Beyond Kibble

With a growing number of pet food options available in the market today, it can be overwhelming to decipher the differences. As a pet owner or as a pet food manufacturer, one of the most important things to understand is what goes into the labeling of pet foods. Regulations vary, but it is up to the State Feed Control Officials to truly regulate what goes into pet food. However, there is a recognized standard that most go by that has been put together by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). AAFCO itself does not regulate or approve products, but it establishes standards for complete and balanced foods. These are the generally accepted guidelines that most companies start with.

These AAFCO standards for a complete and balanced pet food require that “the pet food contain every nutrient that we know the pet needs as specified in the AAFCO Dog Food (or Cat Food) Nutrient Profiles”. These are based on the recommendations of the National Research Council (NRC) for dogs and cats. There is another option for pet foods to pass animal feeding trials using AAFCO procedures, if a product is designed for a particular stage. This allows formulation of products that may or may not meet AAFCO nutrient profiles, such as some that may be used by veterinarians for treatment of particular conditions where the diet needs restricted protein, sodium, etc.

Pet food manufacturers choose ingredients that will let their food reach or exceed these requirements. There are many factors to consider when choosing ingredients, including cost, as well as palatability. Many pet food manufacturers choose to use by-products of other industries as their protein sources. These by-products can be made more usable through processing with heat, or sometimes hydrolysis with enzymes. However, these may not always start out as extremely palatable to pets. In these cases, companies may use enzymes to fully hydrolyze a meat source, which they then coat the kibble with after processing. This improves palatability of the final product. Amylase enzymes may also be used in foods with higher carbohydrate content to help reduce viscosity.

Enzymes can also be beneficial to foods which use fresh meats as their protein sources. These meats need to be broken down in order to be formed into kibble. Enzymes can do this without any chemical additives. Some meats may also cause issues with viscosity in machines, in which case the addition of some enzymes can help material flow better, helping optimize the production process.

In addition to enzymes for pet food processing, some companies are using them as a functional ingredient to aid digestion. In these cases, the enzymes must be added at the end stage in a coating on the kibble. This is because the enzymes will otherwise be destroyed by the heat of the extrusion process. However, enzymes and/or probiotics added in a coating at the end of the kibble-making process can work as a functional dog-or cat- food ingredient which will provide benefits to the pet’s digestive health.

If you have any questions regarding the use of enzymes in pet food, please send us an e-mail!

Doggie Digestion

happy dog

Did you know that you can tell a lot about what is going on with your dog’s digestion by their stool? It may be obvious that they are experiencing digestive upset if they have an issue with diarrhea, but other observations may be helpful. The article below talks about some things to watch for. Often, when dogs are not digesting their food optimally, their stool will be much larger. Dog owners who supplement their dogs with enzymes often report a significant difference in the dog’s stool, indicating an improved utilization of the food. Changing to a higher-quality food with less fillers will also give your dog more readily available nutrients!

P.S. The same applies for cats!

Poultry Enzymes

Poultry Enzymes

Great article on the use of enzymes in poultry feed!  It explains how “Better feed efficiency also means fewer environmental concerns from chicken litter“.

Intro to Phytase


There are certain enzymes that we are more familiar with, such as the amylase I have discussed in an earlier blog.  Amylases break down starches.  Lipases break down fats, and proteases break down proteins.  However, one of the most widely used enzymes in the animal feed industry is an enzyme called phytase.  The substrate of phytase (the molecule that it acts upon) is phytic acid, an organic form of phosphorus found in grains and seeds.  Why does this matter?  Monogastric animals (non-ruminants) cannot produce (a significant amount) of their own phytase.  Therefore, they can’t break down phytic acid in their diet, so they can’t utilize phosphorus from this source.  This form of phosphorus ends up passing out of the animal in its undigested form.  This is not only wasteful, but also is a significant contributor to phosphate pollution in the environment.

One industry that uses phytase supplementation extensively is the poultry farming industry.  Birds are raised in the most cost-effective manner, which requires maximum utilization of their feed.  If they are passing a phosphorus source through their systems without using it, they are throwing away the farmers’ money.  In this case, the owner of the operation will have to supplement with additional phosphorus to meet the birds’ dietary needs.  The most cost-effective solution is to add phytase to the feed.  This way, less supplemental phosphorus is needed, and there is less phosphate pollution in the birds’ waste.  Other enzymes, such as xylanases and mannanases are also extremely beneficial in poultry farming to maximize feed utilization.  They similarly break down parts of the diet that are otherwise indigestible to the animals.  These are increasing in use, especially as consumers demand foods grown without the use of as many medications and antibiotics.

Swine growers often use phytase for the same reasons as poultry growers.  It helps to increase available phosphorus in the diet while reducing environmental pollution.  Phytase can also be included in equine supplements in combination with several other beneficial enzymes.  The way to optimize effectiveness is to choose the particular enzymes and dosages based on the feed components and the nutritional needs of the animal.  Please feel free to contact me with any questions regarding enzymes in animal feed, or with any suggestions for a blog topic!

Dried Aspergillus what?

