Those of us who share our home with animals know all too well the impact they have on our lives. We consider them family and want to give them everything they need to be happy – but how much thought are we giving to the food they call dinner?
First-time pet guardians may find the question of which food to choose especially challenging. After all, trying to balance the opinions of fellow pet parents, online animal “experts,” and veterinarians can be tricky when you don’t have experience to fall back on. Fortunately, once you learn a few key tenets of purchasing high quality pet food, you’ll be checking out with confidence in no time.
The first important rule to follow when purchasing food for your pet is to be wary of purchasing pet food from the grocery store. Although often more cost effective, you tend to get what you pay for, meaning unhealthy additives, filler ingredients and unnatural colours. This is fairly consistent across the board, so it’s a pretty easy rule to follow.
While ruling out additives and harmful ingredients is an important step, it is also crucial to have some basic knowledge about the different nutritional needs of dogs and cats.
Much like their wild cousins, cats are obligate carnivores who rely on a high protein diet (70+% meat-based) to stay healthy. This means that when looking at a potential food to feed your feline, you should always be checking that meat is the first ingredient, which represents the largest quantity.
Great dry food examples are:
- Feline Natural Freeze Dried Chicken and Lamb (first ingredients are chicken and lamb)
- Holistic Blend The Perfect Blend Cat Food (first ingredient is chicken meal).
When it comes to wet food, some cats have a preference for chicken, fish or another type of meat, while some are indiscriminate. Again, it’s important to look for meat content up front in the ingredient list—try:
Unlike cats, dogs are not obligate carnivores and can maintain a healthy omnivorous or even vegetarian diet. When buying food for your dog, it’s again important to look at the first few ingredients. For example, Grandma Lucy’s Artisan Pork Recipe Freeze-Dried Grain-Free Dog Food lists USDA pork as the first ingredient, whereas lower quality dog food often lists filler ingredients first, such as corn or soy.
Dog parents should also pay attention to the size of kibble, as larger kibble takes more time to chew and may prevent your dog from inhaling their food too quickly, while also cleaning the plaque off of their teeth.
Dry vs. Wet Food
While most pets prefer wet food over dry, certain factors such as body weight or stomach sensitivity should be considered before spooning over the good stuff. Overweight pets should be given low-calorie wet food as a rare treat only and all cats or dogs should be monitored for stomach upset to make sure that the wet food is compatible with their system.
Unless advised otherwise by your veterinarian, wet food should never be the sole type of food provided, as dry kibble is necessary for dental health. As in dry food, pet guardians should always read the ingredient list for whole foods, such as those which can be found in Rollover Semi-Moist Dog Food Roll Lamb & Veggie Dinner or K9 Natural Chicken Feast.
Pets with Allergies
If your pet has itchy skin or regular gastrointestinal issues, it’s possible that they have a food allergy. The food they are allergic or sensitive to can be determined by process of elimination; however, one initial step recommended for pet owners is to try a novel protein. For example, if your dog or cat has always eaten chicken or fish-based foods, you could try a new protein such as K9 Natural Venison Feast or Lick Your Chops Lamb & Brown Rice Dinner Dog Food.
Another common group of ingredients that some pet guardians avoid are grains such as rice, corn or wheat. Veterinarians will generally not recommend grain-free options for any pet that walks into their clinic; however, a grain-free diet may be recommended for symptoms such as gastrointestinal upset in dogs or cats. Regardless of whether grains are the culprit for your pet’s adverse reaction, grain-free diets cut out the filler foods discussed earlier and may contain higher quality ingredients. Some great grain-free options include Holistic Blend My Healthy Pet Grain Free Dog Food or Castor & Pollux Organix Grain Free Organic Turkey Pate Cat Food, among others.
A Note About the Raw Diet
Those who frequent dog parks will undoubtedly come across raw food enthusiasts who swear by feeding their dog (or cat) a raw food diet. These guardians claim that raw food is healthier and more in line with what their pet would eat in the wild. However, adopting a raw food for your pet is not a decision to be taken lightly, as the bacteria present in uncooked meat has been known to breed illness. Before you heed the advice of your fellow pet owners too strongly, be sure to do your research.
When it comes down to it, picking the right pet food for your dog or cat can take some trial and error, but if you pay attention to the ingredients and take your pet’s lead, choosing food will become easier over time. Remember, pets get bored of their food just like people, so switching it up every once in a while may be necessary to keep your pet healthy and happy. Good luck and happy shopping!
Tess Morgan is a writer and nonprofit professional with a passion for animals. She currently works at a large animal welfare charity and has experience with pets in veterinary practices as well. Tess lives in Vancouver with her husband, a cat named Kitty and a chihuahua miniature pinscher mix named Lily.