Pets bring companionship, love, laughter, and playfulness into your home. In return, of course, you want to take good care of them so they live long, happy, healthy lives. The best way to do this is to feed your pet well. With store aisles crammed full of different brands and types of cat and dog food, how do you know which one is right?
There are two parts to establishing a good pet diet: choosing a high-quality pet food and making sure your pet is doing well on the diet you’ve chosen. Let’s see how this works with dogs first.
When changing pet foods it is a good idea to do so gradually. Mix a little of the new food in with the old. Each day increase the amount of new food and decrease the amount of old food. In a week, you can switch completely to the new food.
Choosing a dog food
For dogs especially, feeding isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Many dogs have food allergies and individual dietary needs. One good-quality food might work well for one dog but give another dog gas and skin rashes. The two most important guidelines that will lead you to the right high-quality dog food are:
Consult your veterinarian.
Read the label. Look on the dog food packaging for these specific things:
• AAFCO label. A good quality pet food will have a label from the Association of American Feed Control Officials indicating it is complete and balanced.
• High quality proteins. The first few ingredients on the label should be something like beef, chicken, or lamb. Terms like “meat” or “meat by-products” are vague. They could be referring to a very poor quality protein. Choose only a food that names its meat.
• Avoid too many grains. A diet with too many grains can cause health problems for dogs and trigger allergic reactions. Avoid foods that contain a lot of corn, wheat, and soy.
• Correct life stage. There are pet food formulas made for puppies, adults, and senior dogs. Choose a food that is age-appropriate.
• Buy the best you can afford. “In general you get what you pay for,” says Dr. Heather Carleton of Spring Creek Animal Hospital in Jackson. “Low-priced foods found at supermarkets and box stores are often also lower in quality, which means dogs may have more medical issues when they are fed these diets.”
Is it the right choice?
After you’ve chosen a food, feed it to your dog for a few months. If the dog is doing well on the food, you will see:
• Shiny eyes and a healthy coat. A dull, lifeless coat or skin irritations may be an indicator that your dog needs a different diet.
• Energy and vitality. Your dog will seem to feel good and move and play in a manner appropriate for his age.
• Small, firm waste. High quality foods have few fillers. Most of the food is digested and used by the animal, who therefore produces less waste. A low quality food causes more waste and occasional diarrhea.
• Healthy weight. If your dog is too heavy or too thin you may need to change foods or adjust the portion sizes to better fit her needs.
• No allergic reactions or side effects. Some dogs have allergic reactions to ingredients in dog foods. Recurrent ear infections, itchy skin, gassiness, chewing at feet, licking lips (sign of nausea), poor hair coat, occasional vomiting, and intermittent diarrhea are signs that your dog may need a different food.
Recommendations for dogs:
• If your dog has allergic reactions, you’ll want to feed him a dog food that is made specifically for dogs with allergies. These foods are called hypoallergenic or novel protein diets. Some of Dr. Carleton’s picks are the Taste of the Wild brand (in particular, the Pacific Stream Formula), Royal Canine hypoallergenic foods, and Z/D Ultra made by Science Diet (Z/D Ultra must be prescribed by a veterinarian).
• If your dog doesn’t have allergies, many good quality foods are available. Dr. Carleton approves of Taste of the Wild, Purina Pro Plan, Nutro, Blackwood, and Science Diet.
Choosing a cat food
In many ways, choosing a cat food is similar to choosing a dog food; consult your veterinarian or check pet food labels for the AAFCO certification, quality proteins, and correct life stage. Avoid purchasing foods with a lot of grain in the ingredients and buy the best you can afford. You’ll also want to watch for signs that your cat is doing well on his diet. He should have shiny eyes, a healthy coat, vitality, no diarrhea, and no vomiting.
Cats need meat
Cats, however, have different dietary needs than dogs. Dogs are omnivores. Cats are true carnivores. They need more protein and fewer carbohydrates in their diets. “Unfortunately,” says Dr. Carleton, “most brands of dry cat food, especially those sold at supermarkets and box stores, are much higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein than cats need. Feeding a cat a high-carbohydrate diet over a long period of time can lead to a number of metabolic problems, including diabetes, pancreatitis, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and dietary intolerance. The best way to keep your cat healthy is to find a diet that has 40 to 50 percent protein and 15 to 20 percent carbohydrates.”
Recommendations for cats
Many veterinarians recommend canned food for cats. Canned foods have more protein and fewer carbohydrates than dry food. They also have more water, which can help prevent or alleviate urinary problems.
If your cat does not like canned food, there are a few dry foods that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Dr. Carleton’s favorite cat food picks are EVO Salmon and Herring, Purina OM, and Science Diet DM. Other good ones to try come from Felidae, Taste of the Wild, and Purina Pro Plan.
Is it the right choice?
Remember to watch for signs that your cat is doing well on her food. “Vomiting more than once every few months is a sign of dietary intolerance and/or inflammatory bowel disease,” Dr. Carleton says. “If your cat vomits regularly you should try another diet with a different protein source, and make sure it is grain-free.”