By: Kelli Klein, DVM
As a veterinarian this is one of the most common questions I am asked by new pet owners; what should I feed my dog/cat. When you walk into a pet store the choices seem endless and it can be difficult to know what it a good diet. It also seems that friends and relatives also have suggestions and recommendations for types of diets and it can make it hard to know what to choose.
When I am giving an owner a recommendation for what to feed their pet I consider several factors. There are the obvious ones like age, breed, and activity level. Large breed puppies have much different requirements than a small breed puppy or even an adult dog. Indoor cats tend to be more active than indoor only cats and therefore sometimes have different requirements. Dogs that live a very active lifestyle also have significantly different requirements than a dog that tends to spend most of the day sleeping on the couch.
When making a recommendation I also take into consideration the physical condition of the pet and if there are any pre-existing medical conditions. Animal's needs change with age just as with us. These changes are often associated with dietary restrictions/supplementations. Geriatric patients generally have a lower metabolism and require less fat, calories, and salt in their diet compared to young patients. Geriatric patients are also more prone to developing chronic conditions that occur commonly with age but can influence their dietary needs. Diseases like diabetes, kidney disease, and even arthritis can contribute to what diet a veterinarian may recommend for their patient. Cats, in general, are not known for drinking much water so your veterinarian may suggest feeding more canned than dry food. Over the past few years, there has also been a lot of discussion on feeding grain to dogs. There are some dogs that are sensitive to certain ingredients in foods but the majority of the time that sensitivity is to the protein source rather than grain. Other common ingredients that can cause a sensitivity are corn, wheat, and soy. However, food allergies/sensitivities are very difficult to definitively diagnose without direct supervision from a veterinarian.
Choosing a diet for your pet can be a very difficult and overwhelming decision since there are so many options available. Regardless of what diet you decide on the most important thing is to be consistent. Dogs and cats do not need variety in their diets and therefore if you find something that works well for them it is best not to try and switch. There are several very well formulated over the counter diets which have sufficient nutrition for your pet and to ensure this you can look on the bag or can to make sure the diet meets AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) standards. Some of the more specialized diets are available with a prescription through your veterinarian’s office. These diets have more strict standards and regulations to meet than the over the counter diets. Bottom line is to do your research before choosing a diet, talk with your veterinarian about specific recommendations for your pet, and once you find a diet that works well stick with it.