Pet Food Recommendations
We had a recent request for a blog post that would list our recommendations for quality and safe pet foods. This is such a great request! What our patients eat is very important to us as proper nutrition is integral to health and well-being. Pet food has become a very hot topic in the past several years and this has caused a great deal of confusion and frustration for our clients. The internet has added fuel to the fire because anyone can create a website claiming to be an expert and make a list of the “best” foods, but these lists are often based upon misinformation and have no veterinary nutritional support.
Walking through the food department of a pet store is a daunting task. It seems there are new brands popping up weekly and each bag looks fancier than the next. We all want to feed our pet a good food, but the main problem with the pet food industry is that it is severely under regulated. There is absolutely no way to tell how good a food is by looking at the bag. Anyone can make a pet food, slap a fancy label on it, and there is almost no industry supervision to help us determine what is actually inside that bag and whether it is appropriate for our beloved pets. Often it is not until something very grievous happens (the major 2007 recall of many foods due to Melamine) or an outside source discovers something that proves the food is mislabeled or contains ingredients that are not permitted, that we actually learn more about the food.
Even food labels do not provide a lot of useful information. The ingredient list is just that – a list of ingredients. Ingredients are listed in order of weight, so many companies use this to their advantage and list heavier meat sources first, even though most of that weight is actually water. This skews the results and is not always an accurate reflection of a meat source being the actual main ingredient. In addition to that, ingredients are not nutrients. Ingredients sound good to consumers who want their dogs to eat a well-rounded diet of healthy items, but that list fails to tell us anything about the quality of ingredients, the nutrients that are provided, and whether they are in the appropriate concentrations and are bioavailable or able to be processed by our pets. Focusing choices solely based upon ingredient lists is a mistake and is not meant to be a measure of quality.
Recently, there has been a noted increase in a particular heart condition that seems to be linked to grain-free, boutique or exotic ingredient pet foods. We have known for a long time that Taurine deficiency can cause heart disease, but lately there has been a noticeable increase in cases that are unrelated to Taurine, but rather seem to have this food category choice as their common link. There is still a lot we do not know about this link, so in the meantime we do recommend being very cautious with foods that fall into this category. Since most of our patients may not actually require a grain-free or exotic ingredient food, we do recommend they be avoided until we know more.
Pet food definitely follows the adage of “you get what you pay for,” at least on the lower end of the spectrum. If the food is inexpensive, it is likely full of fillers and not very high in quality. On the other end of the spectrum however, it is very difficult to determine if the most expensive foods are any higher in quality than anything else. Most of the terms we see on pet food bags that make these more expensive brands sound more appealing are not regulated by anyone so essentially consumers are just taking the company’s word for it. We have no idea if their food is as good as their marketing plan. There have been numerous cases in the past several years of popular companies being called out for mislabeling their products and those are just the ones that are discovered! How do we know who to trust?
When you ask a board certified Veterinary Nutritionist what brand of food they recommend, they will generally not give you a specific answer, but rather a list of guidelines and questions to ask each company you are interested in. We have used this list (https://www.packerlandvet.com/ask-us/choosing-pet-food-questionnaire) to call most of the popular pet food companies and some of their answers (or lack thereof) were really quite shocking. Doing the research for yourself can be helpful to reinforce your own choices for your pet.
To get down to the actual question this article started with, we typically recommend Purina Pro Plan as a general choice for our patients. Pro Plan may not be the perfect choice for every patient, but it provides a great starting point for most. There are a lot of other great brands out there that pets will love and do well on, but we simply do not know enough about many of them to make a specific recommendation. We have chosen Pro Plan as our main starting point for several reasons. Pro Plan is based upon research, has a proven track record of quality and safety, and historically our patients do well on it.
Many of the internet articles you read will now scream at you saying that we are recommending this because Purina paid us to do so or because they paid for our nutritional education. This is simply not the case. We feel the research behind the food, the fact that they are responsible for their own sourcing and processing, their safety record, and their desire to share as much information as possible with the veterinary community makes this a good choice. We have asked the questions that veterinary nutritionists recommend and are happy with the answers. We cannot, in good conscience, recommend foods we do not know a lot about. That does not mean the other brands are bad, but it does mean we need more regulation and transparency so consumers and veterinarians have the information to make the best possible informed choice for their pet.
If you have any further questions we are happy to discuss them! We have several staff members who are passionate about nutrition and would love to assist you in any way they can!