Wondering what to feed your dog or cat? Well, me too! Sort of. Confused? I will explain.
There isn’t an appointment that goes by where I am not asked what to feed companion family members. The reason why the answer isn’t as clear cut is because as veterinarians, we evaluate a diet more on ‘essential nutrient’ requirements rather than ‘individual ingredients’, per se.
When a client asks me what to feed their healthy puppy/kitten or healthy adult dog/cat, I respond with the following recommendations:
1) Feed a nutritionally balanced diet for the proper life stage of the dog or cat that is formulated by well established, larger food companies. I support food companies that have board certified veterinary nutritionists and other professional support on staff, have a strong background in research and feeding studies and are well-known and reputable. I also request that my owners look for the AAFCO feeding claim which is always in fine print and located on the side or back of the bag of the food purchased. This claim, in a nutshell, helps me know that the diet purchased is nutritionally adequate and balanced for the type of pet and stage of life the food is formulated for. Some reputable companies that meet these criteria are: Hill’s, Iams, Purina, Eukanuba and Royal Canin, but there are many others.
2) Replace unhealthy treats with appropriate fruits and vegetables such as apples, melons, berries, bananas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, squash, green beans and peas, just to name a few! While you are correct in worrying about the sugar content of fruits, they are still less energy dense meaning they have much fewer calories and also have a beneficial high water and fiber content. In general though, treats (even fruits and vegetables) should not exceed more than 10% of the total daily caloric intake. *please note, veterinarians do not recommend feeding grapes/raisins, chocolate, garlic or onions as they are very toxic to dogs and cats.
3) Maintain a lean body weight through proper diet and exercise.
Certainly, these recommendations will change and become much more tailored to the individual dog or cat, under the direct guidance of your veterinarian, when there is underlying medical disease or illness. For my owners who prefer cooking homemade diets, I strongly encourage a consultation with a veterinary nutritionist who will formulate a custom made diet for your pet that is completely balanced.
Ultimately, food companies know their diets the best and are always happy to share this information with the public, so never hesitate to call them directly when questions or concerns arise.