How to Choose the Best Food for Your Pet
Equally as important as making sure you stick to a healthy diet is making sure your pet receives a high-quality, well-balanced diet as well. While your dog or cat may be more than happy to simply live off scraps from your home-cooking, regularly feeding your pet human food can actually create a wide variety of health problems. Feeding your pet scientifically formulated and nutritionally balanced food specifically designed for them will ensure they receive their recommended daily vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids.
There are a number of important things to consider when purchasing pet food to ensure the safety and health of your pet. While it may be fine to slip your pet a human food treat every once in awhile, regularly feeding your pet the wrong types of food can lead to them developing intestinal disorders, bone disease, dental disease, and skin/fur conditions.
Most of us want to know what we’re putting in our own bodies, so help out your beloved pet and do the same for them. Let us take a look at some of the most important factors to consider when choosing a pet food brand for your dog or cat.
Consider Your Pet’s Breed, Age, and Health
The dietary needs of pets will vary depending on what breed they are. Large German Shepherds will require a much different diet than a Chihuahua for instance. Just like us humans, the metabolisms of dogs and cats will also slow down as they age and you will need to adjust their diet throughout their lifetime to meet their specific needs. Young dogs on the other hand need to grow so it is important to give them the calories and energy they need.
Active working dogs will need more calories than sedentary dogs that lounge around indoors all day. Feed your pet too many calories regularly and you will quickly find yourself with an obese and unhealthy pet. If you have a cat that is allowed to explore your property or the neighborhood, keep in mind they may be finding their own meals here and there if they are a skilled hunter. Be sure to consistently monitor your pet’s weight and take notice of any sudden weight changes.
Pets with health issues may be required to be fed specialized foods or supplements and if you plan on allowing your pet to breed you may need to feed pregnant or lactating mothers a specific diet while they carry and care for their young.
Although there are dogs and cats that don’t noticeably shed very much, most pet owners struggle with trying to keep their homes free of rogue dog or cat fur. For many pet owners, shed fur seams to find its way into every corner of the house and can quickly dirty or damage clothing and furniture. Thankfully, there are types of food available that will reduce the amount your pet sheds. While you’ll never be able to completely stop your pet from shedding, these types of food will greatly reduce shedding and help to make the fur around your house much more manageable.
Some shedding is of course natural, but excessive shedding can be a sign that your pet is suffering from a nutritional deficiency, dry skin, or coat irritation. Choosing a pet food specially designed to give your pet the nutritional needs they require will go a long way to keeping their coats shiny and healthy.
Take a Look at the Ingredients
You no doubt know the importance of reading the ingredients on the food products you buy for yourself and the same should be done when selecting food for your pet. There can be harmful chemicals found in certain pet foods and price isn’t always a mark of how good or healthy a pet food product is. The only real way to know if your pet food is nutritious is to read the ingredients.
While taste is definitely something to consider, since your pet may simply look at you in disgust if you choose something they don’t like, opting for nutritious food is vital for keeping your pet healthy and active. You may have to consider purchasing specific pet foods if your pet has a allergy. Just like us, your pet can have food allergies, although much more common are environmental allergies and problems with fleas.
Commonly reported food allergies in pets include beef, dairy, chicken, eggs, and fish. While you may find many pet food brands advertising grain or gluten free products, you should know that gluten allergies in dogs and cats are quite rare and you most likely don’t need to seek out such brands. Some researchers say grain-free pet food is more easily digested but there have been reports of health issues being experienced by pets who are strictly fed this type of food. It’s best to consult your vet to see which diet they recommend for your specific pet.
While dogs are considered to be omnivores, meaning they can survive on a diet of meat and plant products, cats are considered to be more strict carnivores. Cats need meat-sourced amino acids such as taurine to remain healthy. Pet food containing a lot of carbohydrates may force your cat to digest something they haven’t yet evolved to be able to process and this can lead to them getting liver or heart problems.
Meat should be one of the first and main ingredients listed on the pet food label. If a brand states it is solely made up of beef or chicken, you can be assured it will be at least 95% pure beef or chicken. While some pet owners shy away from products containing meat by-products, these by-products are often highly digestible and nutritious organs when found in well-known pet food brands.
Your specific pet will require a certain amount of nutrients per day and checking the ingredients will ensure they are receiving the correct daily protein, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and water.
Nutritional Adequacy Statement
You should try to stick with pet foods that have undergone feeding trials. This translates as a product actually being tested by real dogs or cats to make sure it is both healthy and palatable. Even more important than reading the ingredient list of a product is to read the AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy Statement. The Nutritional Adequacy Statement on a product guarantees the food is nutritionally well-balanced for a pet a specific stage in their life.
You will need to check the nutritional adequacy statement to make sure you are choosing the right food for your pet, which can be quite different depending on whether you pet is young and growing, an adult, or pregnant. What you want to look for on the Nutritional Adequacy Statement is something that reads “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that this product provides complete and balanced nutrition for (dog or cat and their specific life stage).” Products with this label mean they were actually fed to a required minimum number of real live pets at a specific stage in their life for a minimum required number of days.
Pets that are growing, gestating, or lactating should not be given products whose Nutritional Adequacy Statement states the product was approved only for pets in maintenance stage. A maintenance stage product may, however, be suitable for elderly dogs.
It’s also important to know the various pet food packaging terms. As stated before, a product claiming to contain a single ingredient must contain a minimum of 95% of that ingredient, not including water. Products labeled as containing a certain mixture of ingredients must be made up of 95% of that listed mixture. If a product contains the word dinner, platter, nuggets, or entrée, this means the product may contain as little as 25% of the named ingredient. If a product simply reads “with an ingredient”, then it may only contain 3% of that ingredient. If a product is advertised as containing a certain flavor, it may only contain a trace amount of the ingredient that gives it that flavor.
To sum things up, if you are looking for a quality food product for your pet, seek out products saying something like “beef dog food” or “beef and rice dog food”. These products will contain much more meat and potentially more nutrition than products labeled “with beef”, or “beef dinner”, or “beef flavored dog food”. You also don’t want to be misled by words like “natural” or “wholesome”. Stick to reading the Nutritional Adequacy Statement and ingredients list to avoid choosing products containing harmful ingredients like BHA/BHT, artificial colors, MSG, and corn syrup. You should also only purchase products that have a label displaying at least some form of company contact information like a telephone number, an email address, or a website.
Giving Your Dogs Bones
We all know dogs love bones, but giving your dog the wrong type of bones can lead to injuries or health issues. Dogs should be given raw mammal bones and never cooked bones, as cooked bones can easily splinter and break. This can lead to swallowing sharp pieces of bone, gastrointestinal blockage, constipation, or mouth injuries.
Stick to bones from the butcher, instead of commercial bones or rawhide chews. Commercially made bones may contain harmful chemicals and preservatives, gelatin, or artificial sweeteners. Most raw bones should be edible for dogs, but it’s always important to supervise your dog to make sure they don’t choke. Avoid giving them pork or rib bones since these bones are more apt to splinter and throw out bones after 3-4 days to avoid them becoming unhealthy. To keep them fresher, you may also want to refrigerate bones in-between chewing sessions which should be restricted to 10-15 minutes.
Bones should be longer than your dog’s muzzle to avoid swallowing and should never be cut lengthwise as this leads to splintering. It’s also best to give dogs their bone after their meal, as they will be less apt to chew through it quickly and cause injury.
Ask Your Vet’s Advice
When in doubt, always speak with your vet if you are unsure of what food is best for your pet. As we have said earlier, there are many factors that go into what food is best for your own personal pet. Your pet’s breed, size, age, and health will all determine what food is best.