July is Pet Nutrition Awareness Month

To help our beloved pets maintain a robust health, it goes without saying that feeding them a healthy, nutritious, well-balanced, species appropriate diet is a top priority. Many pet guardians often wonder if there is an "optimum diet" for their companion animals. To shed light on this topic, in reality, there is no "best" diet. Feeding them even with the most expensive pet food may not actually guarantee that the quality of the food is really worth the price.

Frankenstein (FloridaWild patient)
With the huge number of pet foods on the market today, it can be extremely difficult for guardians to easily select the most appropriate and nutritious brands. Without carefully label reading, we can easily be fooled into purchasing foods that are not worth the cost. Many dry and canned food packages are often misleading - these labels often display mouth-watering photos of red meats, fish and poultry. Pet food manufacturers often purposely design their labels in order to entice guardians to purchase them. However, in reality, the nutritional amounts and quality of food depicted may just be "smoke and mirrors."

Unfortunately, according to pet food nutrition expert, Karen Becker, DVM, the shocking truth is there is very little regulation of commercial pet food quality in the United States. Neither the USDA nor the FDA gets involved in monitoring the food we feed our companion animals. Dr. Becker writes, "Although the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has established minimum nutritional standards for cats and dogs, it isn't concerned with the quality of the ingredients pet food producers put in their formulas."

What makes matters worse is there are not any laws in place today that prevent manufacturers from making and selling pet food that does not meet the nutritional guidelines the AAFCO has established. For example, there are some pet food manufacturers that label their products as "organic," "natural" or "holistic." Pet guardians may assume these products will suit their pet's needs, when in reality they may be unaware that cats and dogs have very different nutritional needs than humans. But since we don't always know exactly what is contained in their formulas, how can we know if they are really healthy for our pets? What is a pet guardian to do in order to truly know what pet foods are healthy and which ones are not?

Athena (FloridaWild patient)
Read labels! Cats are obligate carnivores and dogs are scavenging carnivores - both thrive on meat-based diets. The sourced animal species contained in the products should be listed first (i.e. beef, chicken, turkey, venison, etc.). Avoid foods that just list animal or poultry. Since cats and dogs are carnivores they don't require carbohydrates. Very often grains, such as wheat and corn, are added to products as fillers. Some vegetables and fruits can add variety to a diet but those should be listed further down the label. Although a bit more expensive, human grade meats are the way to go, and avoid foods that contain by-products. By contacting the manufacturer you can learn exactly what these ingredients are. You may be amazed.

Home-made, fresh food diets are an excellent way to give pets what they need. Since guardians prepare it themselves, there is no mystery. If choosing to make your own pet food, first consult with your veterinarian about any required essential nutritional additives to ensure the food is well-balanced and has all the necessary ingredients.

Many pets do very well on raw food diets. For guardians that don't have the time or energy to make their own, there are some excellent commercial raw food diets on the market. Your veterinarian can recommend the ones that are the most appropriate for your pet.
Scheduling a nutritional consultation with your veterinarian can help ensure that your pet is receiving exactly what he/she needs. The Funky Mutt Market at FloridaWild Veterinary Hospital carries a wide assortment of species appropriate pet food from which to choose. Included are the highly rated Stella & Chewy, Rick's Dog Deli, and FROMM.

Since pet nutrition is such a vital topic, FloridaWild Veterinary Hospital is celebrating July as Pet Nutrition Awareness Month. The Funky Mutt Market is offering treats at 50% off with a food purchase. FloridaWild Veterinary Hospital's nutritional consultations will be half off for the month of July.

By: Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, LCSW (Ret.)