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A Conversation with Top Shelf Dog’s Pet Nutritionist

Posted on May 09 2023

This month we sat down with Shashank Chevendra, Pet Nutritionist to discuss a range of topics related to our beloved pets’ well-being. Following is a quick Q&A.

Q: What's the first thing consumers should look for in dog food?

A: As a pet parent, it’s important to look at the age group for which the food has been developed because there's different nutrient requirements based on age, from puppies to adults and senior dogs, even lactating mothers. If the package reads, “complete and balanced” your dog will get all the daily required nutrients and the energy they need. This may go without saying, but it’s important to review the food for ingredients to which your dog may be allergic.

Q: Aside from the allergens, what ingredients should consumers watch out for in dog food?

A: Simply put, parts, fillers, and artificial preservatives. These are ingredients I would recommend staying away from. For example, I would avoid foods that say, “byproduct,” or “product meal,” or any ingredients you don’t recognize. If it doesn’t make sense to you, ask the manufacturer for clarification. If you can’t get clarification, don’t buy it.

Q: What about the byproduct or the filler is bad for dogs? Is there a foreign substance in there, or is it just the quality of the protein that's not good for dogs?

A: You hit the nail on the head. It’s all those ingredients; the quality of the protein, the quality of the nutrients, the ingredients themselves that aren’t “good.” For example, take chicken. If you see “chicken byproduct,” it could mean the food contains bones, eggshells, even feathers. These ingredients may not actually be present, but there’s no guarantee. Manufacturers use these fillers to bring down the cost of the product. Oftentimes they can be high in carbohydrates, which means the food has fewer beneficial nutrients. If you see byproduct or fillers listed in the top five ingredients, proceed with caution.

Q: If you were designing the ideal dog food, what would be the first 3 to 5 ingredients?

A: That's a very good question. And you're asking an animal nutritionist, who's been in the industry and who's passionate about animals! I don't know if there's going to be an ideal, but I would ensure the ingredients are all natural and have been sourced sustainably, whole ingredients rich in nutrients like proteins, good carbohydrates, fibers, and all the vitamins and minerals that are naturally present in them and not artificially added. That’s how I go about making a formula. If it's my formula, I make sure those ingredients are digestible and palatable for dogs.

Q: Does it matter if the food has an AAFCO statement?

A: Absolutely. AAFCO is basically our “holy book,” for animal nutritionists. When I make a formula, I go by the AAFCO definition standards, the nutrient requirements for dogs for different life stages. I want to meet (and exceed) those requirements.

Q: You've mentioned “whole” and “all natural” ingredients. Are those premium types of ingredients proven to be better for dogs?

A: Yes. In my experience, having worked in this industry for many years, “whole” and “all natural” ingredients fall in a premium category because special care is taken when it comes to balancing formulas using these ingredients.

Q: Can dog food that is shelf-stable be just as fresh as a frozen product?

A: That's a great question. The challenge is on the nutritionist, the formulator, to create a formula that doesn't go bad while it's still on the shelf for an extended period. The processing at the facility also supports that shelf life. An important factor is the caliber of the facility. Does it have high standards? If the standards are high, from sourcing ingredients to manufacturing, there is not much difference between raw, frozen or shelf stable. 

Q: What made you think “I want to be a nutritionist”?

A: Growing up, I always wanted to be a veterinary doctor. I grew up with animals. I’m from India and a lot of my friends wanted to become doctors, engineers, lawyers. I was the odd one who wanted to become a veterinarian. But later I developed a passion for nutrition and chose to get my masters in animal science and focused on animal nutrition. This is my dream job, making high quality dog food. I'm working with great clients and educating people.