If you’re cat or dog owner, you know how overwhelming it can be to navigate the pet food aisle. Just like with people food, every brand and label makes flash claims and it can be hard to know what’s really good for your furry friend and what’s just hype. Depending on size and shape, feeding your pet can add up to quite the monthly expense, so it’s important to know what you’re trading your hard-earned money for.
That’s why we’ve rounded up 10 tips for choosing a high quality pet food. Keep them in mind next time you’re shopping, and remember: diet is key to health. Although high quality pet foods might cost more now, they’re very likely to save you from painful vet bills later.
10 Tips for Choosing a High Quality Pet Food
First, let’s think about what it means to be “high quality.” To me, this means finding a balance between meeting the nutritional needs of my pet while also thinking about the eco-friendliness of production, packaging and the manufacturer. With that in mind…
1. Most Label Claims Are Meaningless
We’re slowly learning that labels like “natural,” “healthy” and “fat-free,” don’t hold their weight on human foods. The same is true for animal foods. Don’t be taken in by claims that promise weight loss or fewer hair balls. There is no difference between “indoor,” “outdoor” and “senior” pet foods. Same goes for “human-grade.” These labels are marketing tactics aimed at humans, not pets.
2. Decide What You‘re Willing to Pay
Misleading labels not withstanding, there are clearly some pet food companies going above and beyond the industry standard. Brands like Honest Kitchen, Newman’s Own and Blue Buffalo offer better ingredients at the right ratios–but you’re gonna pay for it. There’s something uncomfortable about shelling out $20 for a bag of organic cat food when you’re struggling to put organic food on your own table. Like everything, there’s a spectrum, and you just have to decide where your line is.
3. Meat is King
OK, now that we’ve gotten the philosophical stuff out of the way, let’s talk about ingredients. The difference between bad pet food and good pet food is hidden in the ingredient list. Cats are carnivores and dogs are omnivores, which means both are meant to eat meat, albeit in varying degrees. They are NOT designed to eat carbohydrates. They just don’t need them. The best pet food has meat (i.e., beef, turkey, lamb, salmon or chicken) in the first and second spots on the ingredient list. Void any formula that uses unidentified sources, described non-specifically as meat, animal or poultry.
4. Meat Meal is Acceptable
If you can’t afford pet foods that are mostly real meat, look for a meat source followed by the word “meal.” “Meat meal (with the meat source identified, as in ‘chicken meal’ or ‘turkey meal’) is considered a relatively high-quality protein source by processed pet food standards,” explains Mercola.
5. Vegetables and Fruits Are a Plus
Ideally, vegetables (not corn, wheat or beet pulp) and fruit will occupy spaces three and four on the ingredient list. Brown rice (or other whole, organic grains) is OK in this spot if it’s organic.
6. Avoid Corn and Soy Like the Plague
“Corn is a cheap filler ingredient, non-nutritious for pets, and a known allergenic. Soy is estrogenic and wreaks havoc on your pet’s endocrine system,” explains Mercola. Both will cause your pet to gain unnecessary weight. It’s also worth mentioning that nearly 100 percent of these two crops are genetically engineered in America.
7. Byproducts Are Unacceptable
This is typically the first ingredient in low-quality pet foods. They may sound benign, but byproducts often contain parts of beaks, feathers, feet, hooves, hair and even tumors that have been ground into the mix during processing. These are not things naturally consumed by cats and dogs, and grinding them up doesn’t make them any more acceptable.
8. Wet is (Sometimes) Better Than Dry
Canned wet foods contain more moisture (duh) and protein, with fewer carbohydrates. This is a plus for your pet, especially if they’re not big water drinkers. However, pet food companies still try to drive down the price by loading them up with byproducts and other gross stuff. Always read the label to be sure. Although it can cost more, wet food should keep your pet satiated longer, and will help them lose weight if they need it.
9. When in Doubt, DIY
The packaged pet food industry has only existed for a few decades. People have kept pets for thousands of years. It is possible to make healthy, affordable food for your pets right at home. If you’re particularly frustrated by the big brands, and want to increase the eco-friendliness of your pet ownership, this might be the option for you. It’s also a good way to get rid of kitchen scraps if you don’t have a composter.
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