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Choose Food Brands Wisely For Pet Needs
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Feeding the newest four-legged member of the household can be a major expense depending on the size of the animal, but options are available to keep costs down.
Dr. Andrew Mackin, assistant professor of small animal internal medicine at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, said commercial foods available have made today's pets better fed than any previous generation.
"Commercial food has the benefit of being easy," Mackin said. "Dogs and cats that are fed commercial food have a far more nutritious diet than the average human, as even the worst pet food is more balanced than any single human food."
Mackin said commercial feeds are nutritionally balanced for pets, and widespread use of these has solved many dietary problems. Some problems such as dental diseases, however, have been blamed on commercial feed as teeth are not cleaned from eating bones and gristle.
Choosing the right brand can be difficult. Some owners switch brands often, thinking their pet will like food variety, as humans do. Others buy the most expensive, thinking they must be the best since they cost so much.
Mackin said these assumptions are not necessarily accurate, and choosing a pet food should be based on what the animal likes, its health needs and the veterinarian's approval.
"Plenty of good pet owners face the same decisions they face for themselves with economic circumstances," Mackin said. "If convenience or cost means you choose supermarket brands, that doesn't make you a bad pet owner because most pets can thrive on whatever commercial feed you give them."
Premium pet foods are different from special veterinary diets or prescription diets designed to prevent or treat illnesses. Premium foods have contents guaranteed by strict quality control. These usually cost more, but price alone does not determine premium brands. Some brands cost more because of high marketing costs.
"To guarantee quality control, buy a well known, major name brand in the upper half of the price range," Mackin said. "The bigger the company is and the longer it has been in business, the more likely it is to have good quality control."
Quality control refers to the guaranteed nutritional value given by certain ingredients provided in set amounts. Less expensive brands guarantee minimum nutritional standards, but not ingredients. For example, corn may be substituted for rice as a carbohydrate if market prices are lower for corn. Premium brands usually use the same ingredients, regardless of price.
"Supermarket brands must meet the minimum nutritional requirements for pets," Mackin said. "The labels may look similar to premium brands, but there are differences in quality of protein and fat, digestibility and palatability. These are not readily obvious on the side of the can, but they make the difference between average pet food and good pet food."
However, these distinctions generally make no difference in pet health, Mackin said.
"The difference between a really good pet food and a cheaper one may not be enough to impact your pet's health," Mackin said. "If the pet looks healthy and acts healthy, they're OK."
Generally, if the cat or dog is content with the commercial diet they are eating, do not switch. Table scraps are acceptable additions to diets, but should be given only as treats.
"Obesity is one of the major problems we have with dogs and cats, and much of this comes from feeding table scraps," Mackin said.
Homemade diets are usually not as healthy for pets as they may not supply all the nutritional requirements.
"It used to be common for people to feed all meat diets or table scraps, but this led to numerous major nutritional imbalances," Mackin said.
For example, all-meat diets give puppies and kittens improper balances of calcium and phosphorous and can lead to painful and debilitating bone diseases. A liver diet for cats gives them excess vitamin A, which leads to another severe bone disease.
Contact: Dr. Andrew Mackin, (601) 325-6631