That is the million-dollar question isn’t it? The pet food industry is literally a $60-billion dollar industry and every pet food company claims that their pet food is the best for your pet. Of course you want what is best, but they can’t all be ‘the best’ can they?
Many pet owners don’t realize that the first step in preventing disease is proper nutrition. How easy is that? You’re going to feed your dog or cat anyway, and with the appropriate diet, you may very well save yourself unnecessary trips to the vet. However, with so much conflicting information out there, it becomes difficult to feel as though you are making the right choice.
Marketing, marketing, marketing
The pet food companies all know the ‘tricks of the trade’ so to speak, to get us to buy their food. They may have started off with proper nutrition in mind, but the bottom line is that when it comes to our pet’s food, much of what we are told as consumers may or may not be an accurate representation of facts.
Even more disappointing to those of us in the veterinary field is the way in which vets are scrutinized for recommending prescription diets. I recently had an experience in which I was looking for a single can of wet cat food to administer some medication. I told the owner of the local pet store what my intention was and he immediately asked, “What is the medication for?” I replied, “My cat has been getting some hairballs recently so I will be switching her food, I just need to give her the medication to take care of the immediate problem.” As soon as I had said the words his eyes narrowed. “It isn’t a prescription food is it?”.
This has happened almost every time I try to find pet food at that store, . The point is, those types of situations send the wrong message to pet owners. Prescription diets are exactly that—a prescription. Like your family doctor, only a veterinarian can provide prescription food if a patient’s illness indicates it is necessary. It requires continuous supervision; otherwise the food could actually cause harm, just like the pills you pick up at the pharmacy.
Jennifer Coates, DVM, a regular contributor to the PetMD newsletter called, ‘Nutrition Nuggets’, explains this topic well in her article Prescription food – when is it a good idea? If you have a minute, it’s worth checking out. I seriously got lost reading all of the amazing topics that they cover!
Pet Nutrition Specialists
So, you have a new puppy or kitten. Hooray! You go to the pet store to choose a food to feed the your fuzzy little creature. Enter the pet nutrition specialist. Every pet store has them, but did you know that it only takes 100 hours of online training to be regarded a pet nutrition specialist whether it be feline, canine, or equine? That really only equates to about 2 weeks of schooling – and voila! You are a feline (or other) nutrition expert!
That is definitely something to consider when taking the advice of a well meaning, but relatively inexperienced pet store employee. Veterinarians spend four extra years of schooling ON TOP of their undergraduate degree, during which nutrition was probably mentioned at least once or twice (sarcasm intended). So of the two, I would definitely consider your veterinarian’s recommendation first.
Most veterinarians will choose Hill’s Science Diet, or Royal Canin as their first choices simply because they know the most about those diets and trust the research behind their formulation. They aren’t going to recommend a food that they’ve never heard of, even if it does contain wild buffalo and spear caught salmon as the first two ingredients.
So Which Food Should I Buy?
Don’t worry, I’m getting to that! It just isn’t as simple as it seems.
The most important thing to consider is selecting a food from a company whose food undergoes feeding trials as dictated by AAFCO. This means that the diet has been formulated for a specific life stage, and has been fed to dogs or cats to determine if there are any deficiencies. Many companies simply use a formula based on a recipe and NEVER feed the food to an actual animal before it hits the shelves. You can find the AAFCO statement under the nutrition facts on every bag of pet food. You want it to list a specific life stage (NOT all life stages) and you want it to state that feeding trials were used in the formulation.
Ideally, you will end up choosing a food you have thoroughly researched and completely understand its formulation, ingredients, and benefits. “Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs; A Science-Based Guide For Pet Owners” has some great basic scientific information about the nutritional needs of each life-stage for dogs. “Hill’s Pet Nutrition Reference Manual” has similar information, but includes cats and kittens as well as some common pet food myths. Ultimately, it’s your choice what you feed your pet. Every pet is different, but armed with the right tools and information, together we will help keep your important member of the family around for as long as possible!