Pet Talk: Choosing the right food for your furry friend

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Many pet owners are becoming more conscious of the quality of food they are feeding their pets, but it is often difficult to determine what constitutes a healthy and nutritious meal. A dog or cat’s nutritional requirements vary based on age and health, which may leave some pet owners questioning how to provide the right kind of food. Dr. Sarah Griffin, lecturer at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, provided some insight.

“The ingredient list on pet food does not provide information on the quality of the ingredients or the nutritional adequacy of the overall diet,” she explained. “However, the ingredients are listed on the label in descending order of weight. Ingredients with higher water content are listed higher on the list. Because water is included in the weight of the ingredients, ingredients with higher water content will be higher on the list than similar amounts of dry ingredients, even though the ingredient listed higher may actually contribute fewer nutrients to the overall diet. For example, if chicken is approximately 70 percent moisture and chicken meal is 10 percent moisture in a can of food, chicken will be listed higher on the ingredient list than chicken meal, even if both are providing the same amount of actual chicken.”

Although chicken may look more appealing on an ingredient list than chicken meal, both can provide an adequate amount of chicken for your pet. Chicken meal is the dry rendered product from a combination of clean chicken flesh and skin with or without bone. Contrary to popular belief, chicken meal does not include feathers, heads, feet, or entrails.

In addition, Griffin said the ingredient list may be used to make the product appealing to pet owners. “Some pet foods include ingredients such as artichokes, blueberries, or lentils on their ingredients list to appeal to pet owners, but the ingredients are often in such small amounts that they have little or no nutritional benefits.”

The ingredient list can be confusing, but the most important aspect for pet owners to look for is the nutritional adequacy statement. This statement, supported by The Association of American Feed Control Officials, will determine if the product is “complete and balanced.”

Pet owners should also consider important characteristics of their dog and cat when selecting a pet food, including their pet’s age, health, and activity level. Griffin recommended consulting your veterinarian to determine your pet’s nutritional needs. “Veterinarians should make nutritional recommendations according to the patient’s age, activity level, lifestyle, body weight, medical history, underlying morbidities, and current medications,” she said. “In general, puppies and kittens need higher protein and fat than older dogs and cats. If you have questions about your pet food, bring the label to your veterinarian, so they can help you determine what is best for your pet.”

Pet owners often face another common problem: deciding whether canned or dry food is best for their pet. Griffin explained. “In general, canned foods are higher in water than dry foods, but dry foods are higher in carbohydrates than canned foods. I recommend introducing both dry and canned food to puppies and kittens early in life because it will help the animal be more accepting of change if they ever require a specific diet later in life.”

Choosing the right kind of pet food is important for your pet’s health and quality of life. The Pet Nutrition Alliance has developed a website with resources for veterinarians and pet owners, including a nutritional calculator, frequently asked questions, and how to understand pet food labels. This website can be found here.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.

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