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A Q&A with experts: How to choose the best food for your pet

How to choose the best food for your pet - A cat sitting and eating dry food

With so many options available, how do you decide on the right diet for your dog or cat?

If only it were as simple as showing up at our stores and asking for the “best” pet food.

But of course, there isn’t one “best” food that’s a fit for every dog or cat. Like us, our pets have varying preferences and specific dietary needs, and some also have sensitivities or allergies.

While your furry BFF isn’t likely to make a comment about how they prefer the “mouthfeel” of one kibble over another, pets will absolutely let you know if what you’re feeding them is not to their liking.

The “best” pet food for your pet will meet their nutritional needs, be appropriate for their specific stage of life, appeal to their appetite, suit your lifestyle as a pet parent, and won’t trigger any allergies in them.

It may take more than one attempt to find the perfect food — and that’s completely normal (click here to read about the best way to transition from one food to another).

But with the following insight from veterinarian, Dr. Schuilenberg and animal nutritionist, Kylie Hogan, you can narrow the search and get off to a great start.

Know your pet food options

Q: Should I feed my pet kibble, canned food, or raw?

A: High-quality pet foods, regardless of their form, are designed to be nutritionally complete for your pet. That means they are made to deliver the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals your pet needs in their diet. Whether you choose kibble, canned wet food, or a pre-packaged raw diet is up to you — and your pet. Their needs and preferences will influence your choice.

Q: Are vegetarian diets okay for pets?

A: For cats, the answer is simple: no. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need meat proteins in their diet. For dogs, the answer is less black and white. Dr. Schuilenberg says, while they can eat a vegetarian diet, it should ideally be reserved for dogs who are allergic to the meat proteins in their food, or dogs who are experiencing difficulty in digesting meat.

Begin with some simple, go-to guidelines

Q: What ingredients should be on the label?

A: One of the best ways to choose a pet food is to flip over the package and head straight for the ingredients label. In terms of content ingredients are listed in descending order — the ingredients at the top of the list make up the biggest percentage of the food.

You want to choose a food that lists meat-based ingredients in the top two or three spots. “Look for whole grains or grain-free carbohydrate sources to make up the rest of the top five to eight ingredients, and a good source of healthy fats too,” says Hogan. As well, natural preservatives should always be used rather than chemical preservatives.

In the high-quality Performatrin Ultra Grain Free brand of kibble for dogs, for example, pet parents will see that of the top five ingredients (turkey, turkey meal, peas, salmon meal, and duck meal), four are meat proteins.

Hogan recommends going beyond the bag too. Go online. Check out the brand’s manufacturing process, their safety standards, and where the food is produced. Find out if their customer service team is staffed by real people who are on hand to answer your questions.

“If you can't get in contact with someone who actually made the food, then you have no idea if they even know what they're talking about,” she says.

Q: What are some common allergens that might be aggravating my pet?

A: Common food allergies for pets include wheat, gluten, dairy, soy, and proteins like beef, chicken, and chicken eggs. If your pet is reacting to their food, your vet may suggest switching to a diet that excludes these ingredients as a first step in addressing their allergies.

Ask an expert

Q: What are some common allergens that might be aggravating my pet?

A: Your vet is always the best person to turn to when you have questions about your pet’s health. They can advise you on the best way to deal with allergic reactions to food, what to feed your pet at different stages of their life, and maintaining a healthy weight.

They can also refer you to a veterinary nutritionist for trickier issues that may take more in-depth intervention to solve.

Q: Can I get help in store?

A: Our Animal Care Experts can provide a wealth of information about the products we carry in our stores. They have both professional knowledge and personal experience and are enthusiastic about sharing that with pet parents looking for the right food for their cats and dogs.

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