Finding the right food for your pet — some thoughts from a veterinarian
By Dr. Rebekah Frost – OBSERVER Columnist
In recent years, many more types of pet foods have become available on the market. Choices include organic, natural, holistic, homemade, grain-free and raw diets. Where do we begin as pet owners? When choosing a diet for your pet, it is important to consider the following factors that may help make your decision.
1. I recommend finding a diet that meets AAFCO (The American Association of Feed Control Officials) procedures through animal feed testing trials and is formulated for one life stage. A diet that is labeled for “all life stages” cannot adequately provide the proper nutrition when each stage of life requires such a different nutrient profile. Be aware that many diets are labeled to “meet” the standards set by AAFCO, but have not actually undergone pet feeding trials to be proven as an adequate diet. Read labels carefully!
2. I recommend feeding a diet from a company that has a proven record, that has consistently safe formulations without recalls, and that has a veterinary nutritionist on staff helping to formulate animal diets. These companies’ pet foods are what a veterinarian will typically recommend for your pet. Veterinarians are not paid to recommend these diets. I solely recommend based on experience and knowledge of how my own pets and clients’ pets have been feed on these diets.
3. It is important to understand labeling. “Natural” diets are diets free of synthetic preservatives, colors and additives. Be cautious using these diets as they have a much shorter shelf life than other diets and must be used in a relatively short period of time. “Organic” means the ingredients in the food have been processed through organic farming. Organic farming meets specific requirements, which include no use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. “Holistic” has been used for a variety of diets and is not a regulated term, but is essentially a marketing term used to sell a diet. “Grain-free” does not mean carbohydrate free. These diets still contain some form of carbohydrates in a starch form. Any dry dog food cannot be made without a starch to help bind it together. Understand as well that grains are not bad for your pet! Grains provide a source of fiber, nutrients and even pro-biotics for gut health.
One more side note. “Meat By-products” are not bad either. By-products actually are the organ meats of the animal, which provides a good source of nutrition for your pet about equal to, if not better than, meat from animal muscle.
4. Homemade diets can be used but I recommend following a strict recipe formulated by a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist that is properly balanced to meet your pet’s nutritional needs. Many pets can experience malnutrition if these diets are improperly fed. You cannot just feed your pet table scraps or what you are eating for dinner. It is important they get the proper ratios of protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals which need to be balanced in a homemade diet.
5. Avoid raw meat diets because raw meat often harbors harmful bacteria like e-coli, salmonella, and clostridium. These bacteria can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and systemic infection. Some pets may not show clinical signs associated with these bacteria, but they may still shed the bacteria in their stool exposing their owners to the harmful bacteria. The basis of a raw diet is to “feed your dog like their ancestors once ate.” First of all, wild canids are actually omnivores meaning they eat more than just meat. Also we have domesticated these pets to the point where their GI tracts cannot handle the high levels of protein that may be difficult to digest.
Above all I recommend taking your veterinarian’s advice regarding a diet for your pet. Be cautious with all the marketing ploys used to entice the buyer. These might be the ingredients listed, the name of the food, the colors and shape of the food, and the companies’ claims on the internet. Ingredients listed on the back of a bag of food may sound great for your pet, but the food may not have gone through any testing recommended by AAFCO. Many pets do not do well on these diets and you as a pet owner may not even be aware of it. These pets might just have a softer stool because the food is difficult to digest. Some pets have increased kidney values which can cause permanent damage. I have also seen some pets develop crystals in their urine or stones in their bladder possibly from eating one of these diets. Some diets have inadequate levels of minerals like calcium which can filter into the urine and cause bladder stones. In the past month I have had to remove life threatening bladder and urethral stones on two different dogs because the stones had become lodged and were causing a blockage. These pets are usually put on a diet that keeps the ph of the urine neutral and provides the proper balance of minerals.
Finally avoid feeding table scraps and free choice because these can both lead to obesity in your pet. Obesity can predispose your pet to heart disease, joint osteoarthritis, diabetes, urinary issues, and more. Do not always follow the recommendations on the back of the bag as the amounts recommended are always higher than what your pet actually needs. Talk to your vet about how much you should be feeding your pet.Veterinarians want what is best for your pet and have extensive experience with pets and diets! I feel it is important to choose a diet based on your pet’s life stage, its medical needs, and its lifestyle. I can help you choose the proper diet and amounts for your pet to provide the proper nutrition for your pet’s overall health!