"Compassionate Care for Quality of Life"

Commercial Pet Foods

Commercial dry and canned foods are the most common way that pets are fed. When choosing a commercial food, consider the following:

Lifestyle and owner preferences:

Cost and convenience are significant factors for many people. Others are more concerned with lifestyle preferences such as being environmentally-friendly, vegetarian, or feeding a diet with or without certain ingredients. Define your preferences: How important is cost? What about convenience: does it matter where the pet food is sold? Are canned foods too expensive? Would you prefer a product made in Canada? Are you looking for a high meat diet, or just the amount of protein your pet needs?

Palatability of food to pet:

Many people buy pet food based on what they think their pet likes best. Beware this tendency: Just because a toddler likes pizza and cookies doesn’t mean that’s all they should be given to eat. Pet foods have become very palatable in order to appeal to consumers, and the rate of pet obesity has risen too. We like to see our pets enjoy their food, but we need to make sure they eat healthy.

Nutritional Analysis:

Pet foods generally have a guaranteed analysis on the label: the minimum levels of crude protein and fat, the maximum levels of fibre and moisture, and often other values. The guaranteed analysis doesn’t give an actual percent, just a guaranteed minimum. This can be a problem with fat and calcium, where high levels can be just as much a problem as low levels. To truly evaluate the nutritional analysis, you need an average analysis of the food. This won’t be on the label, but will be available from any reputable company. The average analysis helps us determine if the food is optimum for the individual pet. Neither the guaranteed analysis nor the average analysis tells us anything about the nutrient digestibility or availability.

List of ingredients:

The list of ingredients on the label is often the first thing that people look for, but unfortunately it does nothing to tell you about the quality of the ingredients or the digestibility of the food.

               Grains: There is a recent trend to feed “grain-free” foods. Some dogs are allergic to some kinds of grains, but it is seldom necessary to avoid all grains. Some grains such as oats and rice have a very low risk of causing allergy. Most grain-free kibbles use potatoes as a carbohydrate source, and grain-free diets are not necessarily low-carbohydrate.  (For an excellent overview of grains, see "Are Grains all Bad" by holistic veterinarian and nutritionist Susan Wynn)

               By-product definitions:  There are so many misconceptions about the use of by-products in pet food, that we think it is useful to look at the definitions:

"Meat By-Products: The non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low-temperature fatty tissue and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hooves."

"Poultry By-Product Meal: Consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered poultry, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practices."

By-products can have a high nutritional value, but human aesthetics prevents them from being used for human consumption.

            Unusual Meat ingredients:  Avoid exotic ingredients like duck, rabbit, emu, pheasant, and venison. They aren’t necessary for healthy pets, and we may need them for diagnosing allergies later.

AAFCO statement:

Choose foods that carry an AAFCO feeding claim to be complete and balanced for the appropriate life stage of your pet. There are two types of claims; one that the diet is formulated to meet the requirements, the other says that the food has completed feeding trials. We prefer that the food has completed feeding trials, as these sometimes show problems that would not otherwise be found before the food is on the market.


The only way to evaluate the quality of a commercial food is to evaluate the quality of the manufacturer. Good manufacturers test the ingredients for toxins, contamination, and nutritional value. They monitor their suppliers. They store batches of food for testing later.  They have veterinary nutritionists on staff to constantly improve the product as new information becomes available.  Read, for example, about Royal Canin Canada's commitment to quality.

How Is Your Pet Doing?

The acid test of any diet is the performance of the eater!  Shiny coat, normal stools, general health, and good body condition are the goal.  If a pet is doing well and has no health issues on a given diet, we tend not to make any changes.