This is a question and a discussion that I have with clients daily. And to be honest, it’s a very difficult question to answer. I am going to give you a few tips on how to pick out a food that is best suited for your dog or cat.
I recommend feeding a food based on the life stage of your pet. The four life stages include growth, young adult, mature adult and senior. The below picture helps illustrate the life stages of cats. Canine life stages are pretty similar, but with more variation due to the vast size difference we see in the canine species. The growth life stage is typically done by 6-12 months of age. For cats the growth phase is typically finished by 6-10 months of age and I recommend transitioning to adult food around that time. If you have a puppy or kitten it is very important for proper growth and development to feed a puppy or kitten food. In the same manner as your pet is aging feeding a senior diet is important as they have different nutrient profiles.
You may ask what about an “All Life Stages” dog or cat food. For a company to market their food as “All Life Stages” the food must meet the nutritional requirements for all life stages. Therefore, most of these foods are formulated as a puppy/kitten food because puppies and kittens have the highest nutritional requirements of the four life stages. These foods can be good foods and well balanced, but they typically have a high caloric density. Therefore, in my experience, dogs are more likely to become overweight than if they were fed some other diets.
Does your pet have any health conditions that require a special diet? Prescription diets can play a vital role in management of many health conditions, including kidney disease, diabetes, obesity, allergies, and feline lower urinary tract disease.
If your pet suffers from a medical condition, diet can manage and help many conditions, so I always recommend considering a prescription diet if you pet has one of the above conditions.
More Expensive Does Not Mean Better
Many pet food companies are great at marketing but might not be as good at formulating diets. You can always look for the Nutritional Advocacy AFFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) Statement on each bag or can of food. These statements will tell you if the food has been through a food trial or formulated to meet particular feeding guidelines. The ingredient list should also list all ingredients in decreasing amounts by weight.
Labels are very confusing and often misleading to consumers. For example, if I made up a food with the following labels, the variation in ingredients can be drastic.
- If the term “All” is used, then the ingredient must make up 100% of product minus preservatives and water. So, this treat would be 100% beef
- If the listed ingredient is used, then the ingredient must make up 95% of product minus water. So, this Beef Dog Chow would be 95% beef on a dry matter basis.
- If the term “dinner,” “platter,” or “recipe” is used, then the ingredient must make up only 25% of product. So, this Beef Dinner is likely only 25% beef.
- If the term “with” is used, then the ingredient must make up only 5% of product. So, this Dog Chow with Beef is likely only 5% beef.
I hope this illustration helps demonstrate how confusing pet food labels can be to both consumers and veterinarians. I recommend visiting the AAFCO website if you want to be better educated about what’s in your pet’s food.
Say No to ‘Grain Free’
Does my pet need grain-free food? The answer is NO. There little to no research showing the true benefit of grain-free food. In fact, grain-free food has been shown to cause heart disease in some dogs. The exact cause is still being researched. Visit this site for more information. https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/questions-answers-fdas-work-potential-causes-non-hereditary-dcm-dogs
What About Raw Food?
Some dogs do really well on raw food, but I do not recommend it. That’s because I see too many owners who try to feed raw but who are not feeding a balanced diet because they are solely feeding raw meat and limited other nutrients.
In the wild canines and felines will consume entire animals. Eating meat, skin, ingesta, organs, and bone makes up a balanced diet.
Raw can be balanced and can be a good diet for some animals, but there is also a public health risk with feeding these diets. This is a statement from the CDC:
“Germs like Salmonella and Listeria bacteria have been found in raw pet food, even packaged ones in stores. These germs can make your pet sick. Your family can also get sick by handling the food or by taking care of your pet.”Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Therefore, if there are young children or anyone who is immune-compromised in your house, I highly advise against feed raw pet foods.
Each Pet Is Different
I hope this information has been helpful and informative. I recommend discussing your pet’s daily calorie needs with your veterinarian as each pet is different, just like people. Two people that have ideal weights of 180 pounds may be able to eat very different diets to maintain their weight, and the same goes for cats and dogs. All 10-pound cats do not need the same daily calories.
The recommendations on the bag or can of food should only be a guide. Some animals may need more calories, but most will need less than the recommended amount to maintain an ideal weight. And always remember to factor in all treats and table scraps into their daily calories. Most pets are overweight these days.
—Dr. Drew Sullivan