Susan O’Bell, DVM, MPH, DACVIM
One of the most pressing issues facing owners is what to feed their pets. The pet food industry is a booming one, and the wealth of options can be overwhelming. As a fellow owner, I can empathize. To help you navigate the pet food aisle, let’s review some basics about selecting the best diet for your companion:
Make sure your pet is evaluated by your veterinarian to help determine any specific dietary need(s) your pet may have. Your vet can be a valuable resource because, when it comes to selecting a specific brand or type of food, it’s important to look beyond attractive marketing. Your veterinarian likely has information about the reputation of food manufacturers, their integrity in the marketplace, and the extent to which a given company has (or hasn't) invested time and resources to meet or exceed published guidelines. For example, did you know that Purina is one of few pet food manufacturers that has researched the effects of feeding a specific diet to a cat or dog for its entire life? Other manufacturers may have researched the effects of a particular diet on a pet for only six months (if at all).
Any bag or can of food you select should have an “AAFCO” statement. AAFCO stands for Association of American Feed Control Officials and is a non-governmental organization (composed of state and federal officials) that provides guidelines for assessing suitability of foods for different animals. I prefer for the AAFCO statement to report that the diet is both formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO and that animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that the diet provides complete and balanced nutrition.
Try to select a food that is both affordable and readily available. I see a lot of clients who have been pressured into purchasing expensive "boutique" brands, or who confess that they are embarrassed to admit they feed a brand readily available at the supermarket. You don’t need to purchase the most expensive food to provide optimum nutrition to your companion.
The epidemic of overweight and obese conditions in our feline companions, and how to help educate my clients to keep their cats fit from day one of ownership, are of particular interest to me. I see an increased number of clients selecting high protein and/or "grain free" diets for their pet -- while appropriate in some circumstances, such a decision should be made only in consultation with your veterinarian. It is possible for there to be too much of a good thing, in this case protein (yes, even for our carnivore patients)! In fact, excess protein can exacerbate certain underlying medical conditions.
Some research suggests that cats fare better on lower carbohydrate diets, and this research has precipitated a movement away from "dry food only" diets as the lowest carbohydrate levels can only be achieved through the canning process. Another reason canned food is gaining in popularity is that meal feeding (as opposed to "free feeding") may be the ultimate way to control calories. Sometimes this calorie control is more easily achieved by feeding canned diets, and some nutritionists report cats may feel more satiated by a canned food meal, even if it is actually lower in calories or fat. In addition, canned food inherently gets more water into your kitty, an often undervalued part of a cat's diet. Regardless of what type of diet a cat consumes, provide multiple sources of fresh water, and ideally refresh or change the water at least once a day to help provide optimum hydration. Finally, check with your veterinarian to make sure you are feeding an appropriate amount of food to your cat or dog. Although I recommend all cats be kept indoors, I do think this lifestyle promotes overweight conditions. Your veterinarian may have some tips and tricks for enriching your indoor cat’s environment or, if necessary, can help formulate a safe and closely monitored weight loss plan for your pet.
There is great joy for any pet owner in seeing your cat or dog anticipate a meal, receive a treat, or seem to truly enjoy the food he or she is eating. With the help of your veterinarian, and some research of your own, you can be sure every meal is a healthy and enjoyable one (for both of you)!
For more information about Dr. O’Bell and Angell’s Primary Care/General Medicine team, please visit www.angell.org/generalmedicine
or call 617 524-5653.