With so many pet foods on the market, choosing the right food for your dog or cat can be overwhelming, especially if you are a first-time pet owner. A web search may only further your confusion, with results showing several “best and worst” dog and cat food lists, recalls, and information on raw feeding, homemade food, and more.
The best resource? Your Animal Medical Center of Austin veterinarian! Here’s what one of our own doctors, Dr. Jennifer Newman, has to say about the best foods for your dog or cat.
Our best food recommendations
“I have food recommendations for almost every pet I see, healthy or otherwise,” says Dr. Newman. “There is so much that is affected by nutrition, and if we start with healthy nutrition, it really impacts the overall health and helps them live a longer, healthier life.”
The first thing you should consider when choosing a food, Dr. Newman says, is your pet’s life stage.
The life stages are:
- Puppy or kitten: from infancy to about 1 year old
- Lactating or pregnant females
- Adult: 1 to 7 years
- Mature/senior: 7 years or older
“There are many foods out there that market their food as ‘for all life stages,’” she says. “This is problematic because specific life stages have different nutrition requirements.”
For puppies, kittens, and lactating or pregnant females, Dr. Newman recommends breed-specific Royal Canin puppy or kitten food. If there is not a Royal Canin food for your specific breed, then she recommends using Royal Canin food for the size of the pet, e.g., toy, small, medium, or large. She also recommends Hills Science Diet or Purina Pro Plan shredded chicken blend.
“The biggest thing I emphasize is that large-breed puppies need to be on a large-breed specific food, because their calcium and phosphorous requirements differ from small dogs,” says Dr. Newman.
Royal Canin makes two kitten foods, one for kittens that haven’t been spay or neutered, and one for those that have. “I really like this as a transition for young cats that have a tendency to gain weight after being spayed or neutered,” says Dr. Newman.
She recommends Royal Canin, Hills, or Purina for adult and senior pets. “I will make more specific recommendations if the pet has signs of other issues, such as joint disease or dental disease,” she says. For dental disease, she typically recommends Hills Healthy Advantage oral formula. For obesity, she says, you’re better off with Royal Canin Satiety or Hills Metabolic + Mobility.
How to choose a different pet food brand
If you’d rather choose a brand other than Dr. Newman’s preferred choices, do a little bit of research before you grab any bag off the shelf.
“Expensive food doesn’t always equal good food,” says Dr. Newman. Most prescription diets are expensive, but they also are extremely high quality and have been tested to prove they actually do what they say they do. “There are many foods in pet stores that are just as expensive – if not more so – and they have not been tested. Just because a label says ‘grain free, organic deboned chicken’ does not mean that it is equivalent to other diets,” she says.
When choosing a food, she says, look for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on the bag to check if it was formulated (someone made the recipe with the requirements) to meet needs, or if it has been tested through feeding trials (the company made the recipe then tested it in a feeding trial, the monitored the animals over time to make sure there were no metabolic issues with the food).
“The biggest problems I see for pets on commercial diets are urinary bladder stones in dogs, due to excessive minerals found in many dog foods, or kidney disease in cats, due to too much protein in commercial foods,” Dr. Newman says.
A pet’s nutritional needs are as individualized as the pet. Veterinary training includes nutrition training—if you have questions about the right diet for your pet, give us a call at 512-832-4119.