By Your Vets at the Animal Medical Centers of Loudoun

Have you decided to make certain food choices for yourself and your family?? – eating whole grains, organic vegetables, foods rich in omega 3s, etc?  Have you decided to include your pet’s diet too?  If you haven’t, here are some guidelines to help you decide if a pet food is right for your animal.

Don’t shop at the grocery store.  This is a golden rule.
Most pet food companies know that people will not pay as much for pet food they buy at the grocery store as at a pet store.  Generally, grocery store foods are made with cheaper ingredients, use large amounts of fiber, replace animal proteins with plant proteins, and use less protein overall.

Make sure an  AAFCO label is there.
Anyone can make and sell a pet food, even if it has severe dietary deficiencies. The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) writes guidelines for what makes a pet food “balanced and complete”.  Be careful though.  There are some foods that are AAFCO labeled for both dogs and cats, even though these animals have vastly different nutritional needs. Similarly, the nutritional needs of puppies, large breed puppies, and adult dogs are very different. Even if the front of the bag says “for puppies” or “for adult dogs”, make sure the AAFCO label does not read “For all life stages” or “For growth and maintenance”.

If you are concerned about a pet’s nutritional needs or your pet requires a weight loss diet, do not pick a food simply because it says “senior”, “lite”, or “low calorie”.  Your veterinarian should be involved in diet decisions for these pets.  They can best designate a food that meets the pet’s nutritional requirements while managing their weight loss.

TV ads do not mean higher quality.
We have found that there is an opposite relationship between a food’s quality and the number of ads for that food on TV. The cheaper the bag of food, the more food they need to sell to make a profit, and the harder they have to work to convince you the food is good for your pet.

Reputation and Quality are Important.
Pick a pet food company that has been around for a while with a good reputation. Call to see if their service representatives know quality control specifics and have a veterinarian on staff.

A recognizable meat should be listed as the first ingredient, preferably meat “meal”
Meat should be one of the top ingredients in a bag of food, ideally meat meal like “chicken meal” or “beef meal”. “Meal” is just the dehydrated and ground up version of the original meat. Ingredients in a food are listed by weight and since “chicken” is the water-filled version of “chicken meal” a food that lists “chicken” as its first ingredient actually has less chicken than one with “chicken meal”.

No added sugars or fats in the top 4
Some companies will add excessive amounts of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or fats to their foods to make them taste better. Healthy foods with good ingredients should be tasty enough without these.

Byproduct isn’t always bad
In the wild, wolves normally eat the non-muscle parts of the animal including the lungs, liver, kidneys, and other internal organs. These organs naturally contain important nutrients. While pet food shouldn’t be made completely of animal byproducts, seeing this lower on the ingredient label shouldn’t scare you off.

Less than 20 ingredients
Most pet foods should be relatively simple. If your pet food contains carrots, apples, eggs, beetroot, kale, and 10 other different kinds of foods, those are 15 foods your pet may develop a food allergy to later in life. Keep it simple.

Now you are ready to start shopping for a better pet diet!  When in doubt – Just Ask!  The best way to pick a good food for your pet is to ask your veterinarian to recommend the diet.  Take the stress and guesswork out of it and let a professional guide you.