fed yet and get a second meal out of it!
- Decrease “lazy eating.” Cats will often lay down in front of the food bowl while snacking. If you raise the bowls and put them on the top level of a cat tree or somewhere they have to “work” to get to, they are less likely to spend all day snacking. You can also search for puzzle feeders or interactive bowls so your pet doesn’t eat for “free.”
- Increase exercise! It’s a great way to bond with your pet and live a healthy lifestyle for you too! Exercise doesn’t have to be just running or walking with your dog, but increasing play time with your cat or doing training with your dog can be both mentally and physically stimulating for them.
- Ask your veterinarian if there is a prescription diet for weight loss that might help your pet get a jump start on weight loss. The prescription diets are created to increase satiety (feeling full) while decreasing the caloric intake and changing up the carbohydrate:protein:fat ratios.
Schedule an exam with your local THRIVE veterinarian any day of the week to discuss nutrition and any questions or concerns you may have! If you can, try to take pictures of the bags of treats and food so your veterinary staff can see exactly what you’re using and help create the best plan for your family.