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On the surface, the subject of pet food animal testing sounds silly because we would all want pet food tested before feeding it to our pets. And the idea of cats & dogs testing food doesn’t sound a bit cruel. But in the case of pet food, the testing is not what is cruel. The problem is how these tests are done. In many cases test dogs and cats are held in captivity in laboratory cages for their entire lives. It’s hypocritical to subject other dogs and cats to captivity for the sake of our pets.
In this post, you’ll find information on the testing procedures, as well as a list of pet food brands that do and don’t test on animals.
A brief lesson in animal testing in the pet food industry
Before a new pet food enters the market, it must meet FDA standards as well as the standards of each state in which it plans to sell. Most states model their standards after those set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
AAFCO is not a regulatory board. Its main purpose is to establish nutritional standards for animal feed and pet food. The FDA uses AAFCO standards to regulate the pet food industry.
Pet food must meet the nutritional profiles specified by the AAFCO in order to be considered “complete and balanced.” These nutritional profiles are broken down in 2 categories:
- Adult maintenance – for adult dogs and cats.
- Growth and reproduction – for puppies, kittens, and pregnant mothers.
If the pet food meets both profiles, then it’s considered to be formulated for all life stages.
There are 2 ways of testing that the food meets AAFCO nutritional standards:
- By laboratory testing only.
- By animal feeding trials and laboratory testing.
Luckily, the testing method is noted in the packaging. If it’s tested by laboratory only, you will see a label that reads like this:
(Brand name & recipe) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO nutrient profiles for (puppy, adult, all life stages, etc…)
If the food undergoes a feeding trial, the label will read like this:
Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (brand name & recipe) provides complete and balanced nutrition for (kitten, adult, all life stages, etc…)
Note that not every formula under a brand has to undergo feeding trials. Therefore, it is possible to have one formula with a “formulated” label, and another formula with a “animal feeding test” label.
Feeding trials for adult dogs and cats consists of the following:
- At least 8 test animals; only 6 need to complete the trial.
- Must be at least 1 year old.
- The test food must be the only source of nutrition for at least 26 weeks.
- Body weight is measured weekly.
- Blood work is done to determine that certain blood parameters have not fallen below the minimum.
- At the end of the trial the animals must not show any signs of a nutritional deficiency.
Overall, feeding trials are not necessarily cruel or inhumane. The cruelty comes behind the captivity and the unknown conditions in which the test animals are kept.
In the early 2000’s, PETA did an undercover investigation of a lab that was contracted by Iams to conduct feeding trials. You can see the video of the investigation here. (WARNING: GRAPHIC)
PETA found sick dogs and cats locked in cages without veterinary care. They found dogs thrown in a cement floor after having chunks of their leg muscles cut out. These are just a few of the atrocities.
Honestly, I do not know if tests of this kind are still conducted, and I do not know if such abuse is still common. Most big brand pet food companies are not transparent about their procedures.
One of the few transparent companies is Hills Pet Nutrition, the makers of Science Diet. Hills gives tours of the testing facility where the lab animals are kept. Check out this post by PawCurious for details of what they saw in the tour.
Hills purchases test animals from a breeder that only breeds lab animals, mostly beagles. The lab animals live in what they call “pet colonies,” where they have access to the outside, play areas, and they even get to spend quality time with the employees. After the animals are done with their “tour” they are put up for adoption.
But for every Hills, there are probably dozens of labs that do not give their animals a quality of life. Some animals are born in the lab, and die in the lab, never to see the light of day.
Whether the lab testing is done humanely or not, the bottom-line is that when you purchase pet food that undergoes feeding trails, you are supporting a lab animal breeding facility.
Are feeding trials really necessary?
Veterinarians consider the feeding trial method to be the “gold standard” because it’s the only way to know that the food will sustain your dog over time.
Just because a diet can sustain a dog in a laboratory environment for about six months without causing illness or abnormal blood values doesn’t mean it will perform the same way for dogs who may lead a much more active and stressful life, and for years on end.
Now, and this is my opinion, I’d like to think that the pet food industry has been around long enough to know what causes and what doesn’t cause nutritional deficiencies to cats and dogs. After all, the nutritional standards are already set.
If the pet food industry collectively decided to use quality ingredients, I am sure that testing on lab animals would not be necessary. However, most pet food companies use low quality ingredients (like by-product from dead, disabled, or diseased animals) to keep their costs down, which is probably why they prefer to use the feeding trial method.
If they used high quality ingredients they’d be able to stand behind their product without subjecting an animal to captivity and testing.
What are other testing options besides feeding trials?
Some companies are choosing to conduct testing in a home based setting with their own pets or pets of select customers. Personally, I think that if a company is willing to test a new formula on their own pets, then they must be very confident of their product.
The foods listed below use this method.
Pet food brands that DO NOT test on lab animals
If you want to go cruelty free, you should also consider the welfare of farm animals. Open Farm and Tender & True (listed below) are the only pet foods available that do not test on animals and use ethically raised and sourced meat.
- Open Farm – Certified Humane.* I use and recommend this food. Read my review of Open Farm.
