For the most part, clients take to heart advice given by their veterinarian- medications when needed, preventive dental care, exercise, even e-collars around their heads to prevent pets from chewing out sutures or licking wounds preventing them from healing. But when it comes to discussions about what to feed pets, many people often fight an uphill battle.
Owners often get advice for what to feed their pets from anyone BUT their veterinarians. They might listen politely to recommendations given by their doctor or nurse at the first puppy visit, even take the sample bag of food offered-then go to the pet store and buy something completely different. Information from pet or feed store employees (with no more training in nutrition than other high school kids) is often viewed as unbiased when the opposite is often true. Food companies offer incentives to stores to sell their brands or to display their bags or cans in prominent places. Contests, gift cards, even trips have been earned by eager sales people.
Of course people will also listen to friends and family members when seeking nutritional information for animals. If one particular brand worked wonders for Aunt Emma’s prize Golden Retrievers for generations, how can you go wrong? Now a days, “Dr. Google” is getting a lot of credence, complete strangers “met” in chat rooms or elsewhere online always have advice and are eager to share experiences. There is no guarantee of veterinary nutritional training at all. People like to tell about the “evils” of ingredients such as “preservatives.” If a food is not preserved, it will go rancid very quickly. More natural preservatives are available, but a food HAS to be preserved. The internet is full of these kind of stories, and some are down right dangerous.
Breeders are also the source of irrefutable information in the eyes of many pet owners. Veterinarians try to use the argument that a breeder’s purpose is to get you to buy a single animal (often at pretty high prices!) while a veterinarian’s purpose is to work with you to keep all of your pets healthy for a lifetime. Which one do you think is more likely to have your best interest in mind? The following is a simple guideline for how to pick a healthy food for your pet-and no food company is paying me to tell you this!
First, a food line should have different formulas for the various life stages of a pet’s life as well as sizes. We know the nutritional needs of feeding a Great Dane puppy are vastly different from feeding a geriatric or senior Chihuahua, for example. A puppy, kitten, or “growth” food, adult or “maintenance” diet, and a senior or older pet formula are basic. There are “large breed” vs. “small breed” differentiations for dog foods, particularly in the growth or puppy stages. “Light” or lower calorie diets are very useful as well.
Second, foods should have been tested by animals to ensure their adequacy for the life stage recommended. There really is no enforceable regulatory agency for pet foods as there is with human foods (FDA.) The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement is printed on each bag of food, stating that the food has met certain minimum requirements. It is believed that only the companies that actually feed their foods to animals and then test those animals for any side effects or metabolic problems are actually proving that they are good foods. These companies spend a great deal of money doing these feeding trials, and the animals have the best jobs” ever-eating food! It isn’t like putting mascara in a rabbit’s eye. You will see the specific AAFCO statement that includes “Animal feeding trials substantiate….” when a company makes this commitment to your pet’s food.
Finally, the food should be well-tolerated by your individual pet. Does your pet thrive while on it? Does he or she have solid, regular stools? Are they excessively gassy? Is the hair coat slick and shiny or do they shed excessively? Do they eat ravenously but still lose weight? Remember, each pet is an individual and just because ALL other dogs of your breed do well on one type of food doesn’t necessarily mean yours will, too.
One other thing: We often see owners giving supplements when the pets are already on balanced diets. This negates the job done by the nutritionists and actually unbalances the important ratios of some of the minerals and vitamins. Ratios of calcium and phosphorous, for example, not the actual quantities of them, have been found to be most important for proper bone and tendon growth. This is also important for expectant or nursing mothers. Whether or not to give a supplement, no matter how benign or seemingly beneficial, should be discussed with your veterinarian.
There is so much more to nutrition than what has been discussed here. Treats, feeding “human food,” diets for specific diseases, feeding raw diets, formulating your own foods for your pets, food allergies and sensitivities, etc. Always consult your pet’s physician before making potentially major changes in your pets diet.
– Thank you to Dr. Reneigh at LSAH for this valuable info.