Chris Kouwenhoven

Pet foods - What is good for rover and fluffy

In our last issue we discussed the role of vitamins and minerals in the diet and the importance of a balanced diet for humans and pets alike. Today, we'll continue that discussion in terms of commercial pet foods. Next time we'll look at some home-made diets.

Take a walk down the pet food aisle in your local supermarket and you will find dozens of brands and types of pet food. How do we choose which one is the best for our pet's health while not straining our own food budget in the process?

The label is our first and best clue in this search. Some brands stress the amount of meat protein, while others contain plant protein sources. It really makes no difference which source of protein is used, provided the balance of proteins and amino acids is appropriate. Essentially all commercial pets foods are acceptable on this point. You will likely note that generally commercial cat foods contain more protein than a similar product for dogs. Cats have a higher protein requirement than dogs and this increased protein is one reason cat food usually costs more per unit than dog food. Additionally, as I mentioned in the last issue, cats require the amino acid taurine in their diets that dogs do not. Adding the taurine to the cat food increases the cost slightly too.

Dogs and cats respond differently to flavors and textures. Cats are much more particular about a change in food texture and/or flavor, so changing brands may be more difficult than for dogs. If you do wish to change brands or types for your cat, I suggest adding a small amount of the new food to the old for a few days and increasing it slowly over a week or more until you are feeding only the new brand. Some dogs may also require this gentle changeover, but most are less of a problem than the average cat.

The vast majority of commercial pet foods provide a balanced and complete diet for your pet. As with humans, there may be times in a pet's life that a particular type of diet is required, but for most pets, the choice of brands is not critical. As I have mentioned previously, we have about a dozen cats on our farm, and they thrive on a store brand that is significantly less expensive than many of the big-name brands.

One of the exceptions to all of this is when your pet has specialized dietary requirements. For example, young puppies and kittens should have a higher protein level than an adult animal because they are rapidly growing and putting on muscle mass. So, during the period from weaning to about six months or so (very large breed dogs may need almost a year) they should be fed a diet of puppy or kitten food which contains this higher protein level.

Other times in your pet's life that a specialized diet might be required could include the older pet with poor kidney function or urinary stone formation. Your veterinarian will discuss these specialized diets with you in the course of caring for your aging and/or ill pet.

Another issue in choosing what to feed your pet involves the style and texture of commercial pet food. Here our are choices are dry, semi-moist, and canned. Personally, I believe very strongly in the dry style for dogs and cats both for a number of reasons.

First, dry foods stimulate the gums and help to reduce tartar build up on the teeth. Poor gum health is by far the greatest cause of bad breath in pets. It leads to early loss of teeth and systemic infections may result from the spread of gum disease. Secondly, dry food will stay fresh longer and not spoil in your pets dish. Canned food will quickly dry out and attract flies and ants.

Semi-moist foods don't stimulate the gums like the dry varieties do. Animals with advanced gum disease or those with only a few teeth left may need this type of food, but I don't recommend it for normal healthy pets.

Canned foods are generally much more expensive and, in my opinion, really have very little to recommend them. Most pet owners buy them thinking they are doing their pet a favor, when in fact they are causing potential health problems. Madison Avenue advertising strikes again!

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