Americans currently spend a whopping 16 billion dollars on pet food a year and feeding fluffy and can take a bite out of any families budget. But are premium brands worth it? Warren Eckstein has some ideas on picking the perfect pet food.
AMERICANS SPENT MORE THAN $16 billion on pet food last year — that’s a lot of jack or a lot of kibbles and bits. But how do you pick the right food for your pet? Here are some things to look for when picking out pet food:
IS IT A COMPLETE AND BALANCED DIET?
Manufacturers are required to only used the “complete and balanced” words on the label if they get approval – that way you’ll know for sure if it should be used as supplement or can be used as your pet’s only source of nourishment.
IS THE FOOD AGE APPROPRIATE?
Does your puppy really need puppy chow? Experts say yes. Kittens and puppies need special food up until 8 months to a year old. As with babies, young animals need different types of vitamins and minerals from adult animals.
And, at the other end of the spectrum, senior pets also have different nutritional needs. So a senior diet food may be a good idea.
DOES IT HAVE AN AAFCO STAMP OF APPROVAL?
The Association of American Feed Control Officials, a watchdog group, develops standards for pet food. You should always look for their seal and the words “complete and balanced” on your pet’s food label. But, no matter how good the food you pick is for your pet, if they don’t eat it, it doesn’t matter. So, the next questions you have to ask are:
* Does your pet like it?
* Can your pet digest it?
* How does your pet look?
When considering the likability factor – smell is important. Remember a cat’s sense of smell is 200,000 better than ours.
HOW DO YOU PICK GOOD PET FOOD?
GENERIC V. BRAND NAME V. PREMIUM
These are the basic categories of pet food. As a general rule, the quality goes up with the price. Yes, a dog or a cat can live on generic or grocery store brand dog food – just make sure you look for the AAFCO seal of approval to make sure your pet is getting complete nutrition.
But – there are often more fillers and less good food in the lower priced brands.
The brand names are the Purina’s of the world, or the Fancy Feasts. Again, they are little higher in price than the generic brand, you’ll probably get less filler, and more nutritional content.
The premium brands are the kind you usually get at the pet store like Science Diet, IAM’s, Eukanuba. you will get more choices with this brand and more real food – but you’ll pay for it.
No matter what you buy, its important to read the label carefully. For instance, chicken or chicken parts can mean any part of the chicken including beaks and feet. So, if the idea of your pet eating beaks and feet makes you queasy, you should look at the ingredients carefully.
You should recognize all the words on the ingredient list. If it’s not something you would eat, you should think twice before giving it to your pet.
Also, when looking at the label, you should make sure the protein source – chicken or beef – is at or near the top of the list.
WET V. DRY V. SEMI-MOIST
There are pros and cons to all of them.
WET OR CANNED FOOD:
* Pros: Most palatable to the pet, convenient for the owner.
* Cons: More expensive than dry, leftovers spoil easily (particularly when people leave a bowl of food out all day), can lead to over feeding because pets tend to eat fast, messiest to use and they are generally 60 to 80 percent water, so you end up paying for a lot of nothing.
* Pros: Best for teeth and gums, least expensive, easiest to use for the so-called “latch-key” dog (when you leave all day and leave a bowl full of food behind).
* Cons: Hard to switch at mid-life of your pet. If you start with wet and move to dry, it’s like starting your kid on apple pie and then switching to toast – they aren’t going to be happy about it.
This is like the kibbles and bits or tender vittles
* Pros: Light-weight, easy to use, no clean up or prep time at all.
* Cons: Lots of additives and preservatives.
If you want, try wet with dry by mixing 3 parts dry to 1 part wet, if you are going to do that.
Most veterinarians recommend dry because of the ease and the fact that its good for the teeth and gums. But vets aren’t always the best sources of information – they often get free samples of one brand or the other. There are such things as pet nutritionists if you are particularly concerned about your cat’s eating habits.
Natural: Generally these are available at pet stores or health food stores. They usually don’t have any artificial flavors or preservative and they tend to be expensive – about the same as premium and pet store brands.
Warning: Natural can sometimes come from small companies and the quality is not always consistent.
Organic: Same as with people food, organic includes ingredients that are grown and processed without the use of genetic engineering, synthetic or artificial fertilizers, pesticide, dyes and additives. Again, they tend to be more expensive than generic pet food and the quality is not always as consistent as with major brands.
Vegetarian: If you want to keep your pet a vegetarian, you have to do it very carefully. Try working with a nutritionist to make sure your pet is getting all the protein, vitamins and minerals it needs.
Also – and this is very important – dogs are omnivores, they eat anything, so they can go on a non-meat diet. However, cats cannot. Cats are carnivores and cannot just survive on a vegetarian diet.
Special diets: If your vet recommends a specific diet, follow their lead. There are anti-furball formulas, senior pet formulas and food for pets with sensitive stomachs.
People food: Again, if you want to cook for your dog, that’s okay. Just make sure you are very careful to balance their diet and be very vigilant and consistent about it. But, do your research. There are some foods, like chocolate and onions, that’s great for humans, deadly for dogs.
Also, raw meats can be dangerous with all the bacteria floating around just like with humans. Dogs and cats will get table scraps, just don’t go crazy.
Never change a cat or dog’s diet suddenly. You have to do it very gradually. Try making the change over a two to three week period. If you don’t they will get sick.
GENERAL POINTS TO KEEP IN MIND
The recommended feeding amounts on the back of packages are always more than the dog or cat needs. Also, there are usually 800 numbers on the labels, just like with your kids, don’t be afraid to ask questions.
If you’d like to feed your pets the brand I feed my own pets, head on over to Halopets.com