How to Choose the Best Food for Your Pet

Monday, February 24, 2014 - 1:15pm
cavalier king charles spaniel next to food bowl

By Dr. Louise Murray, Vice President of the ASPCA Animal Hospital

Pet owners want to provide their furry friends with a healthy diet, but all the available pet food options can be overwhelming at times. Here are some tips to help you select the right food for your pet.

It’s helpful to read pet food labels before making a purchase. Here’s what to look for:

  • Make sure the food meets the standards of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
  • Review food ingredients and the order in which they’re listed, since ingredients are listed in order of relative amounts. Feeding cats carbohydrates such as corn may lead to health issues including obesity and diabetes. Dogs are omnivores, like us, and as such are more nutritionally flexible.
  • Foods labeled as gourmet, premium, or super or ultra premium are not required to contain higher quality ingredients, and are not held to higher nutritional standards; the term natural also does not have an official definition.
  • When the label lists meat by-products, this refers to animal parts that we may not choose to eat but are not intrinsically unhealthy for pets. The term by-product meal refers to animal tissue that has been rendered, an industrial process converting slaughterhouse offal and deceased animals from various sources into a more stable material; some owners prefer to avoid foods containing meat meal.

Concerned pet owners can find more information about pet food and labeling at or

If you prefer to make homemade food for your pet, read these helpful tips:

You can prepare healthy meals at home if you ensure that the diet is balanced for your pet’s species, stage of life, and any health conditions. An unbalanced diet can lead to serious problems, such as bone fragility, heart disease, and blindness. Homemade diets must be balanced by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. Pet Diets and Balance It provide helpful guides for at-home pet food preparation.

If you prepare food for your pet, ensure all meats are cooked properly. Raw meat can be contaminated with harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella, presenting a health hazard not only to your pet but to your family as well, and can be found in the stool of pets who consume uncooked meat.

Ever wondered why dogs and cats need different foods?

The nutritional needs of dogs and cats are very different. Dogs are omnivores and can do well on either meat-containing or vegetarian diets, while cats are strict carnivores with very precise nutritional needs.

Because their ancestors lived in desert environments, cats often don’t drink enough and they produce urine with relatively little water in it. Therefore, it’s a good idea to include moist foods in your cat’s diet to help prevent the formation of crystals and stones in the urinary tract. Another characteristic of cats is that they can become seriously ill if they resent a food change or go on a hunger strike so any diet change must be made slowly and carefully. When switching foods, watch your cat’s appetite closely, and never try to starve a cat into eating a new food!

Always be sure to check with your pet’s veterinarian regarding the best diet for your companion, and discuss any special dietary needs your pet may have.

For more information about pet nutrition, check out our Pet Care section