The Truth About Pet Food

How do I choose food that is right for my pet?

Choosing the best pet food for your dog or cat can be very confusing. With hundreds of options available, how do you decide? One of the biggest criteria consumers use for judging a food is how the bag looks! Although this seems silly, if you don’t know what the pet food label means, how else are you supposed to make your choice?

We’ll Help Get You Educated

The goal of this article is to help you make an informed choice when choosing a pet food. Not one brand is right for all animals. In general, you are likely feeding the proper diet to your dog or cat if your pet is:

  • Lean and well-muscled
  • Has good skin and coat quality
  • Does not have recurrent vomiting or diarrhea

For more information on how to select the right food, read on.

Protein is Important

If a pet’s protein needs aren’t met, they can’t maintain lean muscle, and tend to be overweight. Sometimes overweight pets are not being fed too many calories, but rather the source of their calories is coming more from carbohydrates then protein. If all we ate was bread and pasta, likely we would be overweight, even on a calorie controlled diet. Dogs need 1 gram of protein per pound of IDEAL BODY WEIGHT every day, and cats need 2 grams of protein per pound of IDEAL BODY WEIGHT per day. Cats are strict carnivores whereas dogs are omnivores, like us, and don’t require as much protein in their diet. As an example, a 30lb dog at ideal body weight needs 30grams of protein each day, and a 9lb cat at ideal body weight needs 18grams of protein each day. Remember, a pet that is overweight needs
their protein calculated for their ideal body weight. A dog that is 38lbs, but should be 30lbs, needs 30 grams of protein each day. Your veterinarian can help you determine what an ideal body weight is for your pet.

How important is the protein or carbohydrate source?

Most pets do well with common protein sources, like chicken, beef or lamb. For pets that have food allergies, a unique protein source, like fish, rabbit, or bison may be beneficial. Pets can also have allergies to the carbohydrate source in pet foods. Despite popular belief however, grains and corn are not a very common food allergen. For most pets, it doesn’t matter if the carbohydrate source is potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, or rice.

All pet foods need a carbohydrate to make the kibble or the canned food. More carbohydrates are required to make dry food, however. Because of this, most veterinary nutritionists recommend canned food exclusively for cats, since they are strict carnivores.

Calories are Important

Many people over feed their pets. Sometimes their pet begs for food and treats or sometimes we look at the bowl and think “that’s such a small amount to feed”! Just like it is easy for us to overeat, it is easy for us to over feed our pets. A rough calculation of how many calories a cat or dog needs in a day is (30 x kg of ideal body weight) + 70. This formula is very dependent on how active your pet is. Strictly indoor house cats that move from the couch to the chair as their main activity for the day need less calories then this! Dogs that run 10 miles every day with their owner need more. Please talk to your veterinarian before deciding how many calories your pet needs each day.

Also, it is important to know that the majority of a pet’s calories everyday should come from a well-balanced pet food. If half of your pet’s calorie intake for the day is from treats that do not have added vitamins and minerals added to them, then your pet will be deprived of these important nutrients. Please do not feed more than 10% of your pet’s diet as treats each day.

How to read the Guaranteed Analysis on the pet food bag

The side of the bag will always have a list of ingredients and a guaranteed analysis. The guaranteed analysis is the minimum or maximum quantity of a certain ingredient type, such as protein, or fat. The percentages on the guaranteed analysis, however, cannot be taken at face value, which makes it very difficult to compare foods when at the pet store. The amount of a certain ingredient type can only fairly be compared to other foods when converted to grams per 100kcal, which is based on the number of kcal (or calories as most people call them) per cup. Confused? It is confusing! And this information is not generally listed on the side of the bag. You need to call the company to get this information. Not many people know or want to do that.

Below is a comparison of 3 dog foods. The goal of the chart is to show that the crude protein percentage from the guaranteed analysis does not always correlate with how many grams of protein per 100kcal- the most important information. In fact, the food with the highest % crude protein did not have the highest grams of protein per 100kcal. The chart also shows that not all pet foods will have enough protein in them if you feed the correct number of calories each day.

Dog Food for a 30lb dog of ideal weight requiring 479kcal and 30 grams of protein per day Iams Proactive Health Adult Chunks Science Diet Health Advantage Canine Adult Nutro Natural Choice Adult Lamb Meal and Rice Formula
% Crude Protein from Guaranteed Analysis (Listed on the food bag) 25% 23.6% 22%
Grams of protein per 100kcal (Call the company for this info) 6.29 grams protein 7.15 grams protein 6.17 grams protein
Kcal per cup (Sometimes on the bag) 367 kcal 270 kcal 287 kcal
Cups of food needed per day 1.31 cups 1.77 cups 1.66 cups
Amount of protein if fed the correct number of calories per day 33.34 grams protein 34.24 grams protein 28.88 grams protein

What is AAFCO?

There is not much regulation on pet foods or pet food manufacturers. AAFCO gives consumers one way to judge if a pet food company is attempting to manufacture a wellbalanced food. AAFCO stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Membership in this governmental organization is voluntary. In general, pet foods companies that go the extra step to have an AAFCO statement on the side of their pet food, are more conscientious companies. There are several AAFCO statements that a
company can put on their bag, and they sound very similar, but are actually very different. Below are 2 examples.

Statement One: This pet food “is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for Maintenance.

This means that a laboratory analysis of the finished product is compared to minimum nutritional values established by AAFCO.

Statement Two: “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [this pet food] provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dogs.

This means that the food has undergone a feeding trial. Feeding trials are expensive and time consuming; therefore, many companies do not have this statement on their label. A Feeding Trial is considered the preferred method of evaluating food by veterinary nutritionists. It requires that the pet eat only the diet being tested for 6 months and then the pet’s performance is documented during that time. If the pet has large weight gains or losses, develops disease, or has changes to certain blood parameters, the food will not pass the trial.

More Confusing Information

Some words just have bad connotations with them, like by-product and filler. But what do they really mean? A by-product is something produced when making something else. For example, a by-product of soybean processing is vitamin E.

A Filler is an ingredient providing no nutritional purpose. Corn, for example, is NOT a filler- it contains protein and nutrients like Beta-carotene and lutein.

There are by-products that are not desirable, and there are fillers in foods, but in general, the statement “no by-products or fillers” is more of an advertising ploy than useful information.

Westgate Pet Clinic Recommendation

There are many wonderful pet food manufacturers that create quality products that are convenient to feed our cats and dogs. At Westgate Pet Clinic we know that it is helpful to give our clients a recommendation for food. We have decided to carry Science Diet Healthy Advantage dog and cat food as a maintenance diet in our clinic. We like this food because it has less calories per cup than many other foods, which means that your pet can have a larger volume in their bowl each feeding time (important to all of the Labradors and Golden Retrievers out there!). It is also higher in protein than some other over the counter foods, and supplemented with omega fatty acids which are beneficial as an anti-inflammatory. Talk to your veterinarian if you have additional questions about your pet’s food.

What's Next

  • 1

    Call us or schedule an appointment online.

  • 2

    Meet with a doctor for an initial exam.

  • 3

    Put a plan together for your pet.

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