Learn About Pet Food

Canadians love their pets.  In 2020, 63% of households had a dog or cat, with a pet population of over 7.7 million dogs and 8.1 million cats.  They understand the important benefits that pets can provide.

The Canadian pet food supply chain directly and indirectly contributes more than $5.2 billion to the GDP, while also providing more than $742 million in taxes.   The pet food sector is responsible for over 45000 FTE jobs that power the over $1 billion in exports to almost 90 countries, while responsible for $4 billion in domestic sales.

The pet food sector is expected to grow at and average compound annual growth rate of 4.75% in Canada between 2021-25, with the value of exports growing at an average of 12% per year for the past 5 years.

The Canadian industry continues to innovate, and does its part to contribute to sustainable production, sourcing ingredients that would otherwise go to waste (animal products) and is a large purchaser of Canadian farmed products such as meat, grains, pulses, and other ingredients.

Good nutrition is critical to promoting your pet’s wellbeing.  Key nutrients are needed to support a dog or cat’s growth, structure, body systems and metabolism.  A ‘complete and balanced’ pet food recipe will have all the vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, proteins and amino acids that are considered essential to maintain your pet’s health.

The Pet Food Institute in the US has a great description of the nutrients required for complete and balanced nutrition for dogs and cats, which are categorized as essential by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

Dogs and cats require more than 40 essential nutrients in their diet. AAFCO has established nutrient levels, which are different for cats and dogs, but are necessary to ensure a complete and balanced diet. Because pets usually only eat one type of food daily, it has to be nutritionally adequate to support different life stages, physical and mental health and activity level.

It is best to consider these and other nutritional facts when choosing the right pet food for your pet.

Pet treats are considered complimentary, because they are not the primary source of nutrition for pets.

All members of the Pet Food Association of Canada generally follow the AAFCO guidelines when creating their recipes.  They formulate the recipes using ingredients in the correct levels that provide the right amount of nutrients needed by your pets.  For this reason, pet food manufacturers often employ or work with animal nutrition specialists to create the right balance in a recipe.  This is one of the many reasons why you should consider choosing commercially prepared pet foods for your pet.

With more pet food options than ever to choose from, PFAC members drive innovation and continuous improvement in the safety of ingredients and finished pet food.  All PFAC members follow a strict, robust food safety program that aims to prevent food safety risks.  They do this by employing the best methods and technology, testing protocols, and ongoing monitoring through the production process.  It is a requirement of membership that members follow a recognized food safety program such as an HACCP based program or those developed using the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) guidelines and carefully consider pet food safety.  Part of these programs is to ensure ingredients being supplied meet high standards of quality and safety.  For this reason, pet food manufacturers inspect and audit their supplier’s own food safety programs and good manufacturing practices.

Methods for processing either dry (kibble) or wet (canned) pet food, add to its safety, because in both cases the ingredients and/or finished product have been heat treated.  Pet food companies also utilize other technology to reduce pathogens, such as high-pressure processing and other methods.  This makes it safe for both pets and humans who handle it.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspects pet food facilities regularly to ensure they meet regulatory and export requirements.  Since most Canadian companies also export to the US, they have to meet the regulations and oversight of the Food and Drug Administration and United States Department of Agriculture in the US.  Because Canadian pet food is also sold around the world to other countries that have strict regulations for animal health and food safety, you can be assured that Canadian pet food is safe.

Pet food is not regulated in the same way in Canada as it is in other countries.  In the US for example, pet food falls under regulations that also include livestock feed, and others created for human food.  This doesn’t mean that Canadian companies can do whatever they want, however.  Because most Canadian companies export to the US and other countries around the world, they have to meet various regulations from many other countries and are inspected regularly by the CFIA.

 In Canada, the regulations that pet food companies have to meet are those related to labelling and consumer protection, and consumer product safety, on top of all the export requirements.  PFAC worked with the Competition Bureau and other stakeholders in the past to create a set of pet food labelling guidelines.  This document will be updated as new labelling requirements are developed in North America that will provide more information to consumers in an easier to understand format.

 Pet food that is imported into Canada, also has to meet strict requirements that are outlined by the CFIA.  While about 50% of pet food that is sold in Canada is imported, most (97%) comes from the US, who are regulated by the FDA and USDA.

 Canadian pet food manufacturers are held to a high standard to ensure that pet food is safe, healthy for your pets, and meeting all regulations in Canada and abroad.

Often the love of our pets (dogs and cats in particular) can lead to an idea for a business.  Why can’t I make my own pet food? one might think.  PFAC often receives questions from pet parents who have this very thought.  Our goal is to encourage a commitment to the production of safe and nutritious products.

Making pet food is complex.  Pet food nutritional standards have been developed over the course of many years of scientific study and nutritional expertise.  Pet food safety is also a specialized field.  Remember, that pet food must satisfy 100% of your dog or cat’s nutritional needs, which is extremely difficult to accomplish at home and could lead to health concerns for your pets if not done properly.

PFAC will not provide start up advice, or regulatory support to non-members.  Entrepreneurs must perform their own due diligence to ensure that they are providing nutritious, safe food while meeting all regulations, standards, and best practices.  One must also meet the expectations and requirements of government, whether federal, provincial, or municipal, and of course consumers.

This guide can help answer most common questions about pet food and what it takes to truly be successful in producing pet food that is safe and meet’s the nutritional requirements of your pets.

There are many different ways that pet food can be made, but the most common methods used by Canadian pet food manufacturers are dry, wet, and fresh pet food processing. 

Dry pet food or kibble is made by combining and blending the ingredients, then extruding that mix through a machine that makes the mix into different shapes, and then those smaller pieces are baked. Dry pet food is often coated with a special flavour at the end as well to make it tasty for your pets. 

 Wet pet food, which can be made in cans, small plastic cups, pouches, or even tetrapaks is a different but equally safe way to make pet food. Similar to dry pet food, the ingredients are mixed and blended together, and then sealed into the container. This is then heated to a certain temperature to kill harmful bacteria and other pathogens to ensure the product is safe, the same as canning human food. 

 Fresh pet food is made in a similar way, by blending the ingredients, and is also sometimes extruded into a cylindrical shape, heated to a certain temperature for a certain time that also kills harmful bacteria and pathogens, and then packaged. The difference with fresh pet food is that it needs to be refrigerated, and has a shorter shelf life than dry or wet pet food, but it is equally safe and nutritious as an option. 

 However your pet food is made, the most important thing is that its safe, and meets the nutritional needs of your pets.