This is such a simple but important question for our pets. I just wanted to take a minute to type out what I am saying so often during an examination, so that all that information is available to our clients in one place. Has someone stopped you at the pet store and given their unsolicited advice for what brand of food to pick-up for your precious pet?! It’s not just you – food companies put representatives in the building to make contact and suggestions to sell their brands and well-meaning employees also often have a suggestion or two. I am just going to lay out what I know and how I make my recommendations here for all to see, since I too, have opinions on these things.
**SPOILER ALERT**The best food for your pet is not necessarily the most expensive and it almost certainly is not the most popular.
My first recommendation is going to be HARD for a lot of people (my family and 3 kids fully included). Home-cooked or pre-packed, human grade, preservative free, food has a lot of benefits. My go to for this (out of convenience) is the food from Just Food For Dogs. I do not recommend home-cooked without the aid of a veterinary nutritionist. This undoubtedly is time consuming and expensive or both. So if you want to home cook yourself, I always recommend you reach out to either the website run by a UC Davis nutritionist (balance-it.com) or via the staff nutritionists or another university level nutrition service.
The benefits of home cooked are not fully understood, but in general my recommendation is based on results from my patients and this idea to reduce preservatives, reduce unnecessary ingredients and to better know what your pet is receiving as well as to reduce some of the behavior aspects associated with highly processed foods (you all know my husband is a dog trainer right? Lol).
My second recommendation on the list is a manufactured prescription formula diet. This not only meets the nutritional requirements of our pets, but also is being used like a medication – to reduce the load on a pet or supplement an area that they are lacking. They are professionally formulated, almost all tested in food trials, and I get to see patients doing well on them year after year. There is some misconception here that Veterinarians are being persuaded by the big manufacturers to sell diets. I can honestly say, that all I want is what is best for your pet. We carry prescription diets because who wants to medicate a pet if diet manipulation can take on that role. It is more economical (you are already buying food) and less stressful.
My third option is going to be what most of us have settled into which is an over the counter kibble or canned diet. There are SO SO MANY OPTIONS here. This is because this is a HUGE industry, and just like people, a diet is not a one size fits all. My prior recommendation has always been, if the diet you are feeding is working, to not try to change it. While that is still my general recommendation, I can no longer continue to be quiet on the grain-free diets because we have enough evidence to suggest there can be HARM from the grain-free diet craze.
We have talked about this before, but the fast popularity of a grain free diet for dogs, caused an unexpected increase in our veterinary cardiology departments. They continue to see more and more heart disease amongst young pets on grain free diets. The FDA is over two years into addressing this and there is still not a clear cause for this (meaning you CANNOT just add grain to the diet you are feeding, because there might be a micronutrient or paired absorption issue). Some of the cases were associated with the following everyday, very well advertised, name brands:
- Acana: 67 cases
- Zignature: 64
- Taste of the Wild: 53
- 4Health: 32
- Earthborn Holistic: 32
- Blue Buffalo: 31
- Nature’s Domain: 29
- Fromm: 24
- Merrick: 16
- California Natural: 15
- Natural Balance: 15
- Orijen: 12
- Nature’s Variety: 11
- NutriSource: 10
- Nutro: 10
- Rachael Ray Nutrish: 10
What about raw diets? Raw food diets unfortunately are falling under the FDA watch as well as most of these are also grain-free. Raw food has no clinical evidence of being better for a pet – and yet some dogs do better on it (probably because there are less micro-ingredients and preservatives) There is significant evidence against the use of raw food in pets. My main concern with raw food is that it is exposing us and our children to all the bacteria associated with raw foods (salmonella, campylobacter, etc) so we are inadvertently handling more raw food, our pets are licking us, and they are defecating in our yards. My second concern is a documented increased risk in antibiotic resistant infections in pets fed raw food. I cannot tell you why or how they came to this conclusion, but just that it is one more reason I don’t feed raw to my own pets. If you are feeding raw food and it is going well, lets talk about it – each pet is different and one size does not fit all. If you have an alternative to the raw food or you don’t mind heating the raw diet you feed, then that just might be a safer plan for your pet and the family members they love.
So is it all clear as mud!?!? I am happy to discuss your pets personal needs and experiences with a given diet and come up with a game plan or get you connected to the right area for long-term goals. I just cannot stand to see any of my patients end up at the cardiology services if there is something that we can change now and reduce that risk!