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
• Raw 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 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 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 pets 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 a 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 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.
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.