In my last blog post, to start dispelling the misconception that The Barkista meals are treats, I took the wind out of the sail of The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) by describing to you how that entity has absolutely no capability (or as some would say, care) in determining the nutritional requirements of a dog.

Rather than settle for the outdated, un-researched information provided in the AAFCO Official Publication (OP), I went to The National Research Council, which objectively compiles pure research and provides the most up to date information as to the nutritional requirements of the dog.  I wasn’t interested in fun recipes.  If I was going to home-make the sole nutritional input for my dogs, it had to be done right.  But how could I be sure I was on the right path?

First let me tell you what AFFCO considers the tell-all prove-all for dog food.

Did you know anyone can put together a mix of ingredients, call it “Dog Food” and sell it?  The only ‘requirement’, assuming the state the food is sold in has adopted AAFCO guidelines, is that a guaranteed analysis appear on the packaging. That’s it.  Makes sense now why so many celebs are getting into the game doesn’t it?

If, however, someone wanted to make a claim about their dog food, such as “For All Life Stages”, “Large Breed”, “Puppy”, etc., a feeding trial must be done.   To it’s credit, AAFCO insists on feeding trials prior to any claim.

In a nutshell, the feeding trial protocol as outlined in the AAFCO OP:

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8 dogs must start, but only 6 dogs must finish, a 26 week feeding trial in which representatives of the target group (large breed, all life stages, puppy, etc.) can eat only the food being evaluated.

All dogs receive physical examinations both before and at the end of the test period.   None of the dogs finishing the trial can lose more than 15% of their pre-trial body weight.

At the end of the 26 weeks (but not at the beginning), 4 blood values; hemoglobin, packed cell volume, ALKP and serum albumin are checked for each dog.  If the results of every dog who finishes the feeding trial are within an acceptable range – which, believe it or not includes an acceptable measure outside of normal – the heavens part, the angels sing, and the food appears on your local pet store shelf bearing the claim that it is whatever the manufacturer ‘proved’ through the feeding trials.

The dogs subjected to the trial for the claim “All Life Stages” are usually beagles bred specifically for laboratory feed trials.  During the 26 weeks, these dogs are kept in strict laboratory conditions.

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Though I learned about the AAFCO protocols later on, I had no knowledge of them for the first couple of years of Barkista meal testing on my own dogs.  If I had known in the beginning, I believe I would still think what I do now:

26 weeks, using  a specifically bred, single breed dog, many probably genetically related, kept under strict laboratory condition, where 25% of the test group can fail out, gives me pause.  Of the dogs completing the trial, as long as they haven’t lost more than 15% of their starting body weight and as long as 4 blood parameters are within acceptable ranges, which don’t even have to be normal, that food is marketed, and promoted by veterinarians, as the only food a dog will have to eat for life. Think about it!

Now, here is what I did here at The Barkista, starting before I even knew about AAFCO Feeding Trial Protocols:

I mentioned in the previous blog post my DASH! was the original Barkista dog.  DASH! was testing a meal, specifically formulated for him using NRC calculations for the Recommended Allowance.  Though I saw subjective improvements, most notably an increase in weight, better appetite and complete cessation of his digestive issues, I still couldn’t be sure if the food was safe.  To have his blood checked was the only logical next step before I tested the food on another dog.

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DASH!

And so began my irritating visits to various veterinarians asking for blood work for ‘personal reasons”.  Some were simple pre-surgical panels, many were Total Body Functions, every one inadvertently covering the “AAFCO 4”, every one looking at many other parameters as well.  (These lab results, incidentally, all posted for the world to see on our Facebook Page  try to get THAT from your typical commercial dog food company!)

When DASH!’s results started coming back with consistent gold stars, meaning the calculations worked, I converted 2 more of my small dogs, and blood tested them while continuing to test DASH!  Then came the last of the small dogs, add on our then Super Senior 70 pounder as well as one of the medium dogs, and the rest eventually followed.

That sucking noise you heard but couldn’t place over the last several years was my checking account draining away in lab fees!  But I had to be sure what I was doing was safe for my dogs.  Subjective improvements mean nothing if systemically the dog is getting sick.  Not even a veterinary physical can detect as much as a lab report.  Turns out, the calculations and formulations worked!

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Barkista dogs Emmi (l), Morty (c) and Slugger (r) getting their splash on.  Can you believe AAFCO would have you think that nutritional adequacy for confined beagles would be appropriate for these 3?

Being 1 obsessive dog nutrition specialist in a home infested with dogs (13 at the time), with a day job and a husband, individually formulating for each dog was an impossibility.  After staring at the wall of post-its with calculations, weights, measures and target lists, I decided I needed to come up with a happy medium, and so was created a formulation for a hypothetical 35 pound dog, the absolute average weight  of the dogs in my home (10 to 70 pounds with many weights in between).

SQUIRREL!

Sorry, had to do that to get your attention back.  What follows usually causes listeners’ eyes to glaze over, but it’s important:

Using the base calculations from the NRC, as well as exponential variables to take into account the hypothetical dog would be living in a home, not a laboratory, a single target value was determined, the meals were made and they were then fed to all my dogs, and to carefully monitor the effects, blood draws were (and continue to be) done.

Remember, the Recommended Allowance is a higher nutrient profile than the Minimum Requirement.  Even for the smaller dogs who’s relative nutrient requirements are higher than larger dogs, the numbers came in, though lower than the Recommended Allowance, still significantly higher than the Minimum Requirement.  Consistently spot-on blood work showed the formulation worked!

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As of the writing of this post, The Barkista diet plan has been fed to my dogs for durations ranging from 2 to 4.5 years, and their blood work supports the safety and nutritional added value.  And of course, blood draws continue.

And this is the same formula used today to craft The General Mix Barkista meals sold from our web site.

Just seems to be an awful lot of work and testing to go into a product often mistaken for a treat doesn’t it?

The General Mix is intended for healthy adult dogs and can be fed as the sole nutritional source, provided main ingredients are rotated – thus the several entree offerings on the The Barkista web site menu.

Senior dogs may require adjustments.

This formula has not been tested on puppies and should only be fed along with a commercial puppy food until the puppy is considered an adult.

Stay tuned for Part III where I compare my data sets to those required by AAFCO.