The Big Sell
Don't confuse good marketing with good quality ingredients. Our clients report some aggressive in-store marketing of pet food brands and types of veterinary diets (e.g., high protein, gluten free). Look for pet food from a reputable brand (one with a veterinary prescription line as well as an over-the-counter line).
Food should have undergone an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) feeding trial or at least meet AAFCO standards — this will be written on the label. Independent or boutique brand veterinary diets might be great, but you want to make sure the ingredients have been tested by an independent lab to verify the nutrient content, and that the diet has been through a feeding trial.
Higher protein diets provide more energy for extremely active dogs in good health, but high levels of protein in pets with kidney or liver disease can be dangerous. Gluten is a big topic in human nutrition, but very few true gluten allergies or sensitivities are documented in veterinary medical literature (Irish Setters can be sensitive). Work with your veterinarian to determine whether a specific diet suits your pet based on breed and health status.
Keep the Bag
Pet food bags are designed to protect nutrients in the food — if you pour the pet food into another container, its nutrient value can get degraded by changes in moisture level or exposure to light. Keep food in its original packaging. Put the whole package into a container for storage if necessary.
Homemade Needs To Be Well Made
Raw diets and homemade diets can be of benefit to pets, but it is crucial that these are formulated carefully under veterinary nutritional guidelines. Dogs and cats require many essential nutrients in the appropriate ratios to maintain their health. A diet missing just one key nutrient can, over time, cause serious health issues for an animal — for instance, calcium deficient diets can cause Rickets (bone resorption)!
Raw meats can contain bacteria (Salmonella, E. coli) and parasites (Toxoplasma, Trichinella) and even viruses. Any homemade or raw diet recipe should have been put through feeding trials and lab verification of nutrient value to ensure completeness if you want to be certain of its adequacy. Your veterinarian has information on small animal nutrition organizations that can help you in choosing a diet for your animal.
This Bowl Is Mine!
Meal feeding every pet in the household gives you control over the amount and type of food each one consumes. Make sure one pet is not "batting clean-up" on food left behind by other pets — pick up the bowls when they leave food behind.
Training your kitten or puppy to meal feed from the start enables you to manage feeding in the future, especially if one member of the household has to eat a prescription diet or needs to lose weight. Meal-fed puppies can be easier to house train because their elimination is more "scheduled" — an extra benefit!
Beware of Bones
Treats like real bones from the butcher, turkey and chicken necks, etc., might work for some dogs, but there is a risk for gastrointestinal obstruction from too large a piece swallowed, or intestinal perforation if a splintered bone fragment is consumed. Animals enjoying these treats should always be supervised.
A Change of Plans
If your pet has been on a prescription weight loss food for more than 6 months without good results — it's time to reassess the feeding plan with a veterinarian. Remember to weigh your pet monthly while reducing their body weight and make continuous adjustments with veterinary advice as the weight comes off.