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The pet food industry has been highly scrutinized for its animal testing, or vivisection, practices, in part due to the 2002-2003 undercover footage from a testing facility contracted by Iams. An investigator from PETA filmed evidence of cruelty at the testing facility, ranging from animals being kept in cages with improper flooring to dogs being piled on the ground after having sections of their leg muscles cut out. Many of the tests resulted in death of the animals.

Since then, Iams has discontinued their contract with Sinclair Research Center, but they do still conduct animal experimentation that many consider cruel. Iams has paid $200,000 to Purdue University to conduct a two-year study on muscle deterioration in mice. Proctor & Gamble, the company that owns Iams, has dramatically cut back on animal testing and promises to eventually phase it out. However, since the reveal of PETA’s investigative findings, the entire pet food industry has been under a microscope.

As new alternatives to using animals for testing continue to surface and consumers demand better options for their fur babies, pet food companies are thankfully beginning to listen.

Why all the Testing?

The AAFCO, or Association of American Feed Control Officials, has a litany of requirements for the manufacturing of pet food. Nutritional value, or “guaranteed analysis,” is tested to ensure our pets are getting at least the minimum requirements for protein, fiber and minerals and that food actually contains the ingredients it claims to.  Caloric content has to be determined as well. After these are determined, feeding trials are conducted to assess how the food affects the animals.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates pet food, making sure it is safe to eat, contains no harmful substances and makes sure chemicals are pre-approved prior to adding. The number of tests that food must undergo before sale is actually quite extensive, but when it comes to the health of our pets, the more tests, the better.

Welcome to 2015

While invasive testing is still used for pet foods, there have been some recent improvements. Pet food companies are now conducting their own research in their own facilities, giving them full control over what happens to the animals in their care.

Some brands still contract out their testing with facilities though, and it’s important to know what methods our pets’ favorite brands are using. For example, Natural Balance openly names the facilities they use to contract out for tests. While the Natural Balance website details the laboratory tests that are run to determine the chemical makeup of their pet food, PETA’s animal testing database warns that Natural Balance also uses animals for testing.

Thankfully, transparency is becoming the standard, so it’s pretty easy to find out what is happening behind the doors of the pet food company you know and trust. The tricky part is deciphering what different tests and trials mean to make the best decision for you and your pet.

Most pet food brands run feeding trials in accordance with the AAFCO. In these trials, a group of eight dogs who are at least one-year-old are fed the company’s food for 26 weeks. The dog’s weight and a blood sample is taken weekly to test how the diet affects each dog. If these levels are acceptable under the test’s parameters, the food will get the AAFCO seal (can be found on dog food bag).

Some companies will run on-site feeding trials where they test food on a group of animals who reside at the testing facility. You might want to look into the conditions that these animals are kept is and whether they are adopted out at any point. Hill’s, the company who makes Science Diet, has this sort of a facility and offers tours of their testing facility, and you can read all about the visits online, complete with photos.

Companies who perform clinical research, ask for pet guardians to bring their animals in for feeding trials. Oftentimes these animals suffer from a specific dietary restriction or medical condition that the pet food aims to ease.

Some smaller companies even ask pet guardians to volunteer to have their own pets sample a new food – of course, before doing this, be sure you know what is in the food! If the company makes 100 percent natural or organic foods, you don’t have to worry too much about adverse effects.

So what’s a green monster to do? Well, there are brands, like A+ Flint River Ranch and Weruva, who don’t use laboratory animal testing at all! Further, finding information about whether the brand you purchase uses animals for testing can all be found online, you just have to start by asking the question. If you want to ensure that your pet’s food is not tested on other animals, check out this database for brands that never test on lab animals.

You want the best for your fur baby, and this means the highest quality and most humane pet food possible. With a little research, you’ll be able to find a food that suits both you and your four-legged friend. Happy dining!

Image source: Phil Darnell/Flickr