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Food Quality Nutrition Exposed: Is Your Food Adequate?

Nutrition Exposed: Is Your Food Adequate?

A version of this article originally authored by Dr. Ryan Yamka, PhD, MS, MBA, FACN, PAS, Dipl ACAS, and Nicci Cammack first appeared in the October 2020 Issue of Police K9 Magazine.

You’ve likely been told to focus on the top 5 ingredients and the percentage of protein or fat when it comes to picking out food for your pet. While these may appear to be important, they aren’t the ideal way to pick out food. None of these factors consider what happens to ingredients when they are processed and enter a dog or cat’s body. Believe it or not, these factors can make the ‘best looking’ and most expensive pet food labels quite deceptive. Regardless of your pet food philosophy – we must look past the marketing hype of raw, fresh, healthy grains, grain-free, ancient grains, locally sourced, natural, etc. and instead ask basic questions about the company who makes your pet food.

 

Marketing – Don’t believe the hype

Nutrition goes far beyond an ingredient label and the guaranteed analysis. Neither tells you anything about the quality or amount of nutrients that your pet can utilize. Not surprisingly, this is because these numbers can be easily manipulated through the use of various ingredients and processing methods that may not serve your pet’s best interest. The perception of the food is further complicated by marketing puffery buzzwords like “biologically appropriate” and imagery that creates an illusion that pet food is something that it is not. This is an unfortunate fact that many pet food makers don’t want consumers, retailers, or veterinarians to know.

What we’re getting at is that your pet is not able to use every nutrient or ingredient that is listed on the bag – which brings us to the topic of digestibility. Digestibility is simply the percentage of food (whole or processed) taken into the digestive tract that is absorbed into the body. This is one of the critical discussion points that is lacking in any pet food debate.

 

Why should I care about digestibility?

The simple answer is that digestibility tells you if you have a high-quality food or not. Said differently, it deals with the amount of poop you scoop! There are many groups of multiple training philosophies and brand loyalties, but these groups do not consider that their chosen food may not be providing what is actually listed on the package. You may believe you are providing the best nutrition available; however if it is not digestible or bioavailable the percentages on the bag are meaningless.

 

What is Digestibility?

The simple answer is that digestibility tells you if you have a high-quality food or not.  Said differently, it deals with the amount of poop you scoop!  There are many groups of multiple training philosophies and brand loyalties, but these groups do not consider that their chosen food may not be providing what is actually listed on the package.  You may believe you are providing the best nutrition available; however if it is not digestible or bioavailable the percentages on the bag are meaningless.

 

 

What is Digestibility?

As mentioned earlier, digestibility is essentially the percentage of nutrients the body is able to absorb. This test is non-invasive and shows the amount of nutrients (such as protein, fat vitamins, etc.) an animal absorbs from the food it is fed. This applies to all food types including kibble, canned, raw, cooked, or any other diet option.  Everyone that owns a dog does “mini” digestibility tests every day we clean up after them!

It would seem logical for pet food companies to provide this information to the public, but the reality is that most do not. The reasons for this are because the companies do not conduct this test on their products before or after launching a food. In this case, they usually try and claim testing is an animal welfare issue, and they do not test on animals, or if they do, they claim this information as proprietary. Let’s look at what digestibility testing actually entails.

 

Digestibility Testing

Digestibility studies or testing involves feeding a predetermined amount of the formula being tested to several dogs for about 10+ days, although this can vary. Typically, the first half of the study allows for proper transitioning to the food being evaluated. During the second half of the study, the stool is collected and analyzed. The process determines the percentage of nutrients absorbed in comparison to what was fed. This does not involve any invasive procedures, inhumane conditions, or otherwise harmful to animals. In essence, it’s no different than us scooping our dog’s poop each day. These facts strike down the “animal welfare” response from many companies.

The real frustrating part for us in the field is that it costs approximately $5000 for anyone (including the public) to send any food to a 3rd party facility to determine the digestibility profile. Based on this, we know that cost is not a prohibitive factor, so why don’t multimillion-dollar companies do this basic testing?  These facts strike down the “cost or proprietary” arguments and expose them as an excuse for not wanting to spend the money or do the work -or it may indicate their lack of knowledge or experience in animal nutrition. That’s a whole other topic for another day.

 

How do you know what is actually in your pet’s food?

In short, without digestibility reports, you don’t. And if a company is not performing digestibility testing for their product it simply means that they also have no idea what the actual calorie content or digestibility of their food is – meaning that your pet is ultimately the one being experimented on. If they are unwilling to provide you with digestibility information then you won’t know what is in your pet’s food, or what they are able to utilize and therefore you shouldn’t be feeding it.

 

Summary:

Digestibility is critical for demonstrating if you have a high-quality food or not.  Digestibility testing is non-invasive (i.e. feed the food and collect the poop) and shows the amount of nutrients an animal absorbs from the food it is fed. This would apply to all food types including kibble, canned, raw, cooked, or any other diet option. This is different from a guaranteed analysis, or a typical nutrient analysis of a food – which we’ll explore at a later date.

Without knowing the amount, in percentage form, of nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins & minerals) that are absorbed, we simply cannot know if a food is providing adequate nutrition to your pet. Without this information how can a manufacturer or pet food company be confident that they are selling products that provide nutrition that meets the needs of the pets that consume it? How can you be confident about feeding it?

We challenge you to ask your pet food company if they perform digestibility studies and if they are willing to provide you with that information. The truth is, the most common brands fed in law enforcement do not conduct these studies or make the data available. If you ask, and they do not conduct them or use the excuse of information being proprietary, it’s probably time to find a new company to trust with your pet’s nutrition.

About author

Nicci is the founder & owner of award-winning independent pet store NorthPoint Pets & Company, in Cheshire Connecticut as well as the Founder & CEO of Undogmatic Inc. Dr. Ryan Yamka, PhD, MS, MBA, FACN, PAS, Dipl ACAS is founder and an independent consultant with Luna Science and Nutrition, and co-founder of the Guardian Pet Food Co. He is board certified in companion animal nutrition by the American College of Animal Sciences and a fellow with the American College of Nutrition. Yamka calls on his extensive background in pet nutrition, and multiple years developing, formulating and launching dog and cat foods as a senior executive with leading pet food companies, to educate consumers, retailers and veterinarians.

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