If you are like me, you feel bombarded with all the advertisement and recommendations from so-called experts about how and what to feed your pet. The choices seem limitless; you can’t turn on the TV, get on the internet, or go into a pet store without feeling judged by what you are currently feeding or pressured to feed a particular food. It is hard to know what to do!

Here are some basic things to keep in mind when choosing a nutritious pet food.

Don’t stress about the “meal!”

Chicken meal is just ground up chicken (just meat and skin – no by-products) with the water content removed so it has a higher protein content.

Beware of Labels

Product labeled as “premium,” “ultra-premium,” “super-premium,” or “gourmet” are not actually required to contain any different or higher quality ingredients

 “Natural’ does not mean organic

In fact, the label claim “natural” is loosely construed to refer to a lack of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives which are not used in pet food nearly as often as in human food. There are no official rules governing the labeling of “organic” foods for pets at this time.

Not all pet food by-products are bad!

America’s Veterinarian, Dr. Marty Becker, says, “by-products are basically organ meats—the liver, the kidneys, the lungs, the spleen—rather than being bad, it’s actually the first choice that animals have when they eat. They’re nutritious and they’re palatable.”

Beware of generic ingredients

In general, avoid foods that are not specific in their ingredient list about what animal from which a meal or fat or by-product originated. I prefer not to give pet food companies this much wiggle room, so I would not choose a food that had any of the following in their ingredient list:

■ Meat and bone meal

■ Meat by-product meal

■ Animal by-product meal

■ Animal fat

Here are my basic rules when picking out a nutritious food for your pet:

  • They like it.
  • You can afford it.
  • The first ingredient should be a protein.
  • On the food, your pet has no more than 2 nice, quality bowel movements a day (you can pick it up without it falling apart).
  • On the food, your pet has a healthy, shiny hair coat, is not overweight, and is not gassy.
  • Finally, I do not recommend switching foods, or picking foods with different protein sources regularly as this can cause GI upset and other issues if your pet is diagnosed with a food allergy later in life.
  • If it becomes truly necessary to switch foods, be certain to do it gradually, over the course of about two weeks, increasing the ratio of new food to old which will minimize or prevent GI upset.

Authored by Dr. Kelly Hutchison