Proper nutrition is one of the best ways pet parents can keep their furry pals happy and healthy. However, finding a pet food that is both good quality and within your budget can sometimes seem impossible.
So, to help simplify the task, we’ve put together five easy tips for choosing the right food for your cat or dog.
As most owners choose to feed their pet a dry diet (about 71%, according to vet charity PDSA), we will focus on dry pet food this time. Among its many benefits, dry pet food is economical, easy to measure and easy to store. Plus, a great advantage of dry kibble is it’s good for your pet’s teeth and gums.
So without much further ado, here they are: five easy steps for picking the perfect pet food.
1. Consider your pet’s life stage and condition
Pet food manufacturers have spent years researching the nutritional needs of cats and dogs at different stages of their life. And the conclusion is this: to provide the best possible nutrition for each pet, the ingredients in each formula have to be adapted accordingly.
For example, kittens, puppies and lactating mothers will require more calories per day than a senior cat or dog. The proportion of nutrients will also be different for each pet. Similarly, there are condition-based diets that have been specially formulated for animals with certain health issues, like diabetes or kidney disease.
So the first step is finding a food that is right for your pet’s age. Does your pet have a health condition too? Then it may be worth asking your vet if a condition-specific food may be suitable for your pet.
2. Learn to read the labels
The next step is choosing a good-quality food and that starts with learning how to read pet food labels. As with human food, the order of the ingredients isn’t arbitrary – each one is listed based on weight.
We always say this: choosing a food with high meat content is the way to go (basically, anything that contains 30% protein or more). This means the first ingredient should ideally be meat. If possible, try to choose a food with whole meat or fish (chicken, cod, lamb, salmon, etc.) and avoid products with less specific protein sources such as ‘meat meal’ or ‘animal derivatives’, especially if these are the main ingredients. Likewise, steer clear of pet foods that include terms like ‘flavoured’ (e.g. ‘chicken-flavoured’), as this usually means the meat isn’t there at all.
A nutritious pet food will also contain grains, vegetables, fruit and sometimes, also herbs.
3. Look for the words ‘Complete’ or ‘Balanced’
This one’s easy. Pet foods labelled as ‘Complete’ contain all the nutrients your pet needs, thus providing a ‘balanced’ diet; whereas ‘Complementary’ foods need to be supplemented with another food. With this in mind, it’s always easier to pick a complete pet food.
Fun fact: According to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, complete and balanced pet foods are all formulated to fulfil the 40 nutrients required by cats and the 37 nutrients required by dogs. This is why pet food companies invest so much resource in creating the best possible diet for pets while ensuring they meet the industry’s quality standards.
4. Choose natural ingredients
With many brands now using only natural ingredients, more pet owners are now gravitating towards all-natural pet foods. These not only contain more whole, unprocessed ingredients (which makes reading their labels a whole lot easier!), they also avoid using additives, chemicals and unnecessary fillers.
As an example, while two pet foods can be 100% complete in terms of nutrients, a natural pet food will typically contain more fresh, wholesome ingredients; usually names you can easily recognise such as vegetables, fruit and other plants.
5. Decide if grain-free is right for your pet
Grains are an excellent source of carbohydrates, protein and fibre, making them beneficial for most cats and dogs. It’s only when pets appear to be sensitive or intolerant to certain foods that you may want to consider a grain-free or hypoallergenic diet.
But before doing anything hasty, it’s important that you visit your vet. Food allergies and intolerances can have very different triggers, from additives to dairy, so a vet will be the best person to investigate this. Common symptoms of allergies include skin and ear problems, while intolerances usually affect the digestive system (bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, etc.).
If you decide to change your pet’s diet, introduce them to the new food gradually by mixing it with the old food over a period of about a week, when you can switch to the new food completely.
We hope these tips help you navigate the pet food section more easily! Good nutrition is essential to your pet’s wellbeing, so knowing what goes into their food bowl is always a good step in the right direction.