News and Noteworthy

PFAC Discusses Pet Food Ingredient Misconceptions

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Is the Canadian pet food industry regulated?
Canadian pet food manufacturers are currently subject to several Canadian and international regulations including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s enhanced animal health safeguards which make it illegal for specified risk materials (SRMs) to be fed to any animal, including dogs and cats. Pet Food manufacturers must comply with the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and the Competition Act, administered by Industry Canada. These regulations specify how pet foods may be marketed to consumers, including how food is named and what information must be included on pet food labels.  Members of the Pet Food Association of Canada (PFAC) also manufacture to the nutritional standards set out by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

2. What is AAFCO?
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a group of American state and federal officials who regulate pet food. AAFCO establishes the ingredients that can be used in pet food, nutrition profiles for dogs and cats and sets practices for conducting feeding trials, designed to test the nutrition profiles of pet food.

3. What does the term “complete and balanced” mean?
“Complete and balanced” means the product has all the required nutrients, in proper amounts and proportions, and has been tested to make sure it meets the complex nutritional requirements of a healthy dog or cat. The term is defined by AAFCO.

4. Is it okay to feed my pet “people” food?
Cats and dogs have different dietary needs from humans and should consume food that is specially developed to meet those needs. For example, feeding pets poultry skin and meats can increase the level of fat in the pet’s diet, which may lead to pancreatic problems.  It is important to remember that some common human foods including chocolate, grapes, raisins and onions, can make your pet sick and should be avoided.

5. Why should I feed my pet commercial pet food rather than homemade pet food?
Years of research by food scientists, chemists, pet nutritionists and veterinarians go into the development of commercially-prepared pet food and these foods are manufactured to offer pets the healthiest and safest food possible.  There are several risks associated with homemade pet food.  For example, improperly cooked or raw food carries a high risk of bacterial contamination, which can be inadvertently transferred to the human family members in the household.  It is also difficult to regulate the nutrients in homemade food which may mean your pet gets too much or too little in the way of vitamins and minerals. Too much calcium, for example, can result in growth problems, particularly for puppies and kittens, while too little calcium can cause weak bones that are susceptible to breaks.

6. How can I tell the calorie content of my pet’s food?
Contact the manufacturer for more information. Just as the number of calories varies between 100 grams of steak and 100 grams of grilled chicken breast, the number of calories per serving varies between different types of pet food.

7. Is it safe for my dog to eat cat food?
Dog and cat food is designed to meet the special dietary needs of each species. Cats and dogs should not share food or eat the other’s food because it will not provide the pet with the appropriate essential nutrients.

8. How much meat is in pet foods labeled as containing “beef” or “chicken”?
Look for the list of ingredients on the package. They are listed in descending order by weight from largest amount to smallest amount. For example, if beef is the first ingredient on the label then the pet food contains more beef than any other ingredient. When an ingredient or combination of ingredients makes up 90% or more of the total weight of all ingredients, these ingredients may also form a part of the product name. For example, if the product contains 90% or more chicken, it may be called “My Brand Chicken Cat Food”.

9. What does the term “guaranteed analysis” mean?
Guaranteed analysis refers to minimum or maximum nutritional quantities of key nutrients within the package of food. For example, the analysis may include the minimum percentage of protein and fat, and the maximum percentages of fiber and moisture (water). Other nutritional guarantees, such as vitamins and minerals, may be included but are not required.

10. Do I need to follow the package’s feeding instructions?
Feeding instructions are developed specifically for each product and take into consideration the pet’s breed, age and activity level. Feeding instructions are also designed to prevent your dog or cat from eating too much food which can lead to obesity or other health problems. If you are unsure how much food to give your cat or dog, contact the pet food manufacturer or consult your veterinarian.

11. How often should I feed my pet?
There are two options for feeding schedules. Some pet owners feed their cats and dogs “free choice”, meaning a set amount of food is put out and the pets can eat throughout the day. Alternatively, you can provide a set amount of food at specific meal times during the day. If you are uncertain about how often you should feed your pet, consult with your veterinarian.

12. Can I feed my pet table scraps?
The majority of commercial pet food is designed to be your pet’s sole source of nutrition. Giving your cat or dog table scraps is not necessary and may cause health problems. For example, many leftovers contain too much sugar, salt and fat which is unhealthy for your pet. Some foods like chocolate for dogs, and onions for cats, can make your pet very sick and should be avoided.

13. Should I change my pet’s food from time to time? If so, what is the best way to do it?
It is not generally necessary to change your pet’s food. Pets like routine, including eating the same food every day.  If you need to change their food, perhaps because your veterinarian has recommended a specially formulated food, it is best to change it gradually. Start by mixing some of the new food in with your pet’s current food. Over the next three to five days, gradually increase the amount of new pet food and decrease the amount of current food. This process will help your pet adapt to the new food and reduce the likelihood of an upset stomach.

