How to choose the best pet food


One glance down the pet food aisle at your local grocery store is enough to tell you that, when it comes to dog food and cat food, there is no shortage of options. Even if you go the homemade route, there is so much information online that it’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.

When it comes to giving your pet the best possible diet, your best resource is your Cahaba Valley Animal Clinic veterinarian! Here are our tips for choosing the best food for your pet.

1. Consider life stage
The first step in choosing a food for your dog or cat is to consider your pet’s life stage: puppy/kitten (up to 1 year old), adult (between 1 and 7 years old), senior (7 years or older), or nursing/pregnant.

Foods that claim to be “for all life stages” might not give your pet the nutrition they need, especially if you have a very young pet, or a pregnant female. Choose a diet made for your cat’s or dog’s current stage of life.

2. Choose a food type
You can choose a dry food (kibble), wet canned food, or a homemade diet.

Dry food and canned food are the most popular choices among American pet owners. Using a good quality dry or canned food is a good choice for your pets. Both have long shelf lives, and each has adequate nutrients (if the food is good quality). Dry food typically is cheaper than canned food, but both are fairly affordable.

Homemade diets are a good option if you don’t mind extra time and expense. However, you can’t just give your pets your dinner scraps. Homemade diets are hard to maintain because it’s difficult to ensure your pet is getting all the nutrients they need, such as calcium, copper, iodine, fat-soluble vitamins, and B vitamins.

Commercial foods have the advantage of testing and research to guarantee proper nutrition. If you want to prepare your pet’s food yourself, make an appointment at Cahaba Valley Animal Clinic. Our veterinarians will work with you to formulate a diet that is properly balanced, meets nutritional needs, and is suitable for your pet’s life stage, lifestyle, and health conditions.

Are Raw diets okay? While easy to feed, raw diets can be dangerous to your pet’s health. There are potentially harmful pathogens in raw meat, raw meat poses the risk of salmonella, raw bones have been associated with dental problems in dogs, and raw diets are often nutritionally imbalanced.

Be aware that the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) have all released statements discouraging the feeding of raw or undercooked animal-source protein to dogs and cats. The Delta Society’s Pet Partners Program has a policy preventing animals on raw meat-based diets from participating in the Therapy Animal Program.

3. Going store-bought? Choose the right formulation
With your pet’s life stage and the type of food you want to use in mind, you’re ready to choose a food! Call Cahaba Valley Animal Clinic at 205-980-0078 to make an appointment so one of our veterinarians can give you recommendations for brands, food types, and portion sizes. Just getting a best brand recommendation from one of our doctors can narrow your search significantly and get you on the path to the healthiest diet for your pet.

It’s not just new pets who need nutrition evaluations, either. Nutritional needs change with age, and with the development of certain issues such as dental disease, obesity, joint pain, heart disease, and more.

If you’re buying a bag of kibble from the pet store, the bag has all the information you need. Per current U.S. pet food regulations, pet food labels must list:

  • Product name
  • Net weight
  • Name and address of manufacturer
  • Guaranteed analysis
  • List of ingredients
  • The words “dog” or “cat” food
  • Statement of nutritional adequacy
  • Feeding guidelines
  • Calorie content of the diet expressed in both kcal/ME/kg and familiar household unit (e.g., cups or cans)

Ingredients listed in a product name tell you a lot about the percentage of that ingredient in the product. For example, using the term “beef” in a product name means beef must make up at least 70% of the total product. However, “beef dinner,” “beef entrée,” “beef platter,” etc., implies that beef is at least 25% of the total product. “With beef” indicates even less beef, 3% or more of the product, and “beef flavor” indicates the least amount of beef.

The ingredient list is important, but perhaps not in the way you think. Ingredients are listed in descending order of weight, but ingredient lists do not state quality or grade of ingredients. So, the food may list chicken first, but the chicken may be mostly moisture, and will contribute to a much smaller percentage of total nutrients than the dry matter (e.g., corn) does. A dry matter analysis comparison is useful. The ingredient list is most helpful to see where the protein and carbs are coming from in your pet’s food – helpful if, say, your pet has a food allergy.

When choosing a food, look for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on the bag to check if it was formulated (someone made the recipe with the requirements) to meet needs, or if it has been tested through feeding trials (the company made the recipe then tested it in a feeding trial, then monitored the animals over time to make sure there were no metabolic issues with the food). We recommend only those foods that have been proven through feeding trials and AAFCO standards.

Remember: Expensive food does not always equal good food.

Any time you have a question about your pet’s diet, don’t rely on questionable online sources. Our veterinarians are nutritional experts who can give you the facts! Call us at 205-980-0078!

Recent Posts