Pet nutrition: What to look for and avoid when feeding your furry friend

Click to play video: 'Understanding pet food ingredients' Understanding pet food ingredients
ABOVE: Veterinarian Julie Schell discusses some common pet food ingredients to avoid and how to read food labels – Aug 8, 2017

Feeding your pet is not as simple as throwing leftover dinner scraps in a dish anymore.

In 2016, dog and cat food sales in Canada reached more than one billion dollars, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. There are countless brands to choose from, and a variety of different health claims and prices.

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The pet food industry is also not regulated in Canada, meaning there can be a lot of misinformation out there.

“Marketing has way, way, way outpaced the research into pet food,” Said Dr. Daniel Joffe, the national medical director of VCA Canada. “No one oversees pet food in Canada and it’s much more marketing than science. You can see that with all the commercials on television.”

Here are some tips on how to better navigate your pet’s food health.

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What to look for

“It’s very important to talk with your vet first,” Calgary veterinarian Julie Schell said. “We know and understand your pets’ needs. Each pet, depending on life stage or disease, requires certain ingredients.”

Both Joffe and Schell said it’s not so much the ingredients on the food you want to look for, but the nutrition.

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“The diet needs to be the right amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat,” he said. “And the key is the quality of them.”

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For example, the first ingredient may list “chicken, lamb or turkey”, but this can be misleading, he said. Ingredients are listed on a per weight basis, but it is not only dry-matter weight that is counted. So the first ingredient reading “chicken” may be weighed down by water — meaning there is less protein in there.

Dogs are omnivores and cats are carnivores, Schell said. So dogs can do a balanced diet with vegetables and carbohydrates.

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What to avoid

‘All life stages’ food

Schell said to steer away from the pet food that reads for “all life stages.” This claim means the food is fortified to have ingredients for a puppy all the way up to a senior dog.

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“This can be too much protein or calcium for a senior dog and could be hard on their kidney or liver,” she said.

Artificial colour and flavour

Avoid pet food with ingredients containing artificial flavours or colours as this can contribute to allergies and digestive issues, Schell said.

The “colours” in food are really only there for humans,  Joffe said.

READ MORE: Feeding your dog these foods? Stop, or you’ll harm Fido’s health, FDA says

“The food could be a bland yellow glob and still [be] nutritious,” he said. “But humans may not feel comfortable. It’s hard to find food that does not have [artifical colouring]. But good companies make sure those extra things are not detrimental to pet health.”

Raw meat

Joffe and Schell both agree that raw food can be dangerous to feed your animal.

“If you don’t cook the meat you can cause parasites and bacteria transfer to pets as well as ourselves,” Schell said. She added that raw vegetables and nuts are fine, but not meat.

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READ MORE: Don’t feed your pet raw meat foods – it’s dangerous for both pets and humans, experts warn

The ingredient may also be listed as sodium chloride, iodized salt or sea salt. Although salt is a required nutrient for animals (just like humans), an excess of it can cause health issues, such as an increase in water intake, heart rate, as well as cause stomach ailments and pancreatitis.

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