Wednesday, Mar. 4th 2015

Pet Food Selection Tips


Altered Hours in the second week of March!  Just want everyone to know that Dr Leonard is attending a chiropractic continuing education seminar March 12-15.  Debbie will still be in the office 1-5 Thursday and 9-3 Friday so you can still call to make appointments for the following week, or swing by if you need a refill on a supplement, more dog treats, or whatever.  But we will not be seeing patients on those days.  Please plan accordingly and call early if you need an appointment next week.  For an appointment, call 816-331-1868 during business hours.


It has been several years since I initially wrote my most popular newsletter, all about how to select a pet food according to the quality and digestibility of the ingredients and what makes one pet food better than another.  Not only do I constantly refer people to this newsletter (March 2012), this is information I find myself going over every day with clients in the exam room. Since what you put IN your pet is vitally important in external manifestations of disease and disorder, I thought it was time to revisit the topic. 

First, a disclaimer.  Always consult with a veterinarian before making drastic changes in your pet’s diet, particularly if they have serious health concerns.  Any diet changes should be no more than 10% per day to avoid digestive upset, until and unless the pet has become accustomed to a wide variety in the diet.

Convenience factors:  Every family has a different tolerance for money and time spent on pet feeding.  From the all-organic, home-made diet to a kibble conveniently purchased at a local store, you must decide what is right for your family.  Certainly, I would prefer to see all pets on a fresh raw or cooked, balanced diet prepared at home with organic ingredients, but I realize this is not practical for most pet-owning families, including my own.  Decide your level of pain and do the best you can within those constraints.

Best to Worst in terms of food type in my opinion are: 

(1) Home-prepared diet, whole ingredients, preferably organic, raw or cooked or some of each

(2) Commercial whole-food diet, raw, dehydrated, or fresh cooked;  preferably organic (OK, at this point we’ll just assume organic is better no matter what food you use)

(3) Canned, all-natural food following ingredient-selection guidelines below

(4) Canned high-quality store brand, not whole-food, not natural, following some of the guidelines below

(5) Kibble, all-natural food following ingredient-selection choices below

(6) Kibble, high-quality store brand, not whole-food, not natural, following a few of the choices below.

(7) Cheap store-brand canned or dry foods ignoring all ingredient-selection choices below.

(8) Anything that says “Made in China”—don’t do this. Many of the recent food and treat recalls for pet products (and many toys) will say this on the label.

 Ingredient Selection Guidelines:

(1)    Whole food is always best.  You want the ingredient list to read like a grocery list, not a chemistry experiment.  If you can’t go to a grocery store and pull the first ten ingredients of the pet food off a store shelf, you can do better.

(2)    Less Processing is always best.  This goes hand-in-hand with number one.  If the ingredient name is followed by “meal”, “byproduct”, or “digest”, this means it is a processed ingredient that has been heated, pressurized, or broken down and altered in some way.  This processing causes the food components to be altered in chemical structure which may cause your pet’s immune system to react to them and cause inflammation somewhere in the body.

(3)    Limit or avoid grains, especially high-GMO grains like corn, soy, and wheat.  Cats should always receive grain-free as their strictly carnivorous digestive tract can’t handle grain breakdown.  Certain breeds of dogs may be more tolerant of grains but if inflammation is a problem, avoiding these may be beneficial.  As yet, there isn’t enough research in animals to guess at the effect GMO’s may have on their immune response but better safe than sorry in my book.  If grain is present in your dog food, choose rice, barley, or oats.  Better yet, look for vegetable carb sources like sweet potato, potato, or peas and beans.

(4)    Avoid all sweeteners like corn syrup, sugar, etc.  Our pets don’t need these and they contribute to tooth decay and obesity.

(5)    Avoid all artificial ingredients like coloring agents, preservatives, artificial flavors, and propylene glycol (found in semi-moist foods and treats).  There is no purpose for these whatsoever, they simply add to the chemical load on your pet.  Natural preservatives include Vitamin E, Rosemary, and Citric Acid and are acceptable.

(6)    Vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, may have “chemical” sounding names.  They are necessary for properly balancing most pet foods to avoid deficiency.  It is wise to familiarize yourself with names like Dicalcium phosphate, Thiamine, Riboflavin, etc so you know that these are acceptable.

(7)    Many ingredients are added to pet food for YOUR benefit, to make the diet somehow seem more acceptable or higher quality.  They either do nothing for your pet, or can even be harmful.  Along with the coloring agents mentioned above, these can include carageenan or guar gum added for a firmer texture of the food, whole chunks of vegetables added to look pretty (but undigestible to pets since they don’t chew and lack the enzyme to break down plant fibers), and any good-sounding ingredient (like cranberries, blueberries, spinach, etc) that falls lower than salt on the ingredient list.  All ingredients below salt should be things needed in very tiny quantities for benefit, such as vitamins, probiotics, and the like.  Whole food ingredients “below the salt” are present in such a small quantity as to be worthless and are only there to impress you as the consumer.  While these whole foods are not bad in the food, they are not as beneficial as they would be higher on the ingredient list.

Finally, how much should you feed your pet?  Generally, a pet reaches their full adult growth around 10 months to 18 months of age in most breeds, with smaller pets maturing sooner.  Their weight at that age or soon after is usually fairly close to their optimal weight.  A healthy pet has a waist when viewed from above and the side, meaning they are visibly smaller around behind the rib cage than at the rib cage.  This is true of all breeds, though how much of a waist can vary.  You should not be able to see the ribs in most breeds, but should be able to easily feel them with very gentle pressure.  If your pet is overweight, feed them 10% less for a month then re-evaluate.  If they are underweight, feed them 10% more for a month.  Continue in this fashion until you get a feel for the proper amount of food for your pet to maintain a good weight.  Keep in mind that you will most likely need to feed less of a higher-quality diet because it will be more digestible, meaning your pet will get more nutrition from every bite than of a lower-quality food.  This is one of the benefits of high-quality diets, along with smaller stools which break down easily, and improved overall health.

 Finally, the actual main ingredients of your pet’s food may play a strong role in their health.  Foods can be warming or cooling or act as tonics for various deficiencies.  Even a high quality diet may be harmful to your pet if you feed a “hot” diet to a dog with severe inflammatory conditions or a “cold” diet to an aged, weak pet.  You should consult with a veterinarian trained in Chinese Food Therapy if you have concerns about which ingredients are optimal for your pet.

A quick tip, there are several websites where you can easily compare food ingredients and order them to be shipped direct to your door.  One of our favorites is which has a great search-narrowing feature on the left side of the page, and free shipping with a $50 order.

 If you would like to learn more, and have your pet evaluated for guidance on choosing the right ingredients, you can have a nutritional consult added to a physical and Chinese medical exam for a total cost of only around $95.  Call for an appointment anytime.



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