I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this: most of it is marketing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – marketing is such an integral part of selling a product. A stripped-down product sold with just the words “dog food” or “cat food” is not going to sell, even if the contents were worth a million dollars.
So, we’re going to break down how to choose the best pet food:
- Read the labels
- Leave it to the experts
- Know your pet’s individual needs
Read the labels!
There are rules associated with labels and ingredient lists. Clever marketing doesn’t make these rules explicit. No one’s going to use a label like: “Only 1% chicken! And sometimes 2% beef!” or “When we list ‘peas’ and ‘pea fibre’ separately, we mean there’s a lot of peas.” In general, ingredient lists can vary quite a bit, meaning bags can vary by batch.
Training yourself to understand ingredient lists can be difficult. Manufacturers know you’re reading ingredients lists. They work really hard to push meat to the top of the list, by any means possible. They try really hard to get rid of ingredients they think you won’t like. They try to add ingredients they think you will like. This is all regardless of what your pet actually needs.
So, where do labels matter? The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF) don’t care too much about marketing. They’re a lot more concerned about nutritional content. However, in general, meeting regulations largely relies on minimums, not maximums. Is there too much protein and fat? Maybe. Is there too much salt? Maybe. But these aren’t bad, right? Well…they can be. Who knows? The only way to tell is if you perform a feeding test.
We like it when food can establish that they’ve met nutritional requirements with feeding tests. Much like clinical trials, it shows that the food has undergone pretty rigorous testing to prove itself. This is the sort of testing that prescription food undergoes to prove that the formulation helps with medical conditions. And, as a bonus, the manufacturer can’t randomly change the formulation because then they’d have to start the feeding trials all over again. We’re fans.
As a bare minimum, though, choose foods that are “complete and balanced” on the label. This ensures that all the macronutrients and micronutrients are present at, at least, the minimum levels required.
Leave it to the experts
When it comes to formulating a diet, we wouldn’t dream of making up a recipe for you. It would be like asking your GP to make up a new milk formula for your baby.
Likewise, the food you should choose, ideally, be made by experts and proven by experts. When a bag says that there are years of science behind it, ask: “Where is the science?” This is often where it gets really, really hard. Vets don’t often have access to the “science” these companies sell. That’s also largely because, without feeding tests, companies can’t properly substantiate their claims to “good science”.
If you’re struggling to get your furbaby to eat pet food or you’re having a hard time trusting pet food companies or you just want to cook for your furbaby, we would advise seeking help from a specialist. To be specific, we’d advise seeking the help of a veterinary nutritionist.
A veterinary nutritionist is someone who has a Ph.D. in animal nutrition or board certification by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN) or the European College of Veterinary Comparative Nutrition (ECVCN). This is someone who has devoted a lot of time to understanding how to best feed your furbaby.
We, at My Vet Animal Hospital, work with Massey University’s nutrition service, so our clients can tailor a diet specific to their furbaby’s needs. There really isn’t a definitively wrong or right answer, the solution depends on your needs.
Your furbaby is an individual
Take Chu and Obi. They’re not just different in size and colour. Chu likes playing fetch a lot. Obi doesn’t fetch at all (although he has massive FOMO). Chu needs a special diet for his itchy skin. Obi needs a special low-fat diet because he’s had pancreatitis.
Large breed dogs grow for longer than small breed dogs and they grow much, much bigger, so they have different nutritional requirements. Older cats are more prone to kidney disease and may need special salt-restricted diets. Some furbabies are more prone to gaining weight; they might need less food. Some furbabies are just plain fussy and would prefer sushi to kibble. (P. S. As we noted above, some fussy furbabies do better on a homecooked diet – but different rules apply! See our blogs on home-prepared treats for the details!)
That’s why we love discussing food with you. It’s such an integral part of life, happiness, and health.
So…what is the BEST pet food?
We won’t tell you what brand to buy. But we hope we’ve given you a framework, so you can make decisions suitable for your circumstances.
In summary, the best pet food is:
- Complete and balanced for your pet’s life stage, as substantiated by feeding tests
- Complementary to therapy if your pet has any medical conditions.
- Delicious! Some pets are fussier than others and we have to cater for that.
Like posts like these? Let us know! We’re passionate about education and want to see YOU empowered to make the best decisions you can.