Oct 01 2014

The Edible Debate: Choosing the right food for your pet

We’ve all been there before; standing in the pet food aisle, blank stare on our faces, as we gaze at row upon row of pet foods.

         Should I be feeding my pet dry or canned food?

                                          Are Grain-Free or RAW diets healthier?

                                                                             Which brand is the best choice?


Just like humans, our pets are individuals. No two are alike, and they all have different needs; this includes their diet. So, how do you go about choosing the right food for your pet? There are a few variables to consider before going out and purchasing your pet’s new diet.



Your pet’s age plays a huge role in the deciding factor for a diet.  Young puppies and kittens have different nutritional needs than that of an adult. Senior pets also require additional supporting nutrients.

Puppies/Kittens (up to 1 year of age)

   Puppies and Kittens, just like human children, require specific nutrients for adequate growth. Their diets should contain optimal amounts of protein, energy, calcium and phosphorus to support their growing needs. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are also incredibly important. They help to ensure a shiny and healthy coat as well as support their joints as they grow. EPA and DHA, two highly unsaturated omega 3 fatty acids, should be incorporated into their diets to promote renal and cardiac health as well as brain function and development.

As with all living beings, a large component of our immune system function is through our gastrointestinal tract. Puppies and kittens have a lower immunity, than that of an adult, so it is important to get them on a good quality diet to assist them through their immature years. Look for diets with highly digestible proteins to assist with GI health and prevent soft stools.

The size of your puppy will also play a factor. Large breed puppies (any breed that will exceed 55 lbs. once mature) will require higher levels of calcium and energy to help promote adequate joint development. Because of this, glucosamine and chondroitin are often added to large breed puppy formulas to aid in the prevention of osteoarthritic conditions.

Adults (1-7 years of age)

   Once your pet has reached maturity, their nutritional needs will start to change. Once dogs and cats have been spayed or neutered, their metabolisms will often begin to slow down. This can lead to obesity in pets, if they are not being fed properly and given adequate amounts of exercise.  Feed your pet based on their own individual energy requirements.  Cats, especially indoor cats, often become “couch potatoes” as they age. If this is the case, ensure they are on an appropriate diet to coincide with their low energy lifestyles (i.e. Indoor formulas, lower calorie diets etc.). Active dogs, such as the sporting breeds, should be fed diets that support a higher energy lifestyle.

Dental disease is the number one clinical condition that occurs in adult dogs and cats. Some diets include enzymes which aid in the prevention of plaque and tartar build-up. To ensure the absolute best for your pet’s dental health, look for diets with the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal of approval located on diets packaging.

Urinary health is also incredibly important to think about when choosing a diet for your pet. Cats and small dogs are prone to the development of urinary crystals and stones. Feed them a high quality diet that promotes a target urine pH between 6.2-6.4. This discourages the formation of the most common urinary crystals and stones.

Seniors (> 7 years of age for cats and small breed dogs, >6 for large breed dogs)

   The most common disease processes we encounter with senior pets are osteoarthritis and kidney disease. Because of this, they require vital nutrients in their diets to adequately support their aging bodies. Feeding a senior diet is the most ideal, as they are well-balanced with the proper levels of Sodium, Phosphorus and Protein to help minimize the stress put on their kidneys. Added Omega 3 and 6, as well as Glucosamine and Chondroitin, will provide support for their joints.


Dry vs. Canned

A common question we get asked is whether clients should be feeding their pets’ dry food, canned food or both. The answer will vary, depending on the individual pet’s lifestyle and health. Most dogs and cats will readily eat a mixture of both dry and canned food, however, that isn’t the case for all. Starting puppies and kittens out on a mixture of both dry and canned can adjust their taste-buds to each. This way, when they get older and require one vs. the other, the transition will be easier on you and your pet.

Both dry and canned foods have their advantages/disadvantages.

