Have you ever wondered what goes into your dog or cat’s food? What about the freshness of it? Do you buy their food based on a cute animal on the front of the bag or the recommendation of your vet? There’s so much to consider when deciding on food for your fur kids. It can feel a bit overwhelming! Here are some ideas that will hopefully move you toward selecting the food that best fits both your pet’s and your needs.
When it comes to meeting your pets’ nutritional needs there is more than one aspect to consider. If you have multiple pets, can you separate them to feed or do you need to find the best food for the group. You will need to consider not only the food itself, but the needs of your pet. You’ll need to consider correct portions, ingredients, type of food (kibble, canned, or fresh) (raw, homecooked, commercially made), age of the pet, and activity level of the pet/breed of animal.
One of the first things you should look for on a pet food label is the statement “(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog or Cat Food Nutrient Profiles.” The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has strict requirements to make sure that a product is in fact complete and balanced You probably want to consider a diet with whole foods; foods that aren’t overly processed. Fewer ingredients usually mean it is easier to digest, which may also reduce fecal waste. Whole natural ingredients often help reduce food allergies and those triggers are easier to pin down with fewer ingredients to eliminate. Be aware that cats, unlike dogs, must have nutrients found only in animal products.
Type of Food:
Unlike humans, dogs and cats (and other animals) often do better on consistent diets that don’t stray from their normal day-to-day food. When considering food options, not only your pet’s needs but yours as well need to be considered. This may be a lifestyle choice for you but choosing dry kibble over canned food or fresh food will save you space in your refrigerator. Canned or fresh food may be more palatable for your dog or cat, but it often costs a bit more, so your monthly budget is something to be aware of when making that choice. Food type is something you may want to discuss with your veterinarian if your pet has underlying health issues; the digestion and absorption of nutrients is essential.
Just like with humans, animals have different dietary needs as they age. As animals age it becomes harder for their bodies to maintain a healthy weight and muscle mass, so they tend to require a diet that’s rich in meat protein and lower in calories. They also need fresh fruits and veggies instead of grains and gluten to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Conversely, puppies and kittens are burning a ton of calories in order to grow and maintaining their body heat, so they need food that contains more whole meats and less fruits and veggies to promote healthy development and growth. And of course, weight control is essential to keeping your older dog free from joint pain and their heart healthy.
Once you’ve settled on a type of food that works best for your dog or cat, it’s equally important to know how best to feed them. Usually, whatever type of food you feed your pet-- whether it’s canned wet food, fresh food, or kibble-- will come with portion sizes appropriate to your animal’s size. But the portion sizes on the bag may not be best for your individual pet. In addition, many vets believe that suggested portions on food labels are higher than is best. These are just guidelines. Make sure to consult your veterinarian if your pet is under or overweight. Some animals do best being fed only once/day, some animals are better twice/day, and some animals will be free-feeders that need to be able to graze slowly throughout the day as their bodies require. Listen to what they tell you.
Lastly, and the best advice we can offer, is to do your research. Today’s market has a wide variety of foods at all price points. Your dog’s health is important. So, feeding them a healthy food that may cost a few cents more today can save you money down the road if they need special vet care. Plus, the healthier they are, the longer they are here to be loved by you.
To go more deeply into information to guide your decision-making:
How to Choose the Best Dog Food
AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB
This article breaks down each decision-making component and includes dog food myths and advice on how to read a dog food label.
Feeding Your Cat
CORNELL FELINE HEALTH CENTER
This article goes in-depth in discussing cat food types and a variety of other consideration.