Choosing a pet food can be overwhelming! There are a myriad of brands, types, and flavors, and it can be hard to know where to begin. Like anything else you are choosing for your pet, there are plenty of good choices, and a few to avoid.
What food brands does AtlasVet recommend?
It is best to start with a brand that is trusted and well reputed. Of course, there is a lots of controversy regarding "what is trusted" on the internet.
In the veterinary community, the brands that are recommended are Purina (specifically the Purina ProPlan line, though all lines are safe), Hill’s Science Diet, Royal Canin Diets, and Iams/Eukanuba diets. Within these, you will find many different flavors, types, and varieties. It is a common misconception that veterinarians work for these food companies and thus promote them, but we can promise that at AtlasVet, this is not the case.
It is best to be consistent with your choice, as this can prevent stomach upset. Keeping a diet consistent early on can also help us manage food allergies later on, should they arise.
If you want to do a deep dive around choosing the best food for your pet, see refer to this handy link from the WSAVA.
Also: Savvy Cat Owner's Guide to Nutrition on the Internet & Savvy Dog Owner's Guide to Nutrition on the Internet
How much should I feed?
Just like human food, each type of food has a different caloric density. For that reason, usually we recommend going by the feeding guide for your food choice (this can usually be found on the bag, or in some cases online). Be aware that rapidly growing pets will have a rapidly evolving caloric need, so you may need to adjust the food volume regularly. If you are struggling with a weight issue in your pet, you may need to work with your pet’s doctor to develop a tailored food plan.
How do I transition my pet to a new food?
Whether switching from puppy/kitten food to adult food or just switching brands, it is important to switch food gradually to prevent stomach upset or food aversion. Transition from the old diet to the new diet over at least 7 days. On day 1-2, add a small amount of the new food to their current diet. Every two days, reduce the amount of old food and increase the amount of new food until your pet is exclusively eating the new food.
For a more visual representation, visit this site
What about Grain Free? I heard that was best.
Grain Free diets have come about as a result of an increased awareness of gluten sensitivities in humans. These sensitivities are very uncommon in pets, and the popularity of these grain free and boutique diets is due to marketing alone. There is almost never a medical need for them, and feeding them can be dangerous (more on this below). Gluten and gain sensitivity in pets is extremely rare, and should not be a factor when choosing a food for your pet. Most food allergies in pets are actually due to a protein sensitivity, and are usually acquired allergies. Similarly, some pet food companies tout that their ingredient lists are similar to what humans would eat, with ‘real’ meat, bone meal, and organ meats, rather than by-products. It is important to remember that by-products are real meat, and are often composed of things like organ meats and bone meal! Further, those perfect looking ingredient lists often look pretty on paper but are not always formulated for optimal digestion and nutrient absorption. This can lead to diarrhea and nutrient deficiencies in some cases.
Are Grain Free diets safe?
In a word, no. As such, we can’t recommend them in good conscience. So called “B.E.G.” (Boutique, Exotic ingredient, Grain free) diets have been linked to serious cardiac disease. This link is still poorly understood and being actively researched by the FDA. When possible, we recommend changing away from these diets. The safest diets are Hill’s Science Diet, Purina ProPlan, Royal Canin, Iams or Eukanuba. Be aware that some of those brands also make lines that are grain free, so be sure to avoid those. Below are several links for you to review.
What about Raw diets?
Raw diets are considered to be boutique diets, and many are also grain free, so by definition they fall into the category of diets being linked to heart disease. Further, dogs on raw diets have been found to carry higher loads of salmonella and e.coli in their mouths and on their skin. Dogs are actually quite unlikely to become sick from these pathogens, but people are very susceptible to them and can absolutely get them from contact with a pet eating a raw food. For all those reasons, we do not recommend raw food or “BARF” (Bones and Raw Food) diets.
Can I cook for my pet?
If you want to make them an occasional treat, sure! Be sure to review the ASPCA toxin chart and avoid anything toxic (such as grapes, raisins, types of avocado by products, macadamia nuts, onions and garlic, to name a few!). Treats should always be less than 5% of your pet’s meal. Pets are also very sensitive to higher fat foods, so if you want to feed human food try to stick to lower fat and blander options. Some ideas include white meat chicken without added fat, plain rice or pasta, low fat cheese, or some raw or steamed vegetables.
Some owners do elect to home cook a diet for their pets, either due to a nutritional or medical need, or just because they want to. These diets are notorious for being nutritionally unsound, and can lead to problems with kidneys, eyes, and even osteoporosis and broken bones! If you do want to cook your pet’s diet, you’ll need professional help to do so. You can get this either through a nutrition consultation or through a website called balanceit.com.