Prepared pet foods deliver optimum nutrition

Many of you will have seen the Channel 5 programme “The truth about your dog’s food” which was aired at 9pm on Thursday 30 January. This has created quite a stir and has also encouraged a number of pieces in the national press.

PFMA believes that whilst there are some voices to balance the more wild statements from opponents of prepared pet food, the piece still comes across as very sensational. The programme attacks not only the pet food industry but also challenges the veterinary profession for being “in league” with the pet food companies. It also implies some culpability for re-homing centres by blaming the food given to dogs for many of the behavioural issues they might face.

The PFMA finds some of the comments extremely offensive. To suggest that pet food companies are deliberately harming pets for their own commercial benefit is not only completely untrue it also flies in the face of all evidence which shows dogs leading longer and healthier lives, a lot of it down to better nutrition provided by prepared pet food. 

To also implicate the veterinary profession in this smacks of conspiracy theory and needs to be rebutted in the strongest terms. Furthermore it should be noted that many of the opponents of pet food in the programme have a strong commercial interest in making the statements they do and this needs to be considered.

Please find below a series of Questions & Answers which we hope you will find informative and helpful.  If you have any questions or we can be of assistance, please do not hesitate to contact the PFMA team.

 

NUTRITIONAL EXPERTISE

What do pet food manufacturers know about pet nutrition?

There is a significant level of expertise on pet nutrition within the pet food industry. As a responsible industry committed to providing optimum nutrition, the pet food industry works with researchers, vets and nutritionists to discuss the latest advancements in the field of pet nutrition which are brought in to product formulation.

All diets manufactured by members of the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) are carefully formulated in line with the FEDIAF (European Pet Food Federation) Nutritional Guidelines. These guidelines are peer reviewed by independent experts such as vets, scientists and animal nutritionists many of whom are based in European academic institutions. The Guidelines detail the nutritional needs of cats and dogs at the varying life stages and are continually reviewed and updated to include the latest nutritional science.
There are only 3 qualified, board certified veterinary nutritionists in the UK and as a responsible industry, deeply committed to improving the welfare of pets through optimum nutrition and we work closely with them all.

Small animal nutrition is a fast moving science, developing all the time and every day there's an enhancement brought to products, this isn't likely to slow down.  As companies become aware of additional benefits they do what they can to add them to products.  It's no longer enough just to meet the nutritional requirements of cats and dogs - it's now about the 'extras'.

As a vet Zara Boland BVSc BE MRCVS (Founder of Vet Voice and Board Director of the BVA) advises “It is in every reputable pet food manufacturers’ interest to produce the best pet food possible with the optimal formulations for the animals they are feeding. This goal has driven many innovative breakthroughs in the nutritional requirements of dogs and cats at all stages of growth. It is more common today to see animals suffering from old-age health conditions than it is to see nutritional deficiencies. We’re still learning and developing how best to manage these cases, but one thing remains startlingly clear: in sickness or in health advanced pet food nutrition is key.”

 

LEGISLATION & SAFETY

According to a claim in the Channel 5 film, legislators are not concerned about what goes in pet food as long as it doesn’t kill the dog

This is not correct. The legislation covering the manufacture of pet food ensures that the products are safe and providing the right nutrition for all animals including pets in the EU. These pan European legislation covers all aspects from of ingredients sourcing to the production and the information provided to consumers. The health and safety of animals is paramount to the industry and the authorities enforcing these regulations.

Are 9 out of 10 visits to the vet because of diet as quoted in the Channel 5 film?

We are not aware of any evidence along these lines and we would ask Mr Self to substantiate it. It is a very broad claim and if Mr Self is suggesting that it is as a result of commercially prepared pet foods, this goes against the current wealth of scientific evidence supporting the widespread feeding of prepared pet foods.

Is it legal to use ‘undesirable substances’ in dog food if they don’t cause immediate harm?

Undesirable substances are NOT used in pet foods. As with human foods, pet foods and pet food ingredients are carefully monitored for the presence of harmful substances. An example of this is the naturally occurring mercury levels in fish where legislation sets maximum levels to ensure absolute safety. You may be interested to know, that the maximum level for mercury in human foods is much less strict than pet food, being 5 times higher than the limit for pet food.

 

THE QUALITY OF PET FOOD INGREDIENTS

Does the pet food industry use condemned meat?

No. Every single animal that gets slaughtered through an abattoir is veterinary inspected for disease. If there is any evidence whatsoever of such disease, it is not deemed fit for human consumption and is discarded as waste.  The pet food industry, contrary to popular myth, does not pick up and use this waste product. The pet food industry uses only the off-cuts from the veterinary assessed carcasses that have been deemed fit for human consumption.  So parts of the animal that are not perhaps culturally acceptable for us to eat but are still nutrient dense are used e.g. organ meats. These materials meet the very high safety and quality criteria laid down in the Animal By-Products Regulation .

