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7H_iStock_000013833505_MediumPet owners are constantly bombarded with advertisements, recommendations from neighbors, and Facebook posts about what is and isn’t “good” pet food. Couple that with the overwhelming choices in the pet food aisle at your local store, and it is easy to see why most pet owners are a little unsure about which pet food to choose.

Choosing a pet food can be a little intimidating, but with a few simple guidelines, it is easy to make smart nutritional choices for your pet.

Determining Your Pet’s Nutritional Needs

When choosing a pet food, it is important to have a clear idea going in what your pet needs. Ask yourself the following questions…

  • What life stage is my pet in? Is he/she still growing, and adult, or a senior?
  • Is my pet overweight? Underweight? Just right?
  • How active is my pet?
  • Does my pet have medical problems such as arthritis or urinary problems?

The answers to these questions can be helpful in narrowing down your choices.

Reading Pet Food Labels

When you pull a potential contender off the shelf, be sure to examine the label closely. Things that you should pay attention to include:

The AAFCO statement This statement, issued by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, shows that the food has been determined to meet certain nutritional requirements. A food will either be formulated (determined on paper) to meet the requirement or determined to do so through actual feeding trials on real animals. The statement will give you this information as well as whether the food meets the standards for growth, maintenance, pregnancy/nursing, or all of the above. A food that is good for all life stages may not be the best choice and requirements for different stages may vary quite a bit.

Guaranteed analysis – This list of percentages tell a pet owner the minimum and maximum levels of nutrients such as protein, fat, fiber, and moisture in a food. This is a little deceiving as moisture levels can vary greatly from food to food, making it difficult to look at them to compare one food to another. You need to convert these numbers to a dry matter basis before making a comparison.

Ingredient listWhile many people will tell you it is important for meat to be the first ingredient, it isn’t hard for pet manufacturers to manipulate the label to make this happen, even if their diet is not necessarily the best nutritionally. Meat should certainly be one of the first ingredient, but don’t worry if it isn’t first. Likewise, don’t fear grains. Many provide excellent nutritional benefits. Grains can certainly be used as “filler”, but most good pet food companies can tell you what purpose the grains on their ingredient list serve.

Contact information – A reliable pet food should have some way for you to contact the manufacturer with questions or concerns. Be wary of those who don’t provide this information.

Besides the actual label, take into account claims and words used on the bag. Terms like ‘holistic’ have no legal definition and don’t mean anything at all. Also be sure to educate yourself about the definition of the word by-product before determining that you won’t feed a food that lists it in the ingredients.

Choosing a Pet Food: What’s Your Final Answer

There are certainly many choices to make when it comes to feeding your pet, and there is no one right answer for everyone. Ultimately, many choices are personal. It is easy to be swayed by the media or peer pressure. Please remember, though, if you need advice, we are here to help you sort things out. Ultimately, we have your pet’s best interest at heart and want the same thing you do: A happy, healthy pet for a long time to come.