Senior Dog Food Study Proves Lax Regulations - Truth About Pet Food

  • Written By: Susan Thixton
  • 4-7-2011

A recent study published by Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University proves just how lax pet food regulations are. This recent pet food study, the second from this university in two years, found a "wide variety in nutritional content" with senior dog foods.

The Senior Dog Food study, as reported by, found that calorie content in senior dog foods varied from 246 calories per cup to 408 calories per cup. Protein content varied from 4.8 to 13.1 gram per 100 kcal; fat content varied from 2.4 to 6.3 gram per 100 kcal, and sodium content varied from 33 to 412 mg per 100 kcal. "If an owner, for example, had a senior dog with heart disease, they might be inclined to feed them a senior food, thinking that it had less sodium," says Lisa M. Freeman DVM, PhD contributing author of the study.

This wide variety of nutritional content in senior foods is not due to little knowledge of the nutritional needs of senior dogs. says "Although it is commonly accepted that nutritional needs - both for humans and pets - change with aging, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and National Research Council have not set official dietary requirements for aging dogs. As such, foods marketed for "longevity" and "maturity" or "senior," "old" or "mature" dogs do not have to adhere to a standard nutrition profile beyond the AAFCO nutrient profile minimums for adult dogs."

In other words, Senior Pet Foods can be nothing more than marketing. Hype. Sales pitch.

Last year, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University published another study which "examined nearly 100 commercially available diets with weight management claims".

A report on this study said "Among their findings is that dry dog foods range in calorie density from 217 to 440 kilocalories per cup (kcal/cup) and a recommended intake that ranged from 0.73 to 1.47 times the dog's resting energy requirement. The diets also varied wildly in price -- from 4 cents to more than $1.10 per kilocalorie."

"Similar findings were made in wet dog food (189-398 kcal/can) and cat food (235-480 kcal/cup) marketed for weight control. The results may be significant for owners whose cats or dogs are overweight or obese, according to Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN, the study's co-author along with 2010 Cummings School graduate Deborah E. Linder, DVM. Nearly 50% of domesticated animals are overweight or obese."

This 'diet pet food' study also found "high variability in feeding recommendations for weight loss based on the labels that were evaluated. In fact, for most of the diets, pets would not lose weight or would actually gain weight if owners adhered to the labels' feeding directions".

I believe these studies are trying to point out - politely and scientifically - the huge gaps in pet food regulations.

Imagine an unknowing pet parent, with a senior or overweight pet, walking into a pet store (excluding the independent pet stores who know better!) and trying to find a dog food or cat food for their senior or overweight pet. This unknowing pet parent finds a food that says its 'specifically formulated to meet the needs of your senior pet'. Trying to do the best thing for their dog or cat, wanting to provide the best possible nutrition to keep their senior pet around for years longer, they purchase this food. But the thing is, this 'specifically formulated' pet food doesn't have to meet any specific formulation requirements at all. This unknowing pet parent just paid money for a marketing claim, not specific nutritional requirements that will extend the life of their senior dog or cat.

Here's what the lobby organization for Big Pet Food had to say about the senior dog food study...
"The study highlights the diversity among dogs and, consequently, dog food products. Each dog is unique and has distinct needs," said Kurt Gallagher, a spokesman for the Pet Food Institute." Attaining senior status depends on several factors, including the breed and weight of the dog. The differing nutritional needs of dogs are exemplified by the variance in the amount of protein senior dogs should consume."

I had hoped to hear a response from the pet food lobby organization something like 'we are concerned with the variance of protein, fat, and salt content in senior dog foods' and 'our organization plans to address the lack of regulatory control in senior pet foods with AAFCO and FDA'. Instead they seemed to feel this study proved the variety of nutritional content in senior dog food was a good thing. What a shame.

Many, many thanks to Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University for both of these very significant studies.

If you have an overweight pet or senior pet, learn from the pet food manufacturer what the fine print on the pet food label doesn't tell you. Ask calorie content per cup, ask salt content, ask the maximum protein and fat content (labels only state minimum protein and fat content); as well, ask country of origin of ingredients including vitamins and minerals, grade of ingredients, shelf life, and if BPA is in the canned food lining.

Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,

Susan Thixton
Pet Food Safety Advocate
Author, Buyer Beware

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