I saw a puppy several weeks ago that had mega-dandruff, and now the hair coat looks healthy. The only change – the food.
So I thought I’d talk about pet food a little bit in this week’s health tip. This discussion is a little long, so if you want the bottom line skip right to the bottom!
Which food should I feed my dog or cat? If trying to determine the answer to that question is confusing for me, and it is, then I can imagine how frustrating it must be for my clients. We have to feed our pets something, so we can’t avoid the decision. So here are a couple of things to keep in mind.
Point #1 – the ingredient label is pretty much useless for this decision. I can buy 50 pounds of dog food for $7.50 and I can buy 50 pounds of dog food for $75.00. Both bags say HIGH PROTEIN on the bag, both have almost identical ingredient labels, so logically the less expensive food is just as good as the more expensive right? Not! An extreme example is that I could grind up my shoe leather (a protein source ingredient that we all know my dog Casey can not utilize) and create a food with the same percent protein as both bags have on their label. So what the label says is in the bag says nothing about QUALITY of ingredients and how well your pet can actually digest and absorb what is in the bag. Reading ingredient labels will not help much in choosing one food over another.
Point #2 – in the above example, the more expensive food has to be better, right? Not necessarily. When I first graduated from vet school I could tell my clients that generally low end (from an expense standpoint) pet foods used lower quality (harder to digest) ingredients, middle end foods used higher quality ingredients but purchased based on least cost (this week they get their protein from meat based ingredients, next week from poultry based ingredients, whichever is least cost), and high end foods used high quality ingredients made from the same ingredient sources all the time regardless of cost (which is expensive so the food cost more). Things have changed though, now days the pet food business has so much profit potential that a lot of new comers have jumped in, the price sometimes reflects what they think you will pay as much as the quality of ingredient.
Point #3 – so I think I’ll let my dog Casey help with the decision – not so fast! Studies have shown that the average pet owner will sooner or later go to the store, get three kinds of food, put each one in a bowl, and continue buying the one that their pet eats. The food manufacturers know that in order to continue keeping their food on the shelves instead of their competitors, they need to win the “Taste Battle”. So some manufacturers have ramped up the food’s taste to the point that pets can’t stop eating. I can tell you that some of the brands that I know have the best nutrition taste just fine but consistently loose the “Taste Battle” because they are not made to taste like candy. I have been blessed with five kids – imagine how their bones and muscles would have developed if I had fed them based on what they thought tasted the best!
Point #4 – about 85% of allergies in dogs and cats are from inhalant allergens – things like ragweed pollen, etc. That means that only about 15% of allergies are from the food a pet eats. Last week’s health tip was about allergies, and I have an upcoming health tip specifically about food . So if you think your pet might have allergies, odds are that the food is not the cause.
Bottom Line – the most scientific ways I can think of to choose a food don’t seem very scientific, but they help me get past the marketing blitz and glitz:
- ”Choose a food that has been around for years. A decade or longer is my preference. There are so many new foods with colorful bags, some will stand the test of time and some won’t. There are foods in each price category that have stood the test of time. Let someone else allow their pet to be a test for new food brands.
- ”Choose a food that is fed to dogs or cats before being put on the shelf. Not all foods are, believe it or not. It should specifically say someplace on the bag that the food was tested by being fed to dogs (some foods have statements that sound like they might have been tested in this fashion, but don’t actually say it – sorry that doesn’t count).
- ”From the list of foods that pass both of the above two criteria, the higher priced foods will tend (no guarantees) to have better nutrition.
- ”Remember that if your pet is used to eating ice cream (a food that tastes too good) and you buy a more nutritional food that tastes the equivalent of pizza, you will have to wean them off the ice cream and onto the pizza!
How did you choose the food your pet eats?