Nutrition is one of the most important, and often confusing, parts of pet ownership. There are currently a large variety of commercial diets available for both dogs and cats. Statistically, pet owners spend more on food than on veterinary care and other services combined. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, Americans spent $21.6 billion on pet food in 2013. Despite the often overwhelming variety of pet diets, they tend to fall into five main categories.
VETERINARY PRESCRIPTION DIETS
Veterinary prescription diets are processed diets that are scientifically developed to address specific medical conditions. These diets are developed by veterinary nutritionists and undergo rigorous medical and nutritional studies. Prescription diets are only available through your veterinary office. These diets address a variety of medical concerns including diabetes, kidney disease, allergic skin disease, gastrointestinal disorders and even epilepsy. Your veterinary team can help guide you to find the best diet to address your pet’s individual medical concerns.
COMMERCIAL PROCESSED DIETS
Commercial processed diets are the traditional kibble and canned food that can be found in pet stores, online retailers and even your local grocer’s. This category boasts the largest variety of diets on the market. To ensure you are selecting a nutritious and wellbalanced diet, look for the AAFCO seal. AAFCO stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials and is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of dog and cat foods. The organization defines and establishes regulations for pet food ingredients and sets standards for nutritional adequacy. This ensures that the pet food manufacturer is providing a nutritionally complete and balanced diet.
Some pet owners prefer to make their own food for their pets to ensure the quality of ingredients. Homecooked diets can be a great resource, especially for picky eaters. However, it is very important to ensure that homecooked diets provide all the nutrients needed to maintain health. There are a variety of vitamin supplements, specific recipes and even pet nutritional consults available to ensure that a diet is well balanced. Your veterinarian can help you with these resources to ensure your homecooked diet is appropriate and nutritious
Grain-free diets are a fairly new diet option available for dogs and cats. These diets claim to contain no grains (corn and oats are most common grains used in pet foods), and often contain potatoes and tapioca, which have a lower nutritive value than grains. There have been no scientific studies indicating that grain-free diets are superior or healthier for dogs and cats. In addition, grains are not a common cause of food allergies, and there is no increased risk of developing diabetes in cats or dogs being fed a diet containing grains.
Raw, BARF (which stands for Bones And Raw Food, and more recently Biologically Approved Raw Food), frozen and freezedried diets are composed of raw ingredients. These commercial diets are often marketed as complete; however, many raw diets do not contain a balanced and complete nutritional composition. This can be problematic, especially when fed to growing puppies and kittens. Studies have also found high levels of bacterial contamination in raw foods. One found that 80% of raw food diets tested positive for Salmonella, which is a strain of bacteria that can cause serious gastrointestinal disease. In addition, 30% of stool sample from dogs that are fed these diets were positive for Salmonella. Contaminated stools can pose a significant health risk for children, immunocompromised people and elderly family members.
When selecting a diet for your pet, it is very important to work with your veterinarian. They have advanced training in nutrition and preventive care and can help select the best diet based on age, breed and underlying medical concerns.