What is a nutritious, healthy diet for your pet? How do you wade through the marketing, the latest fad foods, and pet food labels to make a decision? How much should you feed your pet so they are a healthy weight? At Southwest Vet, we can help you select the most nutritional diet program for your best friend. Here is some food for thought about making pet food choices and keeping your pet healthy.

What are the common mistakes in choosing pet food?

Walking into a pet food store can be overwhelming, and online research can make choosing a diet still more complicated. If your decision process includes the following criteria, you may not be selecting the optimal diet for your pet.  

  • Ingredient list Ingredients are listed by weight, which means higher water content products will be listed first. Food that has chicken meat as a primary ingredient may be less nutritious for your pet than one with chicken meal, because the latter is dry and more nutrient-dense.
  • Label appearance An attractive label that lists “holistic,” “natural,” or “ancient grains” does not mean the product inside is the most nutritious for your pet. The food is well-marketed, but may not be well-made.
  • Ratings websites Many websites rely heavily on marketing information or anecdotal reports, rather than foods with high quality production or nutritional balance.  
  • Pet store recommendations Pet store employees may promote the store’s private label products, or foods with the highest profit margin or the best marketing program, rather than the most nutritious food for your pet. 

What are boutique, exotic, or grain-free (BEG) pet foods?

Much has been written recently about these three trendy pet diets.

  • Boutique diets — Because boutique diets are marketed by small companies that may not have their own manufacturing plant, the production process may not be directly supervised. These smaller companies also may not have a research trial budget, or the expertise of a qualified veterinary nutritionist.
  • Exotic protein diets Ingredients in these diets, such as venison, duck, or kangaroo, are expensive and usually not necessary for an average healthy pet. If we suspect your pet has an allergy to a traditional protein, such as chicken, pork, turkey, beef, or lamb, we can suggest a nutritionally balanced novel protein diet for their specific condition.
  • Grain-free diets Marketing programs that suggest grains are bad for pets have made grain-free diets popular. However, veterinary nutritional research has not substantiated this claim, and grain-free diets are a marketing term more than a health consideration.  

BEG diets have been implicated in a potentially fatal heart condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Research is ongoing to determine the ingredients in BEG diets that may contribute to DCM development, including the lentils or chickpeas used to replace grains, exotic meats, vegetables, or fruits. Possible quality control problems are also being evaluated, since smaller companies usually make BEG diets.

What is the best way to choose a pet food?

The best way to choose your pet’s food is to contact the Southwest Vet team. We know your pet and can suggest which foods would be appropriate based on their life stage, activity level, weight, and medical concerns. With all the options available, we suggest pet food companies who meet the World Small Animal Veterinary Association guidelines, which include employing a full-time veterinary nutritionist, manufacturing the food at their own facility, having established quality control protocols, and conducting nutritional research and Association of American Feed Control Official (AAFCO) feeding trials. 

Is my pet at a healthy weight?

Approximately 60% of U.S. pets are overweight, and most pet owners are not aware that their pets have a weight problem. If you place your flat palm against the side of your dog’s chest and need to press firmly to find their ribs, they are overweight. This test doesn’t work as well on cats, but an overweight cat’s belly will be noticeably larger than their chest. Our Southwest Vet team can assess your pet’s body condition score, and determine their ideal weight based on their age, breed, and overall bone structure.

Why is a healthy weight important for my pet?

We all want our furry friends to feel good and live a long life. Unfortunately, overweight pets tend to be more sedentary, less interactive with their owners, and have a shortened lifespan by two years or more. The following health risks are associated with overweight pets, and underscore the importance of maintaining a healthy weight for your pet. 

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Respiratory disease
  • Cancer
  • Anesthetic complications
  • Joint or ligament injuries
  • Arthritis
  • Chronic inflammation

At Southwest Vet, we can recommend a comprehensive healthy weight program tailored for your pet. Once we determine your pet’s body condition score and ideal weight, we will recommend the food type and quantity, feeding frequency, and amount of exercise needed, and provide handy tips to help your pet reach their goal weight. 

Food and health go hand in hand, so don’t hesitate to contact the Southwest Vet team for further information, and schedule a nutritional consultation for your pet.