Pet Food Ingredients
on May 15, 2013

Alfalfa: A smart choice for dog and cat food?

Alfalfa is found in a number of cat and dog foods, but its safety and nutritional benefits are still being debated.

["There seems to be some confusion throughout the petfood supply chain as to whether alfalfa is truly beneficial.", "The big question is whether alfalfa is safe or toxic."]

Alfalfa is found in a number of dog and cat foods. Perhaps this seems odd since we most often consider it a staple ingredient in livestock rations, especially dairy and beef cattle diets. For companion animals, alfalfa would ordinarily be encountered in horse diets and/or small rodent diets like those for rabbits, gerbils or guinea pigs. There are also some herbalists that promote its inclusion in human foods and supplements. However, the use of this forage in some dog and cat foods has created questions with consumers—specifically, whether alfalfa is an ingredient that belongs in these foods. Unfortunately, there isn't a compelling or definitive answer for the petfood company, veterinarian or pet owner.

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa),  also known as Lucerne in some parts of the world, is a legume forage grown in temperate regions. The aerial portion is cut, dried in natural-gas-fired furnaces and then pelleted or it is cut, allowed to dry in the open (sun-dried or sun-cured) and then baled or stacked for later feeding. This perennial nitrogen-fixing legume grows continuously during the warmer months of summer and produces anywhere from three to five "cuttings" a year depending on the growing season, soil fertility and moisture.

Nutritionally, alfalfa (air-dried, ~10% moisture) will contain between 14% and 22% protein, ~10% ash, less than 5% crude fat and…

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