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What food should I be feeding my pet?

What food should I be feeding my pet?  This is one of the most common and the most frustrating question for all pet owners.  The pet food industry is a multimillion dollar business and each company tries to make their food the most appealing to you as a pet owner.  There are so many choices on the market today so what should you buy?  Reading the label can help.  Here are some common myths that are promoted by these companies.


                Dogs and cats have been domesticated for many years and have changed quite a lot from their wild ancestors. Wild animals roam large territories and utilize whole animals for their nutrition.  Our house pets have adapted to be able to use other foods since they live alongside humans.  We also pamper our pets and they do not need foods as high in calories to maintain a healthy body.


                The word by- product has been given a bad reputation in the pet food industry.  It evokes images of feathers and beaks.  In actuality, a by-product is any part of an animal used as a food source  not the principal meat.  This includes organ meat, bone meal and non-sellable parts such as chicken neck meat and fat.  These by-products are in actuality are some of the most nutritious parts of the animal.


                Proteins are a necessary part of any healthy diet.  Working animals and cats need higher protein in general. Their bodies will use the amount of protein necessary to maintain healthy cell function and the rest is excreted through the kidneys.  Diets that are too high in protein for your pet may actually be harmful especially in animals that have some decrease in kidney function.


                Each stage of our pet’s lives has certain nutritional requirement.  An all life stage diet must meet the needs of the most demanding stage.  Therefore, these diets are formulated to meet the need of growing animals and nursing mothers. The average adult cat or dog does not need as many calories or minerals.  These diets can promote obesity in adult animals.


                While this statement must be true by FDA guidelines, it only means that the weight of the chicken before processing is heavier than the other ingredients.  Chicken is 80% water, and water is heavy.  All meats need to be processed into a meal to create the kibble that we feed our pets.  The listing of ingredients does not mean anything in terms of nutritional value.


                These are marketing schemes to make that particular pet food appealing to you the pet owner. Premium and holistic have not definition in nutrition. Natural does have a definition meaning the ingredient must come from plants or animals.  But it can then be processed by heat, fermentation with alcohol or rendered. Most of these processes take away the vitamins and minerals contained in that natural product.  The vitamins and minerals then need to be added back into the food to make it nutritious.


                This is directly aimed at humans.  There is a much greater awareness about gluten free diets for people.  The pet food companies have jumped on the band wagon and are appealing to this hype.  Very few pets have trouble digesting grains nor have allergies to them.  Most food allergens in pets are to proteins.  Grains are also a source of vitamins, carbohydrates, and some proteins. Most over the counter grain free diets do actually contain some grain.  It is too expensive for companies to have plants dedicated to grain free diet production, nor do they clean the machines between batches of foods.


                Omega fatty acids are very good for your pet.  They promote healthy cell function as well as good hair coat, heart and kidney function and brain health. Most companies will use flaxseed since it is cheap.  Unfortunately, our pets cannot digest the flaxseed to utilize the omega fatty acids contained within this plant source.  Fish oils are more bioavailable to our pets.


                A diet cannot make this claim since allergies only apply to each individual pet.  To label a diet as hypoallergenic, a company would need to know exactly what your pet is allergic to and produce the diet designed especially for you.

                  So what should you look for in a pet diet?  Any diet that keeps your pet healthy and in a good body condition is an adequate food for your pet.  It is recommended that the diet have an AAFCO feeding trial label.  This AAFCO statement means that a diet has been fed to dogs or cats over time with no health risks. If you want to know more about the food you feed your pet, call the company.  They should be able to answer these questions.

1. Do you have a veterinary nutritionist or equivalent on staff in your company?  Are they available for consultation?     

2. Who formulates your diets and what are their credentials?

3. Which of your diets are AAFCO tested?

4. What specific quality control measures do you use to assure the consistency and quality of our product line?

5. Where are your diets produced and manufactured? Can the plant be visited?

6. Can you provide a complete product nutrient analysis of your best-selling canine and feline pet food including digestibility values?

7. Can you give me the caloric content per cup or can?