This common question is as versatile as the burgeoning array of pet foods lining market shelves. High protein, low carbohydrates, no grain, low fat, and reduced calorie are just a few of the labels placed on pet foods today.
Then there are lamb, chicken, turkey and beef protein enriched foods to choose from. Fruits and vegetables, nuts and berries, white rice, brown rice, no rice - how can we know what is best for our pet?
While each pet and its metabolic makeup are as individual as the pet's owner, proper nutrition is imperative to a long, healthy life.
First of all, determine the general outlook of your pet. Is the coat shiny, silky and thick, or coarse, harsh and scattered with dandruff flakes? Can you feel your pet's backbone and observe a hint of ribcage, or has obesity become a problem?
Is your pet's energy level high, or is it a couch potato getting limited exercise?
If you answered yes to the first options in the preceding questions, chances are your pet's diet is sufficient. However, a closer look at the ingredients on your pet food label might reveal astonishing facts.
Often, pet owners know little about the ingredients contained in pet foods. Bargain brand foods are often the most cost effective for budget-conscious consumers but are not necessarily the best nutrition for your pet.
Ingredients such as sugar beet pulp, brewer's rice and corn gluten meals are fillers with minimal nutritional value.
When a label contains ingredients such as "animal digest" or "animal by-products," the word "animal" can literally mean any animal. Most of these products are derived from rendering plants where domestic and wild animals are processed. By-products of chicken, turkey and even more obscure labels that refer only to "poultry" can include beaks, talons and feathers.
The most sound advice for pet owners in the search for the best food for their pet is to read the pet food ingredient label.
The first three ingredients are what compromise the majority of the product. The first ingredient should contain a high source of protein, such as chicken, turkey or beef. Meals are typically whole meats processed down into smaller pieces, usually obtained through a baking process.
Whole grains, fruits and vegetables should be listed toward the beginning of the ingredient label to ensure good nutrition. Many higher quality pet foods contain vitamins and minerals listed in smaller amounts further down the list of ingredients.
Avoid foods with artificial coloring. Your pet does not care what color the food is. Corn and wheat are high allergens for pets and can contribute to chronic skin and ear problems.
Our best friends are as individual in their metabolic makeup as their human counterparts. As humans are becoming more aware of their own nutrition, we also need to educate ourselves on the best nutrition for our pets.
We humans have a choice of what we consume in our diets, but our pets do not; they will eat what we provide. As good pet owners, it is our responsibility to provide the best nutrition to ensure a long, healthy life for our pets.
Charle Thibodeau, a passionate pet caregiver for more than 30 years, offers sound advice for all your animal inquiries.