Walk down any pet food aisle and it’s easy to see how you could spend hours evaluating the many options. While the decision-making process may seem overwhelming, these tips will help you select the right food for your dog or cat.
1. Don’t Avoid Byproducts
Without a doubt, byproducts are the most criticized and misunderstood ingredients in pet foods. Byproducts typically consist of “leftover” organ meats such as liver, kidneys, and cleaned intestines. Because they sound disgusting to eat (to humans), people often think the use of byproducts in pet food indicates poor quality. While these ingredients may sound unpalatable to you, they provide more proteins, vitamins, and minerals than more “desirable” muscle meat. So don’t avoid a pet food that contains byproducts. After all, many of these meats are considered a delicacy in other cultures.
2. Sidestep This Recipe for Disaster
Cooking for your pet is perfectly fine, as long as you do it correctly. Consult with your veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to ensure you are preparing a wholesome, nutritionally balanced meal. This will also help your pets avoid health problems caused by eating foods that have low or excessive amounts of vitamins and minerals. Some companies provide recipes and supplements created by veterinary nutritionists. If you don’t want to cook but want freshly cooked food for your pet, you can buy prepared meals from a dog kitchen. These options ensure you are feeding your pet a balanced meal tailored to their specific needs.
3. Ignore Fancy Marketing Terms
Terms like organic, natural, and human grade don’t mean much when it comes to determining the nutritional value of pet food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “organic” refers to the methods by which the ingredient is grown, harvested, and processed — not its quality. “Natural” means minimally processed and containing no artificial ingredients, but has nothing to do with farming practices. “Holistic and “human grade” are marketing terms for which no regulation exists. If not handled appropriately, even human-grade meats, fruits, and vegetables can be contaminated with E. coli or Salmonella.
4. Don’t Hold the Grains Unless You Have To
While some pets may be allergic to grains, the majority of pets are not and therefore do not need to eat grain-free food. Despite being perceived as fillers, whole grains provide valuable nutrients and can cut the amount of fat and calories your pet eats. Just because a product is grain-free doesn’t mean it is healthier. Some grain-free products use costly and less nutritious starches as substitutes.
5. Raw Isn’t Better
While supporters of a raw diet are adamant about the health benefits of feeding your pet a diet that resembles what the animal may eat in the wild, there is currently no scientific evidence demonstrating any advantage over traditional cooked diets. What is proven is that raw diets are linked to a variety of health issues, including nutritional imbalances, dental fractures, internal damage from bones, and bacterial infections for pets and owners handling raw meat. Because of this, the American Veterinary Medical Association discourages feeding your pets a raw diets.
6. Don’t Stress Over the Ingredient List
Unfortunately, the ingredient list holds little value in determining how nutritious a food actually is. Whether for human or pet foods, the list places the heaviest or highest volume ingredient at the top. This can be deceiving, as the higher water content in meats and vegetables pushes them up the list even though they may contribute fewer nutrients. Meats are usually lower on the list, having had most of the fat and water removed, but it doesn’t mean they are less nutritious. If your pet has a food allergy, the list does make it easy to scan for ingredients you need to avoid.
As far as the percentages go, you can’t directly compare canned food to kibble. Canned food has more water than kibble, thus falsely decreasing the concentration of that ingredient. To make a fair comparison, the percentages would have to be converted to a caloric basis.
7. Just Because It’s Hard to Say Doesn’t Mean It’s Harmful
The hard-to-pronounce words and acronyms on pet food labels are usually preservatives and vitamins. Synthetic preservatives such as BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), and ethoxyquin stop fats from turning rancid and keep food fresh for long periods of time. Although the FDA says they’re okay at the levels currently allowed, some manufacturers have switched to natural preservatives such as vitamin E (mixed tocopherols), vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and plant extracts due to toxicity concerns. Other names, such as phylloquinone and cobalamin, are the technical terms for vitamins K1 and B12, respectively.
8. Check for the AAFCO Label
Any food you purchase should be labeled with an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) adequacy statement. This indicates the product is “complete and balanced” for a certain life stage (e.g., puppies, maintenance/adults, or all life stages).
9. This Weight Loss Diet Isn’t Working
Labels such as “low-fat,” “weight management,” or “weight control” may imply low calories, but that’s not always be the case. The terms “light,” “reduced,” or “low calorie” are the only ones regulated and must meet specific calorie counts below a certain cut-off.
10. Premium Isn’t Always Better
Unlike other products, when it comes to pet food, expensive or premium branding doesn’t always equal higher quality. It’s okay to go with an inexpensive brand, as many have been providing quality diets for years (with scientific testing to prove it). Larger manufacturers are likely to have stringent quality control protocols, as well as staff veterinary nutritionists to formulate the diets and conduct research to ensure quality. While this doesn’t mean you can’t trust a start-up, you might have to do a bit more research about what you are feeding your pet.
Finding the right pet food comes down to a balance between your trust in a brand, philosophical beliefs, cost, and, most importantly, whether your pet likes it. Speak to your veterinarian about your pet’s dietary needs before selecting a diet. In the end, as long as the diet is nutritionally balanced, your pet should do fine with just about any food they prefer.
Julio López, DVM, DACVIM, is a board-certified specialist in small animal internal medicine and a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Dr. López practices in Los Angeles and has experience in all aspects of internal medicine with a special interest in diseases of the kidney and bladder, endocrine diseases such as diabetes, Addison’s, Cushing’s, and hyperthyroidism. He launched www.MyExpertVet.com to provide trustworthy sources of information. Follow him on Twitter @ExpertVet
COMMENTS FROM LOVINMYPUP.COM:
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