I can’t imagine a more confusing time to be choosing a food for your dog or cat.  The number of options available from pet stores or your veterinarian can be overwhelming for sure. Not to mention the fact that much of the information you hear will be conflicting; you hear one thing from your vet, another from the pet store, something else online, more from friends and neighbors, etc…

Choosing a pet food is actually not difficult once you understand a few basic concepts.  In fact, I believe that choosing the correct diet for your dog or cat is really quite logical once you understand some basic nutritional facts:

  1. Dogs and cats are carnivores.  Dogs are descendants of the wolf and cats from the wild African cat; they both have evolved with the tools to kill and eat prey:
  • Their teeth are designed for tearing and shearing flesh. This is opposed to the flat grinding teeth of an plant-eater
  • Strong jaw muscles designed for hunting and chewing meat
  • A  jaw that hinges wide open to ingest large quantities of meat and bone
  • Their digestive tract is short, and lacks the enzymes to digest most plant material. Animals that eat plants have large colons designed to let plant matter sit and digest for a longer period of time. A carnivore digestive tract will not get much nutrition from plants due to an inability to digest and assimilate it.
  1. Carnivores require a meat based diet for optimal health
  2. The less processed a diet is, the more nutritional value it will offer

Why is this important?  This information tells us what dogs and cats are biologically designed to eat.  The bottom line is that if you do not feed a species-appropriate diet, your pet’s health will suffer.  This can show up in many ways, such as vomiting or diarrhea; itchy skin and hair loss; weight gain or loss; inconsistent appetite; low energy; aches and pains; endocrine diseases such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, or hypothyroidism; and even cancer. What are you willing to do to help treat and/or prevent these conditions in your pet?  If it is as simple as a diet change, how far will you go?  Yes, this may take some extra time to learn about and prepare food, and it may be a bit more expensive. I can assure you, however, that the cost of changing your pet’s diet will be a fraction of the cost of treating any of the conditions mentioned above. Not to mention saving the heartache of watching your pet suffer from poor health.  Wouldn’t you rather watch your pet thrive and live a healthy, active life?

So, what does a species-appropriate diet for a dog or cat look like? For a carnivore, that is a meat-based diet, balanced with organ meats and bones.   A properly balanced diet does not necessarily require extra supplementation, but this may change depending on individual needs and certain health conditions.

Now, here is where it gets a bit tricky.  Every animal is an individual and will have slightly different nutritional needs, just as people do.  The easiest place to start is a commercial diet that is already nutritionally balanced.  You can learn to prepare food for your pet at home, but that requires additional training that is beyond the scope of this article. 

Are you ready for the next step?  Which form of food is best for your pet – should you feed dry, canned, dehydrated, cooked, raw, or a mix?

Check back in for the next article as we address this issue!