A well-balanced, complete diet is essential throughout your dog or cat’s life. But beyond that, considering the wide range of choices available, how do you decide which pet food is best for your pet? You ask us—because we’re here to help!
Pet nutrition 101
Dogs and cats each have specific nutritional needs that can change over time. This depends on life stage and whether a pet has a disease or medical condition that requires, or can be improved, by a specialized diet.
As a pet owner, you want to ensure that your pet gets a nutritionally complete and balanced diet, which means that it contains the proper amount of essential nutrients in the correct ratios. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine which pet foods are safe and meet your pet’s nutritional needs.
When comparing pet foods, you want to avoid focusing on the ingredients (unless your pet has a true food allergy). Instead pay attention to the nutrients that the food provides, as well as the quality and digestibility of the food.
All dogs and cats require the following basic nutrients as part of their diet:
These nutrient categories can be further broken down into the essential nutrients. These include:
- Essential amino acids, the building blocks of proteins
- Essential fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, both key omega-3 fatty acids)
- Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K and choline
- Minerals such as calcium, copper, potassium, magnesium, and sodium
A poor diet can result in problems such as obesity, arthritis, heart disease, and more.
The special nutritional needs of cats
Both dogs and cats have specific nutritional needs, but cats’ needs are more specific. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they need to consume meat to survive. They also can’t make certain essential nutrients well. Their regular food must provide an amino acid called taurine, as well as many other essential nutrients.
Pet food labels
So how can you tell if a food is appropriate for your pet? You might be surprised to learn that pet food labels aren’t the answer. They don’t provide information about quality, and even a nutrition specialist can’t tell by looking at the label whether a food will be digestible for your pet. However, if the label says the food is “complete and balanced,” it should provide all the essential nutrients in the right amounts for a specific species (dog or cat).
The pet food label will list the life stage that the food is intended for, so be sure to select a food that fits your pet. Puppy diets will also state if they have been formulated for large breeds – an important declaration as these will contain a different balance of nutrients to promote optimal growth and reduced joint disease in large breed puppies.
Some pet foods include ingredients that may appeal to pet owners but don’t provide any significant nutritional value.
What role could pet food play in heart disease?
Veterinary cardiologists across North America have noticed a connection between dogs and cats eating a grain-free or non-traditional diet and developing DCM. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working with veterinary nutritionists and veterinary cardiologists to determine the cause of this problem, so it is likely best to avoid these diets until the cause is determined.
Your pet’s nutritional needs will change throughout their life, not only because of advancing age but also level of activity, lifestyle, and health. Pet foods are generally tailored towards the following life stages:
- Gestation and lactation (reproduction)
- Growth (puppy/kitten)
- Adult maintenance
- All life stages
If the food is labeled for all life stages or growth, it should also indicate whether the food is appropriate for dogs expected to reach at least 70 pounds (32 kilograms) as adults. All life-stage diets tend to be calorie dense so may not be beneficial for dogs that tend to be overweight.
Note that there are no nutritional standards for senior pet diets, although manufacturers often sell commercial diets marketed for aging pets. Your veterinarian can help you decide if your older dog or cat may benefit from a change in diet.
Nutritional needs vary over time and from pet to pet. Your veterinarian will evaluate your individual dog or cat before recommending a specific food.
For pets with certain health conditions, we may prescribe a therapeutic diet. These special diets are designed (and have been scientifically demonstrated) to support and maintain the health of pets with specific health problems. For example, pets with chronic kidney disease, heart disease, skin issues, or food allergies can all benefit from tailored nutrition. For pets that need to watch their weight or slim down some, we can recommend a weight loss diet.
Personalized nutritional counseling
We know how important it is to feed your pet the right diet for his or her individual needs. Unlike a pet store, we make personalized dietary recommendations for each of our patients, based on history, physical findings, health, your pet’s needs, and your preferences.
Call us today to set up an appointment so we can recommend the best food for your pet!