Opportunities to Make Quality Pet Food

Pet food manufacturers follow guidelines established by AAFCO, which take into account information from the National Research Council (NRC) Committee on Animal Nutrition.  You can read about this here and here.  Basically, AAFCO uses the available scientific data and establishes maximum and minimum nutrient values for products so that pet food companies can make certain claims on the label, and they establish ingredient definitions, among other things.  You can read here and here about some perspectives on the validity of this approach to manufacturing and making claims on the quality of pet foods, and decide for yourself.

The bioavailability and digestibility (two similar, but not equal, measurements of quality) of ingredients and diets is critical information to have for any appropriate formulation – I have blogged before about this topic, specifically concerning the effects of processing conditions.  The NRC (2006) assumes a standard digestibility value of 80% or higher for crude protein and amino acids (the building blocks of protein) in all ingredients.  Higher digestibility values mean that more protein and amino acids are available to the dog or cat.

A recent study has cast some doubt on these digestibility assumptions.  While being a little short on details in the article, five dry dog foods were fed, and ileal amino acid digestibility values were determined.


Notice that some of the essential amino acid (i.e., required in the diet) digestibilities are greater than 80%, while others are lower.  As you can see, the NRC assumption for amino acid quality does not hold true in some cases.

While the data indicates that the NRC assumption for protein quality does not hold up, it is also concerning that the article does not discuss processing at all – so, there is no way to know if the reduced digestibility values were due to the quality of the raw materials, or to processing conditions.  Processing parameters greatly affect final product quality, so it pays to work with a company who has decades of experience and an intimate knowledge of their equipment.

Consider the following for the production of quality pet food:

  • Establish well-defined standards for raw materials with your suppliers and set-up an incoming raw materials testing program.  More importantly, agree to the steps that will be taken when you reject a load.  If you don’t police your ingredient suppliers, they may use you to clean out their warehouses.
    **You can’t make fine wine with bad grapes, no matter how hard you try.
  • Establish a well-defined process.  Know how to set-up and maintain your equipment.  Know what the processing conditions, such as mixing time and extruder barrel temperature, should be.  Record data during production to ensure that all of the process control points (temperature, time, etc.) are met.
    **Even when starting with great grapes, you can end up making bad wine.

Literature Cited: NRC (2006) Nutrient requirements of dogs and cats. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.

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