NorthPoint Pets team

Our Team Answers Your Top 3 Questions About Pet Nutrition

At NPP, we’re passionate about the health and wellness of all your pets. Just for fun, we sat down with each team member individually and asked the same 3 questions, without sharing their answers with the rest of the team. Here are their answers!

If you could give ONE piece of advice to someone feeding kibble, what would it be?

Jenna: Add some fresh food to the bowl.

Beth: Hydrate it.

Savannah: At least hydrate it, always. Kibble is so dehydrating.

Tina: Add SOMETHING fresh.

Nikki: Feed the BEST you can afford, and always add moisture with fresh fruits and veggies.

Nicci: Add SOME fresh food to the bowl.

Caitlyn: Kibble should always be hydrated.

Adriana:  Always hydrate your kibble even if it’s just something as simple as water.

Morgan: Hydrate it.

Mercedes: Hydrate it.

What ONE piece of information do you find yourself repeating most often to pet owners?

Jenna: A little bit of fresh food in the bowl goes a long way!

Beth: You’re overfeeding.

Savannah: At least consider the benefits of a raw diet.

dog fresh food bowlTina: You’re feeding too much.

Nikki: You’re feeding too much.

Nicci: Your dog isn’t allergic to chicken.

Cailtyn: Rotation of flavors/proteins is highly recommended.

Adriana: You’re overfeeding.

Morgan: You’re overfeeding.

Mercedes: Wash your food and water bowls!

What’s the #1 reason you would recommend a fresh food diet to pet owners?

Jenna: Your pet’s health will improve ten-fold by replacing any processed kibble with fresh food. 

Beth: It’s the cleanest way to feed your pet.

Savannah: Because it’s so much better for them – it improves EVERYTHING for your pet.

Tina: For the same reason WE need fresh food in our diet.

Nikki: It’s healthier, for a fuller enriched life.

Nicci: Decreased inflammation.

Caitlyn: A fresh/raw diet is more biologically appropriate for dogs and cats.

Adriana: For their pet’s overall wellbeing and to tackle common health conditions.

Morgan: Fresh food benefits your pet’s whole body – starting with their organs.

Mercedes: It’s super low in carbohydrates.

An ‘FDA Warning Letter’ is not just a ‘Warning’

….and other lessons courtesy of Midwestern Pet Foods

 

A little background:

If you’re just catching up, Midwestern Pet Foods (manufacturer of Earthborn, ProPac, SportMix, CanineX, Venture, Unrefined and Wholesomes) rounded out 2020 with an expansive ‘voluntary’ recall’ secondary to aflatoxin contamination among a variety of their products. As 2021 began, the ‘voluntary’ recall became larger, as retailers and consumers we were assured that this incident was isolated to one of their four US plants. If you are wondering why I put ‘voluntary’ in quotes, it’s because voluntary recalls are actually not voluntary – they are forced by the FDA (For more on that, see my other article ‘Voluntary Recalls Are Not Voluntary’ here). In short, when a company is subject to a voluntary recall it appears to imply that either the company did not have to recall the product, or that they may have found the issue themselves and thus recalled the product ‘out of an abundance of caution,’ when in fact that is usually pretty far from the truth. 

 

In the case of the aflatoxin recall with Midwestern Pet Foods, the recall was initiated by the Missouri Department of Agriculture as a result of pet illness reports and not Midwestern Pet Foods identifying the issue. Looking at the timeline of how things progressed, the initial recall was announced on December 30, 2020, expanded on January 11, 2021 (to include over 1,000 lots of pet food) and was followed up by an updated outbreak and advisory on January 26, 2021. The timeline and expansion of the number of lots and amount of pet food impacted shows just how important it is for pet owners and retailers to ask proper questions of their manufacturers to ensure the products they stock or feed their pets is safe – and to protect their businesses and livelihoods. In other words, the recall started out small and seemingly to be a self-caught issue, however the fairly quick expansion tells a different story. If Midwestern Pet Foods was properly testing inbound ingredients (i.e. aflatoxins in grains), testing foods after production and prior to leaving the facility (positive release) this would have never happened.

