In the first article of this series, we briefly alluded to the fact that every food has a component of water that makes it difficult to compare one food to another. What we need to do when comparing foods is level the playing field!
Keep in mind that canned food generally contains 60-70% water, and dry kibbles are around 10% water. This is why the term “dry matter basis” is so crucial! Comparing foods on a dry matter basis is the only way to compare “apples to apples”, and get a true idea of what’s in food.
LOOK AT THE FIRST FIVE INGREDIENTS
The ingredients in a food are listed in order of weight on the ingredient list. This means that if chicken is the first ingredient listed, it may not comprise most of the food, since meat is full of water. That water will be mostly taken out of the food by the time it becomes the kibble you feed your pet. If chicken meal is high on the list, this is actually a good thing, since the water has already been processed out of the chicken before it’s added as an ingredient.
There are very few rules about how to list ingredients on pet food. The items do not have to all be in one place on the list. One ingredient can be broken into several smaller items to make it seem like there’s less of it in the food
SEE HOW MUCH YOUR PET WILL NEED TO EAT PER DAY
Some expensive foods scare people away because they’re pricier than the same size bag made by another company. Be sure to look at how much your pet will need to eat, by looking at the feeding guide. Often a higher quality food will require that less food be given to your pet each day, because the ingredients are of a higher grade. If you factor the amount fed each day, you’ll often find that the price of each daily meal is much less than you’d think!
Keep in mind that the feeding guide is just a suggestion. Each pet will need more or less, depending on individual metabolism.
There are a few other things to keep in mind when picking a pet food…
WATCH OUT FOR GIMMICKS
There are a few regulations on how to label pet food, but they aren’t always well known by the public.
If you want your pet to lose weight and are looking for a lower calorie diet, be sure the bag says “light” instead of “lite”. Keep in mind that a light diet is lower in calories than that company’s regular pet food. It may still contain more calories than another light diet.
The name of a canned food can tell you a lot about what’s in it:
If a food says it’s a “lamb and rice food for dogs” then you know that lamb is 95% of that food, excluding water.
A “salmon dinner” means that salmon is 25% of the food, excluding water.
If your dog eats “dog food with beef”, then beef is 3% of the food, excluding water.
Every few years, there’s a new school of thought that pops up about how to feed our pets. The most recent is the high protein idea. It says that especially dogs need higher protein diets than were commercially available as they are descended from wolves, which are carnivores. We talked briefly in a previous article in this series about how dogs are omnivores, meaning that they consume both meat and plant material.
The main concern many people have about high protein diets is that the pet’s kidney’s have to work much harder to eliminate the waste products of protein break-down. This can lead to early kidney failure.
Since there are few regulations about creating a pet food, often new diets are put onto the market without sufficient testing. There’s no way to know that your pet will thrive on a food…in essence your pet is the test patient for that food! Only two companies actually feed their diets to pets before the diets are put on the market for the general public. These two companies are Medi-Cal/Royal Canin and Hills.
NUTRITIONAL ADEQUACY STATEMENT
Look for a food that says it’s “complete” or “balanced” for your pet’s lifestage. The basic lifestages are puppy/kitten, adult, and senior. Be wary of foods that say they’re balanced for all lifestages. When you think about it, young pets have much different nutritional requirements than an adult or senior pet. Each lifestage calls for different levels of protein, fat, calories, and certain minerals and vitamins. How can one food have enough of each nutrient for each lifestage, but not too much at the same time??
HIDDEN EMPLOYEE PERKS
Remember that employees at a pet store will have a reason why they recommend a particular food. Often, it’s because they get a perk from the food manufacturer. Maybe if they sell so many bags, they get free food themselves. Also, many employees get their only nutritional training through the pet store. Possibly they were told during training to always recommend a certain food, because the pet store is owned by that pet food’s manufacturer. This is quite common and is something to keep in mind.
Ultimately your veterinarian will have your pet’s best interests in mind, and can recommend a food that will maintain your pet’s good health.