Pets require a balanced diet to thrive, but choosing a pet food can be challenging. Pet owners who walk into a pet store are greeted with an overwhelming array of food choices in various forms. The Fairfax Veterinary Clinic team members are experts in pet nutrition and want to help pet owners learn to evaluate pet foods and make healthy choices on their furry pal’s behalf. We explore why quality nutrition matters, how to decipher pet food labels, and what to look for in quality pet food.

Why nutrition matters for pets

A balanced diet provides essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that support optimal growth and functioning in pets. Nutritional needs can vary wildly, depending on your pet’s species, life stage, and overall health. Meeting those needs ensures your pet can maintain a healthy weight, their immune function is supported, and organ function is optimized, leading to improved quality of life and longevity.

Pet food ingredients

Pet food ingredients are a hot topic these days as controversies rage over grains, by-products, fillers, organic ingredients, raw diets, natural foods, and more. Most of the information for pet owners about their furry pal’s food comes from marketers or self-proclaimed social media experts. The truth isno ingredients or food types are inherently good or bad. Rather, each has nutritional value and can provide pets with adequate fuel as part of a complete and balanced diet. 

Pet food nutritional requirements

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) publishes nutritional guidelines for dogs and cats in each life stage. We recommend pet owners purchase only pet food products that comply with AAFCO standards and include a label statement declaring that the food is complete and balanced for either a specific life stage or “all life stages.” 

AAFCO uses scientific research to establish the guidelines, which specify the minimum micro and macronutrient requirements for sustaining good pet health. Pet food manufacturers that adhere to AAFCO’s standards can instill confidence in their consumers that their products meet their pet’s nutritional needs. 

Pet food guaranteed analysis

The guaranteed analysis provides information on the minimum and maximum percentages of crude protein, fat, fiber, and moisture in the food, which gives you insight into its nutritional composition. Unlike nutrition labels that list grams and calories, the pet food percentages listed in a guaranteed analysis are based on weight. Most pet foods also list calorie counts for a specified food weight or volume. 

You can use the guaranteed analysis to calculate how many grams of each macronutrient your pet consumes each day, but this information is not as important as the bag’s AAFCO statement. We recommend using the percentages listed on pet food bags to compare nutritional profiles across different brands or to ensure food meets the requirements we’ve specified for your pet’s health, such as an ultra-low-fat diet for pancreatitis. 

How to choose a quality pet food

Our veterinary team is your best resource for determining your pet’s nutritional needs. This is especially true as pets age and develop medical conditions requiring diet changes. When you are choosing between recommended diets, consider the following:

  • Life stage needs — Choose a pet food formulated to meet nutritional requirements for your pet’s life stage (e.g., puppy, adult, or senior) and health needs (e.g., weight management, kidney disease, dental health).
  • Label clarity: Opt for pet foods that meet or exceed AAFCO standards and contain quality ingredients, including named animal and plant proteins. 
  • Brand reputation: Research the reputation and credibility of the pet food manufacturer, including their commitment to safety, quality control, and transparency. The best pet food manufacturers have in-house veterinary nutritionists who formulate their diets based on information from controlled, real-life feeding trials. Only a few brands meet this standard, and these are most frequently recommended by veterinarians.

Quality nutrition is essential for supporting your pet’s health. For help learning to read pet nutrition labels or selecting a food that meets your furry pal’s health needs, contact the Fairfax Veterinary Clinic team to schedule a nutrition consultation.