 

The outbreak and advisory notice outlines how the FDA was working with 10 different states to determine the impact of the aflatoxin contamination of Midwestern’s portfolio of brands. This advisory also provided an update that included at least 35 additional countries where the foods were likely distributed to and thus impacted by this recall in the United States. For example, The Food and Drugs Authority in Ghana issued a directive for all foods manufactured by Midwestern Pet Foods to be returned to the importer due to dangerously high levels of aflatoxin. For context, some of the products tested contained aflatoxin at levels as high as 558 ppb. FDA considers that aflatoxin levels in dog and cat food above 20 ppb will support a charge of adulteration because it is fatal or injurious to the health of pets.

 

Not an isolated incident

Soon, the general public, retailers and veterinarians alike realized that this was not an isolated incident and in fact was a result of widespread food-safety issues and problems across all four plants owned and operated by Midwestern Pet Foods. The worldwide aflatoxin recall was almost immediately followed by a second recall due to Salmonella contamination of several other lots of products in March of 2021 made in a second Midwestern Pet Foods facility. If you read the recall notice on the FDA website, you’ll note that this recall is also quite expansive involving several recipes and brands. When recalls are this large, several questions should be raised which include but are not limited to:

 

  • Was the company properly inbound testing raw ingredients to ensure they were free of contamination?
  • Did the company have proper documentation, kill steps and cleaning procedures of storage areas, equipment etc. to prevent cross contamination between lots?
  • Was the company properly outbound testing their final products?

 

Although the company claims that Salmonella-contaminated product never made it into the marketplace, and they caught the recall prior to it leaving their facility, the FDA letter states that it did indeed get distributed into interstate commerce. If none of the contaminated product left their facility and they were able to provide documentation to prove that no other product was impacted, then a recall would not have been triggered. This fact tells us again that food safety was an issue, and that again we see a large transparency problem with another manufacturer in the pet food industry. 

 

The “Warning Letter”

The FDA Warning Letter issued to Midwestern Pet Foods on August 9, 2021, included five FDA Form 483’s. An FDA Form 483 is issued to firm management at the conclusion of an inspection when an investigator(s) has observed any conditions that in their judgment may constitute violations of the Food Drug and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act and related Acts. I’ve heard a variety of comments after this warning letter was issued from pet owners and retailers – the largest, and most concerning is that many believe that because no new recall was issued that the Warning Letter is not really a cause for concern. Nothing is further from the truth and in fact, I would argue that the Warning Letter – impacting all 4 locations – is worse than a recall. Why do I say that?

 

This Warning Letter was issued as a Corporate Warning Letter because at the conclusion of inspections at all four facilities the FDA issued these FDA Form 483’s due to documented issues at each of their facilities: 

 

“At the close of each inspection, you or your plant manager was issued a Form FDA 483, Inspectional Observations. We acknowledge you1 have provided written Form FDA 483 responses dated February 25, 2021 (OK), March 12, 2021 (NY), March 19, 2021 (IN), March 30, 2021 (IL), and May 6, 2021 (IL) describing corrective actions you have taken or plan to take to address the observations at each of your facilities.”

 

This shows that OK, IN and NY each received one, and IL received two FDA Form 483’s for a total of five. The problem is that most people have never read? past the initial FDA in Brief that was released on August 17th, 2021. This letter detailed numerous apparent violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that were shared across the four sites. The FDA states that these violations are likely to have contributed to the illness or death of hundreds of dogs resulting from high levels of aflatoxin secondary to violations of Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Food for Animals regulation. 

 

Per the FDA/CVM: The last of the four inspections concluded on April 16, 2021, and FDA immediately began the process of examining and compiling evidence from the multiple inspections into a corporate-wide warning letter.

 

Because the firm had voluntarily recalled the pet foods that had the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella or aflatoxin, because investigators provided initial feedback to the firm about their inspectional observations (FDA Form 483s), and because the Agency did not have evidence that violative Midwestern-manufactured product was currently in the marketplace, the FDA did not initiate a product seizure or injunction case.

 

However, because the conditions observed during the inspections indicated significant problems, the Agency took the step of issuing a corporate-wide warning letter.

