Good nutrition for our dogs and cats is just as important in keeping them healthy and feeling good as it is for is. The variety of food choices is staggering, and getting solid information can be a challenge. Start by reading labels carefully; they will give you important information about ingredients, nutritional breakdown, kilocalories per cup, and the age/life stage of animal the food is designed to feed.
– Select a diet appropriate for your pet’s age. Foods that claim to be for all life stages from puppies or kittens to geriatrics should be viewed very skeptically. Nutritional requirements of these groups vary widely, so it is difficult for one diet to meet all needs adequately.
– This is a risky feeding strategy, as dogs that eat a raw diet are often exposed to salmonella, e coli and listeria. Commercial raw diets are dramatically different from fresh caught prey that wild animals eat- there are many opportunities for bacteria to contaminate meat between the time it is slaughtered and when it reaches your pet’s dish. The CDC and FDA both recommend against raw diets for pets because of the frequency that these dangerous bacteria cause disease in owners.
– Grain free is the fastest growing segment of the pet food industry, but much of this feeding approach is based more on human diet trends and marketing than on science. There is no data to support the idea that grain free diets are better for most pets. Dogs are well equipped too digest starches, and it is important to remember that the grain in these diets is respaced with another carbohydrate such as potatoes or lentils, which are frequently higher in fat or less nutritious than the grains. Food allergies may require a diet with a novel carbohydrate, although most allergies are to proteins or to wheat.
A very disturbing issue has emerged recently, as the FDA and a group of veterinary diagnostic labs are investigating a likely link between cases of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a potentially life-threatening heart condition, and grain free diets. Proper heart muscle function requires an amino acid called taurine. We have known for years that cat foods needed to be supplemented with taurine, but dogs were able to make it from the ingredients in their food. Some grain free diets are either deficient in the building blocks for taurine, or they bind them so they are unavailable for the dog to use. The FDA warning described the foods at issue to be “grain free diets produced by boutique manufacturers” but with available information it is difficult to know which diets are safe, or why some dogs are affected while others or not. We do know that Golden Retrievers and Golden crosses seem to be particularly vulnerable. Several of our patients have been affected by this issue and we are obviously quite concerned. Signs of heart disease generally include lethargy, exercise intolerance and cough or difficulty breathing.
General Guidelines When Selecting a Diet
– If you find the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) label on a food, it means that the food is complete and balanced nutritionally for an animal’s particular life stage. In selecting a dog food, your best guarantee that it is a quality diet is to choose a food produced by a reputable manufacturer. There are three pet food manufacturers who do solid, ethical research to ensure that their products and ingredients are nutritionally complete, healthy and safe. These companies are Royal Canin, Hills Science Diet, and Purina (we especially like their proplan line).
– If your pet has an underlying medical condition and we recommend a prescription diet, it is because that diet is an important component if the medical management of that condition-often as much or more important than medications.
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