How to choose a pet food

Edible, adj.: Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.
~Ambrose Bierce

Before we begin, let me say this: I used to work for a pet store. This pet store was in an area where if people wanted a cheap cat food, they’d just go to Wal-Mart. Therefore, a lot of the brands I learned about and pushed were mid- to high-range in price. That’s going to be slightly relfected in this post.

Choosing a pet food can be a pain. There are several types, most of them new, a billion different brands…some sold everywhere, some sold only in one or two stores. So how the hell do you start wading through the pet food jungle?

First, choose the type of food.
Dry food is the most common. It’s convenient and easy to store. It promotes dental health and is readily available and most animals will eat it with no problems. However, it can be susceptible to rodent and insect infestations, although this hopefully shouldn’t be a problem for most people.
Wet or canned food is the next most common. It stores easily, and is very palatable for most animals. It’s easy to digest, and comes in pate or chunks. The high moisture content is ideal for some pets, although the lower-end brands occasionally package high amounts of salt in their product to increase palatability.
Raw food is relatively new…food made at home from whole, raw ingredients. I’m not a raw food expert or feeder. Too inconvenient to me, and there’s the chance for baterial contamination if the food is prepared incorrectly. With a little research and some willingness, raw may be ideal for some people and pets.
Freezer-section foods. I’m seeing these crop up, probably in response to the raw craze. Basically, they’re prepared diets, some of them raw, some of them a mix. Naturally, there’s a chance for contamination with these, too. If I trusted the brands that produced them more, I’d be willing to give them a try…if I had the money to blow.

I’m going to discuss dry pretty much from here on out. The same rules for the most part apply to wet, and I’m not knowledgeable about raw and freezer-section to give advice.

Check the ingredient label. This is the single best thing you can do. Pay attention to the order and composition of the ingredients.

Ingredients to watch out for. Corn, soybean, and wheat are three big grain allergies. Corn is the more tolerable of the three. Any of these three are a sign that you should be expecting a fairly low price. Any of these in a “premium” pet food means you’re paying extra for crap. *coughcoughScienceDietcoughcough*

Meals and by-products. By-products should be avoided. Meals, such as chicken meal, or corn meal, are tolerable, just make sure you’re not paying a high price for something with a lot of any meal. In a good food, meals should be secondary to the actual protien source. A very bad food will have “meat by-product meal” as an ingredient.

Rice. Rice is a common corn substitute, along with sweet potato and regular potato. Allergies aren’t as common with rice.

Fish. Fish is a good choice for protien when you have an animal with coat or skin issues.

Weird proteins. You’ll see venison, turkey, lamb, bison, duck, and a lot of other seemingly odd ingredients in high-end pet foods. A lot of these are marketed at animals that have developed allergies or need very simple diets.

“Human-grade” ingredients. Jury’s still out here. If there’s some certification this may be nice, but otherwise it’s a bullshit term. Instead, look for a single-word protien as the main ingredient. “Chicken,” for example. Your pet will not care if it’s breast or thigh meat, trust me. And really, what is human-grade? Or rather, what isn’t?

Two case studies. Picking a pet food isn’t all cut and dried. For example, my cat Zoe requires filler in her diet to keep her stool solid. A good, rich pet food with no corn and not a lot of rice makes for an unhappy kitty. I eventually went with Purina ONE, which has some corn, wheat, and soybean in it, but has higher amounts of chicken and rice. It’s a compromise. It’s also a fairly inexpensive food.

Harry-boo, the stray that I feed, was being given the cheapest damn food my neighbor could find. I imagine it was probably meat-flavored corn in a bag. Poor Boo’s coat was coarse and dull. Once I took over feeding Boo, I fed her, naturally, Purina ONE. I wasn’t about to go out and buy two different brands of cat food. Even the shift from crap to decent made a huge difference. Her coat is shiny and smoother to the touch.

And the coat is the first place you’ll see changes due to diet. A poor diet will result in a coat like Boo used to have…dull, coarse, thin, and/or dry. A good coat should be shiny and soft/smooth to the touch. The skin should not be dry or flaky. Generally when someone reports that their pet has these problems the first thing I ask is what food the animal is on. Then I suggest they try a higher grade food for a few months to see if that doesn’t help. Some animals can thrive on just about anything. Others are going to be pickier. Sometimes it’s just a case of trial and error before you figure it out.

One Response to “How to choose a pet food”

  1. My Charon’s a freaking princess when it comes to wet food. He’ll eat almost anything that’s crunchy, though.

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