How to Select the Right Kind of Food for Your Dog or Cat in 3 simple steps

dog food

by Jason Smith

“The nutritional adequacy statement is the most important piece of information on any pet food product because it allows the consumer to make quick and easy comparisons.” – AAFCO

When you first brought your dog home, how did you decide what to feed him?

You probably selected a popular brand of kibble off the shelf at your local supermarket based on recommendations from family, friends, or your veterinarian.

Marketing may have influenced your purchasing decision.

Like most people, you continue to buy the same brand of food, feeding your companion animal a uniform meal plan over the course of his life. If this sounds like you, there’s a good chance you may be depriving your beloved companion of a fuller life, both in appetite and span.

In recent years, various writers and researchers have published numerous studies and books about canine nutrition that suggests pet parents should take a more active role in determining what to feed their companion animals to provide a rich and nourishing life.

Recommendations vary from feeding one type of kibble over the life of the animal, to feeding canned food, to rotating food once every six months, to home cooking, or even feeding raw food diets.

With all the information flooding the marketplace, how can you, the consumer, make the best choice when it comes to feeding your pets?

Step 1: Get Informed

First, gather information about the foods you want to feed your companion animals.

One of the most important things to locate is the AAFCO statement on the packaging. The AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials. They have developed Nutrient Profiles for cats and dogs, which they use to determine the nutritional adequacy the food in question.

Here are a few statements you should look for and what they mean according to the AAFCO’s web site:

  • “Complete” – product contains all required nutrients
  • “Balanced” – nutrients in the product are in the correct ratios
  • “for gestation/lactation” – indicated for use with pregnant or nursing dogs and cats
  • “for growth” – indicated for use with kittens and puppies
  • “for maintenance” – indicated for use with healthy adult dogs and cats
  • “for all life stages” – indicated for use with cats and dogs of any age

According to the AAFCO, the nutritional adequacy statement is the most important piece of information on any pet food product because it allows the consumer to make quick and easy comparisons.

“If you see a product with non-specific terminology, do not purchase it for your dog or cat.”

Also, be sure to examine the ingredients list. All ingredients are listed in descending order based on weight.

Generally, you will want to avoid foods that do not distinguish “animal fat” from “chicken fat” because the term “animal” is not specific. In fact, the AAFCO prohibits using collective terminology on pet food products.

The AAFCO web site states, “Collective terms, such as ‘animal protein products,’ ‘grain products,’ or ‘roughage products’ that cover more than one ingredient and can be used on other animal feeds cannot be used on pet food products” (emphasis added). If you see a product with non-specific terminology, do not purchase it for your dog or cat.

The guaranteed analysis is another important part of the food label. The AAFCO requires four guarantees for pet foods:

  • Maximum percentage of crude protein
  • Minimum percentage of crude fat
  • Maximum percentage of crude fiber
  • Maximum percentage of moisture

A food labeler may voluntarily include additional guarantees following the moisture guarantee. If a labeler guarantees an item the AAFCO does not require, then the labeler should include it last with an asterisk pointing to an additional statement on the label.

The AAFCO Statement, Guaranteed Analysis, and Ingredients List is the minimum information you will need before making your decision to buy a pet food.

Step 2: Understand Pricing

Depending on the process used by a manufacturer and the selected ingredients, the price of dog and cat food may be different.

Marketing may also influence the price of dog or cat food. Sometimes, fancy packaging or the addition of words like “Premium” or “Senior Blend” may influence the price to go higher. In my experience, cheap foods are usually cheap but expensive does not always mean better.

According to Consumer Affairs, there are three types of pet foods: canned, semi-moist, and dry.

Dry Pet Foods

Dry foods are mass-produced using a process called “extrusion.” It is a fast cook process allowing a manufacturer to produce a lot of kibble quickly. Because this process is fast and uses inexpensive ingredients, the overall price extended to consumers is low. There is a range of dry products available. If a manufacturer selects premium or “human-grade” ingredients, adds more protein, or uses natural preservatives instead of synthetic preservatives, the price of the food will be higher.

Semi-Moist Pet Foods

A step up from dry is semi-moist foods. Many dog and cat treats are semi-moist foods. The difference is that semi-moist foods contain more water than dry, so the food tends to be chewy instead of hard. Semi-moist foods also contain preservatives. The price of semi-moist foods is more than the price of dry food.

Canned Pet Food

Canned food is the third type of food available on the market. Canned foods do not usually contain preservatives because the canning process acts as a preserving mechanism for the food. Because canning is more expensive than the processes used in manufacturing dry or semi-moist food, canned food is the most expensive type of food available on the market.

Step 3: Do what’s Comfortable

After collecting information and understanding price, you are ready to make a purchasing decision. Dave Ramsey always says, “Do not buy anything you don’t understand.” You wouldn’t invest money in the stock market if you didn’t understand stocks so why would you buy pet food that you don’t understand? The food you select for your pet is an important decision that will affect the life of your companion animal. So make a good choice.

Is canned food the best choice for your pet? Is semi-moist food the best choice for your pet? Is dry food or premium dry food best for your pet? Is raw or home-cooked food best for your pet?

Many experts agree that the best food for your pet is one that your dog likes, one that you’re comfortable with, and one that fits into your budget.

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