 

A Warning Letter is not simply a ‘Warning’

This Warning Letter is far more than the FDA saying ‘Hey, clean up your act’ – this is a warning to ‘do better next time’. Instead, a warning letter is typically issued after an inspection of a plant or manufacturing facility that finds quality control issues and/or after consumer-related complaints as a result of injury or death. In this case, the warning letter started with consumer complaints, which triggered inspections at all four sites which then found further issues. These issues are outlined in this letter in which the FDA requests corrective action by Midwestern Pet Foods:

  • Hazard Analysis & Risk-Based Preventive Controls Requirements – FDA investigators “found significant violations that did not identify or implement preventative controls” to provide assurances that prevented product manufactured, processed, pack or held by their OK, NY, IN and IL facilities would not be adulterated
  • In regard to aflatoxin, the OK, NY, IN and IL facilities all “failed to follow their own and accepted sample preparation procedures by both the test kit manufacturer”, USDA mycotoxin handbook and/or their own facility to detect and identify aflatoxin in corn and corn products at their facilities. “Failure to follow proper procedure resulted in product NOT being rejected when it should have been.” In short, the procedure they had in place was ineffective because it was never properly implemented or executed.
  • In regard to Salmonella, the OK, NY, IN and IL facilities also “failed to implement and execute adequate procedures to detect and prevent Salmonella contamination” of their products. In the FDA Warning Letter it states the following: 

 

“During the IL inspection, you recalled approximately 104 products of dry dog and cat diets made in your IL facility from October 26, 2020 – November 12, 2020, February 1, 2021 – February 12, 2021, and March 15, 2021 – March 19, 2021, because your routine monitoring yielded Salmonella-positive results for pet diets manufactured on common equipment during those periods.”

 

The explanation of such food safety issues within this letter is what, in my opinion, makes this worse than a recall letter. Recalls are supposed to catch unfortunate accidents and rare occurrences of pet food adulteration. The highlights of these violations go far beyond a mistake, oversight, or single incidence of human error because they expand across multiple products, multiple lots on multiple dates of manufacture simply because they were common mispractice across all four of their manufacturing facilities. Further, it’s important to point out that these recalls were indeed so large, likely because of two reasons: poor food safety AND documentation of manufacturing. Was it likely that all lots impacted were contaminated? No, instead a large amount of product was recalled in an attempt to reduce the potential for any to be in the marketplace. On the other hand, is it likely that all contaminated products were found or recalled? It is uncertain, and this is because nowhere within the FDA reports does it state that all retained samples were tested for all products in the marketplace. It is unknown if all contaminated products were caught since aflatoxins are never evenly dispersed in grains, and instead you have ‘hot spots’. The hot spots are the reason why a robust and thorough screening program is needed for incoming raw ingredients, during manufacture and prior to distribution into the marketplace. In other words, if these programs are implemented properly, things like aflatoxin and salmonella are preventable.  As a result, the FDA likely made a press release so consumers, retailers and veterinarians can be hyper-vigilant in seeing early warning signs of aflatoxin poisoning in case all affected lots were not recalled.

 

How does a Warning Letter get resolved?

Within this letter, the FDA also states that voluntarily recalling product does not prevent the recurrence of such hazards (aflatoxin and Salmonella) in their products. Hence the need for Midwestern Pet Foods to respond to this robust Warning Letter with their plans to mitigate these risks, upgrade their Food Safety procedures in the future, document proper training and implementation of the programs (i.e. aflatoxin analysis and environmental Salmonella detection). While Midwestern has responded to some of these violations, as outlined within the Warning Letter, there still remains more work to be done as well as additional inspections of all facilities to ensure compliance. 

 

Not until the FDA inspects the facilities to ensure that their corrective measures are implemented and being executed properly, will the Warning Letter be resolved. In the meantime, since the warning letter and investigation are still open, one would be prudent to be cautious of any product coming from any facility with an open or unresolved issue.

 

At this point, you may be wondering what happened to Hill’s Warning Letter that was issued as a result of excessive levels of Vitamin D. This massive recall was also global and resulted from Hill’s not following their own food safety procedures. This Warning Letter is also currently unresolved, likely due to COVID restrictions and the FDA not being able to adequately execute a robust inspection. One could also argue that regulatory authorities don’t have the capacity to police everyone all of the time, or that they may be letting such a large manufacturer get by for reasons we can maybe discuss at another time. Regardless, the lesson is that unless a warning letter is resolved you should probably find another pet food for your pet, or stock a different brand in your retail or clinic location.

 

What if a Warning Letter is not resolved?

