By Carol Falck, DVM
Where do you purchase your pet food? If you are like the majority of people, you probably buy pet food at the grocery store or pet store.
Is there really any difference between brands? Which is the best food?
We will break pet foods down into the following broad categories:
- Over the counter Diets (most grocery store brands)
- Premium Diets (some pet store brands, some veterinary hospital brands)
- Home Cooked Diets (made by you)
- Raw Food Diets (Specialty pet food stores)
Over the Counter Pet Food Diets
As a general rule, higher-quality pet foods cost more. Over-the-counter diets (e.g. generic brands, grocery store brands) contain a lot of cereal, which has low nutrient value contributing to more stool. The protein can be of poor quality, possibly containing beaks, feet, and feathers. Synthetic preservatives like BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin are frequently used as well as artificial coloring and flavoring.
Premium Pet Food Diets
E.g Prescription Veterinary Diets. Some pet store brands tend to use higher quality ingredients so pets eat less food, absorb more nutrients and create less stool. Some, especially newer brands, have organic ingredients, which contain no synthetic pesticides or herbicides and help conserve environmental resources.
If you are currently feeding an over-the-counter brand, changing to a premium diet can make a big difference in your pet’s overall appearance and energy level. Look for increased brightness of the eyes, increased energy level, improved coat quality, and lower stool volume.
The easiest way to determine the quality of pet food is to ignore the packaging and read the ingredient label. Look for high-quality sources of protein, e.g. whole chicken or lamb versus by-products. Look for limited amounts of carbohydrates, especially in cat food. Look for organic ingredients. Look for preservatives (e.g. Vitamins C, E).
Home Cooked Pet Food Diets
Home-cooked diets are an ideal way to meet your pet’s specific nutritional needs with quality, fresh ingredients. Follow a recipe that includes the right proportions of protein, carbohydrate, and fat as well as vitamins and minerals. Usually, multivitamin supplements are recommended. Ask your veterinarian to provide a recipe or find a good book.
Raw Pet Food Diets
Raw food diets are a great way to keep your pet’s digestive system working the way nature intended. An optimized raw food pet diet can provide all of the nutritional building blocks to keep your pet healthy. When feeding a raw food diet it’s important to feed a mix of organs, flesh, and bones. Raw food diets need to be honed in to provide a complete and balanced meal every time.
As you can see there are many hidden differences in pet food diets. Choosing the diet that’s right for YOUR pet will depend on your preference, budget, availability, and time for preparation. If you are low on funds but high on time, a homecooked pet diet might be right for you. The important thing is to choose a pet diet that is as high of quality that your lifestyle can provide.
Whenever you change your pets’ diet, you should do it GRADUALLY, over at least a week. Doing so will help minimize intestinal upset, including vomiting and diarrhea. In addition, you should discuss any potential diet alterations with your veterinarian health care team. They can help you formulate a nutritional plan for your pet taking into consideration any medical issues. Holistic veterinarians can be a useful resource for providing information about natural and organic diets. See the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association website (www.AHVMA.org) to locate a holistic veterinarian in your area.