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Choosing the best pet food

Updated on June 13, 2010

We are picky about our own food, but do we really know what's in the food we feed our pets? With the recent "Made in China" scare, what's the best way to analyze the ingredients? What's really healthier? Is expensive food really worth the price?

Tom-Tom in the process of switching to Blue Buffalo Spa Select (mixed 50%-50% with the previous food).
Tom-Tom in the process of switching to Blue Buffalo Spa Select (mixed 50%-50% with the previous food).

Grocery vs. Premium

Grocery store pet food is inexpensive, usually generic, food. Premium pet food is often dubbed as "natural", "holistic", and/or "for optimum health".

Grocery store food usually has a grain base, rather than a meat base. Grain is an inexpensive protein source, but it also is not as digestible as meat. Corn, wheat, and soy are common sources of skin allergies.

Premium food usually has a meat base. Chicken, lamb, fish, and beef are commonly used, and are very digestible. Protein meals (ground-up meat-based sources) are more digestible than whole meat, but whole meat is more digestible than grain. Premium food also often does not have corn, wheat, or soy.

Because premium foods have more protein and the protein sources are more digestible, the cat or dog eats less of the food to get the nutrients it needs. So, actually, the cost difference between grocery store foods and premium foods is negligible.

How to choose a brand

The best way to choose what brand to feed is to do a side-by-side comparison. Ideally, a pet food should have three good protein sources in the first five ingredients. In addition, there should be minimal or no allergens (corn, wheat, or soy) in the food. The nutritional analysis should also include a comparison of vitamins and minerals, especially if the pet requires a specialized diet.

Not all flavors of the same brand of food have the same nutritional value, so be sure to check the ingredients on each variety under consideration. Also, canned food ingredient quality can be dramatically different than dry food ingredient quality of the same brand.

Introducing the new food

After deciding which pet food is best, switching should be done gradually. It helps to feed a 75% old food to 25% new food mix for a couple days, then add in more of the new food and less of the old food until the pet is eating mainly the new food. After a week to two weeks, the pet should be totally switched over to the new food. Switching gradually helps minimize the risk of diarrhea and vomiting, because the pet's digestive system gets used to the new food slowly.


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