An unresolved Warning Letter has actually never happened in the pet food industry, although it has happened in veterinary product and livestock industries. This is because pet food companies have historically complied with any changes that the FDA suggested after issuance of the Warning Letter. So, what happens if a pet food, treat, or supplement company fails to make adequate changes or fails to comply altogether? It’s likely that the U.S. Department of Justice would have to bring on an injunction on the FDA’s behalf. For an example of this, we’d have to look to human industry examples to determine what would happen…

 

Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) are historically what trip up food and supplement manufacturers. Failure of a company to conduct their manufacturing under such practices after being issued a Warning Letter would result in the U.S. Department of Justice doing what?  on behalf of the FDA. Just one example, the FDA shut down Sunset Natural Products for manufacturing and distributing adulterated dietary supplements following a ruling by a U.S. District Court which issued a consent decree against the company. Under a consent decree the company is not allowed to manufacture or sell their products until the FDA determines the business is in compliance with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. While this has not happened often, it is possible for companies to resurrect themselves post past? an event such as these, but it does take quite a bit of reinvention.

 

Per the FDA/CVM: injunctions have also been regularly filed against dairy farms that have introduced food containing illegal drug residues into the U.S. food supply. FDA initiates civil actions like seizures and injunctions for different reasons than criminal actions. Civil actions are brought to protect the public from harmful products under FDA’s jurisdiction. Criminal actions are brought to punish culpable parties for wrongful action and discourage the behavior. Given the different goals and legal requirements for each, there are different procedures that FDA follows to initiate each type of case. Please see Chapter 6 of FDA’s Regulatory Procedures Manual for FDA’s policies about pursuing seizures, injunctions, and prosecution of criminal matters.

 

Depending on the nature of the violation, it is the FDA’s general practice to give individuals and firms an opportunity to take voluntary and prompt corrective action before it initiates a judicial action. In some cases, however, judicial action is necessary to protect public health. As noted above, all judicial action must be pursued by FDA through the U.S. Department of Justice.

 

Based on this and other incidents we can hypothesize that if a company did not adequately respond to or respond at all to a Warning Letter, the FDA would take legal means to shut down operations of that pet food company. In this case, involving Midwestern there are a number of issues across all of their facilities indicating that substantial overhaul of their cGMP is needed. If this does not happen, or happen to the level of satisfying the FDA, we could potentially see an injunction against the company – although this would be a first for the pet food industry. 

 

What should pet parents, retailers and veterinarians do?

At the end of the day, this is not just about Midwestern Pet Food, because there are multiple recent examples of adulterated pet foods in the marketplace that include Evanger’s, Sunshine Mills, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Blue Ridge, NomNom…I could keep going. The lesson is just another example of why it is so important to ask pointed and meaningful questions of your pet food manufacturers. These questions include but are not limited to:

  • Do you have current 3rd party food safety (cGMP, SQF) certifications?
  • Do you perform a Nutritional Analysis on ALL of your finished formulas?
  • Do you perform digestibility testing to ensure dogs/cats can absorb all required nutrients your products are formulated to meet?

 

Bottom line: If your pet food company cannot answer these questions or they say the information is proprietary, don’t feed their food!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Nicole Cammack

 

Nicole founded NorthPoint Pets & Company to fill a void for pet parents: information and transparency. Nicci understood that, while there are countless pet stores and unending opportunities for buying online, much of the information about pet food and health is incomplete, biased, or misleading. Since 2014, she is proudly leading an incredibly talented team that boasts several national awards as the leader in independent pet retail, innovation, education, health, nutrition and transparency.

Research & evolution are the foundation for everything NorthPoint stands upon. Currently, Nicole is working on her PhD at the University of Georgia (UGA), College of Veterinary Medicine in Canine Nutrition & Metabolomics. In short, she is studying how the way we feed our pets can influence disease. Although research is not a new field for her, as she has experience in clinical research for diseases such as obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease and various cancers. Her undergraduate and graduate education includes biology, chemistry, business and nutrition. She has worked in the pharmaceutical industry on multiple R&D projects and has had the privilege to learn from leading international figures in both the human and pet health industries. When not at NorthPoint or UGA she can be found presenting at national conferences, including federal, state, and municipal organizations. Her most recent publication reports on the prevalence of reported pathogenic infections related to raw pet food diets.

Won’t my dog (or my family) get sick if I feed a raw diet?

We have always received advice to cook meat thoroughly in order to eliminate pathogens such as Salmonella, E. Coli, or Campylobacter. However, there is limited documentation linking raw feeding to enteric pathogens. A study conducted by DogRisk1 examined stool samples from dogs fed raw diets and those fed kibble-based diets. The study found that “Zoonotic meat-borne bacteria, such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, and enteropathogenic Yersinia, were only sporadically detected in RMBD (raw meat-based diets) by PCR.”1 In other words, there is no consistent association between raw diets and enteric pathogens.

