Choosing a Pet Food
With so many pet foods on the market, choosing the right food for your dog or cat can be overwhelming, especially if you are a first-time pet owner. A web search may only further your confusion, with results showing several “best and worst” dog and cat food lists, recalls, and information on raw feeding, homemade food, and more.
The best resource? Your Crossroads Pet Hospital veterinarian! Here’s what we recommend when it comes to choosing a pet food.
Step one: Life stage
The first step in choosing a food for your dog or cat is to consider your pet’s life stage. There are three stages:
- Puppy or kitten – less than 1 year old
- Adult – 1 to 7 years old
- Senior – older than 7
While many foods boast that they are “for all life stages,” you should look for a brand that offers different diets for each stage, because each age requires different nutrition. Puppies, kittens, and nursing or pregnant females have a much higher nutritional demand than, say, a non-pregnant 3-year-old pet.
Step two: Talk to your veterinarian
With your pet’s life stage in mind, you’re ready to start choosing a food! Call Crossroads Pet Hospital at 972-416-4060 to make an appointment so our veterinarian can give you recommendations for brands, food types, and portion sizes.
You can save yourself a lot of stress when you get a recommendation from a trusted source. Even if you just ask for our top three brands, you can narrow your search significantly and get your pet started on the right nutritional path.
It’s not just new pets who need nutrition evaluations, either. Each time you bring your pet in for an annual exam, our veterinarians discuss nutrition with you. We may recommend different types of food for, say, a cat who is flirting with obesity, or a dog with frequent urinary tract infections. The right pet food can be key to managing aging, arthritis, kidney disease, obesity, and other conditions.
Step three: What type of food?
Dry food is the most popular choice among American pet owners, followed by canned food. 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.
Home-cooked diets are a good option if you have the time to spend and don’t mind the extra expense. It isn’t as simple as sharing your healthy dinner. 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. Commercial foods undergo testing and research to guarantee proper nutrition. If you choose a homemade diet, you don’t have that advantage. Work with us 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.
Step four: Read the label
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., implies that beef is only 25% or more of the total product. “With beef” indicates even less beef, 3% or more, 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. So, the food may list chicken first, but the chicken may be mostly moisture, and will contribute to a much smaller percentage of total nutrients than the dry matter (e.g., corn) does. Therefore, a dry matter comparison is best. 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 by AAFCO standards(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 AAFCO standards and feeding trials.
Remember: Expensive food does not always equal good food.
Any time you have a question about your pet’s diet, don’t rely on questionable online sources. Our veterinarians are nutritional experts who can give you the facts! Call us at 972-416-4060!