One of the most common questions pet parents ask the vet is, “What’s the best food for my pet?” The short answer? It depends on his or her nutritional needs.
There are raw diets, homemade cooked diets, kibble, wet food, freeze-dried food, and more, so choosing the best food for your companion isn’t exactly a simple task. What it really comes down to is uncovering the best way to nourish your pet (based on age, breed, size, health history, etc.), and choosing a meal plan that’s wholesome for your pet -- but also fits your lifestyle. After all, what good is a healthy diet if you can’t stick to it?
We interviewed dozens of pet professionals from around the world to get their advice on how to nourish your pal, then compiled their tips below. With a little patience, a lot of research, and guidance from trusted pet professionals, you’ll be able to form a food plan that works for you and your companion.
Balance is key
First and foremost, the best dog or cat food for your pet is balanced and contains all the vitamins and minerals that are essential to his overall well-being. Whether you buy nutritious specialty food made with wholesome, natural ingredients, or you make the meals yourself (raw or cooked) it’s imperative to consult with a pet or veterinary nutritionist so your companion doesn’t suffer nutritional deficiencies over time.
Adapt a diet to your pet’s health issues
Specific nutrients can help support the healing and/or management of almost any ailment, and what’s more, countless health issues are actually caused by poor nutrition in dogs and cats. (In other words, a nutritionally complete diet can help prevent health issues down the road.)
Needless to say, it’s important to tailor your companion’s food to their individual needs, taking into account things like age, activity level, and of course, overall health. “Your pet's nutritional needs can be [centered around] your individual pet,” says Jordan Wright of Omni Feed and Supply in Ohio. “What may work for most dogs, even dogs that are in the same breed as yours, may not work the same [for others] .”
For instance, pets with pancreatitis need meals that are low in fat, active dogs or cats may need extra protein, and older, less active animals should probably eat food that’s lower in calories so they don’t become overweight.
Allergies are another common food-related problem, and in these cases, pet parents can opt for grain-free or allergy sensitive formulas. Many even choose to make homemade meals for their furry friends. In any case, it’s important to consult with an animal nutritionist in order to address these specific needs. “There are so many pets out there that suffer from allergy and digestive issues,” notes Mishelle Hancock of Tails A Wagn’ Multi-Service Pet Care in Oklahoma. “Many of those are food allergies, so a professional nutritionist could be the key to helping your itchy pet.”
Make sure it fits your lifestyle
Don’t have time to make homemade dog or cat food? Not everyone does! Be sure to do your research to find a quality pet food that works for your pal. Better yet, ask a pet nutritionist for his or her expert opinion, and learn whether wet or dry dog / cat food (or a mix of both) is best for your pet.
Remember, you can always add whole foods and supplements to your dog or cat’s kibble for a healthy boost. And those who do have the time and resources to prepare homemade raw or cooked food for their companions should definitely consider it. (More below).
Seek guidance if you choose to make your pet’s food
If you choose to prepare your dog or cat’s diet at home (whether raw or cooked), it’s essential to work with a pet nutritionist in order to make sure their meals are balanced. That’s because feeding your pet unbalanced meals over time can lead to nutritional deficiencies that can actually cause or exacerbate health problems.
But when done properly, there are some huge benefits to making your furry friend’s meals yourself. Christina Ottoviano of Woofs and Whiskers Pet Care in Pennsylvania points out, “Home prepared pet food is more nutritious and the quality is ensured to be the highest because whole foods are used in a balanced diet.” And when you make the food yourself, you never have to worry about dog or cat food recalls.
Do your research on store-bought food
Even if you choose to buy your pet’s food, it’s imperative to do your research and ask a trusted pet professional for advice. While your vet can certainly steer you in the right direction, keep in mind that a veterinary nutritionist, who specialized in pet nutrition, can give you the most complete guidance when it comes to choosing a food that caters to your companion’s needs.
Remember, it’s also important to educate yourself by doing your own research. At the end of the day, the decision of what to feed your pet is really up to you! So, when choosing a food for dogs or cats, make sure to:
-Read up on how nutrients can affect your pet’s health.
-Analyze the ingredients of store-bought foods by looking for healthy protein and nutrient sources.
-Determine the food’s country of origin (keep in mind that different ingredients can be sourced from different places).
-Learn the definitions behind common labels, such as “flavor,” “by-product,” “meat meal,” etc.
-Search for dog/cat food reviews. This should just be a small part of your research, but an overwhelmingly good or bad response to a certain food can help you make a decision.
-Check for past recalls.
To the last point, Lisa Bliss of Fluffy Mustaches Pet Grooming in Oklahoma adds, “Oftentimes we see so many trusted names receive recalls and changes in formulation. A professional nutritionist will be very aware of the trends out there for food companies that are not very careful and cautious about foods they promote.”
Be wary of false or misleading information
This one is tricky, because everyone seems to have an opinion, and they all seem to differ. The best way to check for accuracy is to gather information from multiple sources, as well as multiple pet experts.
Lisa Bliss recommends getting advice from at least two veterinary professionals. “Don't believe all that you ‘learn’ on social media,” warns Concetta Ferragamo of King's Cages International, LLC. “Do fact-checking and make sure you are learning from reliable sources with the academic credentials to back it up.”
Consult with a pet or veterinary nutritionist
At the end of the day, the smartest way to determine the best dog/cat food for your companion is to work closely with a pet or veterinary nutritionist to create the best meal plan for your four-legged family member. Whether you make his meals at home or buy them from the store, a pet food expert can help you customize a diet plan that fits your pal’s needs, as well as your lifestyle.
If you’ve never considered working with a pet nutritionist, stay tuned. The next article in our pet nutrition series will uncover the reasons why it’s so important to consult with one of these professionals. Believe it or not, this expert advice can save you time, money, and heartache in the long run -- and we know your loyal companion is worth the extra effort!