Have you ever entered a store to buy a bag of pet food and become overwhelmed with all of the different choices on the shelves? The labels on the bags make many claims about how the food will help your pet, but how do you know which food is the best? Because of the complexity in the pet food industry, it is important to know how to choose the best diet to keep your pet healthy.
Your veterinarian should be your first source of information when it comes to selecting the proper food for your pet. Veterinarians take specific courses in animal nutrition during their years of study, and they attend numerous continuing education courses. They have the knowledge to help you select the best diet based on your pet’s unique requirements.
First, consider the age of your pet. Foods that are labeled “for all life stages” do not take into account the unique needs of a growing and developing puppy or kitten versus an older pet. Puppies need many more calories per day than an older dog and increased levels of omega fatty acids for healthy brain development. Also, if your puppy will be over 50 pounds when fully grown, be sure to feed a large-breed puppy to ensure proper mineral content to support healthy growth. Senior pets, those older than 7 in most breeds, require food with lower calories, lower protein levels and higher fiber. In addition, some senior diets include additional omega fatty acids to help with joint health, improve mobility and support all major organ systems, including brain health.
Next, it is important that the food meets regulations provided by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which ensures nutritional standards are met for complete and balanced pet foods. There are many “boutique” brands of foods or smaller manufacturers who formulate a diet solely based on a mathematic formula and not based on feeding trials. Many of the larger brands – such as Hill’s Science Diet, Royal Canin, and Purina – perform trials by feeding their diets over many years to different stages of animals to ensure the diets are properly digested and metabolized. Often, smaller companies do not have the resources to complete this important step to ensure their pet food provides optimal nutrition, nor do they perform the quality control on ingredients used in the pet food. Most of the larger, well-known companies have veterinarians on staff to answer questions about their products and handle any concerns in the case of a food recall.
For pets that struggle with being overweight, a calorie-restricted diet is important for healthy weight loss. Foods that have the word “light” in the name are required to have 20 percent fewer calories than the adult formula of the same brand. Eliminating table food and excess treats is also helpful. Treats should be no more than 10 percent of the pet’s total calorie intake per day.
What if your veterinarian discovers a chronic disease in your pet? In these cases and for many other conditions, they will prescribe a therapeutic diet. Therapeutic is defined as “of or relating to the healing of disease.” With the help of therapeutic diets, which require a prescription from your veterinarian, many diseases can be managed with food alone where “the food is the medicine.” These prescription diets often eliminate the need to give injections or oral medications for a variety of medical conditions.
Many people do not realize how many diseases dogs and cats can and do suffer from. In a vast number of cases, there is a diet for that. Therapeutic diets may assist in treatment of the following diseases: obesity, kidney and liver disease, diabetes, canine cognitive dysfunction, epilepsy, bladder stones, pancreatitis, feline lower urinary tract disease, stress, feline hyperthyroidism, inflammatory bowel disease and food allergies, just to name a few.
With any of these diets, compliance is important. Following the recommendations of your veterinarian is vital for the success of the diet and your pet’s optimal health. Your pets will only get the benefits of the diet if they are eating it as their sole diet. When switching from an over-the-counter diet to a therapeutic diet, it is important to make a gradual transition over seven to 10 days or longer, as some pets can be resistant to change. This slow transition will also help prevent any stomach upset as your pets gets used to the new food.
In some cases, pets prefer to have the new food offered in a separate bowl rather than mixing it with their current diet. A lot of science and technology is used by prescription diet manufactures to ensure the food is effective for the condition that needs to be treated and to make the food palatable to the pet. It is always best to consult your veterinarian prior to making any diet changes to ensure your pets are getting the best nutrition for their unique needs.
With more than 13 years of veterinary experience, Amanda Pack is a veterinary assistant who specializes in therapeutic diets. She has attended many hours of continuing education to stay current on the latest advances in therapeutic diets for cats and dogs. Pack handles all inventory and ordering of the therapeutic diets for Calvert Veterinary Center. She is also knowledgeable about the palatability of the diets and will work with doctors and the pet owner to find the best combination of food and appropriate treats for even the pickiest pet. Call to schedule a nutrition consult for your pet and find out whether “there is a diet for that.” Calvert Veterinary Center is a full-service, small animal and exotics hospital. For more information, go to www.calvertvet.com or call the office 410-360-PAWS.