An edited transcript of the video is provided below:

Today we’re gonna conclude our three-part series on pet food – the new religion, and, provide you with information on how to choose a good pet food. Our goal is to help you figure out how to navigate a bag of pet food and how to pick one out from the store because it can be really confusing. There’s so much marketing material that goes into it and it’s hard to read through all of the BS to come with the right answer.

Let’s start with reading labels. This is hardest part because everything on that bag is designed to market to you. The first thing somebody will do is go to the back of the bag and read the ingredient list. However, the marketers also know that and why we sometimes see weird trends in dog and cat foods. Just realize that an ingredient list is a marketing tool that they’re using for you. Here is an example: one of the biggest things that they’ve started doing is making meat the very first ingredient. And that’s how people will make that decision; “Oh, meat is the first ingredient. This is a better diet than this food because they don’t have even chicken meal until the fourth ingredient down on the list.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but that means absolutely nothing. If you look at those two bags, the order of the ingredients is based on weight. It means the most weight of that diet is going to be chicken, or beef, or whatever that meat is. On the surface, it seems obvious to choose the diet that has more actual weight of meat in it. But the problem is, if you look at the actual protein content of both of those foods will be identical. And the reason is because when you have chicken meal, it’s the same thing as chicken, but they’ve just removed all the water from the chicken breast. If you have a chicken breast it’s full of meat, but it’s also full of water. In order for them to actually create a kibble out of that, they have to dehydrate that and turn it into a meal, and then make the kibble out of that. So in reality, the amount of chicken is identical between the two diets, but one is just calculated with the water weight included. So you’re getting the same thing, whether it’s the first or the fourth ingredient. I would choose the one with the chicken later down the list because they charge you a premium to list it first. Marketing.

This is the other part of it too – the guaranteed analysis. We like to look at the Protein Content, Carbohydrates, and Fat content, but It is hard to even know what they mean. Here’s why: Crude protein is just a calculated value based on the total nitrogen amount in the dog food. It means nothing about how digestible it is (how much they can absorb from that protein source). This is the big difference in pet foods, but it is near impossible to figure out. What is important is not the calculated protein content number, but more important is the quality of food that you’re getting (and that doesn’t mean “Human Grade” is better). One of the main reasons why we recommend actually sticking with a larger brand of dog food is because they actually have a lot more data on the digestibility and bioavailability of these nutrients that they put in their food, versus a smaller, more mom-and-pop boutique brand, which might not have the resources to actually study that and actually look to see how much is available and digestible.

Now that I have trash talked reading labels, there is one I want you to focus on. There will be something called the AAFCO feeding statement. It will be on every bag of food, but it’s really hard to find. It’s a tiny statement lost among all the other noise that’s on a bag of food. But what you’re looking for is a statement that will say something to the effect of: “This diet is formulated to meet the requirements for growth, lactation, gestation,” or “Formulated to meet all life stages,” or “Formulated for adult maintenance. What does this mean? If it says, “For all life stages,” it’s a food that you can feed to a pregnant dog, a lactating dog, a puppy, an adult dog, or a senior dog. It’s actually good for everybody. The problem with that is that when you feed that to an adult dog, that’s a lot of energy. There are a lot of calories that are required for growth. There’s a lot of calories that are required for lactation and pregnancy. If you’re feeding that an average adult dog that is sitting around your house most of the day, they’re going to get fat. And that’s why there are so many fat dogs out there. I think they’re feeding the wrong diet because it’s formulated to be good for everybody, but it isn’t actually good for adult dogs. What we recommend if you have an adult dog is to find a diet that says, “This is formulated to meet the requirements for adult maintenance.” That will be a more appropriate diet for your dog at home if they’re an adult. If they’re a puppy, find one that is specifically for puppies. If they’re a large-breed puppy, it should say, “For large-breed puppies.” They’re going to have very specific nutritional differences between them.

