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What should I be feeding my pet?

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the number of pet foods available if you have ever walked through a pet food aisle in a retail store. There are so many options, and more brands than ever. The ultimate goal for pet food packaging is to persuade you, as the consumer, that the food is worth your money. Many of the phrases on pet food labels, such as “gourmet”, ‘holistic” or “human-grade”, aren’t controlled and are therefore not very meaningful. To make things more confusing, there is a persistent myth that you can tell the quality of food by looking at its ingredient list. For example, if it lists meat as the primary ingredient or one that doesn’t contain corn.
Our veterinarians focus more on the nutrients than the ingredients. In particular, meat meals and by-products often contain liver and other tissues which are more nutritious than skeletal muscles (meat). Corn can also be a good source of carbohydrates.

AAFCO Statement

AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials), statements are required on all pet food bags in the United States. You will find two types of statements on pet food bags: the AAFCO statement (American Association of Feed Control Officials) and the phrase formulated to meet. The first phrase signifies that the diet is able to provide the required energy and nutrients. The second indicates that it was fed to animals, and that it was nutritionally adequate. Sometimes diets that look great on paper may not have the right ingredients, and are therefore difficult to digest. For adequacy, it is best to use food that has been tested for quality.

Select a company that has a good reputation

A company that has a veterinary nutritionist working on staff and quality control measures that allow for the release of calorie- and nutrient information is considered to have a “good reputation”. Because the label does not have to list the calorie content, it can be difficult to find out. A majority of pet food labels only include a ‘Guaranteed analysis’. This lists the minimum or maximum amount of certain nutrients. It isn’t helpful to compare foods since it doesn’t account for water content. A good pet food business should be able to provide full online energy and nutritional analysis information. They will also give that information to customers who call. WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association), has a good guideline that you can use to find out more about your pet food company.

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Avoid eating foods with exotic ingredients, unless recommended by your veterinarian

Pet foods are increasingly being made with exotic or unusual ingredients, such as duck, venison, or even rabbit. Many pets are sensitive to certain proteins and many veterinarians have recommended that a novel protein’ diet be used as a treatment. These diets have one protein source and one carbohydrate source, such as potato or venison. They are ‘novel to most pets and the pet is therefore unlikely to be allergic. Many pet food companies now make over-the-counter foods with novel ingredients. These foods can claim to have ‘for skin and sensitive stomachs’ claims. Many of these foods are made with the same equipment used in other foods and can potentially cause allergic reactions. If your pet has ever been exposed to rabbit and venison and develops signs of allergy or sensitivity, your veterinarian will have limited options in recommending a suitable diet. There are many high quality diets available that contain lamb, chicken, egg, and chicken.

Pick a Food that’s appropriate for the stage of your pet’s life

Pet foods often list a life stage’ on their labels. This indicates that the food has been designed to be nutritionally sufficient for growing puppies and kittens (growth) and maintaining adult cats and dogs (maintenance). Some foods are labeled as being nutritionally sufficient and appropriate for all life stages. Puppies and kittens have different energy needs and nutritional requirements than adult cats and dogs. Therefore, foods that are appropriate for all life stages might contain more nutrients than needed. You should only purchase foods that are specifically designed for the pet’s age. Be aware that claims such as’senior’ or ‘larger breed’ don’t have to be regulated. Although these foods may have different nutrient profiles than others, it is worth calling the company to conduct a comprehensive nutrient analysis.