We often get asked, “What kind of food should I feed my pet?” It is not a simple question to answer, as there are many variables, but here are some basic criteria to consider:
The specific nutritional needs of the pet
- Life stage- puppy/kitten; adult; mature. Avoid “all lifestages”
- For puppies, is it a large breed?
- Medical conditions- renal disease, heart disease, etc.
- Body condition score- does the pet need to gain or lose weight?
- Known food allergies
- A reputable manufacturer
- At least one PhD nutritionist or ACVN board certified veterinarian on staff
- Has their own manufacturing plants
- Conducts and publishes nutritional research
- Uses strict quality control testing and standards
- A low rate of product recalls
- Prefer an AAFCO statement indicating that a food trial was done. Diets that are “formulated” are less desirable.
- Ingredients must be safe, and provide nutrition or some other benefit. If the pet has a food allergy then you must check labels to make sure that ingredient is not present. But as long as the ingredient is safe and nutritious, focus on the nutrients, not the ingredients. Ingredients provide nutrients. It is the nutrients that are important.
Which pet food companies do we recommend? These companies meet the criteria listed above:
- Best: Hills and Royal Canin
- Best grocery store brands: Purina and Iams
There are certain disease conditions that may benefit from therapeutic diets. We will publish a blog article later this month on this topic. If your pet has any of these conditions, be sure to discuss dietary management with your veterinarian.
Ingredients are listed in order of weight, but manufacturers play games. Some weight the meat wet, when it is heavier, then dehydrate it. Others dehydrate the meat, then weight it. Some divide the grain portion into 2-3 types, so that each type weighs less than the total grain portion.
This is another bit of information that is almost worthless. It gives maximums and minimums, but doesn’t tell you the actual amount. At most it gives you a guideline- the actual content is usually about 2% above the minimum or 2% below the maximum.
Other marketing terms
Natural- made of plant, animal or mined sources that have not been chemically synthesized or altered and no synthetic additives have been added other than vitamins, minerals and other trace nutrients
Organic- crops grown on land free from pesticides for 3 years; livestock fed organic feed, not given antibiotics or hormones, and allowed access to outdoors. The USDA makes no claim that these foods are more nutritious or safer.
- Premium, Super Premium, Ultra-Premium, Gourmet- no official definition
- Holistic- no legal definition
- Human grade- no legal definition
What about home-prepared diets?
There are advantages and disadvantages to home-prepared diets. An advantage is that it give you total control of the ingredients which can be especially helpful with some food allergies. But there is the potential lack of nutrient balance. Also, they can be time consuming and costly to prepare.
Consider a hybrid. Supplement a commercial diet with wholesome home-prepared foods. Another great way to make sure the diet is balanced is to consult with a Veterinary Nutritionist though web sites such as:
Other diet tips
- When changing from one diet to another, make the change gradually, especially with picky eaters
- Dogs and cats eat roughly half their body weight in food every month, so a 20 pound dog will eat about 10 pounds of food a month