By following basic, safe handling practices (which we already do when handling our own meat to prevent illness) – such as practicing good hand hygiene, disinfecting surfaces after preparation, and not feeding spoiled meat – the risk of enteric pathogens can be minimized.

It is worth noting that some of the largest and most significant pet food recalls in the U.S. have been linked to dry food. This indicates that heat-treated foods also carry a significant risk of pathogens. Additionally, research shows that most pet owners do not regularly wash their hands or clean their pet food bowls. Therefore, regardless of the type of food you feed your pet, it is important to practice proper hygiene.

 

REFERENCES:

  1. Anturaniemi (o.s. Roine), J., Barrouin-Melo, S., Zaldivar-López, S., Sinkko, H., & Hielm-Björkman, A. (2019). Owners perception of acquiring infections through raw pet food: a comprehensive internet-based survey. Veterinary Record185(21). https://doi.org/10.1136/vr.105122

From a Vet Tech: “Why I Add Fresh Food for my Dogs”

As an experienced dog owner, I understand the importance of providing a well-rounded diet. In this blog, I’ll share my experience and insights on the benefits of incorporating fresh foods into your canine companion’s kibble-based diet. Learn how these simple additions can promote hydration, improve coat and skin health, and support overall well-being for your beloved pets.

How I feed my dogs

I have three dogs: Tyson (a Pit mix), Pongo, and Lila (the Dalmatians). I rotate the protein choices for their kibble every bag. Since I feed a primarily kibble diet, I like to add a lot of fresh foods to their bowls like raw meat toppers, raw organic eggs, goat milk, bone broth, blueberries, green beans, sweet potatoes, broccoli, bananas, the list can keep going. All of these toppers are great sources of moisture being added to the diet, as kibble is very dehydrating to our pet’s body and organs.

What fresh foods do I add?

I add blueberries as they’re a great source of antioxidants and beneficial to the immune system. Adding certain leafy greens, such as romaine lettuce, kale,

Why I add fresh food to my dogs' kibble

Morgan with her dogs Tyson and Pongo

 collard greens, are great sources of natural fiber. Raw organic eggs are full of amino and fatty acids and amazing for skin and coat health. While feeding raw eggs you can also feed the shell (farm fresh only- as store bought egg shells can be bleached and can contain chemicals). The shell is a great natural source of calcium, helping to support strong bones and teeth. Let’s not forget about adding the eggshell membrane as well! The white membrane of the eggshell is full of collagen which is amazing for supporting and/or rebuilding joints.

Why do I add fresh food?

The biggest benefit of adding fresh foods and toppers is I have peace of mind knowing that my dogs stay hydrated — not just from their water bowls. On top of that, their coats shine, their teeth are pearly white, they’re fit and lean, and they’re happy! 

I pay extra close attention to my Dalmatians’ diet because the breed is prone to creating urinary crystals and stones. Their genetics create an overabundance of uric acid in the urinary tract therefore leading to the creation of urinary stones. That being said, I focus on keeping them hydrated because it helps to flush some of the uric acid out. Since adding fresh food to my Dalmatians’ diet, their urinalysis results have been much better and a significant decrease in crystals as well!

Even something as simple as adding filtered water or fresh fruit and vegetables to a pet’s diet can go a long way for the pet’s health. Hydration is a huge key when being fed primarily dry based kibble food. 

 

 

 

A Superfood Topper

Green Juju makes it easy to add fresh organic produce – formulated to target healthy skin and coat, support joint health, benefit digestion, and boost immunity to your dog’s diet.  Add a scoopful to every meal for a boost of flavor, moisture, and nutrition.

Pro-tip: Fill an ice cube tray with Green JuJu and your pup’s favorite treat and freeze for a refreshing superfood treat to keep him cool this summer. 

why does my cat puke

Why Does My Cat Puke?

Vomiting is one of the most commonly reported clinical signs noted in feline veterinary exams. While many cat owners fancy their cats as just having “sensitive stomachs” or simply “eating too fast”, chronic vomiting is not by any means healthy or ‘normal’.

