Pet Food Primer
There's a vast variety of dog and cat foods on the market, and with every brand claiming to be the
best for your pet, choosing the right one can be confusing. Here are some basic things to look for
when picking a diet for your dog or cat.
Read the ingredients. Ingredients are listed in descending order of weight. What are the first
ingredients? A top-quality food should have a named meat or meat meal as the first ingredient --
for example, "Lamb" or "Chicken meal." Meat by-products and by-product meal are not necessarily
bad -- they're parts of the prey that a wild canine or feline would naturally eat - but not a sign of a
high-quality diet, either.
Are there grains in the food, and if so, what kinds and how high up on the ingredient list? Dry pet
foods do require a source of starch to form kibble, but the amount and kind have a big impact on
the quality of the food. Manufacturers of "bargain" foods often use more grains, especially corn
and wheat, because they're less expensive than meat protein. Corn and wheat are generally less
digestible than rice, barley, or millet. Some foods are grain-free, and use starch sources such as
potatoes, sweet potatoes, or peas instead.
Remember, dogs and cats have evolved to thrive on a diet that includes meat proteins. Dogs are
at least somewhat omnivorous, and may even benefit from a certain amount of fruits and
vegetables, but like their wolf ancestors they're made to run on animal protein. Cats are obligate
carnivores; in nature they ingest very little plant material besides that in the stomachs of their prey.
Other things to look for in the ingredients list are supplements such as glucosamine and
chondroitin sulfate (which are added to promote healthy joints, and especially common in large
breed dog foods) and probiotics such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium cultures (which may aid
After you get past the major ingredients on the list, you'll start to see lots of big scientific-looking
words. Never fear; these are simply the chemical names of vitamin and mineral supplements added
to make the food nutritionally complete.
Look at the Guaranteed Analysis. This is the part of the label that lists the percentage of
nutrients like protein, fat, and moisture that the food contains. Cat foods should also list taurine,
an essential amino acid that cats' bodies cannot synthesize for themselves. Growing puppies and
kittens, or very active adult pets, may need higher protein and fat, while foods for senior or
overweight pets often have lower levels. (Be aware, however, that some pet food experts believe
that carbohydrates contribute more to pet obesity than protein and fat. Some weight loss formulas
actually contain higher protein than regular adult pet foods!)
Compare the feeding instructions. A good food, made with highly digestible, easily metabolized
ingredients, usually requires less to sustain a healthy pet than one crammed with cheap filler
ingredients. Because more is actually used by the pet, less passes through into the yard, the
pooper scooper, or the litter box, too.
Price is a very rough guide, at best. A very low-priced food is almost always inferior, but very
high prices don't always indicate the best foods. Some really excellent foods can be found in the
middle range -- great news for those who want to feed a quality diet on a budget.
Avoid marketing tricks. Words and phrases such as "All Natural," "Holistic," and "Human Grade
Ingredients" are often displayed prominently on pet food packaging and advertising, but their
meanings may be very broad or ambiguous. They tell you very little about the actual quality and
composition of the food; it could be fantastic or mediocre. Marketing strategies like these are
neither good nor bad; they're simply designed to catch your eye and trigger the warm fuzzy
feelings in your heart. The other side of the bag, with all the fine print, is where you'll find the
really useful information.
Know your pet! Dogs and cats are individuals, just like people. Age, size, activity levels, and food
allergies all need to be taken into account. A food may be good for many pets but not as good for
others. The pet's preference also needs to be considered -- even the most wonderfully nutritious
food in the world does no good if Fido won't eat it!
Ask your pet food dealer (That's us!) We can help you sift through the mountains of information
and find a food that fits your and your pet's needs.
Contact the manufacturer if you have any questions about their manufacturing processes,
ingredient sourcing, or other concerns.
Good pet nutrition ...
Fewer vet expenses
Improved skin and coat