I talk to pet owners every single day. Even on my days off I am likely going to answer a question for a friend and I often get emails from complete strangers asking me for advice about their pets. I always take it as a compliment when someone wants my input in a decision and try to be as helpful as possible.
If nutrition isn’t the most common subject I discuss with people, it’s in the top 5. Pet owners spend a lot of time looking into what foods will be best for their pet’s needs. It makes sense, you want what’s best for your pet and nutrition is one of the easiest things to control. The problem I see people run into with their pets is the same problem I see people run into with their own diets; there are so many “experts” and so little information. Bags with claims like “human grade” “no byproducts” “grain free” “holistic” and more clog the aisles at pet food stores but don’t really have an affect on anything but the cost of the food. I usually like to start the food conversation with new people by “admitting” my dogs eat a diet with corn in it and meat is not the first ingredient on the bag. My dogs also have their health monitored pretty closely and they are lean but well muscled with the exception of our black lab who steals food from our three children, a lot. In short, my dogs are a lot healthier than the average American dog.
I wrote about this subject a while back but it was sort of more informational and less conversational at the time. I think a conversational approach to nutrition is a good idea. And I think the conversation should be centered around, what are you trying to accomplish with your pet’s nutrition?
If your goals are medically based. If you are trying to accomplish weight loss or manage a disease process like diabetes or arthritis with nutrition, then a consult with your veterinarian and ideally a veterinary nutritionist would be your best bet. They can discuss with you the advantages of using specific nutrient profiles in specific diseases and how we expect those nutrients to effect the physiology of your pet.
If your goals are athletic, your dog is sled dog or an agility dog or a dock diving dog and you want to be sure their nutrition is optimized for competition, a visit to your veterinarian is likely going to be helpful but you really want to utilize a veterinary nutritionist. Specifically one that focuses on athlete or search and rescue dogs. Veterinary nutritionists are veterinarians who have gone on and received advanced training and accomplished certification in the field of veterinary nutrition. You can find more about them here.
If your thinking about breed specific nutrition, I would recommend a consultation with your veterinarian but if your dog is a family companion and has no known medical issues, your dog will likely do just fine on any well balanced diet so long as you are paying attention to the number of calories they take in.
If you are trying to do what’s best for your pet because they are a member of your family and they are otherwise healthy, I have good news for you. Pretty much any food that meets AAFCO standards is going to be alright for your pet. Certainly, a conversation with your veterinarian won’t hurt but a healthy dog can get all of their nutritional needs met by even some of the cheaper foods that are currently on the market. I’m not saying you should necessarily reach for the cheapest food you can find but here’s a point I wish I could put on a coffee mug and give away with every puppy/kitten: If you are skipping out on preventative medical care like flea/tick prevention, oral healthcare, vaccination or annual check ups because of the cost and are feeding an expensive dog food, you are missing the point. Your attention to your pet’s well being would be far better served by focusing on preventing diseases they may encounter and ensuring appropriate oral health than by feeding them foods that aren’t providing any measurable health benefits.
If you’re trying to feed your dog a diet closer to what he/she would eat in the wild, we need to look at this realistically. There are no wild dog populations, there are feral dog populations and having visited many places that have feral dog populations the only diet I would recommend for matching the average feral dog’s is this one. That’s right, “wild” dogs eat garbage. If you are about to insist that your dog should eat like a wolf, stop. No. Your dog is not a wolf. But even if I were to humor you and agree that your dog is a wolf, you would have to concede that wolves live longer and healthier lives in captivity. Do you know what they feed wolves in captivity? Dry commercially available dog food. Don’t believe me? Here. Here. Here.
But what about cats? Feel free to substitute cat for dog above. If you have a sled or dock diving cat I would really like to meet them. And yes, feeding dry commercially available cat food is the recommended diet for small wild felids in captivity. I do prefer to see cats get at least some high quality canned food in their diets. Right now in our house, we are feeding our feline buddies Hill’s C/D stew cans, but that is subject to change based on what’s about to expire at the clinic.
So that’s my take on pet nutrition. If your pet has specific needs, please involve a veterinary nutritionist. If your really happy with your current pet food and your pet is receiving the level of preventative care that works for you, awesome! Keep it up. If you find yourself skimping on preventative care based on cost, you might benefit from switching to a less expensive commercially available dog or cat food. If you really think that your cat/dog should eat like a wild tiger/wolf, I’ll look for your angry comments below. Spelling and grammar may be enforced.
One of the best resources we have for pet nutrition is the Pet Nutrition Alliance. You can find answers to all kinds of questions and some of the reasons our recommendations are the way they are.
Thanks for reading.