Looking for the Right Pet Food?
It’s been said that along with genetics and environment, nutrition plays a crucial role in the overall health of your pets. But, whether it’s due to excessive marketing or simply confusion, most pet owners don’t give much thought to that bag of pet food they purchase from the grocery store or pet store. Are there ways to find better food for our four-legged friends?
By: Dr. Paige Lorimer, Pet Kare Clinic
Our pets depend on us to keep them properly fed and in the best health. But for most pet owners, the overabundance of different types of pet foods as well as the enormous number of brand names is often overwhelming. Then, Internet chat rooms and forums are simply full of a wide variety of opinions on what is the “best” pet food. How can the average pet owner make the best decision when it comes to feeding their pets?
Thankfully, there are experts in the area of pet nutrition. Diplomates from the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (acvn.org) are specialists whose focus is the advancement of veterinary nutrition. Put another way, these knowledgeable veterinarians know what makes a good pet food!
Dr. John Bauer, a veterinary nutritionist with the Texas A&M University, College of Veterinary Medicine says, “When it comes to choosing a diet for your pet, the first thing to think about is the life stage. Is it a young, growing puppy or kitten or is it a mature adult trying to maintain body size?”
In other words, puppies and kittens have different nutritional requirements than adult dogs and cats or even senior pets. So, a food that is adequate for all life stages may actually have too much of certain nutrients for some geriatric pets. One way to determine if your pet’s food is meant for all life stages is to look for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on the bag. If the nutritional adequacy statement reads “complete and balanced nutrition for all life stages”, then pet owners know that the food has enough nutrition for pregnancy, lactation, growth and maintenance. If the label states “complete and balanced for adult maintenance”, this food is appropriate for adult pets only and not young, growing animals.
“Another important thing to look for is whether or not the food has undergone feeding trials,” adds Dr. Bauer. Again, the AAFCO statement is helpful. Foods that have been fed to animals prior to marketing to consumers will have a statement similar to “AAFCO animal feeding trials substantiate…” or “Feeding trials show…“. This is a good sign that the company has invested in the due diligence to make sure pets willingly accept the diet and stay healthy on it.
Foods can also be created to meet specific guidelines. If the bag of food simply states that “Brand X is formulated to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles“, then the food was not fed in any regulated manner to animals prior to its delivery to store shelves. Although this does not mean that the food is poor quality or even bad, most pet owners would prefer that their pets are eating a food that has proven to do well for other animals.
Finally, the reputation of the company making the food is an important consideration for pet owners. Does the manufacturer use a veterinary nutritionist to help develop and maintain the diets or is the food one that just has a celebrity endorsement? Does the company engage in beneficial nutritional research or do they simply follow the most recent dietary fad?
Although the Internet is full of opinions and folklore about pet foods, the best source of nutrition information will come from your veterinarian. He or she not only has the needed schooling to help you understand your pet’s dietary needs, but many veterinarians will also attend continuing education lectures to keep up to date with the latest advances in animal nutrition. In addition, your veterinarian understands your pet’s unique needs and any specific concerns you might have about pet foods. Anonymous strangers in online chat rooms or forums simply won’t have that knowledge or the same level of concern.
At our hospital we are making a renewed commitment to talk about diet when you come in for your pet’s yearly wellness exam. The right diet depends upon a lot of individual factors and can be different from pet to pet. Marketing can be very powerful but we are here to help you make an educated choice.
Myths About Our Pets’ Foods
Deciding which pet food is “best” for your dog or cat is often an exercise fraught with confusion and a fair amount of misinformation. Advocates can be found for “grain-free” diets, homemade foods or even natural, organic and “whole food” formulations. To make matters worse, a host of pet nutrition myths are rampant on the Internet. What’s the truth and what’s not when it comes to pet nutrition?
By: Dr. Paige Lorimer, Pet Kare Clinic
Asking someone about their preferences in pet foods can be as polarizing as if you asked about their political affiliation. Many pet owners have very strong opinions and beliefs when it comes to the type of food they choose for their four-legged companions and that is certainly their right. However, there are a few myths about pet foods or pet food ingredients that need some clarification.
First, a very common assertion in online discussions, and even in veterinary waiting rooms, is that corn is a bad ingredient and our pets cannot digest it. In fact, some people will outright refuse any pet food that contains any corn in the formulation. This myth comes about because of the human preference for eating whole kernel corn.
But, looking more closely at ingredient labels, pet owners will see that the “corn” present in many pet foods is actually corn meal or even corn gluten meal. These processed ingredients provide a very high quality carbohydrate source and, in the case of corn gluten meal, a very digestible and good source of amino acids. The amino acids found in corn protein complement many of the amino acids found in meat, thereby creating a food with all the essential amino acids a pet needs. An important fact to remember is that nutrients are the most important part of a pet’s diet, not the specific ingredients!
Despite the numerous myths circulating, corn is no more allergenic that any other protein source and actually has been shown to be less allergenic than beef, soy, wheat and dairy proteins.
The next myth has to do with an unfortunate naming convention. Almost everyone has seen pet food commercials showing paid actors pretending to be disgusted by the pet food ingredient called “meat by products”. Again, the confusion and misunderstandings happen because of what humans have decided to name particular parts of the meat producing animals. Skeletal muscle is the most common meat that ends up in our grocery stores and on our dinner plates. But, there is a lot of muscle and other protein rich organs that are not consumed by people. Since we don’t use these leftovers for human food, they are termed “by-products”.
In reality, by-products include highly digestible and nutritious organs, such as the liver and lungs and do NOT include things like hair, horns or hooves, as advertising gimmicks would have you believe.
More to the point, if pet food companies did NOT use these organs and other parts, a large portion of the animals we raise for food would go to waste, resulting in the need to raise MORE animals to feed our pets. As the American Animal Hospital Association has said, “Feeding by-products = green living”.
Finally, many people believe that veterinarians are not instructed in any sort of nutrition basics during their intense schooling. This is actually a big fallacy as almost all veterinarians will have at least a semester devoted to nutrition and many may have completed undergraduate nutrition courses before applying to veterinary school. Continuing education opportunities that discuss nutrition are also popular lectures for veterinarians and veterinary technicians.
What you feed your pet will be a decision you make based on a variety of factors. But, don’t fall victim to Internet fads promoted by individuals without scientific training or who will profit when you purchase their brand of food. It’s also important to review a variety of information sources before you reach any conclusion about how good, or bad, a particular ingredient might be.
Whether you choose to use a “grain-free” diet, an “organic” pet food or the cheapest food you can find, it’s important to discuss your pet’s nutrition with your veterinarian. We can help you understand what the pet food labels really mean and help you make a sound decision based on the needs of your pet.