7 Reasons Why You’ll LOVE Freeze-Dried Food

1. Nutritional Value

Freeze-dried raw food is still raw and has not been cooked. Therefore, perhaps the best benefit of all is that it contains pristine nutrition for your pet: animal-based proteins, essential fats and amino acids in their most digestible, bioavailable form. At NPP we strongly believe that whole, fresh feeding is the best form of nutrition for your pet.

 

2. Versatility

Perhaps the best perk about freeze-dried food is the versatility. Freeze-dried foods can be fed as:

  • A complete meal – yes, they’re complete and balanced!
  • A compliment to kibble or canned food
  • A meal topper – guaranteed to entice even the pickiest eaters
  • A high-value nutrition-packed treat

 

3. Amazingly Portable

Since freeze-dried foods are vacuum dried, they can be kept safely at room temperature. The compact, lightweight, nutrient-dense meal simplifies feeding while you’re on the road or away from home. In addition, the less weight in your day pack can make all the difference when you’re planning to hike that extra mile.

 

4. Easy Preparation

Unlike frozen raw food, freeze-dried foods do not require freezing, and therefore do not need to be thawed. When served as a topper or treat, you can feed it right out of the bag – no prep needed. If using it as a complete meal on a regular basis, freeze-dried formulas should be hydrated.

 

Why do we recommend hydrating? 

While freeze-dried formulas contain excellent high-quality protein and healthy fats, they have zero moisture, which can put unnecessary strain on your pet’s organ function over time. If freeze-dried food makes up more than 25% of your pet’s diet, we recommend adding some bone broth, goat milk, or warm water. Allow the food to soak for 5-10 minutes to absorb the moisture before feeding. 

 

5. Palatability

Freeze-dried foods tend to be a favorite amongst picky pets, commonly small dogs and cats. Here’s why: The freeze-drying process yields a final product that smells great and is relatively soft in texture. Prior to hydration, the food is dry but softer than kibble. After hydration, the food resembles canned/wet food. If your pet prefers a shredded texture, simply break up the pieces with a fork or your hand. If they prefer a smooth pate texture, leave the food intact.

 

6. A [Frozen] Raw Transition Meal

Many pet-owners become frustrated if their pet doesn’t instantly fall in love with a frozen raw diet. For some pets, this transition can be off-putting: to go from eating a processed, extruded dry kibble to a cold, wet raw meal (think stale pizza crust to cold grass-fed prime rib). Freeze-dried formulas can help to bridge the gap with a room-temperature, palatable, fragrant, enticing meal that can gradually replace your pet’s kibble without the shocking change.

 

7. A Frozen Raw Back-Up Meal

Avid raw feeders can all tell stories of the times they forgot to take out their pet’s frozen meals to thaw. Come dinner time, it’s nice to have a shelf-stable Plan B, just in case!

Golden puppy eating from bowl

FAQ: How Do I Switch My Pet’s Food?

Our pet’s health wellbeing starts with quality nutrition. However, many people fear that changing their pet’s diet will cause digestive upset. After all, no one wants to clean up after a pet with an upset stomach! Therefore, a smooth pet food transition is key to ensuring optimal digestion. In this blog, we will share valuable insights on how to navigate the transition and avoid digestive upset.

Start Low and Go Slow

Every pet is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to transitioning their food. The key is to adopt the “start low and go slow” strategy.

A common mistake is to wait until the pet food bag is empty before purchasing their new food. However, abrupt changes in the diet are likely to upset your dog or cat’s stomach.

Instead, we highly suggest planning for a gradual transition period lasting 10-14 days. This means to begin the introduction of new food while you still have 7-10 days’ worth of old food left. This timeframe allows your pet’s digestive system to adjust to the new food gradually. By taking it slow, you can minimize the chances of digestive upset and other discomforts.

Another common misconception is that  a 50/50 mix of old food and new food is appropriate to start. While some pets may acclimate well to this type of transition, many will not. Instead, most pets do well with a 20-25% mixture of new food to 75-80% old food. This smaller increment will allow your pet’s digestive system to better adjust to the new food.

From here, gradually increase the fraction of new food and decrease the old food over the course of 10-14 days, pausing for 2-3 days at each new ratio. Here is an example:

  • Day 1-3: 25% new food: 75% old food

    Cat with food bowl

    Cats are likely to refuse a new food without a slow introduction.

