Why your pet needs a good diet
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.
When it comes to selecting a food for your pet, the most important thing is to ensure that the food is of high quality. You want your pets to get all the nutrients they need, for the life stage they’re in, without any harmful or superfluous ingredients. A good diet is key to nearly every aspect of your pet’s health.
What are the benefits of a good diet?
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.
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 can help pets with:
- Urinary issues
- Weight problems
- Joint problems
- Kidney problems
- Digestive issues
- And more
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)
Young animals, and females who are pregnant or nursing, need more calories per day than, say, a 3-year-old healthy animal. Seniors have even different nutritional needs.
2. Choose what type of food to feed
There are several types of pet foods: dry, canned (wet), homemade, and raw.
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). Both are affordable, especially compared to homemade diets.
Homemade diets are a good option if you don’t mind extra time and expense, because it’s not as simple as giving your pet a portion of your dinner. Pets need more than a piece of chicken with some broccoli. They need nutrients such as:
- Fat-soluble vitamins
- B vitamins
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 pets are getting all the nutrients they need. If you want to feed a homecooked diet, work with your veterinarian to formulate one that is properly balanced, meets all nutritional needs, and is suitable for your pet’s ages, 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. Going kibble? Read the bag
If you’re buying a bag of kibble from the pet store, the bag has all the information you need.
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 be at least 70% of the total product. “Beef dinner,” “beef entrée,” “beef platter,” etc. indicates that 25% or more of the product is beef. “With beef” means 3% or more of the product is beef, and “beef flavor” indicates the least amount of beef.
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 a smaller percentage of total nutrients on a dry matter basis. 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 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 meet AAFCO standards.
Remember: Expensive food does not always equal good food. If you want to ensure you’re choosing a top brand, ask your veterinarian for his or her recommendation.