Manufacturers make their foods from by-products such as hooves, tails testicles, ears and so on

There are strict rules in the EU about the animal based raw materials that can be used in pet food. The by-products come from animals that have been inspected under veterinary supervision and are considered fit for human consumption. Cuts that might not sound appealing to the UK consumer but which might be regularly on the menu in other cuisines or that have been eaten in the UK in the past (e.g. pigs trotters, or fried pig ears, udders) are used. The main concern for the pet food manufacturer is to source nutritionally valuable raw materials. Some of the less favoured cuts could be a perfect source of protein, essential amino acids or other valuable substances.

When a label says meat and animal derivatives (4% chicken) on the pet food label does this really mean that there is only 4% meat in the products?

The pet food industry works hard to help consumers understand the legislation particularly surrounding labelling. For example, when a pet food label states 4% of a certain meat ingredient, this does not mean that the product contains only 4% meat. The 4% declaration is a legal labelling requirement which represents the minimum percentage content of the named ingredient guaranteed to be present by the manufacturer. Each recipe includes a blend of different ingredients which are all combined into a food which will meet, in part or entirely, the daily nutritional requirements of the pet.

Why do pet food companies use such terms instead of listing the ingredients?

Current legislation means that manufacturers can label ingredients by category e.g. meat and animal derivatives, or by providing a full list of the meat ingredients present. Industry uses by-products from the human food chain, because of this, raw material supplies can vary during the year. Manufacturers may therefore use ingredients from different animal species based on supply levels. All the materials selected are of equal quality and provide the same nutritional benefits to the animal. Listing ingredients by category means some producers can select ingredients based on supply without having the high cost of changing labels constantly. This means they can deliver an economical product of high quality. For consumers who prefer to buy a pet food with a full ingredients listing, there are many products available on the market.

Why don’t pet food labels provide more information on ingredients?

There is limited space on a pet food label and it is important that the legally required information (e.g. description, directions for use, ingredients and feeding guidelines) is clear to the consumer. To support consumers, pet food manufacturers often provide full product information on company websites. All companies provide contact details to allow consumers to obtain further information

Can pet food (or ingredients in pet food) cause health problems?

No there is stringent legislation in place to ensure that pet food is safe and of high quality. Furthermore, pet food and pet nutrition is subject to intensive study to provide optimum nutrition. It is widely recognised by vets that pets are living longer, healthier lives and that improved nutrition  has played an important role in this.

John Foster MRCVS, Chairman of the Pet Health Council[1] explains: “The amount of nutritionally related problems we encountered 30 years ago was legion.  We saw bad coats, poor teeth, poor digestion, rickets and shortened life spans.  This was all as a result of inadequate nutrition.  The widespread feeding of prepared pet foods and advancements in these diets has made a major difference. The majority of modern diets are sophisticated, constructed on the back of intensive research, and trustworthy.’

Can the ingredients in pet foods cause intolerances and allergies?

The incidence of true dietary intolerance or allergies in pets is rare. On the whole, the prevalence of allergies in the dog and cat population is thought to be around 0.1%. Food allergies occur because of a defect in an animal’s immune system; they are not caused by a particular problem with the diet. A food intolerance is a non-immunological, abnormal physiological response to a food, for instance many adult dogs and cats lose the ability to digest the lactose in milk as a result of the changing physiology, from puppies and kittens to adults.

Food allergy tends to show mainly in one of two ways in the dog and cat - skin or gastrointestinal disorders -some animals can show both. With skin problems a common sign is pruritus (skin itchiness or irritation), and often the animal will traumatise itself leading to other signs. Ear problems can also be common in the dog. However it is important to note that in the majority of cats and dogs with these signs, the irritation will be caused by something other than food allergy, e.g. Flea-bite allergy or an allergy to something in the animal’s environment. Veterinary dermatologists suggest that of the skin cases seen, only a very small percentage (1 - 6 %) are due to food allergy.

Are additives dangerous to pets?

No. Like with human foods, the use of additives in pet food is strictly regulated by the EU. The EU authorises additives on the grounds of safety, technical need and efficacy. The authorisation process is rigorous and food/pet food additives are regularly reviewed to ensure safety.

Why does the pet food industry use additives?

