By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM
If I had to venture a guess as to the most fretted over issue for pet owners, it would be finding the right food for their pet. Grocery store and pet shop shelves abound with bags, boxes, and cans. No wonder the decision is difficult. Here are my tips to streamline the selection process:
1. Check the label
The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) develops regulations regarding the nutritional adequacy of pet food. If the label says “complete and balanced” for your pet’s life stage (puppy, kitten, adult, senior), then you know it meets the AAFCO regulations and is a food worth a trial run. If the AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy statement is missing from the label, this is definitely not the right food for your pet.
2. Look at your pet
Not every complete and balanced food is right for your pet. If the food you feed results in a dull coat, vomiting after every meal, or diarrhea, start over and select an alternative food. As your pet matures, switch her food to one formulated for her current life stage. With so many options on the store shelves, there is guaranteed to be a food to meet the needs of every pet and pet family.
3. Variety is the spice of life
If you feed your kitten or puppy food of the same flavor every day, you risk raising a finicky eater. Try alternating the chicken flavor of your pet’s favorite brand of food with the beef or tuna flavor. If you feed both canned and dry food, select foods from two different pet food companies. Familiarity with two different textures and tastes may come in handy if one food is taken off the market, is recalled, or if your pet develops an illness requiring a switch to a special diet.
4. Change cautiously
When a diet change becomes necessary due to life stage change, illness, or family preference, plan ahead to prevent problems. An acute diet change often results in complete rejection of the new diet or gastrointestinal upset. Gradual introduction of a new food increases your chance of success in gaining your pet’s acceptance of what you want her to eat. Place a second bowl containing a bite or two of the new food next to the old food. Don’t expect instant success and consider a sniff or a lick on the first day a triumph. If she starts finishing the bite of new food, gradually decrease the portion of the old food while increasing the serving size of the new food. The total transition should take a month.
5. Check with your veterinarian
This is the most important tip. Your veterinarian should serve as your primary resource for pet nutrition information. We see dozens of pets every week and have a good idea of what foods result in healthy, happy pets. Because your veterinarian knows the health of your pet, she will also know if a prescription diet should be part of the therapy for your dog or cat’s illness.