Feeding Your Pet Healthy—
What You Need to Know.
Every day, we make choices about what food to eat. And while many of us don’t always make the healthiest decisions (after all, it's hard to resist a juicy cheeseburger with fries) we know that eating right is one of the best ways to better health.
The same goes for our beloved dogs and cats—except they can’t choose what to eat. We're the ones who make the decision about whether they’re really eating nutritiously or not. And, like us, the choice we make can go a long way toward them enjoying long, healthy lives.
But what truly is a healthy diet for your dog or cat? With so many brands out there, it can be a little confusing. All it really takes, however, is a basic understanding of your dog or cat's nutritional needs and some knowledge about the quality of the ingredients in their food.
Nutrition for dogs and cats.
Like us, our four-legged family members require a balanced diet that is a combination of six nutrient classes—proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water. These nutrients help dogs and cats meet their daily needs for energy, growth and overall well-being.
Of equal importance is the quality of ingredients from which these nutrients are derived. For example, real chicken meat is a higher quality protein source than chicken or poultry by-product meals; chicken fat is considered a higher quality source of essential fatty acids than generic "animal fats". Subtle differences like these may determine whether a pet food brand's ingredients are as healthy as they claim to be.
The basic building blocks for cells, tissues, organs, enzymes, hormones and antibodies, proteins are essential for growth, maintenance, reproduction, repair and energy. Proteins can be obtained from a number of sources. Animal-based proteins such as chicken, lamb, turkey, beef, fish and egg have complete amino acid profiles, meaning they contain all of the amino acids your dog or cat needs.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and are divided into essential and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are ones that cannot be manufactured by the body in sufficient quantities and must be supplied in the pet's diet—examples are carnitine, arginine and lysine. Non-essential amino acids are ones that your pet can produce naturally in sufficient quantities.
For cats, taurine is an essential amino acid because, unlike dogs, cats cannot manufacture enough taurine to meet their needs. Taurine is required for the prevention of eye and heart disease. It also supports reproduction and proper fetal growth. Taurine is found in the best cat foods.
The most concentrated form of food energy, fats provide your pet with more than twice the energy of proteins or carbohydrates. Fats are essential in the structure of cells and are needed for the production of some hormones. They are also required for absorption and utilization of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, and E. The correct balance of fats can be found in top rated healthy dog food and cat food.
Importantly, fats supply fatty acids which dogs and cats need for a multitude of reasons—from helping to provide a healthy skin and coat to reducing inflammation. Dogs and cats can produce some of the fatty acids they need, but not all of them—so these fatty acids, called essential fatty acids, must be supplied by their diet.
Essential fatty acids are divided into two groups—Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Ingredients like chicken fat and sunflower oil are great sources of Omega-6 fatty acids while flax seed, herring oil and salmon oil are key sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Carbohydrates are a key source of energy for dogs and cats. Whole grains, like whole ground brown rice, whole ground barley and oats, are all low-fat sources of highly-digestible complex carbohydrates.
Whole grains are also a rich source of dietary fiber—both soluble and insoluble—which is crucial for healthy intestinal function. Whole grains are also helpful with the common problems of constipation in dogs and cats, which can be caused by a diet that is lacking in fiber.
Vitamins and minerals work together, in conjunction with your pet's natural enzymes, to help with digestion, reproduction and muscle and bone growth. They are also essential for healthy skin and coat and support immune system health, too.
A higher-quality dog food or cat food contains nutritious fruit and vegetables which provide many key vitamins. For example, peas, potatoes and carrots are great sources of Vitamin A, while blueberries are an excellent source of Vitamin C. Vitamin supplements are also common ingredients you should look for in the best dog food and cat food. Here are some of the key vitamins your pet needs on a daily basis:
Vitamin A — essential for healthy bones, teeth, coat, skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. It is an oil soluble vitamin and is important to the immune system especially for respiratory infections.
Vitamin B12 — necessary for growth, and used to treat some types of nerve damage and pernicious anemia.
Vitamin C — a potent antioxidant and immune booster that has been known to help prevent bacterial, viral and degenerative diseases. A water soluble vitamin, Vitamin C can lose potency when exposed to high temperatures.
