The Bar has been Raised
Pet food feeding trials are touted by Big Pet Food as ‘the’ standard every pet food consumer should be guided by. Many veterinarians make pet food recommendations based solely on feeding trials. Thanks to two pet food companies, the pet food feeding trial bar has been raised. Can Big Pet Food handle the new standard?
It is common within the pet food industry to tout pet food feeding trials; many (unknowing) veterinarians follow and believe in the propaganda. From the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) website: “Of all the education and resources that Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc. provides to veterinarians and their health care teams, the most potentially valuable for their patients are criteria for evidence-based clinical nutrition. Conducting high-powered clinical trials is not simply Hill’s approach to product development but another way the company gives back to the profession—by providing scientific evidence they believe veterinarians can depend on when arriving at informed clinical decisions.”
Although pet food feeding trials are touted as the ‘it’ means of proving the quality of a pet food, there are many drawbacks rarely discussed. Those that take issue with the validity of pet food feeding trials, most commonly cite concerns of length of the trial (only 6 months), simple blood work required to pass the food (four blood tests), and that it is common (standard until now) to use ‘purpose-bred’ dogs and cats tested in a laboratory setting.
The worst – purpose-bred dogs and cats. From the University of Cincinnati website: “Purpose-bred dogs are those that are specifically bred for biomedical research, most often by companies that specialize in producing such animals. Purpose-bred dogs can be either mixed breed or purebred. Purebred animals have the advantage of uniform size, body conformation, and genetic background. The beagle is a popular purebred because of its relatively small size. There are far fewer companies offering purpose-bred cats.”
Most dogs and cats used in typical pet food feeding trials are born, raised, and die in a laboratory kennel. They never have a home or a family to love them. They serve a purpose – to sell pet food – and that is all.
Most pet food companies that utilize pet food feeding trials perform them within their own facilities. Their own purpose bred dogs/cats participate in the trial, the trial is overseen and documented by pet food company employees. Other companies that have touted feeding trials hire private facilities to run the trial. Needless to say, pressure is on the private facility/lab to pass the diet if they wish to have a return customer.
Now to the good news. Two pet food companies have stepped forward and moved pet food feeding trials to a whole new level. To a humane and more accurate level.
JustFoodForDogs has recently completed a six month real-life AAFCO approved feeding trial. JustFoodForDogs hired University of Cal Poly Pomona’s Animal and Veterinary Science Department to develop a new humane and realistic feeding trial that met AAFCO requirements and to run the trial. “According to Dr. Broc Sandelin, PhD, Chair of the Animal and Veterinary Sciences Department, “The field method we developed takes significantly more effort than the standard ‘industry approach’,…the dogs are happy, and the data are scientifically valid.”
This feeding trial enlisted 28 pets – in family homes (real life pets, real life environment). Some of the pets were already eating a JustFoodForDogs diet, some were not. Of the 28 dogs that began the test, 26 completed. The two that dropped out (AAFCO regulations allow 25% of the animals to drop out), did so early because of personal/lifestyle (human) challenges, not related to the pet food. Dr. Oscar Chavez, house veterinarian at JustFoodForDogs, explained each pet completed “Comprehensive Blood Cell Count and Comprehensive Canine Chemistry Panel, looking at over 25 blood parameters” at the conclusion of the study; AAFCO regulations only requires four blood tests.
Dr. Chavez provided the following explanation of the reasoning behind JustFoodForDogs 25 blood parameters: “A typical AAFCO trial is required to measure parameters that look for anemia (low blood red blood cell count) and – indirectly – liver damage. Anemia is a potential end result of deficiencies that may occur if the food is severely deficient. In order to become anemic, the severe deficiencies must have been present for a significant amount of time, as anemia is usually a secondary sign of a more serious underlying disease. That is to say, the deficient food has to first make the dog sick (through malnutrition), then the dog has to become anemic in response to that illness, and all this must happen within the 26 weeks for the standard AAFCO protocol to catch it. The liver parameter AAFCO requires to us to look at ALP (Alkaline Phosphatase) is only one of many used by vets to evaluate the integrity of the liver, and could be normal even though there is insult to the liver. Vets agree that in many cases, using this protocol may actually 1) not catch problems even though the disease or deficiencies may be present, or 2) miss long term problems that did not become evident by this limited testing in the 26 week period. Lets put it this way – most veterinarians would never clear an older or fragile patient for anesthesia, for example, with only the results of the parameters required by AAFCO.”
“By measuring full blood panels, we were able to look for evidence of diseases directly and see – truly – if the food was making our dogs sick within the 26 week period.”
Current regulations guiding feeding trials require the ‘group’ of animal participants on a whole to pass the four blood tests; the 26 dogs participating in the JustFoodForDogs feeding trial each passed individually (and passed the 21 additional blood tests individually too). To read more about JustFoodForDogs feeding trial, click here.
Another raising of the feeding trial bar has been from Answers Pet Food. Though this feeding trial does not meet AAFCO requirements, it is none-the-less a huge step forward.
Dr. Amy Nesselrodt DVM was the volunteer owner of the dogs in this feeding trial (not an employee of the pet food company). The trial ran for one year on Dr. Amy’s four dogs (in real life conditions), unlike the AAFCO requirement of only six months.
Each dog was given a health exam prior to the transition to Answers raw pet food, at six months and at 12 months by an independent veterinarian. Detailed before and after health information is provided by Dr. Amy on her blog , below is a chart from her website.
All dogs passed the trial and experienced health improvement.
Real life feeding trials using pets in their homes are the ONLY way to do a feeding trial – the only way. Anything less is cruel and the results should prove to be inaccurate to meet the nutritional requirements of dogs and cats living in a family setting.
Thank you to Just Food for Dogs and Answers Pet Food for taking pet food feeding trials into a more humane and realistic era. Your turn Big Pet Food.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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