How to Select the Best Food for Your Pet

Confusing packaging and a seemingly endless selection makes choosing the right pet food difficult. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that pet food is not universal; different pets have different nutritional needs. Luckily, keeping a few fundamental nutritional rules in mind and learning what to look for on packaging will help make choosing the right pet food easier.

Identifying Nutritional Needs

Two of the most important factors in choosing the right pet food are the animal's size and activity level. When it comes to dogs, for example, active breeds will need more calories than lazier ones. At the same time, puppies require more calories than older dogs. Maintaining an animal's proper caloric intake will help prevent obesity and its associated health risks.

Reading Pet Food Labels

Although pet food labels are often confusing, certain information is required to appear on the packaging. The American Kennel Club (AKC) identifies eight pieces of information that consumers can find on all pet food packaging. Among these, the most telling pieces of information are the guaranteed analysis, list of ingredients and statement of nutritional adequacy. It is also important to keep an eye out for phrases that will help identify the quantity of certain ingredients. If the packaging simply says "beef," then beef must make up at least 70 percent of the total product. When manufacturers use terms like "beef dinner" or "beef platter," however, beef only has to make up 10 percent of the total product. Watch out for terms like "with beef" or "beef flavor," which indicate that beef makes up as little as 3 percent of the pet food. The website DogFoodAdvisor.com is a great resource for finding healthy foods for your dog! This website rates dog food based on the quality of ingredients used, listing any controversial ingredients and why they are considered so.

Another phrase to look out for is "complete and balanced." This term is not arbitrary; the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requires pet foods deemed complete and balanced to contain the minimum amount of necessary nutrients. When reading the list of ingredients on pet food packaging, it is important to keep in mind that neither the quality nor the source of the food's ingredients are listed. Additionally, different types of the same ingredient are often listed separately, which moves them down the ingredient list and makes them seem less prevalent than they actually are.

Avoiding Unnecessary Expense

Price is not always the best indicator of quality, and some pet foods are unnecessarily expensive. For example, pet foods that are free of grain or gluten are attractive to consumers, but in many cases this is arbitrary. Dogs, for instance, are omnivorous, and grains are a part of their natural diets. In some cases, however, pets are allergic to the grains in their foods. In these instances, grain-free foods are appropriate. In dogs, food allergies are generally coupled with symptoms such as excessive scratching, vomiting and diarrhea. Choosing the right food for specific pets ensures their health and quality of life. When choosing food, people need to consider the animal's age, breed and activity level. Reading the packaging carefully and looking for certain phrases will help people determine what is actually in the food and whether it is a good fit.

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