Choosing Dog Food

Picking the Right Food for Your Pet


by Lorie Huston, DVM on December 8, 2011


There’s been a lot written about pet foods on the internet. What’s good, what’s bad, what should be in your dog or cats food, what shouldn’t. Throw a proverbial stick in the online world and you’ll hit someone who has an idea about what you should be feeding your pet. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it does make for a lot of confusion for pet owners. Who should you believe? Are the big pet food companies evil? Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

The Perfect Pet Food: My Opinion

In truth, I don’t believe there is one perfect pet food for each and every dog or cat. I think there are just too many factors involved to be able to say that any one food is the best. You need to consider your pet’s species. Yes, cats need different things in their food than dogs. You also need to consider your pet’s age, how active he is, whether he has a tendency to gain extra pounds. If your pet is a female, you need to consider her breeding status. Pregnant animals have different nutritional needs. If your pet is spayed or neutered (which I highly recommend if you’re not breeding responsibly), that will play a role also. All these things factor into the type and quantity of food that an animal needs.

Let me say a few other things about my own personal philosophy. You may agree or disagree and that’s just fine. But I want you to be aware of where I stand as you read this. I don’t believe pet food companies are evil, even the biggest ones. I feel perfectly comfortable giving my cats commercial cat food as long as the food is produced by a pet food company I know and trust.

Corn and Grains in Dog and Cat Foods

I also don’t believe that corn, in itself, is a “bad” ingredient to include in a pet food. I do believe it has nutritional value, although I don’t like it to see it at the top of the ingredient list. I do think that there are some pets that do better with a corn-free or even a grain-free diet. And I don’t criticize those pet owners who choose to feed a diet that is either corn-free or grain-free. I think that is a valid choice. However, I don’t think that potatoes, yams or green peas (carbohydrate sources which are often used to replace corn and/or other grains in these grain-free foods) are any more “natural” for a dog or cat than corn or grains.

Again, I think what it comes down to is finding the diet that your dog or cat does best eating. I do believe there may some value in feeding some (maybe even most) cats a diet that is lower in carbohydrates and higher in proteins.

By Products in Pet Foods

I’m going to refer this part of the discussion over to Dr. Jessica Vogelsang (aka Dr. V of Pawcurious) who recently completed a tour of a Hill’s pet food facility. She writes about by-products in pet foods in her blog post about the tour.

This is the definition of by-products borrowed from Dr. V’s post (this definition is specific to poultry by-products):

“Poultry By-Products must consist of the non-rendered clean parts of carcasses of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, viscera, free from fecal content and foreign matter.”

Dr. V goes on to say that the by-products can be a high-quality source of nutrition or they can be a heap of low-quality junk. It all depends on what the pet food manufacturer is willing to accept from their supplier.

“Hill’s deals with this by making additional stipulations on their suppliers for minimum protein requirements for their by-products- if it’s just feet, a big pile of calcium, it won’t pass muster and the product is rejected.”

Dr. V’s conclusion (or at least one of them):

“It comes down to trusting the company and the people who make the product, whether or not you believe they are making those choices to select a high quality ingredient from an ethical supplier.”

I agree with her. This makes perfect sense to me. If you don’t trust the company, don’t feed your pet their food. Personally, I’ve used their foods often enough and dealt with Hill’s veterinarians staff frequently enough in my veterinary practice, that I do have faith in Hill’s. I use their Prescription Diets to manage disease frequently.

Your Pet Is the Best Judge

Ultimately, your pet’s reaction to whatever food you choose is the best judge of whether the food is right for him or not. Does he eat the food readily? No food, no matter how high its quality, is good for your pet if he won’t eat it. Is he healthy when eating the food? Does his hair coat look shiny? Is he itch-free? Do his eyes look bright? Is he active and happy? Does he get clean bill of health from your veterinarian? If the answer to all these questions is yes, chances are you’ve done a good job picking his food.

One of the nice things about the pet food industry today is that there are so many choices. Do you prefer to feed a food that doesn’t contain by-products? Those foods are available. Don’t feel comfortable feeding corn? There are lots of foods that don’t contain corn. Choose one. Is there some other ingredient you don’t want to see in your dog or cat’s food. It’s likely you can find a food that meets your criteria.

Do you still feel uncomfortable about feeding a commercial diet for your pet? Do you prefer to cook for your pet? That’s okay too. As long as you’re feeding a balanced and complete diet, have at it.

Most importantly, please don’t be critical of someone who chooses something different than you’ve chosen. If their pet is healthy and doing well, what’s the problem?

This article is posted with the permission of the Pet Health Care Gazette