Dog and Cat Food Basics

By June 30, 2021No Comments

Feeding your dog or cat should be simple, right? You go to the grocery store, box store, pet store, online store of your choice, pick the bag or can of food. Take it home, open it and feed your pet, right? What? It’s not that easy? Oh, there are aisles and aisles of foods? Dry, canned, freeze-dried, all natural, organic, raw. There is puppy, large breed, adult, small breed, indoor, weight control formulas. And they are all claiming to the be the best for this situation or that disease! Overwhelmed? Ok, you’re right, it isn’t that easy. Let’s add the human factor and it is even more difficult! Humans like variety in their diet and believe that their pets should experience that too! Where do we begin?

Common terms

Protein: This is the “meat” of the food. Typical proteins include beef, chicken, lamb, fish, dairy, and eggs.

Carbohydrates: This is the “crunchy” of the food. Typical carbs include corn, wheat, and soy.

Alternatives: some diets use potato, lentils, peas and other legumes.

Fiber: This gives your pet’s stool consistency. High fiber usually means lower calorie but more poo in the box or yard!

Dyes: Humans like color and we think our pets like color too! The jury is out on which colors they can see. Dyes tend to cause more harm than good. They make us feel good, but they cause allergy issues such as diarrhea and/or skin irritation. 

Free Choice Feeding: This means you put food out in the morning and leave it there all day. Your dog or cat can come and go as they please to eat as little or as much as they want, when they want. Family members refill the bowl as needed. There is no way to know how much your pet is consuming in a day and this style of feeding will likely lead to obesity, finicky/picky eater, excessive stools and purchasing more food than is necessary.

Carnivore: Our pets’ ancestors had a highly carnivorous behavior. This means they ate meat! They would hunt and kill for food. When hunts weren’t successful, they had to rely on nuts, berries and grains for energy. Cats are obligate carnivores. They must have taurine in their diet. Taurine is an amino acid derived from animal-based proteins and it is critical for a healthy cat.  Studies have shown that certain dogs that are fed a grain free diet are at an increased risk for a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). While cats need meat, dogs need grains!

Natural, Holistic, Organic: These fancy terms make one think they are choosing a better diet. While natural and holistic aren’t currently regulated by any governing body, the term organic is! A pet food manufacturer can use the term natural or holistic on their label and have nothing to back up that claim! It is a marketing ploy! An organic label claim is regulated and must adhere to certain restrictions for the ingredients used within the food.

Raw:  A raw diet is designed to mimic a dog or cat’s natural ancestral menu. In the wild, it is completely natural for wolves or lions to consume the entire prey animal (meat, bones, organs and all). There are many benefits to feeding a raw diet including: firmer stools, improved digestion, healthier skin/coat, reduced allergy symptoms and better weight management. Convenience, expense and safety usually deter the average person from pursuing a raw diet for their dog or cat. It does take time and research to ensure that you are offering a well-balanced raw diet.  Purchasing quality raw products to formulate the diet can be hard on the wallet. Many people feed their pets a balanced raw diet will tell you that their dog or cat eats better than they do!  Feeding a raw diet can also expose the person feeding the meal to salmonella and E. coli germs. Proper handling and handwashing will reduce this risk.

Home Cooked: These diets also fall under the raw category. These well-balanced diets typically cost more in time and money than the average person is willing to give.

Limited Ingredient, Novel Protein, Hypoallergenic – These terms all indicate this diet is probably for a pet that is allergic in nature. Food allergies in pets may present as skin irritation – especially the ears and feet. Intermittent or constant vomiting and/or diarrhea. The ingredients in these foods are meant to be gentler on the stomach and intestines. They may contain a protein source that isn’t typical (ie: rabbit, venison, kangaroo) and the pet may not have been exposed to before. See our article on Allergies for further explanation.

Prescription Diet: A specially formulated diet to treat a disease or support a pet’s health after a specific diagnosis.  These diets are specially formulated and should be viewed the same as a prescription medication. We offer diets to support patients diagnosed with diabetes, kidney disease, urinary disease, digestive disease, obesity and more. These diets are available in canned and dry formulas from several manufacturers. If your pet is placed on a prescription diet, it is imperative that they are only fed that diet. No extra treats, foods, or table foods are to be given. 

Dry or Canned?

Both canned and dry foods offer their own unique benefits and disadvantages. With proper storage, dry food can safely be used until it reaches its “best by” date. It is recommended to keep air and moisture away from dry pet food. If you use a re-sealable container, either try to keep the food in its original package or save the package information that identifies the product in case of a recall. It is a myth that dry food is better for dental care and canned food is the worse for dental care. The action of chewing dry kibble does have some good qualities to help decrease tartar and break down plaque. Oral health is also dependent on genetic makeup and home oral care routines. Dry food is higher in carbohydrates because meat doesn’t stick together well in a dried form. Carbs bind with the protein and other ingredients to form each piece of kibble in dry food. Canned food is typically higher in protein but may also be higher in sugar to create that yummy gravy!  Canned food, once opened, can last up to 3 days if it is tightly sealed and immediately refrigerated. Canned food increases the amount of water your pet takes in. In cats, it is best to offer both dry and canned during kitten-hood. Down the line, if your cat needs to be on a special diet, s/he will be more willing to change from dry to canned or vice versa.

Puppy – Adult – Senior

It is important to read the labels on the bag or can of food you choose. Pay particular attention to the AAFCO statement. The wording in this statement will tell you if you have truly chosen a puppy or kitten diet versus an adult or senior diet. If it contains the words “all life stages” you have a puppy or kitten food in your hand! This means a higher calorie count for your adult or senior dog/cat that probably isn’t in need of those extra calories. Calorie counts on food and treats is readily available. We can recommend diets and formulate plans based on physical and metabolic needs as well as caloric intake (number of calories needed). These calculations will ensure that your dog or cat is getting what they need. And hey, we usually allow for a treat or two!

Choosing the correct life stage of pet food also depends on what breed of dog you have. The nutritional needs of large and giant breed puppies are different from those of small to medium breed puppies. Large breed puppies are those whose adult weight will ultimately exceed 50 pounds.  Small and medium breeds can begin switching from a puppy formula to an adult formula between 9-12 months of age. Larger breeds will continue to grow up to 2 years of age and should be switching from a puppy formula to an adult formula around a year of age.

Senior status happens at different times depending on the breed as well.  Large breeds may be considered senior as early as 5 years of age. Small to medium breed may not reach senior status until approximately 7 years of age. Many senior diets decrease the protein and increase the carbohydrates. This may be the opposite of what your senior pet needs.

There are so many parts of pet foods that we can discuss, and this page can go on and on. If you have specific questions, give us a call or bring your list of questions to your next visit!