As in human food, additives may be used, for example, to protect the nutritional values and goodness of a product or enhance the nutritional profile of a product so that it can deliver complete nutrition (e.g. the addition of vitamins, trace elements, amino acids). Over the years research has emerged highlighting the benefits of antioxidants. Some manufacturers may add biological antioxidants e.g. vitamins C & E to pet foods to help promote good health and combat free radical damage to the body. Some producers may use small amounts of colours to redress the natural variations in colour which arise from the heat processing of products. Additives may be artificial or natural. Individual pet food manufacturers can provide further information on any additives in their products.

Are the additives in pet food linked with behavioural issues in pets?

There is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence currently available, or that we are aware of, to suggest a link between behavioural problems in pets and additives in pet food. Common causes of behavioural problems in pets include poor socialisation or training, and inadequate exercise.

Professor Peter Neville (founding partner of the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology) clearly states that in over 20 years of veterinary referral behaviour practice he has never seen a single case of a behaviour problem in dogs that could be directly linked to nutritional additives in food or that could be verified in any form of physiological test.

What is Propylene glycol and why is in pet food?

Propylene glycol is safely used as an ingredient in dog food products. It is also an ingredient that can be found in human food and farmed animal feed. There have been numerous studies published to support its safe use and from as long ago as the 1970s . Propylene glycol has been legally approved as a preservative for use dog food by the European Commission . When considering additive approval and authorisation, the European Commission seeks the independent advice and expert scientific opinion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) . There are strict requirements for official approval of feed additives which ensure the safety and well-being of our pets.

 

Why do pet foods include fat, salt and sugar?

Fats and oils provide a source of energy and essential fatty acids. They are important for optimal health, including kidney function, reproduction and a glossy coat. There are 2 different types of essential fatty acids (EFAs) - omega 3 & 6. Fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E & K can be found in fatty ingredients.

Some manufacturers may add sugar to pet foods as an energy source. Dogs and cats can easily convert sugar in to usable energy through normal digestion. The term "various sugars" is a category description on a pet food label, which may refer to sucrose (cane sugar, commonly known as table sugar), fructose and glucose, all of which are natural products present in fruit, vegetables and cereals.

Manufacturers may also add very small amounts of sugar to assist with the cooking process. When sugar is cooked along with meat it results in browning of the meat and the production of natural sugars (just the same as those produced in the cooking of the Sunday roast) which enhances palatability. If sugar is included in addition to that which naturally occurs in the ingredients, levels are carefully controlled to ensure nutritional balance and palatability. 

Salt (Sodium chloride) is an essential nutrient for cats and dogs and along with chloride is important for fluid balance in the body. Good sources of sodium in pet food include meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. Sodium may also be included in prepared pet foods in the form of table salt (sometimes listed on the ingredients panel as salt) to enhance taste. The FEDIAF Nutritional Guidelines provide information on dietary sodium recommendations for cats and dogs. The National Research Council also lays down guidelines on sodium levels for dogs and cats.

Why do prepared pet foods include carbohydrates when they are not nutritionally essential for cats and dogs?

Carbohydrate in pet food provides a useful and readily available source of metabolisable energy. By using carbohydrate instead of fat or protein to obtain energy, these other nutrients can be used to optimise healthy skin, coat, immune systems etc. The existing science highlights that the carbohydrate levels found in prepared pet foods, both wet and dry, are well tolerated by both dogs and cats , and are important for the nutritional contribution they bring. The classification of carbohydrates also includes dietary fibre. Certain fibres, for example moderately fermentable fibres (e.g. beet pulp or rice bran), can also have a beneficial effect on the health of the digestive tract and possibly in reducing the risk of disease .

Have these ingredients in prepared pet foods led to canine obesity?

It is commonly recognised that obesity is caused by over treating with inappropriate human foods and too little exercise. If pet owners fed a commercially prepared complete pet food, following the feeding guidelines and adjusting the amount they need to feed based on their pet’s life-stage and lifestyle (e.g. age, level of activity etc), we would have a leaner nation of pets. PFMA provides tools and support to owners to help them keep their pets at a healthy size, please visit: www.pfma.org.uk/weighinwednesday

 

DIFFERENT FEEDING OPTIONS

Despite there being many brands on the market they are all produced by the same big companies giving no real choice to consumers

This isn’t correct. The PFMA represents 90% of the pet food industry and we’re made up of 70 member companies. Only a very small number of them are large multi nationals. We have many small and medium sized companies manufacturing pet foods. All in all we offer a wide range of products catering for all needs and preferences from organic pet foods to breed specific diets.

Are natural foods better for pets?

There is a wide range of pet foods available to meet all consumer needs and preferences, this includes pet foods with an emphasis on natural ingredients and these types of products have been available for many years. The growing trend for natural products in the human food sector has led to companies focusing more on this area. Whatever the consumer chooses, all diets are carefully formulated to address a pet’s nutritional needs in line with pet food legislation.

