Why is a good diet important for my pet?
If you’ve ever done an Internet search for “best dog food” or “best cat food,” you know how many choices there are. Dry, canned, homemade, raw, freeze-dried. And that’s not even considering how many different brands there are.
However, you can’t just “eeny, meeny, miney, moe” and choose whichever bag you land on. A good diet is vital to giving your pet the longest, healthiest life possible.
What are the benefits of a good diet?
A high quality diet results in a better coat, fewer skin conditions, less itching, fewer ear infections, fewer gastrointestinal issues, better muscle tone, stronger bones, healthier teeth, more energy, better temperament, and more. Additionally, certain prescription foods help pets with allergies, urinary issues, weight problems, joint problems, kidney problems, digestive issues, and more.
Many times, after we see a dog or cat, part of their recovery or treatment is a specific diet. A dog who has come to us with chronic kidney failure, for instance, may benefit from eating Science Diet k/d. A cat with feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) may benefit from a food specially formulated to promote bladder health.
Prescription foods aren’t the only diets we recommend, though. If your pet is on a low-quality diet, we recommend switching to a better food to increase your pet’s longevity and improve their overall wellness.
How to choose a high-quality pet food
1. Consider your pet’s age
The first step in choosing a food for your dog or cat is to consider your pet’s life stage:
- puppy/kitten (up to 1 year old)
- adult (between 1 and 7 years old)
- senior (7 years or older)
Foods that claim to be “for all life stages” might not give your pet the nutrition he or she needs, especially if you have a very young pet, or a pregnant female.
2. Choose a food type
There are several types of pet foods. Here’s a breakdown of each:
Commercial dry food and canned food are the most popular choices among American pet owners. Using a good quality dry or canned food is a good choice for your pets. Both have long shelf lives and each has adequate nutrients (if the food is good quality). Dry food typically is cheaper than canned food, but both are affordable.
Homemade diets are a good option if you don’t mind extra time and expense. It isn’t as simple as sharing your dinner with your pets. Commercial foods undergo testing and research to guarantee proper nutrition. If you choose a homemade diet, you don’t have that advantage, and it can be difficult to ensure your pet is getting all the nutrients he or she needs, such as calcium, copper, iodine, fat-soluble vitamins, and B vitamins. Work with your veterinarian to formulate a home-cooked diet that is properly balanced, meets all nutritional needs, and is suitable for your pet’s age, lifestyle, and condition.
Raw diets have gained traction in recent years. However, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) have all released statements discouraging the feeding of raw or undercooked animal-source protein to dogs and cats. The Delta Society’s Pet Partners Program has a policy preventing animals on raw meat-based diets from participating in the Therapy Animal Program. There are many reasons for this – there are potentially harmful pathogens in raw meat, raw meat poses the risk of salmonella, raw bones have been associated with dental problems in dogs, and raw diets are often nutritionally imbalanced.
3. Choose the perfect recipe
With your pet’s life stage and the type of food you want to use in mind, you’re ready to choose a food!
If you’re buying a bag of kibble from the pet store, the bag has all the information you need. Per current U.S. pet food regulations, pet food labels must list:
- Product name
- Net weight
- Name and address of manufacturer
- Guaranteed analysis
- List of ingredients
- The words “dog” or “cat” food
- Statement of nutritional adequacy
- Feeding guidelines
- Calorie content of the diet expressed in both kcal/ME/kg and familiar household unit (e.g., cups or cans)
Ingredients listed in a product name tell you a lot about the percentage of that ingredient in the product. For example, using the term “beef” in a product name means beef must make up at least 70% of the total product. However, “beef dinner,” “beef entrée,” “beef platter,” etc., tells you beef is 25% or more of the total product. “With beef” indicates only 3% or more of beef, and “beef flavor” indicates the least amount of beef.
The ingredient list is important, but perhaps not in the way you think. Ingredients are listed in descending order of weight, but ingredient lists do not state quality or grade of ingredients, and may need to be adjusted to dry matter for a true assessment of amounts. The ingredient list is most helpful to see where the protein and carbs are coming from in your pet’s food – helpful if, say, your pet has a food allergy.
When choosing a food, look for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on the bag to check if it was formulated (someone made the recipe with the requirements) to meet needs, or if it has been tested through feeding trials (the company made the recipe then tested it in a feeding trial, then monitored the animals over time to make sure there were no metabolic issues with the food). We recommend only those foods that have been proven through feeding trials and AAFCO standards.
Remember: The most expensive food is not always the best food. Check with your veterinarian for recommendations on the best diet for your pet’s breed, age, lifestyle, and condition.