8 Things Veterinarians Want You to Know About Your Dog’s Food
Is a natural, organic, grain-free, raw food diet always best for your pet? The answer isn't straightforward, so we reached out to top animal experts to find out.
Your dog is eating too much
No matter what type of food you feed your dog, the most important thing is that you not feed it too much. "Obesity levels in pets are skyrocketing—one out of every two dogs and cats is overweight/obese. This leads to diabetes, arthritis, respiratory/cardiac problems, and cancer," says Heather Loenser, DVM, staff veterinary advisor for the American Animal Hospital Association and practicing veterinarian in Bridgewater, New Jersey,
"Natural" is loosely defined
Just like with human food, many of the words used on the label to describe pet food don't have official definitions and are there purely to make it seem like a healthier choice. So that "natural" dog food may be no closer to nature than the one sitting next to it on the shelf, no matter what the label says. "The term 'natural' is a liberal term that includes more ingredients than it doesn't," Loenser says. Here are the human foods dogs should never eat, some of which happen to be very natural.
Organic food may be worth the extra cost
"Certified organic" and "certified non-GMO" are reliable labels, says W. Jean Dodds, DVM, a clinical and research scientist, with more than 50 years of veterinary experience. However, as Loenser notes, "The USDA does not consider organic foods to be safer, healthier or more nutritious than conventionally-produced foods and there isn't data to support that organic food has long-term benefits over conventionally produced ingredients." These are the best dog food brands that vets recommend.
Meat by-products are a gray area
"Meat by-products can be a good, safe, or adequate source of nutrition or unsafe for your pet to consume," says Dodds. "It all depends upon what's in the by-product and how it was processed." That info isn't usually on the label, so it's best to call the customer care number for the manufacturer to ask. Don't miss these things your dog actually wants from you.
Don't give your dog raw meat
When your pup is salivating next to you as you're prepping burgers for the grill, it may seem tempting to toss it a small bite, but don't. "The traditional veterinary and medical community is unified in not supporting raw feeding in pets," says Loenser. "The American Animal Hospital Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, Food and Drug Administration, and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do not support the feeding of raw protein diets to pets due to the concern of bacterial contamination that can sicken animals and people, especially those who are immunocompromised."
Whole grains are OK for most pets
"Whole grains are nutritious and healthy. However, many more people and pets these days are gluten intolerant and can have a predisposition to autoimmune conditions," says Dodds, who notes that purebred pets are more likely to have food intolerances than mix breeds. Loesner points out that, while animals don't suffer from gluten-intolerance or celiac disease to the same degree as humans, they can have specific allergies to grains like soy, corn, and wheat. Final word: if your pet doesn't have any diagnosed allergies or food intolerances, you can skip the pricier grain-free foods. Find out the silent signs your dog is sick.
Always check the label
Whether you're buying organic and grain-free at a pet store or simply grabbing a bag off the shelf, read the ingredient list. The ingredients, particularly the first several, should be easy to pronounce and protein-based. While some conventional brands may have questionable ingredients, other organic brands may not offer an ingredients list that is balanced for your pet's nutritional well being. You'll also want to check it bears the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal and has been tested according to Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards.
Consider your pets' needs
"More important than the 'natural' claim is whether or not the food is nutritionally complete and balanced for the age, activity level, and health of your dog," says Loenser. Puppies need a more nutrient-dense food than an older, less active dog, for example. Read the label and if you have any questions or concerns, reach out to your vet for advice. Read on for 13 unbelievable facts you never knew about your dog.