We all want to feed our pets a high-quality diet, but in recent years, pet owners have experienced increasing pressure from brand marketers, breeders, trainers, and some veterinary health care providers to feed a wide range of specialty diets. What is best for your pet? Are the most expensive brands the best? Will your pet be less healthy if you choose a less expensive brand?
Every pet is different, and choice of diet will depend on species, breed, age, activity level, health status, and pet/owner preference. Although there are certainly differences in quality of ingredients among brands, pet foods labeled as “complete,” “balanced,” “100% nutritious,” or that claim to be adequate as a sole source of nutrition must meet FDA nutritional standards. According to veterinary nutritionists, there is little evidence that a special diet such as grain free or raw is healthier for the average pet. There’s nothing wrong with feeding a raw or homemade diet, as long as it is nutritionally balanced, but there is also no reason to feel guilt if you are not able to provide this type of specialty diet.
Other considerations, such as how pet food ingredients are produced and processed may be important to you. Labeling will not be very informative here, and the reputation of the brand or company may guide your choices. Pet foods labeled as organic must meet the USDA requirements. Expensive brands are not necessarily better, and more expensive brands are no less likely to be recalled due to contamination than their cheaper counterparts.
The truth is that by far the most important aspect of any feed for your pet is how much you feed. Obesity rates are rising in our pets, and a pet carrying extra pounds is also carrying extra risk of developing conditions such as osteoarthritis, pancreatitis, and exercise intolerance, according to veterinarians. Talk with your veterinarian about your pet’s physical condition and nutrient requirements.
In the end, the type of diet and ingredients you feed your healthy pet will be informed by your preferences, and ideally the advice of your veterinarian. Stop stressing. The pressure is off: choosing a pet food does not have to require certification as a nutritionist. The best food choice is the one that keeps your pet happy and healthy, and the options are nearly endless.