How are the New Year’s Resolutions going?

I expect many of us are not as diligent as we were earlier this year.  We are lucky to live in a community that does tend towards healthy eating and living, and many of us do try to watch what we eat and exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle.  As much as we do this for ourselves, you’d be surprised how many of us don’t carry over this healthy lifestyle to our pets.

I ask every one of my clients what they are feeding their pets, and more often than not, the answer is “dry food” or “that blue/green/brown bag” or even “oh, it’s expensive/natural/holistic, so it’s good food”… sadly, this is not always the case.

While I am often asked “what is the best food to feed your dog/cat?” I am quick to tell my clients that there are many options, and I try to offer guidelines.  Consider the quality of the food, the quantity of the food and the constituents of the food.

You are better off not buying ANY foods or treats that are advertised on TV.  Think about it.  What foods do we commonly see advertised on TV?  The quality of those foods correlates to the quality of the dog/cat foods as well.   Yes, those dogs and cats look happy and healthy, but marketing agencies get paid a lot of money to make you think that your dog will live longer and be healthier if you feed “their” food.   When was the last time you saw a salad bar advertised on TV?  Healthy food is too busy being healthy to spend a lot on a marketing budget…

For the most part, there are very few foods at grocery stores or big chains (Walmart/Target, etc…) that are recommended for your pets.  Yes, it’s convenient.  But again, it’s not always the best choice for your pets.  Also, keep in mind that the marketing is to sell food to YOU, the human… your dog doesn’t care if there are cute, smiling dogs on the outside of the cookie box… so just because some cartoon-character is smiling, doesn’t mean these are healthy treats for your pet.

While I applaud my clients for seeking out better quality foods, do remember, that words like “natural” and “holistic” and “human grade” actually do not mean anything in the pet food world (other than good marketing! However, the word organic does)   Overall, all these foods do tend to be healthier than many other food offerings, but please read the labels.

Please be aware of the quantity that you buy.  Your 4 lb. Yorkie doesn’t need you to buy a 20 lb. bag of some “really good quality” food, because you think you will save a few dollars.  In reality, that food goes bad by the time you get to the bottom of the bag, so your pet, at best, might not want to eat it, or at worst, may develop vomiting/diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues.    I have two 50 lb. dogs, and it takes almost a month to go through a 20 lb. bag of food.  I never buy any larger than that.   Sorry, Costco, but your bags of food are too big for me! (Although, they are generally a good quality and a very viable option for many families!)

This is especially applicable to cats.  I have many clients who feed from the same bag of cat food for months at a time, especially if there is only one cat in the house.  No matter how you store the food, whether in its original bag or transfer it to a plastic container, trust me…it will go stale and even moldy, and you will have issues.  My rule-of-thumb is never purchase a bag that you can’t finish within a month.  You are not saving any money if you have to bring your pets to see your veterinarian with an upset stomach or worse.

Obesity is a huge problem in our pets, and I will address it in another article, but please be aware of how much you are feeding your pets.    Contrary to what your cat is telling you, an empty food bowl is not the end of the world.   Measure the volume of food that you are putting in both the dog and cat bowls…don’t just fill it up and leave it for them to graze on all day…some animals do self-regulate well, but most animals will just eat and eat…and are carrying too much weight because of it!

Many of us are familiar with the pet food recall from a few years ago and the fact that sadly, some dogs died from tainted food.  I am a huge proponent of reading labels!  Know where your food and treats are made.  Many suppliers have become aware of these issues, and many better quality treats are now only sourced in the United States.  Please, please, please…protect your pets and read labels.  Do not buy any food that is sourced in China.  It’s not worth the risk!

Minimal ingredient foods are always better…this goes for both foods and treats.  So read the labels, be able to pronounce most (if not all) of the ingredients and if you have any questions, ask your veterinarian.

Both dogs and cats suffer from food allergies.  So the simpler and the healthier the food is the less of a chance that your pet might react to it.  But how do you know your pet is suffering from food allergies?  Talk to your veterinarian, but some common signs include ear issues (shaking head, scratching, and odor), chewing feet and/or scratching/dragging their rear end (anal gland problems).  Cats often loose hair on their head and around their eyes and may have frequent vomiting episodes or periodic loose stools.  There are many contributing factors to allergies, but these are some broad concepts that generally apply.

There are lots of things to consider when you want to eat well, and no absolutes.  I do find a little common sense and keeping things as simple as possible generally leads us in the right direction, both with regards to our own health and the health of our beloved furry family members.