10 Things to Know When Shopping for Pet Food
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.
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.