Having a pet means making decisions to ensure the animal’s health and well-being. Although most pet parents carefully consider veterinarians as well as flea and tick medications, many do not give equal thought to the type of food they will feed their companion animals. Selecting a good-quality food can affect your pet’s vitality, coat appearance and many other factors.
Many households have at least one pet. The American Pet Products Association says that about 62 percent of American households have a pet. Because the average cost of basic food, supplies, medical care and training for a dog or cat is $600 to $900 annually, it is understandable that some pet owners may want to shave costs where possible. With a variety of food options available, some choose to purchase a lower-priced food. Though price is not necessarily indicative of quality, inexpensive foods — many of which are sold at supermarkets or big box stores — may not be high in quality.
When evaluating a pet food, it is important to look beyond price. As more pet owners treat dogs and cats as members of the family, pet food manufacturers are customizing foods to the different needs of companion animals. For example, there are specialty foods for senior pets and foods designed for those animals with sensitive skin or stomachs. There are foods that are geared to growing puppies and also those for puppies who prefer organic ingredients.
When selecting a food, there are some important decisions to make. First, note that the ingredients listed on dog or cat food labels must be listed in order of predominance by weight. The listing requirements are overseen by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Although pet food manufacturers are not required by law to follow AAFCO standards because the association is not a government organization, most do. AAFCO is an independent corporation whose stated purpose is to aid industry and government representatives in setting standards for and supervising the animal feed industry. Here are some other pointers.
* Meat should be the first ingredient. Meat broth or water should be the second ingredient. Meat meal is acceptable, as it just means the meat has been dehydrated. Top-quality pet foods on the market use USDA sources (human grade) for their meat sources. A grain or filler should not be the primary ingredient of a pet food because dogs and cats were not evolved to eat grains as their primary sustenance.* Meats should be listed by name, such as chicken, lamb or beef. Avoid products that use generic “meat” or “meat-byproducts” as the primary meat source.
* Look for products that name the grain source. Brown rice is an easily digestible grain that is commonly found in quality pet foods, as are other whole grains. Avoid corn starch or wheat gluten.
* Avoid foods with artificial colors or preservatives. Preservatives include BHA/BHT or Ethoxyquin.
* Dry foods will always have a fat source. Ensure it is a named source and not just “animal fat.”
* Select foods with essential fatty acids, which are necessary for the proper formation of hormones and cell membranes and improve the function of the skin and coat.* Any grains that appear in the food should be whole grains. Dogs and cats do not need to eat grains to be healthy, and some inexpensive dog foods use grains as cheap fillers.
* When changing foods, be sure to do so gradually. Add a small amount of the new food to the old food and slowly increase the amount as you go. Do so over several days to even a month to avoid digestive issues.
* Try to vary the foods given to a pet from time to time. Eating the same thing day in and day out may result in food allergies.
* As animals age, you may want to mix in a little canned food with a dry food source for extra nutrition and ease on aging teeth and digestive systems.
With so many different types of pet foods on the market, it is possible to find one of quality that also is budget-friendly. There also are recipes for making your own homemade pet food if you prefer to have more control over your pet’s diet.