NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — From grain free to holistic, some pet parents say they’re feeling shamed for not buying the latest and greatest gourmet food.
But just because it’s popular in the dog park, is it really better for your pet? Between personal opinions and persuasive marketing campaigns, it’s enough to drive the average pet parent absolutely nuts.
“If they’re vegan, they want their pet to be vegan,” said Jaclyn Skidmore from the USDA Institute for Animal Health Education. “If they’re not eating grains, they don’t want their pet to eat grains.”
The number one thing people ask about is nutrition, says Skidmore. 60 pet owners gathered at Manhattan’s Animal Medical Center for a course on how best to choose pet food. Veterinarian nutritionist Dr. Laura Eirmann says first and foremost, there’s no one size fits all diet.
“Sometimes the information is confusing,” Eirmann said. “The food that’s right for your dog might not be the food that’s right for your neighbor’s dog.”
So, what do you really need to know?
Vets agree you need to take your pet’s age, health, and activity level into consideration when picking the right food. Also, pay close attention to the ingredients which are each listed by weight. The recommendation is that a food with meat or meat meal be the first ingredient.
Experts say you need to keep an eye out for buzzwords. According to the FDA, basic names like “chicken dog food” indicate the protein comprises about 95 percent of the food while key words like “beef dinner” typically means the food contains only 25 percent of the protein.
“Grain-free means that the diet has a carbohydrate source that is not wheat, corn, rice,” Dr. Ann Hohenhaus from the Animal Medical Center says.
One of the most popular pet foods today, grain-free isn’t without its own set of controversies.
“The FDA noticed an uptick in complaints in people feeding diets where legumes, lentils, potatoes were the carbohydrate source and dogs were developing heart problems,” Dr. Hohenhaus said. “I think there are a lot of questions yet to be answered.”
Just like with people, Hohenhaus recommends a complete and balanced diet for your pet.
“Dogs can easily digest carbohydrates,” she said. “They can have fat in their diet as well and so by mixing fat and carbs and protein you end up with a more cost-effective diet that still has the ability to meet the pet’s needs.”