Choosing the Right Diet for Your Pet

As a practicing veterinarian, I am often asked about the “right food” for my pet. It’s not quite as easy a question as it seems. However, there are some helpful tips I thought I might share when choosing a diet for your dog, cat, kitten, or puppy. In the following article, we will discuss the newest findings on grain-free diets, as well as general helpful advice about what to feed your pet.

I’m sure someone has recommended a grain-free diet for your dog. Whether at a pet-store, a family friend, or even a website or advertisement. Despite the common misconception, veterinarians today do not believe that grains are a common source of allergies for pets and are not known to be harmful to long-term health. A recent advisory by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned about a possible connection between grain-free diets and a link to a certain type of Heart Disease. In the release, the FDA noted that dogs who are not bred predisposed to a disease called DCM (Dilated Cardiomyopathy) are being diagnosed with the disease. The common link between these dogs is that they were fed a diet with peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as the main ingredients. While this is a very new finding, it is important and worth strongly considering when choosing a diet for your dog. Here’s a link to the FDA’s statement:

Okay, so maybe grain-free isn’t right for my dog; what is the right brand or protein source for my pet? My first advice is to look for recall data, which is easy to find on the internet. In my opinion, companies with fewer or no recalls and which have been around for a long time are a logical starting place for selecting a diet for my pet. Here’s another link to the FDA’s website showing recall advisories on pet foods.

Okay, I’ve found a company without a recall; they’ve also been around for a long time. What’s next? Well, find a food that works well for your pet. Some dog’s GI tracts seem better able to accommodate certain proteins and diets, so trial and error can help you find a food that works well for the individual needs of your dog.

A Word About Food Allergies

While a recent paper suggested that food allergies are less common in dogs than previously thought, they still exist. It is believed to be the protein source (chicken, beef, etc.) that the dog is typically allergic to. One common saying among veterinarians is that food-allergic dogs tend to have problems with their “Ears and Rears.” In these cases, finding a protein source your pet has never had is the key to diagnosing and treating. Allergic reactions require an initial “sensitization” and then exposure sometime afterward to trigger the allergic response. Saving one or two protein sources for a novel protein diet may be helpful down the road should your veterinarian suspect an underlying food allergy. It is important that your dog is never exposed to this protein. There are both prescription and over-the-counter foods that can be used for a novel protein diet trial. Common foods are prescription hydrolyzed protein (H/P) or over-the-counter bison, duck, or lamb.

A Word about Cats

Cats are what veterinarians call obligate carnivores; in other words, cats need meat to survive. Cats do not make an important amino acid called Taurine on their own without getting it from their diet, and it’s present in meat. Over time, without Taurine, a cat’s heart will enlarge and fail, making a vegetarian diet hazardous for a cat.

How to Choose the Right Pet Diet

If you would like to learn more about nutritional needs in dogs or cats, we recommend making an appointment with a member of our Veterinary Hospital to discuss the specific needs for your pet based on breed, age, and lifestyle.

Jeffrey Stupine, V.M.D.

Medical Director

World of Animals Veterinary Hospitals