Pet Points: Veterinarians can help you choose right pet food

Shopping for pet food in a supermarket or pet store can be overwhelming and confusing. Most pet owners want a high-quality food, but some are more price-sensitive than others.

Sorting through the marketing jargon is not an easy task, but you can get some help from your veterinarian. Nutrition should be part of a pet’s health assessment at every annual exam. Age, medical conditions, activity level, general health, coat condition and supplements should be discussed with a veterinarian.

In general, I like meat-based diets that do not use artificial color or flavorings. To see if the manufacturer has taken part in feeding studies or just followed federal guidelines, read the label statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Feeding studies are the best way to ensure a pet food is complete, balanced and palatable.

The biggest problem is that many pets get too many calories when you consider the amount of food, table food and treats. New label requirements call for the listing of calories per cup. This label change may help control the obesity epidemic in American pets. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that 53 percent of dogs and 58 percent of cats are overweight. Research from Purina decades ago showed that pets who were the proper weight lived almost two years longer than overweight ones.

When choosing a pet food, don’t rely solely on the ingredient list. Even a specialist in veterinary nutrition would have a hard time evaluating a food based only on the label. Consideration of who actually produces the food and the quality control measures are very important.

Some pet food production is contracted out to other pet food producers. A recent lawsuit was settled for $32 million after one manufacturer admitted that its pet food had byproducts that were not listed on the label. In fact, that brand advertised specifically that no by-products were used and blamed the supplier for the mistake.

The use of byproducts is controversial. At a local pet store, I observed two signs. One food was advertised as having no byproducts. Another claimed it contained nutrient-dense organ meat. Byproducts like liver are nutritious ingredients if the producers have good quality control.

Internet sites that rate pet foods can offer erroneous advice. Not every person or website that claims expertise on pet nutrition has accurate information. For reliable information on pet feeding, go to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (, the American College of Veterinary Nutrition ( and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association Global Nutrition Committee (

Foods should be matched to a pet’s life stage. Puppies should be fed a puppy food that has a higher calorie content. Large-breed puppies need high-calorie foods for growth but ones with less calcium. Adult dogs should be fed based on how they look. Body condition scores will evaluate if they are too thin or too heavy. Overweight pets need restricted calories or food designed for weight loss.

Pets more than 8 years old will often do better on a food made for seniors. Senior foods are lower in protein, which helps kidney function. Any food change should be done gradually to prevent intestinal upsets.

We love our pets and try to take care of them properly. Feeding them correctly can promote a healthy and long life.

Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you’d like addressed in Pet Points, email Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.