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What is the best food to feed my dog or cat? How to choose a healthy pet food!

Ingredients 1st, not brands!

Dogs and Cats both thrive on carnivorous diets as they require essential amino acids from meats.

Are you confused with how to pick the best healthy dog and cat food? Whether it's your vet, trainer, breeder, friends or influencer it seems like no one agrees on what to feed your pet. Everyone has a different opinion on natural pet food but when it comes down to it, basing your decision on facts and ingredients is the best way to choose the best dog and cat food. This is the logical approach as no pet food can be better than the ingredients it's made of!

Q: What are dogs and cats designed to eat?

A: Our recommendations of pet foods all start with the anatomy of the dog and cat. Dogs and cats are ancestors of great hunters; cats are obligate carnivores (exclusively meat-eaters) while dogs also thrive on a carnivorous diet. Both pets have a single hinge jaw and sharp teeth that are meant for tearing meat; they do not have wide molars and jaws that move side to side, like humans, to grind plant type matter. Their mouths do not contain digestive enzymes such as amylase, which humans have, to break down grains and starches. Lastly they have very simple acidic stomachs and short digestive tracts that efficiently digest protein and fats from meat. Even though their anatomy remains virtually the same as wild counterparts, it is also important to consider their lifestyle compared to how they would function in the wild. Pets in the wild could travel 25-30 kilometers a day and they would also be chasing and hunting for their food instead of having it served to them in a bowl so monitoring calorie intake is essential. There are some opinions that pets have evolved since being domesticated, but remember evolution takes millions of years and we would see changes in their anatomy such as wider molars if their dietary needs have changed.

Q: How can I ensure my pet food selection is meeting my pet’s complex nutritional needs?

A: At Critters, we always say, “Ingredients first, not brands.” A basic first step is looking for “meat” as a primary ingredient. We dive much deeper into the details since ingredient lists are evaluated before extruding into kibble. Fresh meats are about 75 per cent moisture, so after extruding, “meat’s” position on the ingredient list would likely move down. It's also very important to examine how many carbohydrate sources are listed in a row after the meat listing and if they are whole ingredients. Are there three or more carbohydrates listed in a row after the single meat ingredient? This could be an indication that carbs make up the bulk of what’s in the pet food. Pet owners should also look for whole ingredients that have not been processed before being made into pet food (i.e. meat-based diets complemented by whole peas instead of processed ingredients like pea starch). We scrutinize ingredient lists to make sure they meet our rigorous standards but also consider who makes the pet food, where the ingredients are sourced and how it's made. We prefer local and Canadian where possible but do not sacrifice our ingredient standards just because it has a certain flag on the bag. There are also many different categories of pet food to evaluate, such as natural dry, freeze-dried, frozen raw, dehydrated, canned and even “oven-fresh” pet foods that are gently prepared in an oven like making your own meals at home.

Q: How can pet owners know which food is right for their beloved animal?

A: We believe pets are made to be more complicated than necessary with breed/size specific formulas or puppy/senior diets. Have you ever seen a wolf hunt for a rabbit that is specifically made for adults and not puppies? Now let's look at our own live. When having a family supper is the three-year-old eating different chicken then Grandma? Or should short people only eat baby carrots because there is another specific carrot for tall individuals? The answer to all of these questions is no. No matter what breed they are, dogs or cats virtually have the same digestive systems, which are designed to thrive on a balanced meat-based diet. It is important to note that there are three common AAFCO nutrient profiles for pets that include puppy (or kitten), adult (or maintenance) and all life stages. Many natural pet foods are formulated to meet the “All Life Stages” requirements, satisfying the nutrient profiles for both puppies and adults. By adjusting the feeding levels and ultimately their calorie intake, All Life Stage pet foods have everything a healthy puppy, adult or senior pet needs regardless of size, breed or age. That's a logical approach to pet food!

Q: Are there any ingredients I should avoid?

A: We will NOT recommend pet foods with the following in them:
The basics to avoid:

  • Avoid any meat by-products (chicken by products, anything with word by-products attached to it etc.)
  • Avoid Corn Gluten Meal, Brewers Rice, Tomato Pomace, Brewers Yeast, Beet Pulp, Rye Flour, Rice Bran, Rice Flour, Potato Flour, Pea Fiber, Pea Protein, Pea Starch, Lentil Fiber (No plant protein, starch, fiber or flour concentrates - it should be whole ingredients used) etc.
  • We will never recommend any food with any ingredients that contain any sort of Corn, Wheat, or Soy (Soybean).
  • Avoid unnamed fats (Animal Fat, Poultry Fat etc.)

Diving deeper, what other “healthy” or “natural grain free foods use that we also avoid:

- NO Plant protein, flour or starch concentrates such as Pea Starch or Potato Protein. These ingredients have already been processed and leached of nutritional
value before being made into kibble. Why process it twice?
- NO Tomato pomace, by-product of ketchup industry
- NO Beet pulp, by-product of sugar industry
- NO Flours, processed before being added to pet food (flour is for baking treats not their main diet!)
- NO Unnamed fats or oils

If pet food manufacturers are using the ingredients above are they going the extra mile to source premium meats and quality ingredients?