Your pet’s nutrition is something that needs to be discussed with your vet regularly. Is my pet a healthy weight? Do I need a diet higher or lower in calories? Supplements? Etc.
It really helps the conversation if you understand more about your pet and the food it consumes, so before deciding what food to buy, take a deep breath and cuddle with your pet. Good for relaxation and a good time to just recognize your pet for what it is, which is the first step.
Know Your Pet:
Every pet is unique, so the closer you can get to their body needs, the healthier they will be.
Start with age:
- Under one year old or a momma dog nursing puppies? Get puppy food.
- Nearing one year old up to seven? Get adult food.
- Nearing eight or older? Get senior food.
There, you just eliminated a great deal of options and can focus. They do have food for all stages, meaning enough for a puppy but old dogs need less calories and that could set you up for trouble. Get the right food for your pets life stage.
Is your pet crazy active and thin as a rail? Do they run laps more than race horses? Are they a working dog that has to run hard and be ready for anything? Get a diet made for active lifestyles where they pack in the calories to keep your speed demon cruising! Some places even give discounts to working dogs so look into that.
Is your pet so lazy it only moves from the couch to eat? Is it a little round in the midsection? Consider a low calorie food.
What size is your pet:
Large and giant breeds have much different dietary needs than the teacup sized ones, while puppies and their mothers need a whole lot more calories to grow and nurture.
They even have breed specific diets now! Specially tailored for crazy labs and huge main coons!
Now Open Your Wallet:
Figure out what you can spend on food. Can you go for Hills or are you more of a Purina or Iams household? Know what you can afford, month after month, to feed your pet. Give them the best you can afford.
If you already have a favorite brand, go to their website and see if they have a product locator for you like Purina does for dogs and cats to match your pet to the right diet. Otherwise, continue on and lets learn a bit about products in general.
Bring on the bags!
Now you have a good idea about your pets needs and your financial strength, it’s time to get down to business and check out some bags. You can do this by browsing at a local pet store or sitting at home and checking the Google offerings.
Look for the AAFCO statement first.
The FDA monitors food labels for accuracy and inspect pet food processing plants for cleanliness but AAFCO creates the standards by which pet foods must adhere. So in order to carry the AAFCO stamp, it has to follow good nutritional guidelines. This is a perfect place to start.
What marketing claims mean.
Be careful of marketing hype. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t listen to the marketing staff that learned all the catch words to get your attention. Listen to veterinarians and nutritionalists that have studied this as their lives work.
Human grade means nothing. Being edible by humans doesn’t mean it’s good for your pet or people for that matter. And technically, once it ships to a pet food plant, it is no longer human grade.
For the other claims, lets read a snippet from PetMed MD:
If the food is said to contain a single ingredient, it must contain at least 95% of that ingredient, not including water. If a combination of ingredients is advertised, that combination has to make up at least 95% of the food. For instance, if the food claims to be made solely of beef, beef makes up 95% of the food.
Phrases like dinner, platter and entrée means the foods must contain at least 25% of the named ingredient. If the name states “with” a specific ingredient (such as “with cheese”) only 3% of the named ingredient is required. Products that advertise specific “flavors” need to contain only a detectable amount of that ingredient.
Read the ingredient list.
This is a big piece of the pet food puzzle. Items on that list are ordered by pre-cooked weight. If there are twelve different kinds of grains listed and they still can’t give the protein source a high ranking, perhaps look elsewhere for your pet food.
Whole grains have got a beating lately because some pet foods were using them as a filler and not putting adequate nutrition in the diets. However, at the proper amounts, whole grains are anything but ‘filler.’ If it’s a thing, someone, somewhere is allergic to it. Gluten and grains are no exception, but in hospital I saw far more protein allergies than grain or gluten allergies. Used responsibly, whole grains will add vitamins, fiber and essential fatty acids to your pet food. Do not shy away from them, just be mindful of the amounts.
From Clinical Nutrition Service website:
It is becoming more common in the saturated pet food market for manufacturers to perpetuate myths to sell diets and increase market share.Grain-freediets are often an example of this strategy. Many of these diets merely substitute highly refined starches such as those from potatoes or tapioca (cassava) in place of grains. These ingredients often provide fewer nutrients and less fiber that whole grains, while costing more.
