How to Choose Food for Your Pet
We are just a small pet store company trying to make sense of the complex world of pet foods so that we can help you choose what is best for you and your pet.
Here is our current understanding...(click on a topic or scroll down).
Pets generally fall into one of the following categories:
A ferret and a rabbit, for example, are both small furry pets, but their diets are quite different. A ferret is a carnivore and eats mostly meat. A rabbit is an herbivore and eats plants.
Pets Classified by Diet
We recommend pet foods whose label includes the word ‘complete.’ This is a regulated term and indicates that the food has been designed and tested to meet the full nutritional requirements for that species. Foods that read ‘supplemental’ are treats and can be offered in addition to a complete food.
Price / Nutrition / Quality
Let us consider for a moment, the foods that you eat. Perhaps your diet consists of hamburgers, strawberries, cereal, tacos, steak, snack cakes, green beans, ice cream, tuna…
- Each has a price. A steak is typically more expensive than a hamburger, for instance. But, most of us cannot afford to eat steak every day.
- Each has its own nutritional value. Some are high in nutrition like tuna, others offer little to no nutrition, like snack cakes.
- Each has its own quality level. Some hamburger patties are made from high quality grass-fed beef while other patties might contain preservatives, unhealthy fats / oils, cornstarch, and sugar.
Pet foods vary in quality, nutrition, and price as well.
When choosing pet food, always start with the highest quality foods and work down until you find the best quality/price for your budget.
Birds, Snakes, Small Animals, and Lizards
When it comes to feeding birds, snakes, small animals, and lizards, there is a lot to know! To guide you, each of our stores have Buying Guide posters to help choose the right foods. These Buying Guides can also be found on our website. Here is an example:
Dogs and Cats
Dogs and cats have survived on our planet for thousands of years. They survived long before you and I could walk into a store and buy a bag of food for them. In fact, wild cats and dogs still live on our planet without pet stores. So, what do they eat to survive and thrive?
First off, dogs and cats are primarily carnivores or meat-eaters (vetstreet.com). They need water, protein, and fat, to survive. They need vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and healthy bacteria to thrive. This does not mean that they cannot survive without meat, and it does not mean that they never eat plants. Domestic dogs do have genetics that allow for slightly better absorption of plant nutrients than wild dogs, but they are still carnivores. Cats are pure carnivores. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5035952/
Diets of Wild Cats and Dogs
Raw is Best
Keep in mind, ALL of the animals in the chart above are eating raw meat. Much of the pet food purchased in a store has been cooked, destroying important amino acids (taurine, for instance) that are essential for a pet to live a long, healthy life. Raw is best. Or, choose pet foods that add in amino acids. Learn more at petfoodinstitude.org.
Grains in Dog / Cat Food
Look again at the plant column in the chart above. While many eat some green plants, the only hint of grains in their diet is 'digestive content.' In other words, wild dogs and cats eat stomach and intestine content which likely contains some grains, but it has been pre-digested.
YUCK! My pet eats vomit, feces, and decaying flesh!
You have likely heard of probiotics, or healthy bacteria, right? Well, guess what? Vomit, feces, and even decaying flesh, all contain millions of healthy bacteria, proteins, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, and fiber.
Babies, Adults, and Seniors
The First Five Ingredients
The ingredient list on some products can be overwhelming. To keep things simple, let us focus in on the FIRST FIVE ingredients because they represent the majority of what is inside the package before the recipe is cooked/processed.
Good ingredients? Bad ingredients? We explore this more below.
Which dog food most closely resembles that of dogs in the wild?
The primary ingredients in the high quality food are meat and fish. The primary ingredient in the economy food is corn, meat (but they do not tell you what kind), bone meal, and beef fat with preservatives and a plant...soybean meal.
The package on the left is filled with nutritious foods. The package on the right has far fewer foods, but tries to make up for it by adding supplemental vitamins and minerals.
If You Cannot Pronounce It!
Is Animal By-Product Good or Bad?
- NEVER purchase a food that lists by-products as the first ingredient.
- Quality products will list the specific meat source and body part. For example: 'Venison Liver.'
- If a products lists 'by-product' as an ingredient, assume it is a lower quality food. NEVER pay top dollar for these products.
Bones & Bone Meal
- NEVER feed your pet bone meal from a garden supply store. These are likely not food quality. They may contain toxic fertilizers. Buy bone meal from your vet or a pet store.
- Look for bone meal that is free of lead and other toxic ingredients.
- Feed bone meal based upon your pet's size. Too much can lead to digestive issues. If your pet gets too much, give them lots if water. If they are vomiting, seem sluggish, or have a fever, get them to the vet!
- Dogs should NEVER have bone meal rich in Vitamin D. (truthaboutpetfood.com)
Chicken, Chicken Meal & Chicken By-Product Meal
- Quality dog/cat foods never list grains as their first few ingredients.
- Not sure you can afford grain-free? Switch to a food that has a different grain if you pet experiences health issues. For example, if your pet has corn, switch to one that uses rice, instead.
Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Antibiotics
Wet, Dry, Frozen, and More
Should you buy pet food in a can? In a bag? Frozen? So many options, right?!? Maybe this will help...
Choose the diet that is right for your pet and your budget.
"I can buy this big bag of dog food for less money!" Buyer beware. Lower quality food is often puffed up with air and fillers.
Your pet may only need a few tablespoons of a high quality food, making it more affordable than you think.
Pets get allergies too! If they are experiencing itchy skin, skin sores, coughing, sneezing, ear infections, runny discharge from their eyes or nose, vomiting, diarrhea or wheezing, you may need to get them to the veterinarian, but they may also be reacting to allergens in their food.
Common allergens include beef, dairy, wheat, egg, chicken, soy, corn, and pork.
- Look at the FIRST FIVE ingredients of your pet's food. If, for example, the ingredients are mostly chicken, try switching to a food whose FIRST FIVE has lamb or fish, for instance.
- Experiment with foods that have Limited Ingredients (LIDs).
- Experiment with foods that have only one protein source.
- Experiment with foods that have no fillers or grains.
- To address skin issues, try foods with Omega 3s or fish oils.
Stomach & Digestive Issues
If your pet is experiencing diarrhea or constipation, you might try:
- Foods with fish or lamb.
- Adding 1 to 4 tablespoons of canned pumpkin to their food.
- Grain and or gluten free food.
- A higher quality food.
How to Transition to a New Food
When changing your pet to a new food, you may need to transition slowly.
The 1st week, mix in about 25% of the new food into the old.
The 2nd week, serve half new / half old.
The 3rd week, mix about 25% of the old food into the new.
By the 4th week, if your pet is not experiencing any issues, you may use 100% of the new food.
Adding 1 to 4 tablespoons of plain cooked pumpkin to the mixes (depending upon your pet's size) can help smooth the transition.