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!


What Are Enzymes and How Can They Help Your Pets?

We have jumped right into talking about enzymes, but what exactly ARE they? Enzymes are protein molecules which perform specific functions. They are not “alive”, like probiotics, but they are only active under certain conditions. This is because proteins- which are made of chains of amino acids- can easily be denatured. Excessive heat or extremes in pH can disrupt the bonds that hold proteins together, rendering enzymes ineffective. This is why enzymes are best stored under refrigeration, or at least in a cool, dry place to maintain maximum activity. Enzymes can come from different sources- animal, plant, or microbial. Animal-sourced enzymes tend to have less stability over different pH ranges. Enzymes from plant sources (such as Papain from papaya and Bromelain from pineapple) and microbial (fungal and bacterial) sources are generally tolerant of wider pH and temperature ranges.

So- what do these proteins do? Enzymes have specific substrates that they act upon. For example, Amylases act on Starch, Cellulases act on Cellulose, and Proteases act on Proteins. In the case of these digestive enzymes, the enzymes work to break these substrate molecules into smaller constituents. Amylase enzymes take the more complex molecule starch and break it down into simple sugars. This is useful in pets such as dogs because sugars are more easily absorbed in the digestive tract. Undigested starch can cause problems (such as bloating) in several animals. However, since each enzyme only acts on a specific substrate, a digestive blend of enzymes should include a range of enzymes which will act upon all components of the food. Dogs cannot digest certain plant components such as cellulose, so supplemental cellulase can help them gain additional nutrients from a source that is otherwise not utilized.

More complete digestion of food provides a great benefit to both pets and owners. Pets tend to experience less digestive disturbances that may be associated with poorly digested food, and they may also gain a healthier looking coat due to the increase in available nutrients. In addition to this, many owners notice smaller, more consistent stools from their dogs due to the fact that less food is getting passed out undigested.

Many of the digestive problems that dogs and cats experience today are the result of a diet consisting only of processed foods lacking enzymes. Whether you feed cooked kibble or a raw diet, all pets can benefit from the addition of enzymes to improve digestion and overall health.
Please feel free to send us an e-mail with any questions about enzymes!