In addition to regular veterinary visits and preventive care, proper nutrition is essential for your pet’s overall health, wellness, and longevity, and can help treat or prevent certain medical conditions in some cases. But selecting the right food for your furry friends can be overwhelming, with numerous selections available and seemingly endless advertising campaigns.
Ensure your pet is on the right nutritional path by following these four tips from your Animal Medical and Surgical Hospital veterinary team.
#1: Check the pet food label
Understanding pet food labels will help you choose the best food for your four-legged friend. The Association of the American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has established guidelines for pet food labels and balanced nutrition. Ensure that your pet’s food meets AAFCO standards and guidelines by checking the label for the following:
- Product and brand name — Product and brand names must be listed to distinguish them from other foods on the market.
- Species —The label must indicate the species the food is formulated for, as dogs and cats have different nutritional requirements. For example, cats require the amino acid taurine for heart health, whereas this is not a nutritional requirement for dogs.
- Quantity statement — The amount of food in the bag or can must be listed.
- Guaranteed analysis — The guaranteed analysis details the percentage of specific nutrients and must include crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, and moisture content.
- Calorie content — Calorie amount per cup of food must be included.
- Ingredients list — All ingredients, including any additives, are listed in descending order by weight and not nutritional content, so some nutrient-dense ingredients may be lower on the list.
- Nutritional adequacy statement — The adequacy statement includes the animal type and life stage the food is intended for. This is important, to ensure your pet is receiving their specific nutritional requirements.
- Feeding directions — These directions include the amount and frequency for feeding your pet to maintain a healthy weight but may need adjusting based on your pet’s specific needs.
- Manufacturer name and contact information — Contact information is provided for transparency, and for your questions.
#2: Choose a complete pet food
High quality commercial pet foods should always be labeled as complete and balanced, meaning they contain all the necessary nutrients currently required to maintain your pet’s health. Pet foods listed as complete and balanced have been through rigorous AAFCO feeding trials, or they contain at least the minimum amount of nutrients AAFCO recommends. Therapeutic veterinary diets formulated for specific medical needs are exempt from AAFCO food trials and testing.
#3: Choose a food for your pet’s age and lifestyle
From puppy- and kitten-hood to the gray muzzle years, your pet’s nutritional needs will change. Like humans, your pet’s lifestyle, activity, age, and medical needs are highly variable, and you must choose a pet food specific for your pet’s life stage, including:
- Gestation and lactation stages — Ensure that your pet’s food is nutritionally dense to support growing puppies or kittens, as well as for lactation after they are born.
- Growth stage — Puppies and kittens require high calorie and nutrient-dense food to support growing bones, muscles, and organs.
- Maintenance during the adult stage — Cats and small dogs can start transitioning to adult food between 9 months and 1 year of age. Large-breed dogs should transition to adult food between 12 to 18 months of age.
- Senior stage — Small-breed dogs and cats are considered seniors around 7 years of age, and large-breed dogs are considered senior at around 5 to 6 years. Senior pets may need extra nutritional support for weakening joints and organs because of their advancing age.
In addition to choosing a diet for your pet’s age, it’s important to consider lifestyle and activity levels. A sedentary house cat or lazy pooch will not require as much nutrient-dense food as your four-legged running partner or your outdoor feline. Ensure that your pet can easily maintain their weight at all times. Also, if your pet is diagnosed with a medical condition, such as dental disease, kidney disease, or heart disease, our veterinarian may recommend one of the therapeutic diets available from our online pharmacy.
#4: Feed your pet treats in moderation
Treats are a great tool for training and rewarding your pet and showing them how much you love them. But use caution with treats, which should be no more than 10% of your pet’s total daily calories to avoid weight gain. According to the Association for Pet Obesity and Prevention, in 2018 approximately 60% of cats and 56 % of dogs were overweight or obese. During your pet’s exam, he or she will be weighed and their body condition evaluated. To determine if your pet is an appropriate weight, you should be able to feel their ribs, but not see or have to search for them. This chart is a good tool to help determine if you are feeding your pet adequately.