What is the definition of a natural pet food?

There is no legal definition for a “natural” pet food, although PFMA members follow the guidelines set by the Food Standards Agency for human food. The term “natural” essentially means that the product is comprised of natural ingredients e.g. ingredients produced by nature, not synthesised by man.

Where can I find more information on prepared pet foods?

PFMA member companies work hard to ensure pet owners are well informed on good pet nutrition. They do this in a number of ways which includes providing information on pack labels, the content of which must comply with EU labelling legislation. They also provide information on their websites which in some instances will have been written with input from experts such as vets, vet nurses, scientists and animal nutritionists.

The PFMA itself provides generic information via its website which includes advice on the different pet foods available, how they are produced, what ingredients are typically used and some feeding guidance. This information has been produced in consultation with vets and animal nutritionists with input from the three specialised and certified veterinary nutritionists active in the UK.  
Additionally, vets and other pet care professionals can provide valuable information.

Does the pet food industry have undue influence over nutrition teaching at vet schools?

The nutrition syllabus and teaching is set by the vet school and taught by the vet school.  Pet food companies do not input in to this at all. Universities receive sponsorship, funding and lectures from a number of organisations. The education process ensures this is done in a fair and ethical way. 

Pet food companies may contribute by providing additional lectures and learning materials e.g. text books.  The additional lectures include nutrition teaching, both basic and clinical, and a presentation of nutrition research.  Students are also informed about brands so when they go in to practice they are familiar with the products available on the market and can discuss nutrition with pet owners to help them make an informed choice. The vet schools ensure a balanced education is provided. 

Is it safe to feed a raw meaty bones diet?

Members of the PFMA also produce commercially prepared frozen raw pet foods for the consumer who chooses to feed raw meat diets as part of their feeding regime.  As with all pet foods, these are subject to stringent legislation and undergo microbiological testing to ensure safety when fed to pets.

Are homemade diets the best way to feed a pet?

Whilst the correct level of nutritional balance can be achieved through a homemade diet, in the vast majority of cases this would require a specific formulation by a vet or animal nutritionist, as well as disciplined compliance from the owner. This is not a genuine option for many pet owners.

A recent study at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine analysed 200 different recipes for home prepared dog foods. Recipes were selected from websites, veterinary text books, and pet care books. The findings highlighted that 95% of the recipes were deficient in at least one essential nutrient and 84% were lacking in multiple required nutrients.

A paper from 2010 entitled “Frequency and extent of nutritional imbalances in bone and raw food diets (BARF) rations” by Professor E. Kienzle showed that 76% of raw diets showed at least one nutritional imbalance.

The PDSA have just launched their third, highly respected Animal Welfare Report which gives an insight in to pet health and wellbeing, tackling 4 key welfare issues, including nutrition.  The PDSA recommendation in the report for providing the right nutrition is as follows: “feeding a complete, commercial dog food is preferable to a homemade diet. It is not easy to achieve the correct balance of nutrients if you make a dog’s diet yourself”.

[1] Animal By-Products (Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2013 (SI 2013/2952)

[2] Reid, S.W.G. and Peterson, M.M. (2000) Veterinary Record Nov, 630-631
Watson, D (1996) Veterinary Record Jan, 70

[3] The Pet Health Council: www.pethealthcouncil.co.uk
[4] Buffington, T, Holloway, C, Abood, S, Manual of Veterinary Dietetics, pg 118

[5]A study by Weils et al(1971) concluded that propylene glycol fed to dogs at a concentration of approximately 8% in the diet (2 g/kg/day) is utilized as a carbohydrate energy source without any adverse effects. C.S. WeilM.D. WoodsideH.F. Smyth Jr.C.P. Carpenter ‘Results of feeding propylene glycol in the diet to dogs for two years’ (1971) 4(7) Food and Cosmetics Toxicology 479-490

[6] See Official Journal C 50, 25/02/2004

[7] The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are responsible for providing scientific opinions on the safety and efficiency on substances destined for food and animal feed. Members of EFSA are highly qualified, independent scientific experts.

[8] Case LP, Carey DP, Hirakawa DA, Daristotle L. Nutritional idiosyncrasies of the cat. In: Canine and Feline Nutrition: a resource for companion animal professionals.

[9] Morris, Trudell, Pencovic: Carbohydrate digestion by the domestic cat, British Journal of Nutrition, 1977, 37, 365

[10] Hand, Thatcher, Remillard, Roudebush: Small Animal Clinical Nutrition: 4th Edition, pp 1192

[11] Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats 2006, Animal Nutrition Series: National Research Council, pg 72