Everyday I am asked by at least one pet owner, “Doctor Baum, what are the best foods to feed my pets?” They are usually pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of my answer: “The best food is one that your pet likes and one that agrees with his or her system.” There are really no bad foods out there. All of the major brand foods are more than adequate nutritionally. This includes the unfairly scorned supermarket brands.
Common sense tells us that puppies and kittens should be fed diets that reflect the increased nutritional demands of their rapidly growing bodies. Senior pets should be fed diets which reflect their needs for foods that lessen the work load on their aging organs. Animals with specific medical needs such as kidney disease, urinary tract stone formation, or inflammatory bowel disease, to name a few, have the good fortune to have specific prescription diets that are tailored to their needs, and readily available from their veterinarians.
The pet food industry boom has spawned what i like to call, “the fringe diets.” These diets profess to be “natural” and imply that they are free of preservatives. Unfortunately, it would be impossible to market a food that doesn’t have preservatives because in the time that it would take for the unpreserved food to find its consumers, it would spoil. The reason that there are no fatty acid deficiencies in pets today is a reflection of the ability of the preservatives to prevent the fat from becoming rancid.
Another newcomer on the pet food scene is the “raw food diet.” While these diets may keep more of the nutrients that are destroyed by cooking and processing, they are generally more difficult to digest and although more nutrients may enter through the mouth, you can be sure that more leave through the feces due to lack of digestibility. Our pets today are a far cry from their feral ancestors who needed to hunt for their food — their digestive systems today have acclimated to today’s prepared foods (as have ours).
Clients often ask about the advisability of feeding food from the table. Within the realm of common sense (no spicy, high fat foods) this is ok to do as long as the cause and effect rule is satisfied — that is, no digestive upsets. The manner in which table food is fed is important. If your pet walks away from the pet food that is offered and you give it a piece of chicken, you are actually training it to reject the pet food by rewarding this behavior. A better way would be to give this treat as dessert for a meal that was just consumed. For those of you who can’t resist cooking for your pet, be sure to prepare a mixture of foods that reflect a balanced diet — meat, vegetables and starches such as rice or potatoes.
A quick note about premium diets — the overuse of these high fat content diets is one of the major causes of obesity. Most pets are simply not active enough to benefit from the higher calories that these diets supply. As for using superior ingredients, does a fillet mignon really have any more nutritional value than hamburger meat? Think about it.