Top 5 things to know about pet nutrition

The “right” food to feed our pets is an on-going and often extremely controversial debate for many people.  Just like their support for a favored sports team, many people will rabidly defend their choice while seeking to demean other options.  So, when it comes to feeding our dogs and cats… what are some key things to remember?

Thomas F. Dock, Director of Communications/Public Information Office, Noah’s Animal Hospitals, shares the top 5 things to know about pet nutrition: 

1)    First, the list of ingredients in a bag of food tells you nothing about the quality or digestibility of that diet.  This is also a key area for manipulation by food companies.
a.    Pets need nutrients, not ingredients
b.    “Meats” vs. “By-products” is a perennial area of contention, but it’s important to remember that by products and meat meals can be highly concentrated sources of protein
c.    Corn can be an excellent source of protein and essential fatty acids for dogs.

2)    Next, grain free diets are not generally needed and could predispose your pet to some significant health risks.  Gluten sensitivity is almost unknown in dogs and despite the marketing efforts of some companies, both dogs and cats can digest corn and other grains efficiently.
a.    Current research is reviewing grain free diets for their possible connection with dilated cardiomyopathy, a serious heart disease in our pets.  Veterinarians are referring to these diets as the “BEG” diets…for boutique, exotic or grain free diets. 
i.    There have been more than 300 confirmed cases in last 5 years with 76 deaths.
b.    Many of these foods have not been evaluated via feeding trials to determine how well our pets can utilize the nutrients.

3)    Speaking of feeding trials, pet owners should always look for companies that have performed these important tests on their diets.  Feeding trials allows a better understanding of how well the pet uses the food and if any deficiencies or excesses are present
a.    Look for the Nutritional Adequacy Statement on the side of the bag…it will read something like:  “AAFCO feeding trials have determined that Tom’s Dog Food is complete and balanced for the maintenance of adult dogs”
b.    The other option is to formulate diets using nutrient profiles from the National Research Council.  This may be problematic if the digestibility of an ingredient is not well known.

4)    In our fast paced, “gotta know right now” world, many people are bothered when they hear about a pet food recall, even if all the facts aren’t available.  Some will even turn to raw diets or homemade foods in order to best keep their furry friends safe. 
a.    Unfortunately, a survey of more than 200 homemade diets showed that more than 80% of them were not balanced properly.  This can then lead to nutrient excesses or deficiencies.
b.    Despite claims, raw diets have not been proven to be “healthier” and do have some serious risks when it comes to pathogenic bacteria.

5)    Finally, trust your veterinary staff when it comes to verifying pet food facts from pet food myths.  They have the education and scientific background to help you make the right food decision for your four legged friends!
a.    Contrary to Internet lore, veterinarians do take nutrition courses in veterinary school and continuing education lectures about pet nutrition are always some of the most attended sessions.
b.    Veterinarians can help you discern facts from marketing hype.

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