One of the most difficult parts about taking care of your pet is choosing the best food for your pet to maintain a healthy body condition and promote a longer lifespan. There are so many options out there for pet foods, how do you know what to pick?! This blog will address some of the common myths about veterinary fad diets and direct you in what to look for when selecting a pet food.
If you watch TV or shop in pet stores, you have likely seen the advertisements for many different brands of “grain-free” or “gluten-free” food. These foods claim to imitate the ancestral diet of the wolf and suggest that your pet will be healthier if eating what its ancestors ate in the wild. Our domestic pets have actually evolved to digest grains very well and do not typically have any digestive problems associated with grains in the food.
The most important part of selecting a pet food is whether it is complete and balanced. This information will be on the nutritional analysis portion of the food label and is much more important than the actual ingredient breakdown. Corn and other grains are often used in dry pet foods, primarily as a source of essential fatty acids and amino acids. They provide essential nutrients and thus are not considered “fillers”. Corn gluten meal is also a highly digestible source of many essential amino acids.
A common misconception is that grain-free food is the same as a low-carb diet. Though no grains are present in the food, they are typically replaced with potatoes or another carbohydrate source, which may actually be higher in carbs than diets that include grains. Low-carb diets may be indicated in certain conditions, such as diabetic animals and should be chosen under the direction of your veterinarian.
It is also important to read ingredient labels with an understanding of how they are written. Just because corn is listed as the first ingredient on a food label, this does not mean that this is the largest portion of the food. Meat sources may actually be a higher percentage of the food, but it may be divided among chicken, beef and/or another meat in smaller portions of each. Evaluating a pet food label with the advice of your veterinarian is the best way to know if it is a good choice for your pet.
Another typical claim of grain-free food is that without the corn, allergies will be less likely. Unfortunately, this claim has no scientific base. Pets are usually allergic to the protein source in the food (the beef, chicken or fish). Corn is very rarely a source of food allergy, despite being widely used in commercial pet foods. Many research studies have proven that corn is a very low allergen risk to most dogs and cats.
What about raw diets? Raw food diets are another example of a diet based on the food that our pet’s ancestors ate. The risk of raw food diets in the domestic pet is that we are exposing them to the possibility of contracting Salmonella, which can cause severe gastrointestinal illness. Another concern with raw diets is that they are not well balanced in vitamins and minerals and can cause major health problems for your pet if used long-term. Home-cooked diets can also pose the risk of not being well-balanced if mineral supplements are not used. These diets are best considered under the close consideration of your veterinarian.
We hope these tips help as you navigate that wide world of pet-food options the next time you visit the pet store or grocery pet food aisle. All of the available options are overwhelming, even to those in the veterinary field! If you would like further advice, specific to your pet, please schedule a consultation with one of our veterinarians and we would be happy to assist you in finding the best nutrition option for your pet.