How to choose the right food for your pet
Pets are important members of our family. They love us unconditionally and rely on us completely to take care of them the best we can. Some of their needs are straightforward – like giving them plenty of playtime. But when it comes to determining the right diet, choosing a dog or cat food has become increasingly more confusing thanks to the many options on the market.
Here are a few important factors to consider when deciding on a diet – including signs that your current formula might not be the right fit for your four-legged friend.
1. Do your research
The internet is a helpful resource to turn to for just about anything – but Dr. Heldman cautioned pet owners to be sure that the information they’re gleaning about pet food is coming from a credible source. “More reputable pet food manufacturers belong to the American Association Of Feed Control Officials,” said Dr. Heldman. “Pet owners can visit their website, where the true definition of most ingredients will be listed.”
2. Consider a diet with limited ingredients
Speaking of ingredients, if you’re having a hard time deciphering what’s actually in your pet’s food, it might be time to switch to a diet that isn’t so heavily processed. “Having a more simple diet is really advantageous,” Dr. Heldman said. “Limited ingredients means fewer things that a cat or dog has to break down.”
Read also: how to identify the best food for your dog
The more gentle a diet is on your pet’s digestive system, the less likely it will trigger your pet’s immune response – which can lead to inflammation. “With allergies, the pet’s immune system mistakes a food ingredient for something harmful and reacts against it,” Dr. Heldman explained. “When there is a prolonged immune system response that results in chronic inflammation, it can be damaging and even life threatening for your pet.”
Untamed by 4Health, a new pet food line sold exclusively at Tractor Supply Co., is made with premium ingredients and even includes some limited ingredient formulas – the main ingredient being novel proteins. “Venison, duck, kangaroo and rabbit are examples of novel protein sources,” Dr. Heldman explained. “Many novel protein diets are also grain-free and/or use a single carbohydrate source (limited ingredient formulation).” In the Untamed line, the trout, wild boar and buffalo formulations are considered novel protein diets, and are all grain-free. The trout and lamb formulations are also limited ingredient diets. “When you look at the ingredients they’re all very natural sounding terms – as opposed to words that you would have to look up to get the definition,” Dr. Heldman said.
3. Recognize signs that it’s time to switch formulas
Pet allergies are tricky in that they can happen even when you’ve been feeding your pet the same food for years. “We know that after eating the same type of food (protein source) for a long period of time, some dogs and cats (although not as common) can develop sensitivities or inability to digest that protein,” Dr. Heldman explained. “This can present as persistent gastrointestinal issues and/or itchy skin and rashes.”
Read also: Tips on what to feed your family bird pet
If you notice these signs, Dr. Heldman recommends an elimination diet to pinpoint the problem. “For suspected allergies or sensitivities, the gold standard is to ‘feed by exclusion,’ removing certain ingredients to determine which specific ingredient or ingredients trigger the immune reaction. The first step is to use a novel protein and ideally decrease the number of ingredients so that the pet has fewer possible ingredients to assimilate.”
4. Introduce your pet’s new diet slowly
If you do decide to switch pet food formulas, make sure you do so slowly and gradually. “It really needs to be a week-long process,” Dr. Heldman said. “Start out by mixing 3/4 old food with 1/4 new food over a period of a week to 10 days. Slowly increase the new food and decrease the old food amount.”
If your pet is showing signs of improvement on the new diet, Dr. Heldman advises to stick with that formula rather than introducing new blends of the same brand. “That way if there’s a problem in the future you’ll still have other protein sources to choose from,” she said.
5. Keep treats within your pet’s nutritional guidelines
Treats are called such for a reason – they’re meant to be given sparingly. Dr. Heldman said a good guideline for doing so is to use your dog’s daily calorie allotment to inform the amount of treats you give. “In general, treat guidelines shouldn’t exceed 10% of the daily caloric intake,” Dr. Heldman said. “There are some good ones [for dogs], primarily vegetables and fruits such as a half cup of boiled carrots, or a quarter cup chopped raw apple.” 4Health’s line of cat and dog treats feature different formulations that also have benefits for your pet’s skin, coat, hips and joint support as well. “They don’t have to be big, but pets really do enjoy them,” Dr. Heldman said. To determine your pet’s daily caloric intake, read the information on the back of your pet food label.
6. Stay consistent with feeding times and portions
Does it matter how many times per day you feed your pet? According to Dr. Heldman, as long as you’re feeding your dog the recommended amount of food per day as outlined on the bag or can, doing so all at once or splitting up servings is up to your discretion. With cats, however, feeding twice per day is recommended due to their liver specificities. “For cats in particular based on their liver function you don’t want them to go too long in between meals,” Dr. Heldman said. “I would recommend that cats be fed twice per day.”
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