At the veterinary practice where I work people ask me all the time what food I recommend for their pet. I usually tell them to just set Fido a place at their table and feed him whatever you’re eating…Kidding! A pet’s diet can be a touchy subject because the best foods are often not ones that Fluffy or Fido prefer. Plus, those great (healthy) pet diets are pricey (and your 100 lb. Great Dane can go through it about as quickly as I go through pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream)!

There are many benefits to feeding your pet a higher quality, but also more expensive, pet food. Pets on better diets not only feel better and are likely to live longer, but their coats are usually shinier and they have less gas. Caution: Feeding your pet better food means you won’t have the “blame the dog” excuse when you let one fly! Pets that are fed low quality diets often have to poop more because all the filler ingredients in that kibble just goes right through them. You’ll actually spend more time picking up piles in your yard or scooping the litter box – Not fun! Also, because of all the extra junk (i.e. filler ingredients) in some foods, your pet will need to eat more of it in order to meet their basic nutritional requirements. The great thing about changing to a better (but admittedly pricier) food is that you won’t have to feed Fido or Fluffy as much so it will last longer than the other stuff.

Clients at work often tell me their pet won’t eat the better stuff and turn their noses up at it while they devour the less expensive foods. I like to compare it to feeding your children McDonalds or a healthy salad. Which would they prefer, the burger and fries or the fresh veggies? Most people need a bit of reassurance that their pet WILL NOT starve if you wait them out. And then you have to BE CONSISTENT and only offer the good (healthier) stuff. I’m not sure why people think it’s OK to feed their dog pet food that looks like a box of Lucky Charms has been poured into their bowl. With all those bright colors (i.e. artificial dyes and additives), how on earth can it be good for Fido? Of course he loves it, but I love myself a bowl of Lucky Charms too. That doesn’t mean it’s what either of us (your pet or myself) should be eating on a regular basis!

So what diets (e.g. specific pet foods) are best for your 4-legged family member? There are several, but I’ll focus on the ones I’ve fed my own pets and have the most experience with. Be sure to select the correct stage variation for your pet: puppy/kitten, adult, or senior pet. And you’ll always get the most bang for your buck if you choose the largest bag available. (Just be sure to store it in some kind of Rubbermaid/Tupperware container so it doesn’t get stale.)

Iams adult dry dog food

1. Iams

This brand is the least expensive of the diets I’m going to list and I love it because you can pick it up at the grocery store on your regular shopping trip. It’s by far the best grocery store food you can buy your pet, and it’s easily accessible. Personal disclosure: I actually feed Iams to my cat, Gulliver, as it’s one of the few foods that doesn’t give him diarrhea (a real bonus). Iams is also a company that’s been around for a long time, which gives peace of mind.

Science Diet adult dog dry food

2. Science Diet

Science Diet has also been around forever, and was one of the first companies to make prescription diets for medical conditions like Kidney Disease or Diabetes. Their regular wellness diets are also fantastic and a good middle-of-the-road choice. You do have to go to a pet store to get it, or you can order it online. They also make that great ‘dental diet’ (called T/D) that I wrote about in a previous post (link to other article here).

Royal Canin adult cat food

3. Royal Canin

This is as premium as it gets. Royal Canin is a newer (yet still fantastic) company that makes wonderful dog and cat diets. They also make prescription foods and I really like that they make breed-specific diets for dogs, like one specially formulated to meet the needs of Labrador Retrievers. This brand is only available at pet stores, but it can also be ordered online (more on that later). It is expensive, but again, you’re able to feed less of it to your pet, with better results. (Royal Canin sponsored our most recent guide dog and his coat was the shiniest of any dog I’ve ever had. He was also a ball of pure muscle on this food.)

As far as ordering pet food online, two great sites are Amazon.com and Chewy.com. Setting up auto ship for your dog’s or cat’s food ensures their bag of kibble will be shipped straight to your door and you typically get a discount for using the auto ship feature! I never have to worry about running out of food and substituting Cheerios for kibble (I’ve NEVER done that) because every 6 weeks another bag shows up at the door.

There are a lot of “fad” diets for pets right now. But rest assured, they are just fads and there isn’t any scientific data to back up their claims. One is the ‘grain-free’ trend. Pet food does not need to be grain free for pets unless they have a specific allergy to grains. Another is the ‘raw diet’ trend for dogs, where pets are fed raw meat, often with pieces of bone in it. I cannot stress enough how awful this is for your dog! Dogs are not wolves and do not need to eat raw food. The bones can cause an obstruction in their GI tract and pets are not immune to Salmonella and E. coli. (I once got a bad case of food poisoning and had the worst case of Montezuma’s revenge ever. I wouldn’t inflict that on my worst enemy, let alone my beloved pet!)

Beyond two square meals a day of pet food, what else can you feed your pet? Of course they can have occasional pet treats (NOT human treats, like ice cream and potato chips). As long as you are giving them in moderation, any treats are fine. I love Charlee Bears for dogs and Greenies for cats. I’m not a fan of having my pets beg at the table so we don’t do table scraps. Food scraps can also cause some gastric upset so I never recommend it. A little tuna or salmon for your kitty can be a great treat, as well as carrots or green beans for your pup.

The following foods should always be avoided, for dogs and cats alike:

  • chocolate
  • garlic
  • onions
  • grapes/raisins
  • sugar-free gum
  • macadamia nuts
  • yeast doughs

Usually only dogs are knuckleheaded enough to get into that stuff, but it’s an EMERGENCY if they do ingest any of the above foods because they are toxic. Call your vet immediately, and if caught early enough they can induce vomiting in your pet so the situation does not become a more serious problem. Just last week I shoved my arm down Fergus’ throat (my Lab, not my son) to pull out a raisin that had fallen on the floor as my youngest child was pouring his cereal. Better safe than sorry!

I’ve been on a bit of a diet myself these past 4 weeks. I really do feel fantastic when I give my body the foods it needs and not the crap it craves. I will say that I do cheat a little every now and then, like yesterday when I couldn’t help but sneak a mozzarella stick at the bowling alley. Our pets deserve those occasional treats every now and then too, but let’s stick to the healthy stuff for their regular meals, OK? Spend a little bit more to give Fido and Fluffy the fuel they need to reach their full potential. They’ll feel better and live longer because of it!