Some topics you simply do not discuss in mixed company—politics, religion, and your pet’s food. Jokes aside, the multi-billion dollar pet food industry’s products have become a contentious and polarizing topic for many owners. With so many options—and opinions—you likely wonder which food is best for your pet.

Choosing the right pet food is about more than satisfying your pet’s appetite. Proper nutrition can make or break your pet’s health. Read our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of La Marque team’s tips to learn how to navigate the sea of pet food options.   

#1: Talk to your veterinarian

Choosing the best foods for your pet is easy when you ask an expert. Your veterinarian will steer you past pet food producers’ attractive packaging and promising advertisements to find a food that matches your pet’s unique needs. In addition to understanding pet nutrition, our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of La Marque veterinarians understand your pet’s health status, body condition, age, caloric needs, and breed-related health risks. Your pet’s food heavily influences these health factors, and feeding them a veterinary-recommended diet is one of the most powerful preventive care decisions you can make for your animal friend’s long-term health.

#2: Learn to understand pet food labels

Pet food commercials have successfully taught owners to look for meat as the number-one ingredient, but your label reading should go further. To help you determine a package contents’ quality, a pet food label presents key information. Additional pet food label features should include:

  • Nutritional adequacy statement — The Association for American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) feeding statement can only appear on packaging that contains pet foods meeting strict nutrition requirements. These standards (i.e., nutrient profiles) are established to ensure the food contains a specified minimum amount of the nutrients (e.g., protein, fat, fiber, water) deemed necessary for pet health. Keep in mind that  AAFCO does not test, regulate, or certify pet foods—the group is an independent organization created to standardize pet food terminology and nutrition.
  • Complete and balanced — When the AAFCO feeding statement notes that the package’s contents are complete and balanced, you can trust that the food provides your pet full nutritional support. Complete and balanced foods contain the appropriate proportion of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to sustain your pet’s health at a specified life stage (e.g., adult maintenance or growth, and reproduction). Alternatively, products labeled with the phrase, “intermittent or supplemental feeding only,” do not meet AAFCO standards.
  • Recognizable ingredients — Look for a pet food with a label that includes recognizable ingredients, including proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fiber sources such as fruits and vegetables. Avoid feeding your pet a food with a label that includes a long ingredient list containing unrecognizable terms. These foods are generally filled with synthetic nutrients, chemical compounds, and artificial preservatives.

#3: Select the right food formulation for your pet

When choosing the healthiest food for your pet, formulation is an important factor. In addition to dry kibble and canned foods, options include dehydrated, freeze-dried, fresh, and frozen pet food preparations. The difference between these options is based on processing (i.e., the number of times a food is exposed to heat), which can affect nutrient availability. Fresh foods generally contain more bioavailable nutrition. However, you must balance this with practical considerations such as:

  • Cost — Freeze-dried, dehydrated, and fresh foods are generally more expensive per pound than kibble formulations.
  • Convenience — Dry and canned pet foods tend to be more readily available, and do not require freezer storage, reconstitution, or heating. 
  • Portability — Fresh and frozen foods may be impractical if you frequently travel with your pet.
  • Ease — Dry and canned pet foods are typically easier and safer for infrequent caregivers (e.g., pet sitters, boarding staff) to prepare, measure, and feed. 

#4: Avoid pet food fad diets

The pet food industry is often influenced by humans’ fad diets, which is most evident in the rise of grain-free, ketogenic, home-cooked, and vegan pet foods. However, pet food producers should focus on nourishing pets in the way that nature intended—cats as carnivores (i.e., meat eaters), and dogs as evolutionary omnivores who consume meat and plants. 

Inappropriate or unbalanced pet foods often cause illness, including diet-associated dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and nutrient deficiencies. Small boutique or independent pet food brands may not have larger brands’ quality control and regulatory measures, making them more vulnerable to contamination. 

#5: Remember that your pet is an individual

Your pet is unique, and so are their nutritional needs. A food that works wonders for your friend’s dog or cat may be entirely inappropriate for your pet. Continue feeding your pet the same food if they are doing well, maintaining a healthy appetite, skin, coat, energy, and digestive function.

If you decide to introduce a new food to your pet, talk with your veterinarian before changing your furry pal’s diet. In addition to providing personalized guidance, your veterinarian will determine your pet’s daily calorie requirements and tell you the right amount to provide. In addition, your veterinarian will explain how to transition your pet gradually to the new food while preventing refusal or intestinal upset.

Choosing the best food to feed your pet is one of the most important decisions you can make for their lifelong health. However, pet food industry marketers can lead you astray, no matter how well-intentioned you are. To determine which food is best for your pet, consult your Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of La Marque veterinarian. Our team uses well-established nutritional science to determine which food will meet your pet’s individual needs. When it comes to your pet’s nutritional needs, follow the science, not the popular myth.