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Choosing A Good Pet Food
Selecting the right pet food is one of the most important things you can do to secure your dog or cat's long term health. It can reduce vet visits, reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases, and improve your pet's longevity. A good pet food will help your dog or cat maintain a healthy weight, shed less, and have an even energy level.
So how do you select the right dog or cat food?
A good starting point is to look at the ingredients. Many pet food manufacturers will print some of the ingredients on the front of the bag, but that's just window dressing and offers no indication of how much of each of those ingredients is in the bag. To really get the scoop turn the bag over or look on its side. There should be a complete list of ingredients. Those ingredients are required by AAFCO to be listed in order by weight. That means there is more of the first ingredient than there is of the second.
The first four or five ingredients usually make up the majority of what is in the food, so those are the ones you should be most interested in scrutinizing. In those first several ingredients you should look for things like named meats, named meat meals (What do I mean by "named?"), and fats. You want to see high quality meats because dogs and cats get better nutrition from meats than from plants. You should also look for a good fat source. Poultry fat and sunflower oil are two good sources.
Most commercial pet foods contain some amount of grain or other plant based ingredients. In order to make dry kibble you need to use some kind starch or carbohydrate to help the kibble keep the right shape and not crumble into powder. Plant based ingredients provide some nutritional value, but some dog foods use them excessivly as a low cost filler. It's a good idea to steer clear of corn, wheat and soy products in your dog and cat food because they are the biggest culprits for allergies, skin, and ear problems. Other grains like rice, barley, and oatmeal are safer for dogs to digest. If you want to cut grains out of your pet's diet all together you can try grain free or raw foods.
Q&A to Choose the Right Dog or Cat Food
- What should I look for in a dry dog or cat food?
The number one criterion for selecting dog and cat food is meat. Named meats and meals (ones that tell you the animal it came from like chicken, lamb, salmon, etc) are the best. High quality pet foods should have a named meat or named meat meal as the first ingredient. Ideally, multiple named meats and meals should be found within the first four to six ingredients of a dry kibble.
Dogs and cats are carnivorous by nature. Their digestive systems can only gain partial nutrition from plant matter. That means they will derive the highest level of nutrition from eating meat.
- Some pet foods have fruit and veggies listed as ingredients. Should I consider these even though meat is the top priority?
For cats, the meat content takes the cake when considering diet. Domestic dogs; however, have developed over thousands of years to be slightly omnivorous. This means they are more capable of digesting plant matter than cats. They can handle a limited amount of fruit and vegetables in their diets. Although fruits and veggies can be good for dogs, don’t let them take precedent over meat.
- What should I avoid in my cat or dog’s food?
Avoid meat by-products, unnamed meats, and excessive use of grains and corn in your pet’s diet. All of these provide little to no nutrition and act merely as inexpensive fillers.
Meat by-products are the parts of slaughtered animals other than muscle tissue. They can include feathers and beaks of birds, animal fur, and intestines freed of their contents. By-products can also contain ‘4D’ animals (that is, dead, dying, diseased, and down), road kill, euthanized cats, dogs and other pet animals (including their collars).
Fillers include things like “corn,” “wheat,” “soybeans,” “brewers rice,” and “peanut hulls,” among others. These are items your pet would not pursue for nourishment naturally because they provide none.
- I’m having a really hard time finding a food that meets the suggestions outlined above. Any recommendations?
Very few dog and cat foods meet the recommendations we offer, but there are enough out there to satisfy your pet’s needs. At Chaar we can help you to understand the pros and cons of different foods and select the right one. If you really want the absolute best for your companion, try a pre-made raw diet.
- What is a raw diet?
A balanced raw food diet is the best way to feed your dog or cat. It is important to feed more than just muscle tissue and fat (hamburger meat alone won’t cut it). A few pet food manufacturers have developed balanced raw diets that include all the vitamins and minerals to promote good health. These diets are held to rigorous standards for hygiene and safety and come pre-packaged in chubs, medallions, and patties for your convenience.
- Ok, I’m ready to try a new food but I’m worried because my dog/cat has been on the same food for a long time. How should I switch pet foods?
There is no perfect formula for switching foods because every dog and cat is different. We can offer some basic advice that you can tweak depending on your specific needs.
Take the switch slowly and gradually. If you have some of your old food left introduce the new food a little at a time, mixing it with the old food. Start off with 75% of the old stuff and 25% of the new. Does this for 2 to 3 days then move to 50/50 for another 2 days. After that go to 25% old and 75% new until you’re out of the old food. If you don’t have enough of the old food for this kind of switch, don’t worry. With the new food you can just feed smaller meals more often, i.e. feed 3 or 4 small meals throughout the day instead of a big one in for breakfast and a big one for dinner. That way your dog or cat doesn’t have to deal with a whole lot of something he isn’t used to at any one moment.
When you switch your dog or cat’s foods for the first time he might have a loose stool for a few days or even a week or two. Just imagine if you only ate cheeseburgers at every meal for a year then suddenly changed to broiled salmon. Your body would have to adapt to the new meal and it might take a couple days. Your pet is no different, and although it may never eat as diverse a diet as you or I, variety is important. It keeps your pet’s immune system strong; allows the digestive system to work to its fullest; provides a more diverse group of proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and essential acids; and keeps your dog/cat more interested in the next meal. Making the first switch is only the beginning. Learn about other pet foods and find a few to rotate into your pet’s diet. It will keep your dog or cat healthy and happy and keep you informed about other options and progresses made in the pet food world.
More Info: (Links to come soon!)
- What about breed & age specific foods?
- What food should I use for a dog with allergies or stomach sensitivities?
- What should I feed an overweight dog?
- What can I do to slow my dog's eating?
- What's better to feed my dog - dry kibble or wet canned foor?