Pet Food Dilemma

How to choose a good diet from seemingly endless options

Years ago choosing a pet food was a less involved process. Your dog ate out of the green Purina Dog Chow bag or the yellow Pedigree chunks bag. The cat ate the blue bagged oddly bright red colored kibbles of Cat Chow. Remember those commercials? Catchy jingle – chow chow chow and all the cats came running? In 2019 the pet food industry generated 36.7 billion dollars of revenue. That is a lot of chow.

As a pet owner, you are confronted with a myriad of choices when you walk down the food aisles of the pet store. Multiple aisles filled floor to ceiling with brightly colored bags with slick marketing trying to convince you this is the formula for the optimal health of your pet. Similar to the foods presented in our grocery store aisles it can be difficult to sift out important claims from the gimmicks.

There are some basic guidelines that can help you make the best choice for your pet.

First, price is not equivalent to quality. You can pay 4 to 5 to 6 dollars per pound for foods that spend more money on the bag design than they do on the nutrition inside. Look past the shiny marketing at what they put in there. You can research the company online and see if other pet owners have positive or negative things to say about the product. Don’t pay extra for celebrity endorsements or unnecessarily complicated ingredients. I am sure Quail and Quinoa make a unique flavor profile but I am not convinced my dog would enjoy it more than chicken and rice.

The second item to consider is the calorie count. Your pet’s daily calorie requirements depend on their age, health issues, and lifestyle. A young 75 lb male Labrador Retriever who field hunts with the family is going to need more calories per pound than an older 15 lb spayed female Poodle who spends most of her time gazing up from her owner’s lap. The back of every food bag has a chart that lists approximate volumes of food to feed your pet based on their weight. That chart also includes the number of calories per cup of food. Foods can range from 250 calories per cup for low-fat weight loss diets to 500 plus calories per cup in many of the high energy diets. Performance diets are for dogs who expend a lot of energy during their daily activities and need the calories to support their muscle mass. Although holding down the couch and monitoring the neighborhood squirrel movements can seem like an active job, most of our pets do not need high energy performance diets. If the diet you have is very nutrient-dense (500+ calories per cup) it might be a bit high octane for your pet’s needs. Monitor your pet’s weight to ensure they are not getting excess calories. We recommend starting with the chart on the bag and then adjusting from there. If your dog’s ribs and hip bones become more evident then they need more than the bag suggests. More frequently the issue is the opposite. If 2 cups per day are the recommendation and your pet is as they say, an easy keeper, you may have to cut that by ¼ to ½ the volume to maintain a healthy weight. Dog food companies want you to purchase more food not less so they will usually overestimate feeding volumes. If you are interested in a veterinary recommendation for calories per day for your particular pet call your veterinarian and the staff there can help determine an appropriate daily calorie intake for you.

The third option to consider is the ingredients in the diet. Cats are a type of animal called an obligate carnivore. This means they cannot manufacture certain amino acids and vitamins on their own and so require a diet based on animal protein. Quality cat foods will primarily be protein-based. This is one of the reasons wet cat food is actually a healthier option than dry kibble for most of our feline companions. We will discuss this issue further in a future blog. Dogs are omnivores, their healthy diet needs to contain both protein and carbohydrates. Many dog diets advertise as “grain-free” these days and if your dog has an adverse reaction to grains this can be an appropriate diet. However, recent studies have shown some grain-free diets can lead to heart disease. Please go to for more information on this topic. Grain-free diets tend to be the most calorie-dense as well so they can contribute to weight gain in many dogs. Some pets get itchy or gassy when they eat certain foods. Note what ingredients are in your pet’s diet and make adjustments as needed. If you currently feed a chicken-based diet try one based on beef or lamb to see if that helps their digestion. Try to only change one ingredient at a time to make it easier to identify the offending item.

Choosing a quality pet food starts with knowing what your pet’s basic needs are. Start with their age and lifestyle to guide you to a few options. Narrow that further by choosing ingredients that your pet does well with. Adjust the feeding volume based on their weight and activity level. Summer winter weight fluctuations are common here and you may need to just the volume of food seasonally. Make sure the bag has the AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) seal. That lets you know the ingredients have been tested and are within professional standards. You will still have to make a final choice from there but from a more limited range of products. For more information or further guidance please call us.