A balanced diet is a critical building block of your pet’s overall health and wellbeing. Without a proper diet that contains the appropriate amounts of vitamins, minerals, protein, fat, carbohydrates, and other nutrients, your furry pal can fall victim to a plethora of diet-induced health issues, including obesity, diabetes, osteoarthritis, liver disease, heart disease, and many more. And, although you no doubt realize that a healthy diet is vital for your four-legged friend to thrive, you may not know how to choose a well-balanced, high quality diet. Our Marina Village Veterinary and Integrative Care team answers common questions about pet nutrition, to clear up any misconceptions about pet diets.

Question: What is the best food for my pet?

Answer: This is a loaded question that has no one answer. Each pet is an individual, with unique health and dietary needs. You may have two Labrador retrievers who are the same age, gender, and health status, but they may require different diets. Many factors are involved in choosing the best food for your pet, including your pet’s preference, their health issues, diet availability, and your personal philosophies. Determining the best food for your pet can be trial and error, and is best accomplished with your Marina Village Veterinary and Integrative Care veterinarian’s help. 

Q: Are animal byproducts in pet foods bad?

A: The term “animal byproducts” often leaves a bad taste in a pet owner’s mouth, but these ingredients should not be shunned. Animal byproducts mostly include clean and nutrient-rich organ meats, such as lungs, spleen, liver, kidneys, stomach, and intestines that have been cleaned of their contents. They are not allowed to contain hide, hooves, horn, or teeth. Animal byproducts are essentially what remains after making the intended product (i.e., human food), so they’re animal parts that people are less interested in eating. This doesn’t mean they’re unsafe or lack nutrition—they simply aren’t used for human consumption. 

Byproducts can also be good for the environment. If we want pets to eat the same cuts of meat as people, the competition for valuable resources will be high. The environmental costs of animal production are already high, so using all parts of production animals helps the environment, and is more economical.

Q: Are raw pet foods better than canned or kibble foods?

A: Raw diets have gained in popularity in recent years, largely because of dry kibble recalls, and because many pet owners want to feed their pet a less processed diet. Raw diet advocates claim benefits ranging from improved oral and general health, and disease resolution, particularly gastrointestinal disease and allergies. However, no published peer-reviewed studies support these claims, and no studies have examined the differences in pets fed raw diets versus any other diet type. Despite the lack of formal studies, some pets do well on raw diets, provided they are formulated and fed correctly, according to anecdotal evidence. The key concerns with raw diets include:

  • Nutritional imbalances in home-prepared or commercial diets
  • Bacterial contamination, particularly for young children and the immunocompromised
  • Parasitic contamination

A raw diet that you feed your pet must be properly balanced, to ensure no key nutrients are lacking. You must also practice safe and proper handling of raw foods, to prevent your pet, you, and your family from becoming ill. Strict hygiene protocols are essential to safely feed a raw diet.

Q: Is preparing my pet’s food at home better than buying commercial foods?

A: Some pet owners want to know exactly what they are feeding their pet, so they like to prepare a diet at home. They usually believe that a home-cooked diet is safer, more natural, or healthier than a commercial diet. Making a diet at home means they can avoid certain ingredients, like grains, byproducts, or chemical preservatives, and focus on specific protein or fat sources. Other pet owners wish to feed their pet according to their philosophy, and create vegetarian, organic, or raw diets. 

While a great number of recipes for home-prepared pet diets can be found online and in books, many lack vital nutrients and are unbalanced. They may also incorporate potentially problematic ingredients, or lack instructions on the appropriate amount to feed a pet, to ensure they receive the correct nutrients. 

If you wish to prepare your pet’s food at home, consider a customized recipe and consultation with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. You can also use a website like Balance IT, which helps you design a pet recipe along with a veterinary nutritionist, to ensure proper balance. 

Deciding what to feed your pet can take time, as the process to find the best diet for each individual pet often requires trial and error. For help choosing an appropriate diet for your furry pal, schedule a nutrition consultation with our Marina Village Veterinary and Integrative Care team.