The science behind the creation of pet food
Whether you feed your pet kibble, canned food, or commercially prepared raw food, each of these options are specifically formulated to be healthy and balanced. That means they are designed to contain the vitamins, minerals, and all other nutrients pets need for their overall health and wellness.
To help devoted pet parents understand what goes into pet food, we spoke to animal nutritionist Kylie Hogan who shared details on her work formulating the Performatrin line of pet foods. From selecting ingredients to determining nutritional values, Hogan and her team ensure the pet food line gets a gold star standard for dogs and cats.
How pet food is formulated to be a complete and balanced diet
A new pet food formula always starts with a central protein and a mixture of carbs, Hogan says. “You're going to pick two to three proteins and two to three main carbs and that's going to make up your five to six key ingredients.”
Next, sophisticated technology analyzes the nutritional levels of that mix. “We use formulation software so that we can easily see how the nutrients go up and down,” Hogan explains.
“So if I see that my minerals are too high then I might swap out a beef or red meat protein that's typically higher in minerals for something that's lower, such as chicken or turkey.”
For Performatrin, Hogan and her team used software that aligns with guidelines set out by the Association of American Feed Control Officials.
“That's the gold standard,” says Hogan. “They've determined what the nutrients need to be for a dog or cat, whether they’re a puppy/kitten or adult. They know exactly which nutrients need to be at which levels, and minimums for almost every nutrient. And so we use that to formulate pet food even though it's not required in Canada. That is what we use so that we can ensure we're meeting the pet's full requirements.”
Pet food science for every stage of life
Pet food formulas change according to an animal’s stage of life. Puppies and kittens should be eating a diet that differs from what adult pets or senior pets are eating. “When you have a puppy or a kitten and they're in a growing period they need more nutrients,” says Hogan, explaining that food designed for animals in their first year will be higher in most nutrients, such as fat and various vitamins.
“Once you reach the adult stage, you don't need as much. You're in a maintenance stage. You don't want to put any strain on the organs and have them doing more work than they need to. So it's important for most pets to transition off of puppy food into an adult food once they’ve reached that stage of life.”
Senior pets should also be eating a different diet, though the question of when to switch is different for every pet.
“It depends on the individual animal, how active they are, and how well they age. Bigger animals tend to age quicker,” says Hogan, “so a large-breed dog would move to a senior food sometimes as young as five or six years old. Because cats and small dogs are smaller they may not move on to senior food until they are 12 years old.”
According to Hogan, senior formulas are about ease and support.
“When a pet is a little bit older, their kidneys and liver have aged and it's harder for them to process minerals and nutrients. So we lower protein in senior foods and lower a lot of the minerals like sodium, calcium, and phosphorus,” she says. “And we add a lot of support like glucosamine and chondroitin for joint support to try and maintain healthy muscles and joints.”
Pet food for allergies and other issues
Nutritional science also comes into play when formulating pet foods to address allergies, weight control, or kidney and renal issues.
If a pet is having an allergic reaction to an ingredient in their diet, lines like Performatrin offer options with fewer ingredients in the formula, making it easier to determine which one is causing the reaction.
“If you have a pet that really has some issues when it comes to ingredients,” Hogan says, “you can look for a limited ingredient diet (LID) for a very simple ingredient list that has less than 10 primary ingredients. And you'll only have to worry about one protein source and one or two carbohydrate sources.”
Performatrin also offers dietary solutions for pets suffering from sensitive or itchy skin, for cats with urinary tract infections, and for pets who require help with weight control.
“Nutrition isn't one size fits all,” says Hogan, “That's why we try to have a really wide variety of different foods so that there's always something for everyone.”