By Jennifer Adolphe, PhD, RD
Pet foods that contain new ingredients seem to appear almost daily on store shelves. Have you ever wondered why a particular ingredient is chosen for inclusion in a food? While the nutrient composition is the primary reason for ingredient selection, there are also other factors that need to be considered. Trends in the human and pet food industries can impact the appeal of an ingredient. Novel ingredients that serve a specific function can also influence selection. In addition, ingredient certifications are becoming increasingly common because it allows pet food brands to clearly communicate with consumers about the methods used to produce a food.
Sustainability, transparency and organic ingredients are currently some of the hottest trends in the human and pet food industries. With increased awareness about climate change and almost daily news stories about extreme weather conditions, pet parents want to feed their pets in an environmentally–responsible way.
Pet parents want to provide their dogs with foods that contain quality ingredients that they can feel good about feeding and match the quality of the ingredients that they serve themselves. People are looking for detailed information about the quality of ingredients and are looking for food certifications for additional reassurance regarding ingredient sourcing.
Food certifications are one way in which food companies can provide information to consumers about the way in which a food is produced. Certifications are created by governments or independent organizations that establish the ‘standards’ that must be met to become certified. For a food or ingredient to become certified, the farmer or manufacturer must undergo a detailed audit conducted by a third-party accredited auditor.
Organic certification is popular for both pet and human foods. The primary goal of organic production is to create systems that are sustainable and harmonious with the environment. Organic certification reassures consumers that the food has been produced with consideration of the health of the soil, plants, animals, humans and the planet, while protecting the well-being of current and future generations. Organic certification is multi-faceted and encompasses animal welfare and environmental sustainability, while prohibiting the use of genetically engineered (i.e. GMO) plants or animals.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a certification body that promotes sustainable fishing practices. To receive MSC certification, fisheries must demonstrate that the amount of fish harvested is at a level that can continue indefinitely and that the operations are managed in such a way to preserve the broader ecosystem. The fishery must also comply with relevant rules and regulations and be adaptive to changing circumstances. Several other seafood sustainability programs exist that provide recommendations for choosing sustainable seafood. However, they do not require audits of fisheries or manufacturers to ensure the sustainability of an individual fishery, as does the MSC certification.
Many vegetarian pet parents wish to feed their pets the same type and quality of food that they feed themselves. Dogs, but not cats, are able to meet their nutrient requirements from a carefully balanced plant–based diet. The Certified Vegan standard identifies foods that do not contain any animal products. The criteria that must be met to receive this certification include proof that none of the ingredients were sourced from animals, no animal testing was performed on the product, proper segregation of vegan and non–vegan ingredients is ensured, and adequate clean out procedures must be performed in facilities that make vegan and non–vegan products.
New ingredients seem to continuously appear on pet food labels. Pet parents are looking for ingredients that provide unique nutritional or functional benefits for their pets. Some of these novel ingredients include tapioca, pulses, coconut oil, prebiotics and probiotics.
With food sensitivities seemingly on the rise in pets, limited ingredient diets that contain novel ingredients are increasing in popularity. Novel ingredients are beneficial for limited ingredient diets used to treat food sensitivities because if a pet has not previously been exposed to a food, then it is less likely that the food will cause an adverse reaction.
Some of the novel ingredients that are being used in limited ingredient pet foods include tapioca, peas, lentils and chickpeas. Protein is the component in foods primarily responsible for causing adverse food reactions. Since tapioca is not a source of protein, it is well suited for limited ingredient diets. Peas, lentils and chickpeas are ‘pulses’, the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. Pulses are excellent sources of carbohydrates, protein, fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. They are also beneficial from an environmental perspective because they add nitrogen, an essential nutrient for plant growth, back into the soil.
Coconut oil is a rich source of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). These are shorter chains of fatty acids that contain 8 to 12 carbon atoms and include lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid. Due to their shorter length, these fatty acids are handled differently by the body than long chain triglycerides. MCTs are more easily digested and absorbed, so they create less strain on the pancreas and digestive system. This may benefit dogs that suffer from digestive and metabolic diseases.
Probiotics are the good microorganisms that can improve the health of the gastrointestinal tract, whereas prebiotics are a source of food to feed these good bacteria. Stress, antibiotics or a poor diet can upset the balance of microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract and lead to illness. Supplementing with probiotics and/or prebiotics can help to improve digestive health. Some examples of probiotics found in pet foods are Lactobacillus acidophilus and Enterococcus faecium. The most common examples of prebiotics used in pet food are chicory root, inulin and fructooligosaccharides (FOS).
Food for Thought
Sustainability, transparency, novel ingredients and food certifications are some of the current hot trends in the pet and human food industries. However, it is important not to get too carried away with trends when choosing the right food for a pet. Look beyond the claims and evaluate the company behind the brand. Ensure that the food is formulated by qualified nutritionists, meets extremely high quality and safety standards, and has a team of health and nutrition specialists available if you or your clients have any questions or need help selecting the right food for your pet. ✂
Dr. Jennifer Adolphe graduated with her PhD in companion animal nutrition from the University of Saskatchewan. She previously completed a Master’s degree in human nutrition and is a registered dietitian with the College of Dietitians of British Columbia. Her PhD research examined the effect of carbohydrates on metabolic and cardiovascular health in lean and obese dogs. Dr. Adolphe is the recipient of over 20 awards and scholarships for her academic work and has published more than 10 peer–reviewed publications. Her work in the pet food industry has focused on product development and ingredient procurement. She is currently the Senior Nutritionist at Petcurean Pet Nutrition, a Canadian, family–owned company committed to offering superior quality pet foods.