The Diet Dilemma: What Should I Feed My Pet?

We often get requests for pet food recommendations from our clients. There are so many brands of commercial foods on the market that it can be very difficult to select the right food for your pet. The large pet supply stores and pet boutiques carry a wide range of foods: canned, kibble, grain-free, raw, refrigerated, etc. In recent years there has been a lot of marketing on behalf of the newer pet food companies suggesting that grain-free diets are superior. However, there is no evidence to show that grains are harmful to dogs or cats; in fact, they are an excellent source of energy and vitamins. Most foods containing grains have fewer calories than grain-free foods. Raw diets have the potential to cause infection from Salmonella and E. coli, as well as carry parasites. These potential pathogens are killed by cooking. Cooking also releases vitamins from grains and vegetables and makes protein easier to digest. In addition, over the last ten years or so foods have evolved from well known protein sources such as chicken, turkey, or beef to more obscure (and costlier) sources like rabbit, salmon, duck, and even kangaroo.

Recently, grain-free diets have been in the news with the concern that some dogs fed a grain-free diet are showing a higher incidence of dilated cardiomyopathy, a form of heart disease causing a weakening of the heart muscle and poor pumping ability. It is believed that the legumes found in these diets (chickpeas, lentils, peas) are binding with taurine, an essential amino acid necessary for optimal cardiac health. More research is needed to understand this possible correlation. See the FDA Q&A link in the resources below if you are looking for more information.

Currently, there is no recommendation by the FDA to avoid grain-free diets. However, if you are feeding a grain-free food and wish to change to another diet, we recommend gradually switching from the current food to the new food over the course of a week or so to avoid upsetting the gastrointestinal tract. Diets that have been on the market for a long time (Hills, Purina, Royal Canin, etc.) have been thoroughly researched and tested showing they meet AAFCO (The Association of American Feed Control Officials) standards. Look for a product that has the AAFCO statement on its label. AAFCO establishes standards for complete and balanced pet foods, but it is the responsibility of the food manufacturer to formulate their product to meet these standards. AAFCO catches recalls and backs the products formulated by these standards. Additionally, it is fairly uncommon for most pets to have a food allergy, requiring a exclusive protein source. This means that most of our pets are fine to eat chicken or beef based diets. In fact, most pets with allergies are allergic to environmental allergens, not foods.

At Hazel Ridge we believe that there is no one perfect diet for all pets. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries to find the right diet that is palatable, keeps your pet at his or her ideal weight, provides all the essential vitamins and minerals resulting in a healthy coat quality, and results in normally formed stools that are not difficult to pick up. If you choose to feed your pet a home cooked diet, please consult your veterinarian to ensure your pet is receiving proper nutrition. If you have further questions, please call our office to schedule an appointment, or bring up your concerns during your pet’s next annual physical exam. We are here to help you provide the very best care for your pet, including helping you choose from the dizzying array of food choices on the market. Happy feeding!


U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Questions & Answers: FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine’s Investigation into a Possible Connection Between Diet and Canine Heart Disease
AAFCO Website

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