Selecting the right food for your pet can be confusing; there are numerous brands and formulations to choose from, all with their own nutritional and health claims. People often find themselves bombarded with conflicting information from pet food commercials, claims on the bags of food, and varying opinions from friends, family and pet food store employees.
Your veterinarian is the best resource in starting to select a food for your pet. A veterinarian and the certified veterinary technicians have the knowledge to help you determine which life stage of food is most appropriate for your pet (i.e. growth for puppies and kittens, adult maintenance, gestation/lactation), and can help you determine the right amount of food to feed to attain or maintain your pet’s optimum weight.
In addition to selecting the right life stage of food, some pets have underlying medical conditions that can be better managed by feeding prescription therapeutic diets as recommended by your veterinarian. Pets diagnosed with kidney disease, diabetes, bladder stones/crystals in their urine, food allergies, etc. may benefit from a prescription food rather than being fed an over the counter diet. Some medical conditions, like hyperthyroidism in cats, can even be controlled without medication when fed an exclusive prescription diet for this condition.
If your pet is healthy, and does not require a prescription diet, here are a few tips that may help in selecting the best food for your pet:
- Look for the AAFCO (The Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement on the bag of food, and select a food with a feeding trial as part of this statement. The AAFCO statement indicates the pet food is complete and balanced for a particular stage of life. The “complete and balanced” claim can be met in one of three ways: feeding trial, formulation, or product family establishment. In a feeding trial, the pet food undergoes specific AAFCO protocols that mandate factors such as length of time of the trial and diagnostic tests that determine if the feeding trial was successful. The protocol also requires that the food fed during the feeding trial is formulated for the life stage claimed in the statement (i.e. food claimed for growth is fed to puppies). The second best option is a product family establishment, which is a combination of a feeding trial and formulation.
- Choose the right life stage formula for your pet, and if you’re unsure, ask your veterinarian. Growing puppies and kittens need a balance of certain nutrients, and higher levels of fat and protein for growth and development, while adult animals do not have these same nutritional demands. The new trend is for some pet food companies to market an “all life stages” food. Essentially, all life stages foods are puppy/kitten food, as they need to be formulated to meet the most demanding nutritional requirements of both growth and reproduction and adult maintenance. All life stages foods are therefore most appropriate for growth/lactation, and once a pet has reached adulthood or is not bred/lactating, they should be transitioned onto a maintenance adult diet.
- Be skeptical of pet food advertisements claiming pet food is bad because of certain ingredients (byproducts, grain, corn, etc.) Pet food labeling laws are complex, and the nutritional information on pet food labels can be misleading and manipulated. For example, marketing ploys on “unhealthy” ingredients in pet food such as meat byproducts can confuse consumers. AAFCO defines meat byproducts as “clean parts of slaughtered mammals” (i.e. liver, heart, lungs, spleen, kidney, etc.) that are unpalatable to humans, and are left over or “byproducts” of the manufacturing of food made for human consumption. The byproducts left over from this process actually contain very nutrient dense parts of slaughtered animals that can be used in the manufacturing of a nutritionally balanced diet for pets.
- Call the pet food company you’re considering selecting, and ask questions. These questions can help determine if the pet food company is reputable, and producing a quality product. Most pet food companies will have a contact number on their food product or website. Questions to ask include: Does your company have a veterinarian or nutritionist on staff? Does your company own its manufacturing plant? Can the plant be toured? Does your company do it’s own research, and is it published in peer-reviewed journals? A reputable, quality pet food company will have a veterinarian or nutritionist on staff to consult with veterinarians or customers, own their own manufacturing plant (and often allow tours on request), and publishes scientific data in peer reviewed journals.
Remember, not every food works for every pet, and there can be some trial and error in finding the food formulation and pet food company that works best your companion. If you still have questions on selecting a pet food, don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian for more information.