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cat dog eatingThe food that you feed your pet directly affects their health.

We understand that choosing the right pet food can be difficult, so we put together this guide to help you make the best decision.

Who oversees pet food production?

It is important to understand and be aware of the various regulatory bodies involved in the different aspects of manufacturing pet food. Check out the following list of these organizations and the part they play in this process.

Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)

  • Officials regulating production, labeling, distribution, and sale of animal feeds
  • Establish canine and feline nutrient profiles

One of the most important pieces of information on pet food labels is the Nutritional Adequacy Statement. Examples of this are as follows:

  • “[This food] is formulated to meet the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for all stages of a cat’s life”
  • “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [this food] provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dogs.” Feeding trials are ideal.

World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA)

  • Creates “Global Guidelines which set best practice standards in particular aspects of veterinary care”
  • The goal of the nutrition guidelines, when followed, is to “ensure that dogs and cats are on an optimal nutrition plan tailored to the needs of the individual dog or cat”
  • Currently, the 5 manufacturers that are known to adhere to the WSAVA guidelines are Hill’s, Purina, Royal Canin, Iams, and Eukanuba

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

  • Monitors and establishes standards for animal feed contaminants
  • Approves safe food additives for animal food use
  • Manages the FDA medicated feed and pet food programs

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

  • Regulates the processing of animals for slaughter and meat, ensuring that the products are “safe, wholesome, and properly labeled”

cat green eyes Choosing a Manufacturer

There are several things to consider when looking at a pet food manufacturer. 

  • Choose the companies that employ veterinary nutritionists, have continuing research & development, have their own manufacturing plants, and have internal quality control standards
  • BEG diets – a.k.a. “Boutique, exotic-ingredient, and/or grain-free” diets – have recently been implicated in a potential link related to diet-induced dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. These include many popular, smaller-company, pet food companies out on the market today. For more information on this topic, refer to the report entitled “FDA Investigation into Potential Link between Certain Diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy”

Quick Facts About Ingredients

  • Remember that the ingredient list is NOT representative of the overall quality of the food or bioavailability of its constituents
  • By-products are not all bad. They consist of lung, spleen, kidney, liver, blood, stomach and intestines free of their contents. They do not include hair, feathers, horns, teeth, or hooves
  • Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight
  • It is important that manufacturers have good sources of ingredients and maintain good quality control standards of their suppliers and vendors

Yes, it's important to feed your pet appropriate life-stage food!

puppy outside When choosing pet food, consider whether or not your pet is still growing. Most puppies, especially large or giant breed, should be fed puppy food until they are full-grown, or around 12-18 months of age. Additionally, calorie intake should be slightly reduced at the time of spay/neuter for all pets. Other stages to consider are as follows:

  • Adult maintenance – intact vs. neutered
  • Gestation or Lactation
  • Performance – Hunting, racing, sled dogs, show dogs, guard dogs
  • Geriatric/senior — Nutrient profiles for senior pets are the same as for adult pets. Foods labeled as specific “senior foods” often include joint supplements such as omega-3 FAs and glucosamine/chondroitin)
  • Disease-specific — Some diseases, such as diabetes mellitus, kidney disease, or urinary tract disease, are better managed with veterinary prescription diets

Is my pet allergic to their food?

Most food allergies or intolerances in dogs and cats are caused by a specific protein in the diet (e.g. chicken, beef) and not carbohydrate sources like grain. If you suspect your pet is allergic to something in their food, please consult your veterinarian.


Treats are a great way to train your pet or reward them for being good. They are great when used in moderation, but they should not exceed more than 10% of total calorie intake per day.

Choosing your pet's food wisely is an important part of them being happy and healthy. Remember, each pet is an individual, and at the end of the day it does not matter what brand of food you are feeding as long as your pet is healthy and thriving on it!

If you have any questions about your pet's nutrition, please do not hesitate to call us at (610) 346-7854.

Dr. Patricia McMahon is a veterinarian at Pleasant Valley Animal Hospital in Quakertown, PA. She has a special interest in feline medicine, dentistry, and soft tissue surgery.