- Tender & True – Certified by Global Animal Partnership – Step 3.*
- Ami Cat Food – Vegan
- Ami Dog Food – Vegan
- Answers Pet Food
- Benevo – Vegan
- Forza 10
- Fromm Family
- Fussie Cat
- Just Food For Dogs
- Solid Gold
- The Honest Kitchen
- Primal Pet Foods
- Stella & Chewy’s
- Timberwolf Organics
- V-Dog – Vegan
Pet food brands that DO test on lab animals
Here I am including some brands that do not test on animals but the parent company owns other brands that do. For example, Royal Canin (owned by Mars) does not test on lab animals, but other Mars brands (like Iams) do.
These brands clearly state on some formulas that feeding trials were conducted…
- Big Heart Pet – Natures Recipe, Meow Mix, 9 Lives, Natural Balance, & Kibbles & Bits.
- Colgate – Hills Science Diet, Hills Prescription Diet, & Hills Ideal Balance.
- Mars – Nutro, Pedigree, Iams, Whiskas, Royal Canin, Eukanuba, Sheba, Evo, & California Natural.
- Nestle – Merrick, Castor & Pollux, and all Purina foods (Alpo, Beneful, Chef Makers, Dog Chow, Fancy Feast, Felix, Friskies, Gourmet, Purina One, & Purina ProPlan).
The brands that follow do not use the “animal feeding test” label for reasons that I do not understand, but yet they test on lab animals. I’ve included snippets from my correspondence with them or quotes directly from their websites.
Ainsworth Pet Nutrition – Rachel Ray Nutrish, Dads, & Better Than
Thank you for contacting us. Here, at Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, we work diligently to ensure that your furry family member and ours get nothing but the best of everything… Our Creekside Nutrition Center operates much like any pet boarding facility. We only observe the palatability of pet food. The USDA inspects us on a yearly basis, and we guarantee that we offer our furry family members best-in-class animal and medical care from our in-house Veterinarian and attentive on-site staff of licensed Veterinary Technicians who specialize in caring for their health and wellbeing.
Thank you for taking your time to contact BLUE. We understand your concerns and want to assure you that animals are only used for palatability and stool testing. This is necessary to ensure that pets like the taste of the food. We use independent testing facilities that have runs for dogs to go outside several times a day in an open play area. Cats have a common room (indoors) where they can socialize. Please know that we do not participate in any food trials… Please note that Blue Buffalo does not do any invasive animal testing.
Diamond Pet Company – Diamond, Taste of the Wild, Professional+, Premium Edge, Nutra Nuggets, & Nutra Gold
We would like to assure you that our commitment to animals is not limited to providing superior nutrition, but extends beyond this to include the humane treatment of the animals involved in the necessary feeding trials.
We do minimal animal testing on our products and we do not conduct the research ourselves. We utilize certified laboratories based on their reputation and their dedication to nutritional research.
Dogswell – Nutrisca, Vitality, Boundless, Happy Hips, & Super Boost
While monitored by qualified technicians in approved facilities, the dogs taste test our formulas to ensure palatability, and have their stools monitored to determine stool quality, stool volume, and dry matter digestibility of the test diet. These taste tests are non-invasive and strictly observational. The animals eat only finished product which is nutritionally complete per AAFCO standards and has already met our standards above; we do not test individual ingredients with animals.
We choose facilities that include outdoor exercise parks where dogs can exercise and play and cat habitats with multiple climbing stations. The facilities also have on-site veterinary care service which provides the animals with regular grooming and dental cleaning. It is of the utmost importance that the animals receive the love and care that they deserve.
At Nature’s Variety, we are passionate about pets and deeply concerned for the emotional and physical health of all animals, large and small. All animals are treated humanely and compassionately throughout their lives. The test facilities we contract with are under federal inspection; all animals are cared for in accordance with established animal welfare rules and sanitation standards. These facilities have a “no-kill” policy, choosing to adopt-out the animals to loving homes after a few years. Moreover, whenever possible, we use in-home testing protocols, recruiting the voluntary services of our employees’ pets and the pets of our loyal customers.
WellPet – Wellness, Holistic Select, Eagle Pack, & Sojos
… We are very fortunate to have many consumers and employees that help us during the development of our diets and treats. We provide product for in-home trials and we talk to every person to find out how their cat or dog likes the food or treat. We also learn about the stool quality and any other benefits the food may provide such as improving skin & coat or palatability.
It is also important for us to understand some other important nutritional information such as digestibility or how our food compares in taste to other brands. For this, we occasionally use kennels with standard processes that provide reliable information. The kennels are selected based on them sharing the same philosophy towards animal welfare that we do. For instance, the dogs are socialized every day and the cats enjoy a specially designed play area. The dogs and cats are also available for adoption to the employees and their families.
As I said before, it seems like animals that are used to test pet food do not live in horrible conditions. Still, these animals are bred for the sole purpose of being lab animals. When you support these brands, you indirectly support a lab animal breeder.
If you’re curious about a brand that’s not listed here comment below and I’ll look into it!
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