Overall Convenience ***  
Lower Cost ***  
More Appetizing   ***
Longer Shelf life   ***
Easier to Chew   ***
No Refrigeration ***  
Extended In-bowl Feeding Time ***  

There is a time and place when feeding one vs. the other is warranted. Dry food is ideal for dogs and cats that may be prone to dental disease, since it is often designed to promote adequate crunching of the food to prevent plaque and tartar build-up. Canned food is ideal to add moisture into a pet’s diet. Certain disease processes (i.e. kidney disease) require an increase in water intake, so canned food may be needed.


 To BARF or not to BARF?

   The raw food diet has been a controversial discussion amongst pet owners and Veterinarians. The diet was first proposed in 1993 by an Australian Veterinarian named Ian Billinghurst. He called it “The BARF diet”, which stands for “Bones and Raw Food”, or “Biologically Appropriate Raw Food”. Billinghurst suggested that canines would benefit from a diet based on what they ate in the wild prior to being domesticated: Raw, meaty bones and vegetable scraps.

Just like any food regime, feeding a raw based diet has its pros and cons. Raw diets have potential health benefits, including: shiny coats, healthy skin, high energy levels and small stools volumes. However, these benefits can also be attained through feeding a well-balanced commercially prepared dog food.

The biggest potential risk with feeding a raw diet is the spread of salmonella to us, humans. Our canine friends are relatively immune to salmonella and usually pass the bacteria through their gastrointestinal tract without any harmful effects. Humans, however, are not so lucky. This is especially true for those who are immune-compromised (i.e. children and seniors). In which case, proper hand washing and handling of feces is warranted.



Grain-free pet foods are currently very popular. A common myth is that grains are non-digestible and can cause allergic reactions in our pets. The truth is, properly processed and cooked grains (which are used in pet foods) are highly digestible.  Processed grains provide plenty of excellent nutrients. These include:

  • Carbohydrates – an important source of energy
  • Fibre – supports gastrointestinal health and decreases the total fat and calories in a diet.
  • Essential Fatty Acids – contribute to a healthy coat
  • Concentrated protein – example: corn gluten meal is a highly digestible source of many essential amino acids.



When it comes to choosing a brand of pet food, it all comes down to research. There are many great, reputable pet food brands available and they all provide varying degrees of diets for both cats and dogs. Companies such as Hill’s Science Diet, Royal Canin and Purina all make veterinary grade and commercially available pet foods. All of these brands are backed by in-depth research and feeding trials to ensure quality assurance in each product and are even guaranteed. Do your research prior to purchasing a new diet.


So, how do I know my pets’ food is the RIGHT food?

Now that you’ve found a diet for your pet, how can you tell if you’ve made the right choice? As mentioned, our pets are individuals; no two are alike. Just because your neighbour’s pet is fed a certain type of food, doesn’t mean yours will tolerate it the same. Here are a few things to think about to help determine whether you’ve chosen the ideal diet for your furry family member:

  • Hair coat & skin – A well balanced, good quality diet should provide a healthy and shiny hair coat. If your pet has a dull, unthrifty looking coat, the diet could be to blame. Itchy skin could also be a sign that the diet isn’t being well tolerated.
  • Stool quality & quantity – Well tolerated diets should produce formed stools and no more than three bowel movements per day. If your pet is having large, unformed and voluminous stools, this could be an indication that the diet is not being digested properly. Excessive gas can also be a sign that your pets’ diet may not be the best choice for them.
  •  Vomiting & Hairballs – Most cat owners have experienced the joys of hairballs. Occasional hairballs are expected; however, in excess it could indicate diet intolerance. The same goes for vomiting, in general. If your pet tends to vomit, especially after eating, you may want to consider a diet change.
  • Energy level – Regardless of their age, our pets should be energetic and happy. Just like humans, animals receive their nutritional energy through their food. Because of this, we need to feed well-balanced diets to provide them adequate amounts of energy so they can live happy, healthy lives. If you notice your dog or cat seems lazy and sluggish, perhaps a diet change will give them a boost.

In the end, the choice comes down to what is the best for your pet.

They can speak, just not verbally. We just need to learn how to listen.


Additional Nutritional References:

  1. Royal Canin: Science-Based Nutrition

  2. Purina: Pet Nutrition – Myths & Facts

  3. Hill’s Pet Nutrition – Pet Food Ingredients and Myths


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