Choosing the best pet food from the hundreds of available options is one of the most important decisions a pet owner has to make as a healthy and balanced diet is vital to helping pets live long and healthy lives. There’s a lot more involved in choosing the best pet food than humans may realize — from considering individual needs to finding the right ingredients.
Talking to your veterinarian to help you find the best nutritional approach is the perfect place to start, and to help sort it all out, I turned to the expertise of Dr. Evan Antin, a veterinarian at Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital and People Magazine’s “Sexiest Beast Charmer” alive.
Thank you to Purina for sponsoring this post. All opinions are mine.
Choosing the Best Pet Food for Cats and Dogs
Do your research on ingredients
When choosing the best pet food, the most important consideration is whether it provides complete and balanced nutrition for pets. Take some time to understand the ingredients – such as grains and by-products – and the benefits they bring.
Proteins – Dr. Antin recommends that the first ingredient listed on the back of the package be a protein product. (Poultry is the #1 food allergen for dogs, so if you suspect your dog has a sensitivity he recommends products with venison, duck or fish as the primary ingredient.)
Grains – While cats are carnivores and require some meat in their diets, dogs are actually omnivores so they need a vegetable-based or lower-protein diet as part of their complete nutrition. Most of them tolerate grains well, and they’re a great source of complex carbohydrates which offer additional nutrients over simple carbs.
By-products – Often a scary word to humans, the truth is that cats and dogs in the wild typically eat the organs first because they’re highly palatable and nutrition-dense. Therefore many pet food manufacturers use high-quality by-products – such as beef, chicken or pork that may include hearts, livers, kidneys, lungs and spleens. By-products aren’t inherently a bad thing and quite honestly, using the whole animal is responsible, not wasteful.
Raw – In theory, a raw diet alleges to mimick what might be eaten if pets were in the wild. In reality, raw pet food may not provide all the necessary nutrients and could contain dangerous bacteria when food safety regulations aren’t met.
Natural and organic/holistic – The use of these terms is widespread but the labels can be misleading as they’re not necessarily healthier than conventional foods. Buyer beware.
Check the quality and safety of pet food
Pet owners should research the quality and safety of their pet food to ensure it’s meeting or exceeding FDA and AAFCO standards, and they can talk to their vet with questions or contact the pet food manufacturer directly through the website. The quality and safety standards are of key importance, but it also speaks volumes for the pet food manufacturer when they are doing continual diet and food research and have nutritional experts and a veterinarian on staff.
Avoid giving out table scraps
Admittedly, it can be difficult to resist those big sad eyes begging for human food, and I admit I’ve fallen into the trap myself at times. But the oils and fats in our food, especially around the holidays can lead to health problems such as diarrhea, vomiting, and pancreatitis. Additionally, some food is highly toxic to dogs like onions, garlic, and chocolate.
Consider timed feeding instead of free feeding
Labrador retrievers don’t have the “I’m full” hormone and it’s very common for cats to overeat when food is left out all day, so a better plan may be to have specific time blocks for feeding after which food is put away until the next feeding session. This can be helpful when a pet is overweight or when multiple pets in a household have different metabolisms or caloric needs.
To learn more about pet nutrition, ingredients and quality and safety of pet food, please visit www.purina.com/nutrition