Vitamin D — promotes skin, bone, connective tissue and heart health. It is necessary for the proper absorption and utilization of calcium and phosphorus.
Vitamin E — a potent antioxidant that helps improve circulation and cardiac output.
The higher quality ingredients in the best dog food and cat food also provide your pet with some of the minerals they need—things like manganese, iron, potassium, copper, and calcium and phosphorus.
But, because these minerals are hard for dogs and cats to absorb, it's important their food be supplemented with "chelated" minerals. A chelated mineral is one that is "attached" to easily absorbable amino acids, which means they will get into your pet's bloodstream more readily. Chelated minerals, like the ones found in the best dog food and cat food, are up to four times more readily absorbed than commonly used inorganic minerals.
A truly vital nutrient, water accounts for between 60 to 70 percent of an adult pet's body weight. While food may help meet some of your pet's water needs (dry food has up to 10 percent moisture, while canned food has up to 78 percent moisture), dogs and cats need to have fresh clean water available to them at all times.
Water is the medium for all chemical reactions in the body that produce energy.
Things you don’t want in your pet’s food—and why
Now that you have a basic understanding of the kind of quality ingredients that make up a healthy diet for your pet, you'll find it interesting to know which ingredients are considered less desirable by pet parents who want to feed their dogs and cats like family members. Surprisingly, when you look at dog food and cat food labels, you’ll see some of these ingredients in many of the leading pet food brands.
Poultry [Chicken] By-Product Meal consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered poultry, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidably in good processing practices. Ingredients listed as chicken or poultry by-product meals are lower in cost than fresh meat. And while some pet food companies contend that these ingredients are the equal of real meat or fish, the question for many pet parents becomes, "do I really want a member of the family eating these things?"
All are incomplete sources of protein that have been linked to allergic reactions in some dogs. Grain proteins do not contain the complete amino acid profiles specific for dogs or cats and are not as easily digestible as meat-based proteins. Many pet food companies use glutens to increase protein levels without using more expensive meat, poultry or fish.
Preservatives like BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, propylene glycol provide no nutritional value and have been associated with possible side effects. Some pet food brands resort to artificial colors and flavors in an attempt to make food look and taste better.
Read the label and see for yourself what’s in your pet’s food.
This is really the best way to determine the quality of the food you’re feeding your pet. As you read the ingredient panel, here are some things to look for:
- The first ingredient is the most important — because there is more of that ingredient than any other. All pet foods must list the ingredients present in their food, in order of weight.
- Super premium pet foods have real chicken, lamb, turkey, beef or fish as the first ingredient.
- The top 10 ingredients usually comprise 80% or more of a dry pet food’s entire formula and give you a great perspective of its ingredient quality. If you compare the top 10 ingredients in BLUE Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe to those of a leading pet food brand, for example, the differences are obvious.
- The first ingredient in BLUE chicken recipes, for example is real chicken, followed by chicken meal (not by-product meal), whole grains and other natural, wholesome ingredients. The first ingredient in some leading dog food brands is ground yellow corn (which can be difficult for dogs and cats to digest) followed by chicken or poultry by-product meals and corn gluten meal.
- Deboned chicken
- Chicken meal
- Whole ground brown rice
- Whole ground barley
- Whole potatoes
- Chicken fat
- Menhanden Fish Meal
- Tomato Pomace
- Ground yellow corn
- Chicken or poultry by-product meals
- Corn gluten meal
- Whole wheat flour
- Beef tallow preserved with mixed-tocopherols (source of Vitamin E)
- Rice flour
- Soy flour
- Some pet food brands define their ingredients in several different ways so that the ones of lower quality appear farther down the ingredient list. For example, a product list could contain chicken, ground corn, corn gluten, ground wheat and corn bran. And, if you were to group all of the corn ingredients as one, they would probably far out-weigh the amount of chicken in that food.
- And, finally, be sure to read all of the ingredients at the end of the listing to know if any artificial preservatives and colorings are being used.
We hope this information helps you better understand what makes up a truly healthy and nutritious pet food. The good thing is, BLUE foods for dogs and cats were created with all of these things in mind—which means the decision about to what feed them just got a whole lot easier.