By-Products are also on the skeptics list but can contain very nutritious and digestible organs like liver and lungs. It really isn’t hooves and hair like we’ve been afraid of. Purchased as part of a reputable company’s pet food, by-products can be very good for our pets.
Feed Trials are the best way to see exactly how useful the diet is for the target animals. Just make sure these are done by a reputable company that have animal welfare statements like Hills. Do not support food trial methods that are invasive or risk the health of the animal, besides being unwanted, these methods skew the results anyway.
Guaranteed Analysis is also a part of the puzzle. If you are comparing two diets, make sure they are by dry weight. Wet food is basically dry food without the binders to make it hold shape and watered down so they will definitely look different if it isn’t labeled by dry weight.
Wet food? Shouldn’t it be dry?
Wet food versus dry food is a debate full of old info but is basically down to your pet and your wallet again. Nutritionally speaking, either is fine.
But dry is better for teeth, right?
Not necessarily. Do not trust your food to brush your pets teeth. Their teeth are just like yours and need the same brushing and dental checkups that you do. Some diets can help with dental health by the shape of the kibble or added enzymes that help break down plaque and tartar but these are specialty foods or treats. Your vet can help you decide if these specialty diets are right for your pet.
Small dogs are prone to dental disease so this might be exactly what they need, but if your pet doesn’t have dental issues, there may be better food choices for them.
For good hydration, wet food is superior to dry. Generally speaking, it also has more protein and less carbs which is perfect for weight loss. If your pet has the sniffles or is getting older, wet food smells much more potent than the dry version which may tempt them to eat. Many health problems can cause issue with chewing, so wet food definitely wins for those pets and really, some pets just prefer it wet and won’t take it dry.
Of course, it can sometimes be messier than dry and goes bad a lot faster. You can’t leave it out all day. You must refrigerate unused portions and wet food generally costs more than dry so there is a lot more physical and financial effort with wet foods.
Nothing beats the storage and financial ease of dry foods. You can leave it out all day for your pet to snack on. There are even big canister feeders for cats so you can go days without worrying about food. There are plastic bins to put it in to keep if fresh and safe from ants and other pests so you can buy in bulk, which is always a financial win.
Of course, it is dry so there is no help with hydrating your pet. This may be a big issue in dry climates or with older fur kids so you have to be extra special vigilant to make sure they are drinking. It’s usually is higher in carbs too, leading to weight troubles, especially when left about all day long for your pet to munch even when it’s just bored and not really hungry.
They get a portion of dry food at night that generally lasts them until dinner the next night, but I don’t refill if they run out. That’s all you get boys! Well, except Old Man River who does get extra crunchies when we eat. He likes to be part of the family and is underweight so needs the extra calories.
Cooper can’t be bothered with family meals. He’s too busy playing.
6am and 8pm they get wet food. Just a rough tablespoon each mixed with water for extra hydration and to help with any medications they may need.
Yes, sometimes their meals even come with a leaf of catnip to get their attention. This is just part of my routine. Cooper cries at my feet for his wet food and River head butts me out of bed in the mornings (free alarm clock) so I know they love it!
Still Don’t Know What to Buy?
That’s where your veterinarian comes in to help you. They know you and your pet better than me or any other internet site out there. Maybe dental food is right for your pet. Maybe it needs some hairball control or be easy to digest. Maybe they need liver or kidney support. Ask. And good vet will love to help you choose a diet right for your fur baby.
A Note on Raw Diets and Home Cooked Foods:
Raw: We cook foods to kill unwanted diseases. Due to the risk of infections found in uncooked foods and long list of raw diet recalls, I cannot in good conscience, recommend raw food to anyone. Please cook food intended for consumption.
Home Cooked: There is no denying that home cooked meals are the very best. Fresh ingredients, locally sourced, are good for the environment as well as your health. So why don’t I recommend home cooked pet foods? Nutritional deficiencies and health risks. Humans and their pets have a lot in common, but not enough to allow them to eat off your plate. Common human foods can be dangerous to our fur friends. Garlic, chocolate, xylitol, caffeine, grapes and avocados are just some of the things that can be toxic to your pet. If you get a pet food made by nutritionists and veterinarians who test the food to make sure it has everything your pet needs, you are leaving food choices to the experts.