What Should I Feed My Pet?

One of the most common questions of any pet owner is, “what should I feed my pet?” This question, although important, can have surprising and complex answers. Nutrition is a key component of health, and nutritional requirements may vary with a pet’s species, age, health conditions, and reproductive status. Currently, there are thought to be at least 44 nutritional parameters for cats and 37 nutritional parameters for dogs. How the food is packaged, stored, handled and fed can also influence health. Most pet owners meet these needs of their pet by either preparing or purchasing food. Scavenging and hunting behaviors may also significantly influence the health and nutritional status of an individual pet.

Preparing foods for your pet:

Preparing a complete diet for your pet can be a very satisfying process but it does require additional effort, knowledge, and expense. The complexity and cost of home food preparation mean that you should seek out a consultation with a veterinarian prior to formulating a diet for your pets. A veterinarian should be able to help you with information resources, ingredient selection, preparation, and diet formulation. This typically requires a separate, extended appointment beyond a typical health exam. Table food is not often toxic, but some ingredients must be avoided. Even when harmful ingredients are avoided, table food and treats should be limited to less than 10% of a pet’s caloric intake.

Purchasing foods for your pet:

Purchased foods now come with a bewildering variety of ingredients, brands, and marketing claims. The claims of pet food companies can be difficult to assess. Current FDA regulatory structure has no requirement for the evaluation of foods before they are sold. This means that the manufacturer’s claims do not necessarily have to be proven with feeding trials. FDA regulations do state that food being sold must be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, truthfully labeled and free of harmful substances. The truthful labeling requirement is particularly important. Such labels must specify that a food is nutritionally adequate for a given species and must also contain a guaranteed nutrient analysis. No food should be fed unless the food manufacturer agrees to follow guidelines or feeding trials outlined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Even with AAFCO approval, all marketing claims made by food manufacturers should be treated with a healthy degree of skepticism.

Prescription foods:

These foods have been designed to treat specific diseases of pets. A high-quality prescription diet will be validated by published, peer-reviewed studies. These diets should be used with the guidance of a veterinarian who is familiar with your pet’s health condition. Typically prescription foods have not been designed for use in healthy animals.

Canned vs. Dried Foods:

Good pet foods can take a variety of forms, but there are important differences in packaging. Canned foods have higher water content and have a lower risk of food transmitted disease. Because unopened cans do not spoil, it may be possible to make canned foods higher in fat content. The odors and textures associated with canned foods are often more palatable to pets.

Dried foods are often more economical and may promote better Dental Health in pets that chew their food extensively. Measuring portions of dried foods can also be very easy using a scale or baking supplies. The ease of measurement may be helpful when encouraging a pet to lose weight.

What brand should I buy?:

No diet will ever be perfect for the needs of all animals. Ask your Veterinarian or their staff for help in evaluating the food that you are currently using or one that you would like to use. As your pet changes, the optimal food choices may change with time. Recent information regarding FDA recalls, new diets and changing ingredient sources present special challenges for pet owners Veterinary professionals can help you to make good decisions when presented with biased or conflicting information about pet nutrition.

If you would like to learn more about nutritional needs for your pet, we recommend making an appointment with a member of our Veterinary Hospital to discuss the specific needs for your pet based on breed, age, and lifestyle.

Halleck Wrigley V.M.D.