10 Things to Know When Shopping for Pet Food

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puppy eating As a good pet parent, you already know your pet needs to be eating a nutritionally complete and balanced food. But with so many diets out there, how do you choose the perfect one for your pet? As a veterinarian for 13 years, and a total nutrition nerd, here are my tips for choosing the right diet AND feeding it correctly.

1. The “Perfect Pet Food” Depends on Your Pet’s Needs

First off, you must come to the realization that there is no universally ‘perfect food’. However, there is a diet out there that may be perfect for YOUR pet. Always have the discussion with your veterinarian about what his or her nutritional recommendations are for your pet so you don’t walk into the often-intimidating pet food aisle uninformed.

2. Life Factors Must be Considered

There are many factors to consider when choosing the right food for your pet. Age, breed, reproductive status (spayed or neutered vs. intact), size, lifestyle and any disease conditions should always play into your decision making. Nutritional requirements for all of the aforementioned factors are quite different, so discuss what your pets’ specific needs are with your veterinarian before choosing a food.

3. Reproductive Status Determines Your Pet’s Caloric Need

Reproductive status—whether your pet is spayed, neutered, or intact—plays a huge role in metabolism. A pet that is spayed or neutered has a diminished maintenance energy requirement; therefore their caloric intake should be reduced by approximately 25-30 percent from what is recommended for an intact dog or cat. This means if your bag of dry pet food recommends feeding approximately 1 cup twice daily, you should only be feeding 2/3 to 3/4 of a cup twice daily to maintain a healthy weight. Always talk with your veterinarian before instituting a weight loss program, or when changing from one diet to another.

4. Dogs & Cats are Carnivores

Remember that dogs and cats are carnivores, and should be fed diets with animal-based protein sources, not vegetable-based sources. Vegetable-based proteins do not contain the essential amino acids that dogs and cats require to maintain healthy coats, muscles, and immune systems. Diets based on vegetable protein must supplement these essential amino acids from artificial sources, which are not as easily metabolized as those from natural sources.

5. Human Food is for Humans

Human food is not appropriate for household pets in most instances. Many of the foods that we so commonly eat can be toxic to dogs and cats. Chocolate, grapes and raisins, onions and garlic, macadamia nuts, and even sugar free gum can be toxic. Always discuss with your veterinarian ALL of the foods that your pets are receiving to make sure you are not unwittingly putting your pets’ health in jeopardy. Some people prefer to cook for their pets rather than use a commercial diet, but this should always be done in conjunction with a veterinary nutritionist to ensure your pet is receiving a complete and balanced diet.

6. Don’t Overfeed

Approximately 60 percent of household pets in the United States are overweight or obese. This is largely due to lack of regular exercise and the overconsumption of commercial diets. Reading the caloric content of commercial foods can be intimidating due to the verbiage used on pet food labels. It is often much easier to view and interpret nutritional information on the pet food company’s website. Remember to reduce the recommended caloric intake by approximately 25 percent for spayed or neutered pets to maintain an appropriate weight.

7. Give Cats a Can

For cats, consuming at least 50 percent of their daily caloric requirement in the form of wet or moist food has been shown to help them maintain a healthier weight and a healthier urinary tract. This is due to the higher protein and water content in these types of foods as compared to dry foods. Cats are obligate carnivores, so they do not metabolize carbohydrates efficiently. The average cat is going to be healthier on a higher protein, lower carb type diet. Always discuss diet changes with your veterinarian before implementing.

8. Ask your Vet About Dietary Supplements

When feeding a complete and balanced commercial diet, nutritional supplements such as vitamins, are not usually required. However, pets of an advanced age, with certain disease conditions or of particular breeds, may benefit from dietary supplementation. Talk with your veterinarian to see if supplementing with additional anti-oxidants, fish oils, or joint supplements may improve your pets’ health.

9. Schedule Feedings

Free choice feeding is, quite simply, filling up the food dish and walking away. By doing this, pet owners assume that their pet is going to eat until he’s full and not overindulge. This is not an effective way of feeding your pet. Most pets have about as much willpower as people, which—as we can all attest—is minimal. Scheduled, timed feedings is the best way of actually being able to control how many calories per day your pet is ingesting, as well as keeping those post-prandial glucose highs and lows from being too divergent. For advice on how to implement this with your pets, talk with your veterinarian or an animal behavior professional.

10.Transition Diet Changes Slowly

Finally, any time you have made the decision to change your pets’ diet, do so slowly. Aim for a 7-10 day transition where you slowly add more and more of the new diet and less and less of the old diet until your pet is completely switched over. By doing this, you should be able to avoid any gastrointestinal upset that would be expected with an abrupt change.


MZX_6893-Edit (2) Dr. Katy Nelson is the mother of five – two human and three animal – kids, an avid nutrition and fitness enthusiast, and an admittedly rabid Louisiana sports fan.  She is an associate veterinarian at the Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, VA., as well as the host and executive producer of “The Pet Show with Dr. Katy” on Washington DC’s News Channel 8. A Certified Veterinary Journalist (CVJ) accredited by the American Society of Veterinary Journalists (ASVJ), Dr. Katy is the Animal Health Reporter for ABC7 News, and serves as “Dr. Pawz” on WTOP Radio.  Dr. Katy is also a founding partner of PetsMove.org, a national health and fitness initiative aimed at getting people healthy alongside their dogs, and serves as a media and marketing consultant for numerous pet-related companies and media outlets.

A lover of all animals, Dr. Katy carves out time for many charitable organizations in the DC area and beyond.  She is also the co-executive producer on “Tell Them I Am Kind,” a documentary set to air on the PBS Broadcasting network in 2015.  The documentary tells the story of the family of Catherine Violet Hubbard, one of the 20 children killed in December of 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and their mission to build an animal sanctuary in her honor.


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6 responses to “10 Things to Know When Shopping for Pet Food”

  1. Can you tell me what kind of food is
    Dog food and cat food.
    When you tell me human food is for humans, what exact kind offood are we giving our animals.
    Please respond

  2. Bob says:

    Hello,
    Nice articles on feeding dogs… but I must have missed the most important article….Dog Foods… how about listing 10 or so good dry and or wet dog foods. Or, telling us a few websites with that information on them.. Thank you
    Have a good weekend
    Bob

  3. Karen Michalski says:

    Good article. I might add that many people are now feeding what is thought of as a “species appropriate diet”, meaning raw food. There are several good, complete foods on the market that are flash frozen , take little time to thaw, and are probably closer to what dogs and cats eat in the wild. We have miniature schnauzers and have had very good results feeding this way for many years. We do not toss chicken necks and wings at our dogs to eat. I think maybe too much bacteria load to make me comfortable.

  4. kathy says:

    Sorry, I believe the only food we should be feeding our dogs is raw meat… I buy ground up chicken and/or turkey and raw grass fed beef marrow bones at whole foods and that with an occasional carrot and bit of peanut butter in a bone is it. My 13 year old dogs teeth are now white again without the danger of exposing him to having his teeth cleaned by a vet and a holistic vet I know said that if everyone fed their dogs this way, they would be out of business.

    Thanks for letting me share :)

  5. Great Article one! Its helpul for us whos want to know about pet food information. I have feed my dog biljac, acana, beneful blue, buffalo, diamond naturals with some brands dog food.

  6. Lesley says:

    What is a good brand of cat food for my 2-1/2 year old Ragdoll cat? He eats Royal Canine now