Ask The Vet
What’s The Best Food To Feed My Pet?
By Dr. Hillary Butler DVM MRCVS
The question about what to feed a pet occurs frequently at our clinic, and understandably so as it is central to taking good care of our pets. However, it is a very passionate subject, not just for veterinarians but for many pet owners who have differing ideals as to what an appropriate diet may entail. The long and the short of it is, there is not one best diet for all pets and taking into account your specific pets’ needs becomes paramount in figuring out the best nutrition for them.
First and foremost, it is important your pet does “well” on their diet. What does this mean? It means that while eating the specific diet they have good energy, they have normal and regular bowel movements, no vomiting, good quality hair coat and that their weight stays stable. That last part has a lot to do with measuring the food you feed your pet, however pets can also gain weight if the proportions of the diet are off, so for some pets even being fed the correct amount can lead to weight gain if it’s not the right food. It should also be a diet appropriate for their life stage (e.g preferably NOT an ‘all life stages’ diet).
It’s also important that your pet’s diet is complete and balanced and herein lies the tricky part. There is MINIMAL regulation in the pet food world as to what this means. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is responsible for providing the basic requirement for pet foods and, it is pretty basic at best. Plus, those labels that show you the crude minimum and maximum nutrients are relatively useless in comparing one diet to another (it should be noted that pet food labels are meant to be undergoing a revamp so they will eventually look similar to human labels but this is a slow process).
Food companies are NOT required to put their foods through feeding trials in order to put them on the shelf. This means that even if the ingredients on the bag look good, it may not be digested well, may still not be balanced, and may still lead to nutritional deficiencies. We have seen this most recently in grain free diets being linked to heart issues in dogs and leading to a specific warning about these diets from the FDA. It’s important to get your food from a reliable company that has done research and feeding trials in order to make sure their diets perform as advertised.
Your pet may also have specific health needs that require a special diet. These are often in the form of prescription diets that are sold through your veterinary clinic. These diets are NOT the same as diets on the shelf at your grocery or pet food store, often because they may not meet the formulated minimums and maximums as recommended by AAFCO (for example a low fat dog food prescribed for pancreatitis would have lower fat in it than what is allowed to be on the shelf at the pet store). They may also have ingredients to treat a targeted ailment for your pet, like fatty acid supplementations for specific protein content for allergies.
We can do a lot with nutrition and still even more information is becoming available on how we can maximize our pet’s health through their food. I would encourage you to reach out to your veterinary team about what might be appropriate for your pet. They will know the pros and cons of different products and alleviate any concerns you might have about all the various food myths out there (and there are many!). Together you will be able to figure out the best diet for your pet to help them live long, healthy lives.
~ Hillary Butler currently practices
in Whitby. She can be found at