  • Day 4-6: 50% new food : 50% old food
  • Day 7-10: 75% new food : 25% old food
  • Day 11: 100% new food

It’s important to note that this example may not work for every pet. Pets with a sensitive digestive system, for example, may need to start with as little as 10% new food, or pause for longer intervals between each step. Our team can hep guide you throughout your transition.

Observe and Adjust

During the transition, it’s essential to keep a close eye on your pet’s reactions and adjust accordingly. If you notice any signs of mild digestive upset, don’t panic. Simply reduce the amount of new food slightly and proceed at a slower pace. Additionally, incorporating probiotics or digestive enzymes, such as goat milk or bone broth, can provide beneficial gut support and aid in easing the transition.

Benefits of a Gradual Transition

Why is a gradual transition important? Rapid switches in diet can shock your pet’s digestive system, leading to gastrointestinal distress. In some animals (especially cats) a rapid transition can also create food aversion. By allowing time for adaptation, you give your pet’s gut the opportunity to adjust to the new food’s ingredients and nutrient composition. This approach promotes a smoother transition and reduces the likelihood of stomach upset, diarrhea, or other digestive issues.

When it comes to transitioning your pet’s food, patience and attentiveness are key. By following the “start low and go slow” method, observing your pet’s reactions, and making adjustments as needed, you can help them adapt to their new diet with ease and ensure their overall well-being.

Remember, every pet is unique, so the transition process may vary. What works for one may not work for another. Stay attuned to your pet’s needs, consult with your veterinarian, and provide the care and attention necessary for a successful and comfortable food transition. Our team is always available to help guide you through your pet’s new food introduction.

Choosing the Best Pet Food: Animal Welfare Claims Explained

When we feed our pets, many of us prefer to provide food sourced from animals that have been raised humanely, allowed to roam freely on pastures, or treated well in other ways. However, since these terms lack regulation, pet food brands can make claims about their product’s nature without the need to substantiate or define them. In other words, if a claim lacks the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) or Certified Humane label, it could simply be a marketing tactic.

So, what exactly do these labels signify, and how can consumers determine the truth behind their purchases? When it comes to animal welfare claims, both small and large farms can undergo independent third-party audits by organizations like GAP and Certified Humane, which assess and certify the level of animal welfare provided. In this discussion, we will primarily focus on GAP certification, as it is the label most consumers are familiar with.

GAP certification audits, if passed, assign a level of certification based on how the animals are raised, what they are fed, access to water, access to outdoors and how the animal was slaughtered — just to name a few. (Figure 1). All GAP farms are required to be audited at least every 15 months to maintain certification. Standards for all animals can be accessed here

Levels of GAP Certification

There is a significant contrast between the base GAP certification and the higher levels of 5 and 5+ certifications in terms of the environment provided. If we examine the different levels of GAP certification for chickens, we can observe that Level 1 does not necessitate outdoor or natural light access for the chickens and requires minimal space. This resembles the conditions typically associated with a ‘factory farm.’ On the other hand, when we consider Level 5 and 5+ chickens, we find that they require daily access to pasture starting from 4 weeks of age, and the pasture must maintain 75+% vegetative cover (refer to Figure 2). Both of these levels are GAP certified, but their implications are significantly different.

Another example is the labeling of “free range” chickens without GAP certification. In such cases, chickens are simply allowed access to the outdoors, but the USDA does not define the quality, duration, or size of outdoor space access. To make the claim of being “free range” with GAP certification, the product must meet at least GAP 3 or higher certification standards.

 

Figure 1: Date accessed: April 13, 2021: https://globalanimalpartnership.org/standards/

 

Pet Food Marketing Tricks

 

Understanding the various definitions of GAP certification is crucial to navigate its potentially ambiguous labeling. The situation becomes even more complex when pet food companies claim adherence to GAP or Certified Humane standards on their social media platforms, advertisements, literature, or websites, without actually displaying the corresponding labels on their packaging. This practice is deceptive to both consumers and retailers. During the process of compiling examples for this article, I encountered numerous instances where companies asserted GAP certification for all their products, yet the GAP label was nowhere to be found on their packaging.

This raises the question: What level of GAP certification are they referring to? One particular company went so far as to state:

“All of our livestock is under the Global Animal Partnership – a RARE standard to have in the pet food industry… We believe that all animals should be able to live in their natural environments and be able to express themselves freely and eat their native diets.”

