Meet Dexter. He loves food, and I love feeding him. If Dexter ruled the world, he would eat everything (i.e. kibble, canned food, squirrels, bacon, etc.) except non-food items and kale. Dexter is not fond of kale.
Despite his enthusiastic appetite, Dexter cannot eat whatever he wants because his digestion simply will not allow it. Many things, including some types of pet food, give Dexter diarrhea. Pet food is complicated, and there is no perfect pet food. The very food that gave Dexter chronic soft stools and odiferous gas gave his German shepherd friend a beautiful coat and boundless energy. Every pet is an individual, just like every person is an individual.
There may be some trial and error involved in finding the right pet food for your little buddy. Below are some considerations in selecting a diet for your pet:
1. Get your advice from a good source.
The best source of information about nutrition is a licensed veterinarian. Other sources of information, such as the internet, a pet-store employee, etc., can be misleading, sometimes false and even dangerous.
A few examples of concerns that I see regularly in practice:
- Raw meat diets: There is no scientifically proven benefit for our pets from raw food. In contrast, there are known health risks to the pets that eat these diets, including bacterial infection (i.e. Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter), parasites and even gastrointestinal blockages from bone fragments. People are also at risk of contracting food-borne illness if they feed raw diets to their pets or simply interact with dogs that eat raw diets. Learn more about raw food diets here.
- Homemade diets: This can be a great option for the pet owner who likes to cook and has the time. It’s a great way to know exactly what your pet is eating and to feel good about providing wholesome nutrition to your pet. The primary concerns with homemade diets are nutritional deficiencies and imbalances. During a scientific study in 2013, the majority of homemade diets were not complete and balanced. It’s also important to know that not all ingredients are created equal and ingredient substitutions can worsen nutritional deficiencies.
- Grain-free: Whole grains provide nutritional value including vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and fiber. How do grain free diets substitute grains? Typically, grains are replaced with highly refined starches, such as potato and tapioca, that provide less fiber. Grain allergies are not believed to be any more frequent than protein allergies, which are considered uncommon.
The most important aspect of any diet is that it’s nutritionally complete and balanced (contains all the necessary nutrients in the right amounts). How can you tell if your pet’s food is nutritionally complete and balanced? The nutritional adequacy statement is just a few lines of text and can be found anywhere on the product labeling, though typically on the back or side panels. Look for something similar to the photo below.
This statement will outline a few important aspects about the particular food.
How was nutritional adequacy established?
- Animal feeding tests (i.e. actually feeding the food to live animals).
- Nutritional formulation (i.e. nutrients were calculated based on ingredients within the food).
What age or life-stage is appropriate for feeding this food?
- Growth (puppy or kitten)
- Reproduction (gestation and lactation)
- Adult maintenance
- All life-stages (i.e. meets the minimum nutritional requirements for any of the above life stages)
3. Eat to Live. Not Live to Eat.
Your pet’s nutritionally complete and balanced diet should make up the majority of daily calories. Treats should be provided in moderation to prevent weight gain and nutritional imbalances or deficiencies.
What exactly is moderation?
Treats should provide no more than 10% of the required daily calories. Let’s try an example. Generally speaking, a neutered male Labrador that weighs a healthy (not overweight) 70lbs should eat about 1330 calories per day. No more than 130 of those calories should be from treat sources. Some commercial dog treats can easily exceed this amount, so check the box or call the company if the caloric information is not provided on the box.
Want to give your dog treats, but there’s not a lot of room for excess calories? What if your pet has diet sensitivities and can’t tolerate other foods?
- Use some of your pet’s kibbles for treats.
- Slice small squares of your pet’s regular canned food and bake into treats.
- Add water to your pet’s food and blend into a dough consistency. Spread the dough, cut out into shapes and bake into pet cookies.
Click here to read 6 Things You Should Know About Pet Nutrition Part II! If you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s nutrition, contact your family veterinarian!