It's overwhelming to go to a pet store, or even the pet food aisle at your grocery store, and try to decide which product to buy. There are many claims about the best way to feed a pet, which ingredients are good for pets (and which are not), and what type of diet is best.
Despite what much pet food marketing would have you believe, the reality is that there isn’t one answer for what is best for all pets. The best diet for any pet is one that: provides the right amount of calories and the right amount of other nutrients given the pet's age, health status, and lifestyle; that the pet likes to eat, and is manageable, affordable, and to some degree, appealing, for the pet owner.
There are many different ways to categorize commercial pet diets, but here, the discussion will be about over-the-counter diets, and therapeutic diets.
The term over-the-counter usually refers to medication that doesn’t require a prescription. Regarding pet diets, it just means a diet that is made for healthy pets. All of the diets that you can purchase at your grocery or pet store are over-the-counter diets. Some of these are formulated for growth, others for adult maintenance, and others for all life stages. The term over-the-counter encompasses a wide range of diets in terms of degrees of quality, marketing strategies, nutritional content, and other factors. All that you one tell from it is that the diet is intended to be fed to healthy animals.
Therapeutic diets are commercial diets made by pet food companies who also make over-the-counter diets. They are unique in that they are designed for use by veterinarians in treating certain medical conditions in pets. In some cases, in addition to managing a certain medical condition, their formulation is appropriate for healthy adults (diets intended to treat food allergies and gastrointestinal conditions are examples). Others have nutritional modifications that could be problematic for healthy adults (phosphorus-restricted diets used to manage chronic kidney disease are examples of this). Therapeutic diets are generally available only through veterinarians or with a prescription from a veterinarian. This helps to ensure that they are only fed to pets for which they are appropriate.
Knowing what any particular pet diet does, or does not provide can be challenging. Labeling of pet diets isn’t always helpful, and making comparisons between diets isn’t as straightforward as it should be.
Did you know that a canned diet with 8% crude protein can (but won't always) provide more calories as protein than a dry diet with 25% crude protein?
Much pet food marketing today focuses on ingredients- what ingredients are "good for pets" and what ingredients are "bad for pets."
Ingredients are very important, but the ingredient list isn't really a good way to assess quality in a pet food.
So, if the guaranteed analysis (where the diet’s crude protein concentration is listed) isn’t very helpful, and neither is the ingredient list, how can a pet owner decide what to feed their pet? Every pet and every pet owner has different needs and different preferences, so choosing the best diet means taking these factors into consideration and comparing them to objective evaluation of available diet options.
Veterinary Nutrition Care can customize a commercial diet recommendation to your, and your pet’s, exact specifications, as well as explain how the choice was made and why the diet selected is the best fit.