Healthy Food Choices For Your Pet

Posted February 16, 2016

Contributed by your vets at Animal Medical Centers of Loudoun.

Are you making better food choices for yourself and your family?  Committing to eating whole grains, organic vegetables and foods rich in omega 3s?  What about your pet’s nutrition? Have you decided to include changes in their diet too?  Here are some guidelines to help you decide if a pet food is right for your animal.


Golden Rule: Do Not Shop at the Grocery Store For Your Pet’s Food. 

Most pet food companies know that people will not pay as much for pet food they buy at the grocery store as at a pet store.  Generally, grocery store foods are made with cheaper ingredients, use large amounts of fiber, replace animal proteins with plant proteins, and use less protein overall.


Be Sure There’s an AAFCO Label.

Anyone can make and sell a pet food, even though it may have severe dietary deficiencies. The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) writes guidelines for what makes a pet food “balanced and complete.”  Be careful though.  There are some foods that are AAFCO labeled for both dogs and cats, even though these animals have vastly different nutritional needs.  Similarly, the nutritional needs of puppies, large breed puppies, and adult dogs are very different.  Even if the front of the bag says “for puppies” or “for adult dogs,” make sure the AAFCO label does not read “For all life stages” or “For growth and maintenance.”

If you are concerned about a pet’s nutritional needs or your pet requires a weight loss diet, do not pick a food simply because it says “senior,” “lite,” or “low calorie.”  Your veterinarian should be involved in diet decisions for these pets.  They can best designate a food that meets the pet’s nutritional requirements while managing their weight loss.

TV Ads Do Not Mean Higher Quality. 

We have found that there is an opposite relationship between a food’s quality and the number of ads for that food on TV.  The cheaper the bag of food, the more food they need to sell to make a profit, and the harder they have to work to convince you the food is good for your pet.

Reputation And Quality Are Important.

Pick a pet food company that has been around for a while with a good reputation.  Call to see if their customer service representatives know quality control specifics and have a veterinarian on staff.

A Recognizable Meat Should Be Listed as the First Ingredient, Preferably Meat “Meal.”

Meat should be one of the top ingredients in a bag of food, ideally meat meal like “chicken meal” or “beef meal.”  “Meal” is just the dehydrated and ground up version of the original meat.  Ingredients in a food are listed by weight, and since “chicken” is the water-filled version of “chicken meal,” a food that lists “chicken” as its first ingredient actually has less chicken than one with “chicken meal.”

No Added Sugars or Fats in the Top 4.

Some companies will add excessive amounts of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or fats to their foods to make them taste better. Healthy foods with good ingredients should be tasty enough without these.

Byproduct Isn’t Always Bad.

In the wild, wolves normally eat the non-muscle parts of the animal including the lungs, liver, kidneys, and other internal organs.  These organs naturally contain important nutrients.  While pet food shouldn’t be made completely of animal byproducts, seeing this lower on the ingredient label shouldn’t scare you.


Less Than 20 Ingredients.

Most pet foods should be relatively simple.  If your pet food contains carrots, apples, eggs, beet root, kale, and 10 other different kinds of foods, those are 15 foods your pet may develop a food allergy to later in life.  Keep it simple!

Now you are ready to start shopping for a better pet diet!  When in doubt – just ask!  The best way to pick a good food for your pet is to ask your veterinarian to recommend the diet.  Take the stress and guess work out of it and let a professional guide you.


Animal Medical Centers of Brambleton is your reliable family animal doctor!  We are happy to provide full service to your dogs, cats or small animals.  Our expert veterinarians specialize in routine preventative care, examinations, vaccinations, routine blood work, lab testing, food and nutrition counseling, surgery, dentistry, radiographic and ultrasound imaging, puppy and kitten consultations, and we have a full pharmacy.  Contact our Brambleton office today, 703-327-8471.