Choosing the Right Pet Food

From the very first day you bring a new pet home through the rest of the days of its life, nutrition plays a critical role in your pet’s overall health and well-being. Many pet owners take nutrition for granted, partly because so many nutritionally complete commercial diets have taken much of the guesswork out of choosing a suitable diet for a pet. However, did you know your pet’s nutritional needs change with age, and activity level? Specially formulated diets can assist in managing various medical conditions, including kidney disease, diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. This guide will cover the basics of what every pet parent should know when selecting pet food for their beloved pet.

Consider Pet Foods for Your Pet’s Stage of Life

Like people, pets have different nutritional needs depending on their life stage. Pet foods are usually formulated for either of three stages of life:

  • Growth and Reproduction
  • Adult Maintenance
  • All Life Stages

Pet food for Growth and Reproduction is for growing young dogs or cats, usually less than a year old, and also for pregnant and nursing dogs. Adult maintenance means that pet food meets the nutritional needs of adult pets. Generally, “adult” means one year or older. A pet food labeled for all life stages meets the dietary requirements for adult, young and pregnant/nursing pets.

Pet Food Requirements for Senior Pets

As pets age and enter their senior years, their nutritional needs change, requiring specialized pet food to support their health and well-being. Senior pets often experience reduced metabolism, decreased muscle mass, and potential dental issues, making it crucial to provide them with a balanced diet that caters to their specific requirements. High-quality pet food for seniors typically contains easily digestible proteins to maintain muscle mass, while being lower in fat to manage weight and reduce strain on aging joints. Essential nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants are also included to support cognitive function and maintain a healthy immune system. Additionally, pet foods for seniors may incorporate dental-friendly ingredients to help manage dental concerns. At this stage in life for your pet, regular check-ups with a veterinarian are essential to monitor any changes in nutritional needs, ensuring they enjoy their golden years with vitality and happiness.

Check for Quality and Safety Certifications

When choosing your pet’s food look for a statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) on the label. AAFCO establishes guidelines for ingredient product labels, feeding trials, and laboratory analyses of the nutrients that go into pet foods. The AAFCO statement is generally found near the ingredient list and guaranteed analysis but may be elsewhere on the bag. An example of a statement from AAFCO may look something like this:

“Brand A dog food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for the maintenance of adult dogs.”

Read the Ingredients List

When choosing pet food, read the ingredients list to know what’s in the food you’re giving your pet. Pet foods should contain a good source of protein, carbohydrates, fatty acids and oils, vitamins, and minerals.  

Get Familiar with the Daily Feeding Recommendations

Pet food packaging gives daily feeding recommendations based on a pet’s weight. While this is only a guide, it can help ensure you give them the right daily portions without overfeeding or underfeeding your pet.  

Pet Foods for Pets with Allergies and Sensitivities

Common pet allergens include wheat, corn, soy, and particular proteins like chicken or beef. If your pet has a known allergy or sensitivity to any of these ingredients, choosing a pet food that is free from them is essential. Some pet food brands offer specialized formulas for pets with allergies or sensitivities. These formulas often use alternative protein sources, such as duck or rabbit, and avoid common allergens. You can also look for pet foods labeled as “hypoallergenic” or “limited ingredient” to ensure they do not contain any potential triggers for your pet’s allergies.

The Right Pet Food Can Help with Some Medical Conditions

Just as the wrong diet can lead to a medical condition in a pet, such as obesity or diabetes, the reverse is true – proper nutrition can help relieve some medical conditions. A diet formulated for a specific condition can help manage it in many cases, such as:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatitis
  • Bladder Stones
  • Heart Disease
  • Diarrhea

Nutritional Counseling at College Hills Veterinary Hospital

Obesity is a leading cause of health problems in our companions. Obesity creates added stress on the joints and inflammation in the body, and it can lead to multiple metabolic and endocrine diseases. To learn more, please read our blog, Obesity in Pets.

But whether your pet has special dietary needs or needs to shed (or gain) a few pounds, our nutritional counseling services can help you accomplish your goals and keep your pet healthy. We offer counseling in dietary selection and feeding practices for pets during various life stages, such as growth, pregnancy, nursing, and the “golden years.” If your pet has a medical condition, we can help you select the most appropriate diet to suit your pet’s needs.

Final Words

It can be easy for a pet owner to become overwhelmed by the available selection of pet foods, all of which claim to have specific benefits for pets. We can offer expert advice to help you negotiate the complicated array of choices. Please contact us and let our nutritional counseling service help you achieve and maintain optimal nutrition for your pet.

Dr. Kim Stewart
College Hills Veterinary Hospital

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