Do you ever read the label of your horse or pet’s food or supplements and have no idea what half of the ingredients are?  On more than one occasion, I have heard people express their confusion over labels, and this also happens in the area of enzymes.  Some products that you are using may contain enzymes, but you don’t even know it.  Part of the difficulty comes from the fact that labeling laws vary, and that there is no true regulation of pet “supplements”, although organizations such as the National Animal Supplement Council are trying to change this.  In general, animal supplements fall under the category of “feed/pet food” when it comes to regulations.  Many manufacturers choose to follow the guidelines made by AAFCO- the American Association of Feed Control Officials.  Others do not, and this is why it can sometimes be difficult to compare enzyme products.


Some products may list that they contain “Amylase, Cellulase, Protease, Phytase, and Xylanase.”  Most people will recognize that these are enzymes, however, this would not be sufficient for the ingredient list according to AAFCO guidelines.  AAFCO requires that the label list enzymes in the format of “Dried _____ Fermentation Extract”- where the blank would include the source organism for the enzyme.  You may recognize this format from a bag of grain or dog food.  What you are actually feeding includes enzymes!  When the ingredient is listed in this format, it resulted from extracting and precipitating the water-soluble materials from a fermentation process conducted for maximum production of enzymes.  For example, your ingredient list may say “Dried Aspergillus niger Fermentation Extract”, but the active enzyme may be Phytase.

I have included a link to a presentation on the AAFCO site about labeling as it relates to enzymes in feed.  If you are interested in more information about how enzymes are labeled in animal products, how to identify what is in what you are using, or anything else regarding enzymes, please feel free to e-mail me!

More information on AAFCO Enzyme Labeling:

Enzymes in Equine Nutrition


Whether you and your horse simply enjoy trail rides around the neighborhood or compete in performance events on a national level, chances are that you have put considerable thought into his or her diet.  For such a large and powerful animal, it seems that the horse has one of the most delicate digestive systems and is prone to colic at the most unexpected and inconvenient times.  If we want to get the maximum performance out of our horses and give them the utmost chance to excel, we should take a good look at what goes on inside of them.  The process of digestion involves proteins called enzymes that serve various roles in breaking down food into smaller molecules that can be absorbed.  These enzymes are made by the horse, and also are produced by the bacteria that live in the horse’s gut.  Horses themselves actually don’t make the particular enzyme cellulase, which is needed to digest plant material, but the gut bacteria provide them with enough cellulase digest their food.  These bacteria also produce additional enzymes that perform varying digestive processes necessary for the absorption of essential nutrients from food.  While the symbiotic relationship between horses and the bacteria that inhabit them is an impressive biological arrangement, sudden upsets can cause huge problems such as gas colic, laminitis, and other health issues.  An equine dietary supplement with the addition of enzymes can do more than just increase the ability of your horse to breakdown their food; it can possibly even help prevent a deadly problem.

The ideal conditions for a feed program would mimic what is natural for the horse, which is a continuous intake of forage throughout the day.  However, particularly in areas where horses must be kept stalled, constant feed access isn’t necessarily an option.  Rising hay costs can be inhibitory, leading owners to find the most cost-effective ways to feed their horses and make sure that hay is not being wasted.  Also, free access to hay cannot be an option for all horses, as some will overeat to the point of obesity if it is kept in front of them.  The best thing we can do is try to spread out feedings as much as possible.  Rather than feeding a large amount once per day, it is better if the same amount of hay can be spread out in 2-4 feedings.  The basis of your feed program should be some sort of forage- either a legume like alfalfa, or a grass hay such as orchard or timothy.  Humans often add grain to the equine diet, especially for performance athletes and broodmares.  This may be as an extra source of calories or as a method of delivering a vitamin/mineral supplement.  Grain adds additional starch to the diet, especially when a large amount is fed at once, and this can cause a drastic change in the climate of the large intestine.  The bacteria present in the area will begin fermenting the sugars that were not absorbed in the small intestine, lowering the pH and resulting in a huge increase in the gases produced.  This lowered pH can lead to a chain of events including alteration of the microbial inhabitants of the region, lysis of bacteria, and release of endotoxins. Damage to the mucosa will allow those endotoxins to be absorbed and cause problems such as a horse owner’s worst fears, colic and laminitis.  However, there is a way to possibly prevent issues as well as improve your horse’s digestion as a whole- supplement with enzymes.

Especially if you are feeding grain, the addition of enzymes will help give your horse a digestive advantage.  Enzymes come in various forms and do different jobs, so the enzymes needed may depend on what your horse’s diet consists of.  Amylase enzymes can start the starch breakdown earlier in the digestive process to assist in preventing the problems just discussed.  If starch is broken down prior to reaching the large intestine, the smaller sugars will have the chance to be absorbed in the small intestine, resulting in higher efficiency feed utilization.  Proteases break down proteins, lipases help break down fats and cellulases, xylanases, pectinases, and phytases help your horse access otherwise unavailable nutrients.  Phytase, for example, is not naturally produced by the horse, but supplementation with it will allow them to access phosphorus from phytate, an otherwise non-utilized source.  Even with cellulase produced by gut bacteria, cellulose from plant material is not fully broken down, so supplemental cellulase can help further utilize all available nutrients.  These enzymes may help a hard keeper gain weight without having to make a dramatic increase in the amount of feed given.  When considering the cost of feeding, the most economical option to maintain a healthy weight in your horse may actually be to provide them with a quality enzyme supplement. This will allow them to get the maximum benefit possible out of everything else you are feeding.  With how expensive quality hay and grain can be, why allow any portion of it to go unused?  Combine good feeding practices, quality feed ingredients, and enzyme supplementation to keep your horses at their optimal health.