Ironically, none of their products featured the GAP label, leaving retailers and consumers unable to determine the specific level of GAP certification achieved by each formula. The statement on their social media implies that GAP certification ensures access to natural environments such as outdoor spaces and green pastures for all livestock. However, it’s important to note that not all levels of GAP certification require such “natural environments” (refer to Figure 2). In other words, unless the individual product packaging displays the GAP label, there are no guarantees that the product complies with any GAP standard, let alone Level 5 or 5+.

 

Figure 2: Date accessed: April 13, 2021: https://globalanimalpartnership.org/standards/chicken/

 

No Label on Package = No Guarantee!

The figures presented above clearly illustrate the significant variations in GAP labeling certifications. It’s important to understand that these certifications are not equal. To simplify, Base Level 1 is comparable to many conventional factory farms, which can achieve different levels of GAP certification. Conversely, Level 5 and 5+ certifications provide animals with a markedly different living environment and overall life experience compared to Level 1.

In the context of human food, we do encounter higher levels of GAP certification more frequently, albeit not consistently. However, when it comes to pet food, the higher levels of GAP certification are much less prevalent. These levels involve additional care and costs, making the associated products more expensive. Even retailers like Whole Foods, who offer GAP certified products in their Meat Department ranging from base to 5+, do not commit to a specific level of GAP certified products. This is likely due to the higher costs and limited availability of products with these higher certifications.

 

Human v. Pet Food Supply

You may be wondering if the availability and affordability of higher levels of GAP certified products in the human food supply also extend to pet food. You would be correct to assume that level 4, 5, or 5+ meat products are rarely found in pet food. The mass production of pet food faces challenges in maintaining a steady supply of these products. Additionally, their cost is often prohibitive for consumers by the time they reach store shelves. In our research, we found a limited selection of pet food products containing GAP 4 beef and one GAP 4 lamb kibble. However, their high price of approximately $90 USD for a 24lb bag makes them less attractive to most consumers, who are more likely to opt for freeze-dried or raw alternatives. It’s worth noting that these products also include whitefish meal and herring meal alongside lamb, further diminishing their appeal.

However, we do observe the more common usage of GAP Base Certification through Level 3 in pet food, as these standards are relatively easier to meet. Nonetheless, products with these certifications tend to be on the higher end of the price range for pet foods. Unfortunately, without understanding the meaning of certification levels, consumers can be deceived by labeling systems, assuming that products with the label or claim are superior to those without. The truth is that a pet food without a GAP label may be equally as good or even better than those with the label.

Before you venture out to purchase pet foods that are GAP certified, it may be best to check what the levels of certification mean for that particular protein here: https://globalanimalpartnership.org/standards/

 

Food Safety & GAP Certification

In today’s consumer-driven market, the welfare of animals and responsible ingredient sourcing has gained significant importance, and rightfully so. Pet food manufacturers have recognized this and adapted their marketing strategies to create an illusion of transparency, responsibility, and sustainability. For example, GAP certification can provide insights into the care and well-being of animals used in the production process. However, it’s important to note that these certifications do not guarantee quality or assure nutrition and food safety, regardless of the claims made by pet food companies in their marketing efforts.

GAP labels should not overshadow the necessity for pet food companies to conduct comprehensive nutritional analysis, digestibility studies, and implement test and hold practices for their final products. These labels can help consumers distinguish companies that genuinely prioritize animal welfare and responsible sourcing from those that do not. However, if companies fail to employ basic validation and food safety testing for their end products, it puts the health of pets at risk. The question arises: What does this mean?

Transparency in the pet industry is crucial for retailers and pet owners. Request nutrient analysis and digestibility data from pet food companies. Inquire about “test and hold” protocols to prevent pathogens and contaminants. Sadly, popular brands, including raw pet food brands, often lack these safety measures, resulting in avoidable recalls.

For more on this topic click here.

About the Author: Nicole Cammack

Nicole is the founder & owner of award-winning NorthPoint Pets & Company, in Connecticut. She is also the Founder & CEO of Undogmatic Inc. Her undergraduate and graduate education includes biology, chemistry, business and nutrition. She has worked in the pharmaceutical industry on multiple R&D projects and has had the privilege to learn from leading international figures in the human and pet health industry. She regularly lectures at national conferences, including federal, state, and municipal K9 events. Her current research involves identifying pathogenic risk factors and transmission among raw fed pets through a comprehensive worldwide survey.

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