As a practicing veterinarian here in the area and a radio show host for Nine Lives with Dr. Kat and Dr. Kat Gone to the Dogs (on PetLife Radio), I get a lot of questions about how to best care for pets.  I have compiled these and each issue, I will try to share my answers here.

How Do I Pick the Best Pet Food?

Nutrition is one of the most important things to the health, happiness, and longevity of your pet.  The old adage “You are what you eat” applies to your pet too. I cannot overstate the impact of proper nutrition at all stages of life both in health and sickness. There are many diseases that can be improved with a prescription diet. Your own veterinarian is the best resource for questions about your pet’s nutrition.

An important thing that you can do when choosing a pet food is read the label.  Any product that is not labeled “complete and balanced” for your pet’s life stage should surely be avoided. You should be aware, however, that labels can be misleading and should not be taken at face value in every case.

Label is NOT the only thing that you need to do to be sure you are choosing a good diet for your friend.

Buzzwords like “holistic” or “natural” actually mean very little and are designed to market pet food. These words are not regulated and can be applied at the discretion of the manufacturer. In my opinion, the best pet food manufacturers spend their budgets on scientific development and not on flashy advertising.

The ingredients of commercial pet foods are regulated to basic standards, but you want more for your pet.  You want to be sure that your choice is not just the bare minimum required to meet the guidelines and nothing more. You want to be sure that you are not being drawn in by impressive advertisements instead of true quality.  How can you tell?

Choose a brand that had a phone number to the manufacturer included on the packaging.  Contact them or have your veterinary team call them. Excellent questions might include:

  • Who formulates your diet? A veterinary nutritionist should formulate pet foods. Big names celebrities are paid spokespeople. They are not pet food experts and have no formal training in animal nutrition.
  • Do you have a veterinary nutritionist on staff who can answer questions? There are veterinarians who complete additional training and board certification in animal nutrition. They are the true experts. If a company does not employ a veterinary nutritionist, it is not the food for your pet.
  • Where is your diet manufactured? Pet foods made in the US with US ingredients are preferable. Facilities should be open to public tours.
  • How do you ensure quality, purity, and compliance with AAFCO requirements? AAFCO is the American Association of Feed Control Officials and there are 2 ways manufacturers can meet their requirements- nutrient analysis and feeding trial.  Feeding trial testing is more expensive and time consuming for manufacturers, but is much better for knowing if a diet is truly high quality for live pets because it follows pets fed the diet over time to make sure that they flourish while eating the diet formulation.
  • What is the calorie content of a cup of your diet? To maintain your pet’s healthiest body condition, you will need to get a calorie guideline from your vet. You will need to know how many calories are present in your pet’s food to best comply.
  • Has your product been researched? Are the findings published? Research and publication are also time consuming and costly. Only manufacturers who want the best quality are willing to invest in the research and only the most valuable findings are published.

Being a knowledgeable consumer helps insure that you are getting what you think you are paying for. Do not be misled by attractive packaging and catchy commercials. Choose a pet food that puts your pet’s health first and is willing to prove it and be sure that you get your own veterinary team’s input because they know you and your pet.