14. Where can I learn more about pet nutrition?
Your veterinarian is a valuable resource for information about pet nutrition. In addition, many pet food companies have customer service telephone lines, websites and other materials that provide information about pet nutrition. Visit the members page for more information from PFAC member companies.

15. If my pet is overweight, should I feed a special diet?
If you believe your cat or dog is overweight or is otherwise unhealthy, you should consult your veterinarian. If your veterinarian determines your pet is overweight, you may be advised to decrease the amount of food or feed your pet a different type of pet food.

16. Are fillers used in pet food?
Pet food manufacturers do not include unnecessary ingredients. Every ingredient used in pet food is there for a reason. Extensive research has gone into formulating pet foods that meet the complex nutritional needs of cats and dogs.

17. What are by-products?
By-products are an important source of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids for your pet. They come from the parts of animals that people do not usually eat.

18. What are rendered meals and are they safe?
Rendering is a process used to reclaim proteins and fats. Rendering is done through cooking ingredients at very high temperatures. The end product is a fine “meal” rich in protein and minerals. Rendered meals are an important source of nutrients for pet food.

19. Why is wheat gluten used in pet food?
Wheat gluten provides protein which supports muscle development and a healthy immune system in cats and dogs. In pet food, it also provides texture and consistency. Wheat gluten has been safely used for decades in pet food products as well as many human food products such as bread, breakfast cereal and pasta.

20. What is “ash”? Is it safe to feed my cat food with ash?
Pet food components are broken down into the following categories: protein, fat, carbohydrate, fiber and moisture. The inorganic components of pet food, such as minerals and vitamins, are called “ash” because they are not incinerated when the food is burned for its nutritional analysis.It was once thought that ash was responsible for Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). However, researchers now agree this is not the case. In fact, ash contains important minerals, such as calcium and manganese, which are needed for your pet’s continued good health.

21. Is calcium carbonate dangerous for dogs?
Calcium carbonate is a common pet food ingredient and is completely safe. Calcium carbonate is an important source of calcium in pet food.

22. Are raisins and grapes harmful to dogs?
Raisins and grapes have been linked to kidney failure in dogs. It is not clear how many grapes or raisins are necessary to cause damage or if they only cause problems in certain breeds of dogs. To be safe, it is recommended you avoid feeding your dog grapes or raisins. Of note, grape pomace is not associated with grapes. Grape pomace is safe for dogs and is sometimes included in pet food as a source of antioxidants.

23. Why are preservatives used in pet food and can they harm my pet?
Preservatives are used in pet food to keep it fresh and to prevent it from spoiling. The same preservatives are used in food for people and pet food. They are safe and are used in very small quantities.

24. What are canned pet food containers made from? Is it safe?
The containers are made from metal and are lined with a plastic resin which is used as a protective coating to prevent the food inside the can from eroding the metal. There is no known health risk associated with the lining.The pet food industry works closely with packaging suppliers to ensure the packaging is made from the highest quality materials including monitoring the most current science related to the substances used in the packaging process.

25. If I am travelling to Canada with my pet, can I bring pet food?
If you are planning to visit Canada, please note the import conditions for bringing pet food into Canada.  The food must be in its original packaging and preferably, unopened.  If your pet is on a special diet, you may wish to consult with your veterinarian about the availability of the diet in Canada in advance of travelling.  For more information, consult this section of the CFIA Website.

26. If I am travelling to the USA with my pet, can I bring pet food?
If you are planning to visit the United States and you are bringing your pet with you, you may bring pet food for personal use during your stay.  The pet food must be unopened and the pet you are feeding should be accompanying you.  For more information, consult this link and read “Canadian Agricultural Products”

27. What should I do if I suspect there is a problem with my pet’s food?
Pet owners should always first consult their veterinarian should their pet become ill. This is especially important in the case of a veterinary medical emergency. A veterinarian can treat and stabilize the pet and work to diagnose the cause of health issues.If the food is a suspected source of the issue, the pet owner should contact the company listed on the label. Pet food companies want to hear from their customers, especially if an issue is suspected. Most companies have an incidence reporting system where they can track whether there has been more than one incident reported.Pet owners should retain the original packaging, and any unconsumed product if possible. Unopened containers of product from the same lot can be particularly helpful. Pet food companies need specific product information — including brand name, product name, and lot code, all of which can be found on the product packaging — to help determine if there is an issue. It will also be helpful to put the pet food company in contact with the veterinarian who treated the pet.Pet owners can also notify their retailer that they have a concern.