Looking for that AAFCO feeding statement is really important. Then, you know, there’s the debate on what should we feed our dog? Home cooked, versus raw, versus commercial. Again, see our previous post about raw diet. We don’t recommend that. Home-cooked is good. I think that there’s a lot of benefit to that. The problem with home-cooked is that it’s really time-consuming and there’s a lot of nutritional deficiencies that can develop because of that. Again, there was a study that showed that something like 80% of home-cooked diets were inadequate in one or two nutrients. It can be good, but just make sure you’re doing it right. We do recommend consulting with a veterinary nutritionist. We eat a really varied diet as people, so we’re always getting different nutrients and can choose our food if we have a craving. Dogs can do well on home cooked foods, but often we tend to get into a routine with them and if we’re just feeding the same couple of things over and over and over again, they can actually get nutritional deficiencies, and that isn’t good.

The kibble that you can get from the store is made to be what they need day-in, day-out for the rest of their life. So it is really important to get a good kibble where they are actually doing testing on it to make sure that everything is in there that they need. And again, why we recommend using some of the larger brands than some of the boutique ones. But almost all of the commercial diets are really good. Back in the 80’s, there was actually a disease called “Generic Dog Food Dermatosis”. These dogs were getting these terrible skin lesions because they were on various generic brands of dog food. It turns out they were deficient in a lot of different nutrients and minerals. So this is where government regulation came in there and actually improved the industry. And now I’ve never seen a case of that because it doesn’t really exist anymore here. Dog foods have really come a long way, and they’re really an easy and cost-effective way for us to keep our dogs and cats.

So when you go to a pet store, how do we pick a commercial diet? For the most part, almost all the commercial kibble diets out there are good and unless your pet has an actual disease (food allergy, etc), they are going to be fine. Just choose one you like and they’re gonna be okay. I know this is anti-climatic – but this is good news. You don’t have to stress and overthink this. Again, I do recommend one of the larger brands to make sure that if there are any problems, they have a million dogs on the diet and can quickly find problems versus a boutique brand which only has a smaller number of dogs making deficiencies more difficult to detect. Other questions to ask each company: Do they have a vet nutritionist on staff? How are they formulating their food? Do they make their food in their own plants?

A lot of pet foods will have another company make their food, and they just slap their name on it. And that’s actually one of the problems of Blue Buffalo. When they first started, you know, they were making all of these wild claims about grains and by-products(see our last blog post about that), and villainizing every other pet food company. But they weren’t making their own food at all. So when somebody actually tested their food, they found grains and by-products and all these other “contaminants” in their food that claimed weren’t in there. Blue Buffalo likely had no idea because they weren’t in control of their food. Again, they were just putting their name on something that they weren’t making. So recommend going with a company that makes their own food, in their own plants, so they have more control over the final product. Ask where they source their ingredients. Do they get their ingredients from the U.S.? I’d only recommend getting foods that source their ingredients from here and are not importing them from overseas.

Just find a food that they like, that they eat readily, they do well on, their coat looks good, their stools are normal, and is a food that you feel good about. I mean, does it also fit with your take on the world? Is it organic? Is it a sustainable food source? Do you just like the color of the bag? Whatever it is, just find one that you like, it’s easy to get, and they will most likely be fine. Some brands that we recommend, Wellness, Nature’s Choice, Natural Balance, Purina Pro Plan. You can go to Costco and get the Kirkland brand dog food and they will likely do great on it.

So there you have it. It’s not as complicated as what people like to make it out to be. But you are getting hit with a lot of information at dog park, at the pet food stores, and online. Your uncle at Christmas dinner probably has a strong opinion about it at as well. But just realize they probably have no idea what they’re talking about. There’s a lot of bad information out there, and hopefully, this clears some of that up for you.

If you do have any questions about any of this, feel free to give us a call. Visit us on the web, Call us at 760-633-2254. Once again, I’m Dr. Brian Evans here at Coastal Animal Hospital. Until next time.