The Lowdown on the Latest Pet Food Trends, According to Vets
Your four-legged friend's diets isn't one size fits all.
As humans, many of us are trying out the latest diet trends, or at least striving to fuel ourselves with healthy choices. (The Boston Medical Center estimates about 45 million Americans go on a diet each year). So, it makes sense that we want to feed our pets the best food out there. We spoke to several veterinarians to get the pros and cons of the latest nutrition fads for our four-legged friends. You might be surprised to see what they recommend and what foods you should avoid. Remember, before you introduce any new foods or switch up your pet's diet, consult your veterinarian first. All animals require different nutrients, so keep that in mind as well.
Grain-free foods are considered by some to be healthier for pets. One theory is that undomesticated dogs and cats didn't eat grains, so grain-free food might be more easily digested and less likely to cause allergies or stomach issues. On the other hand, experts say that dogs have evolved to develop the ability to digest starches. So many vets are advising against a grain-free diet. "Grains aren't necessarily good or bad, per se. They can provide nutrients and are a good source of energy," says John P. Loftus, Ph.D., D.V.M., assistant professor of small animal internal medicine at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York.
New Protein Sources
Move over chicken and beef because pet food companies are introducing protein sources such as crickets and buffalo. With an eye toward sustainability, even plant-based proteins such as chickpeas and lentils are being used. One thing to know: Pet foods with novel animal proteins often contain a higher percentage of added plant protein, says Ken Tudor, D.V.M., holistic veterinarian and owner of The Well Dog Place in Claremont, California. That might mean less of the nutrients found in animal protein (including taurine) that a dog or cat needs.
Organic & Special Nutrients
Even though studies haven't confirmed whether organic foods are better for pets, there's no downside as long as the food has the right nutritional makeup. The words "certified organic" on the label indicate that at least 95% of the ingredients are organic; "made with organic ingredients" means at least 70% are.
What about added ingredients, such as probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids? They up the price but also increase beneficial vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, says Carol Osborne, D.V.M., a veterinarian in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
Although fresh pet foods (available via delivery services and in the refrigerated section of pet stores) might seem like a splurge, given the prices, they can benefit pets. "Fresh pet foods usually have high-quality meat and are good sources of vitamins and minerals," Osborne says. Because fresh foods are perishable, you'll need to keep these items in the fridge or freezer. For any foods you choose, check labels for an endorsement from the AAFCO, a nonprofit regulating pet food quality.