A quick stroll down the food aisles of a pet store can be a lot for pet owners to take in: There are tons of different types of cat and dog food out there. What should you consider as you make the best choice for your furry friends?
First, make sure you give your pet a food that’s intended for that particular animal. Dogs and cats need different kinds of nutrients, so what works for Fluffy is not good for Fido.
You’ll also find that pet food packages have a lot of useful information. Check the bag, box, or can for the nutritional statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which will say that the food is complete and balanced. The organization has developed nutrition standards for pets’ different life stages that include growth (for kittens and puppies), pregnancy and lactation, and adulthood.
Adult Cats and Dogs
Cats are meat eaters and need diets that are high in animal protein. Your cat should not become a vegetarian, because they need amino acids like taurine, arginine, methionine, and tyrosine that come from an animal source. The food you choose for your cat should also have fat, which provides energy and vitamins A, D, and E.
Your dog must have water, protein, fat, carbs, and some vitamins and minerals to be healthy. The amount of food they need will depend on their size and how active they are. Ask your vet to help you figure out how much to give and what kind of food would be best.
Animals that are pregnant or have recently given birth will need a high-calorie food. Cats often lose weight as they nurse their kittens, so they need to gain as much as 50% of their pre-pregnancy weight before they give birth.
Kittens and Puppies
Kittens and puppies typically drink their mother’s milk until they are 7 to 8 weeks old. You can introduce small amounts of kitten or puppy food around 3 or 4 weeks. Be sure to give your young pets specially formulated food, because as they grow, cats and dogs need extra nutrients and calories.
When they are 1 year old, you can begin to give your cat or dog adult food. Really big dogs, like Great Danes and mastiffs, may continue to grow until they’re 18 months old, so they should eat puppy food for longer.
Your cat or dog may have different nutritional needs as they get older. In general, pets can be considered “senior” when they are around 7 years old. Large dogs age more quickly and may enter their senior years when they are 6 years old.
You’ll want to take your senior pet to the vet for a thorough checkup more often. While you’re there, ask for advice about food. Your cat or dog might be among the many pets in the U.S. that need to lose weight. However, in older animals, weight loss can also be a problem. Food for senior pets can be easier to digest, have different ingredients and nutrients, and help with weight control.
Photo Credit: redstallion / Getty Images
Association of American Feed Control Officials: “Selecting the Right Pet Food.”
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: “Feeding Your Cat.”
International Cat Care: “Feeding Your Cat or Kitten.”
National Research Council of the National Academies: “Your Cat’s Nutritional Needs.”
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: “Dog Nutrition Tips.”
Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University: “Vegan Dogs -- a healthy lifestyle or going against nature?” “When your baby isn’t such a baby anymore -- when to switch to adult foods.”
American Kennel Club: “Fruits and Vegetables Dogs Can and Can’t Eat.”
American Veterinary Medical Association: “Senior Pet Care (FAQ).”
Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, “2015 Obesity Facts and Risks.”