A puppy eating from a bowl.

Selecting the perfect pet food for your beloved family member can be a little daunting, but it is an important choice. Making a good choice can contribute to overall pet health and lifespan. So where do you start? Animal Medical Center is here to help. 

Choosing a Pet Food

When trying to select the best pet food, it is important to know what you are looking for. Some things are non-negotiables:

  • Look for an AAFCO statement on the packaging that states which life stage the food is appropriate for (a broad range isn’t usually better) 
  • Check AAFCO statement’s nutritional adequacy statement to be sure the food is a complete diet versus intended for short-term, intermittent, or complementary feeding 
  • Check that your pet’s food has been developed by an individual with a PhD or advanced veterinary degree in animal nutrition
  • Beware of diets that are manufactured by a third party
  • Be sure that there is an accessible option for customer service to ask questions

The Pet Nutrition Alliance also maintains a database of some of this information on their Dare to Ask website, but it is also a great idea to contact the food manufacturer and ask. Find out what their quality control measures are and ask where they source their ingredients. A good company should be more than happy and able to answer your questions. 

It is tempting to overanalyze the ingredient lists on your pet’s food. Be aware, however, that labeling regulations make it easy to manipulate the overall impression of the list to fit marketing objectives. This may not truly reflect the diet as much as we would like. It is also difficult to compare foods this way as ingredient order and percentages of nutrients like protein aren’t always measured the same. 

A Note About Fad Diets

The pet food industry is not exempt from the pressures of marketing. Certain trends seem to pop up and not all of them are good, despite being attractive on the surface. Some popular fads in the industry include:

  • Boutique brands — Pet food can be profitable, and niche brands vying for the market are popping up all the time. Not all of them have your pet’s best interests at heart. In general, larger companies with resources and research behind their diets tend to be safer choices for most pets.
  • Grain-free and exotic ingredients — Deviating from traditional pet food ingredients has been a trend with some unintended consequences. Ingredients like lentils have become more popular since society has decided that pets shouldn’t eat grains. There is no scientific evidence that grain free is better for animals, and we do know that grains can contribute valuable nutrients to diets. With recent concerns about dilated cardiomyopathy and BEG diets, we generally recommend steering clear of grain-free options or off-the-beaten-path ingredients unless a true medical need is identified by a professional. 
  • Home cooked — While home cooking for your pet may seem wholesome and resourceful, it is unexpectedly difficult to get it right. An occasional meal is likely no big deal, but feeding a home-cooked diet long term may lead to nutritional imbalances. Long-term diets should always be formulated by a veterinary nutritionist to avoid problems.
  • Feeding raw — While there is definitely a following that strongly advocates raw diets, in most instances, they offer no benefit over cooked diets. Raw diets do carry some risks such as dental fractures and bacterial infections like Salmonellosis and E. coli. Uncooked meat can also transmit parasitic infections. 
  • Vegetarian — Wanting to impart our own values on our pets is a slippery slope. Vegetarian diets for pets exist, but they aren’t always the best choice. Cats are obligate carnivores and require meat to stay healthy. Dogs can thrive on a carefully designed vegetarian diet, but it is important that the diet be formulated by a specialist in animal nutrition. 

Choosing the Best Diet for Pet Health

When it comes to pet food, the real answer is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to what the best diet is. Every individual pet has individual needs, and it is important to take your animal’s unique needs into consideration when making a choice. Think about your pet’s:

You should also consider your family’s needs. What does your budget for pet food look like? Where do you prefer to purchase (at the grocery store, online, at a boutique pet store)? Are there allergies or other medical needs in your home to consider?

Make sure that your selection checks all the boxes!

Nutrition is important, and making a wise selection can help your pet thrive and live a healthier, longer life. You are not in this alone, though. Contact us—we are happy to help you navigate pet nutrition as part of your pet’s wellness care.