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Animal Tales: How to choose the best dog or cat food

Lisa Burns prepares seven bowls of food for her dogs in 2008. People should choose their pet food wisely, avoiding fillers and mystery ingredients.
Lisa Burns prepares seven bowls of food for her dogs in 2008. People should choose their pet food wisely, avoiding fillers and mystery ingredients. The Bellingham Herald

Question: How do you choose the best commercial dog or cat food for your pets?

Answer: There are so many choices of commercial pet food on the market these days: dry or wet; fresh, frozen, raw or packaged; all natural, complete & balanced, organic, holistic, healthy; and the list and choices go on and on. Pet food manufacturers have become masters at marketing their product and offer a dizzying array of pet food choices for pet owners to consider. By learning the basics about commercial dog and cat food you can help keep your pet happier and healthier.

Selecting a quality, affordable diet for your pet can be done by following a few important guidelines.

First, select a food based on your animal’s species, breed, age and basic health. Cats and dogs have different nutritional needs and as such, their food contains different ingredients. A good place for pet owners to start is to review the label on your pet’s food and look for a nutritional adequacy statement from the AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials. If the pet food contains this statement you can be assured that the food at least meets basic nutrition requirements for your dog or cat.

Second, review the ingredients. Many lower-priced commercial pet foods contains cheap filler ingredients like corn and corn meal, which for the most part, provide no nutritional value for your pets and can cause many pets to develop allergies, skin issues and health problems. Also, stay away from food that contains non-descriptive ingredients like meat or animal byproducts, animal digest, and fillers including some grains and chemical preservatives including BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin and propyl gallate.

Choose to feed your pets a food that contains a named protein source like chicken, fish, turkey, beef or other all-meat source. Note: Dogs can be fed an approved AAFCO commercial vegetarian diet, but cats are carnivores and should be fed a food that includes a specific meat protein source.

If you are feeding your pet a fish-based food, look for assurance on the label or package that the food does not contain any artificial preservatives. On canned food especially, the protein source should be clearly identified and should be one of the first, if not the first ingredient listed.

Many foods now contain labels that advertise the food to be natural, holistic, organic and healthy. In many cases these claims are undefined by the AAFCO, and manufacturers can market their food however they wish regardless if the claims on the label are 100 percent true or not. For example, some foods claiming to be organic really only contain a small percentage of organic ingredients.

Before purchasing a new food for your pet do some research to make sure there have been no recalls from the manufacturer. A quick Google search and/or discussion with your veterinarian or an informed and trained local pet supply store employee can provide you with a wealth of information.

When making the switch to a new food, gradually transition your pet onto their new food to give your pets digestive system time to adjust to the food and possible new protein source.

If your pet is suffering from a medical condition, is older, overweight, underweight or sick, talk to your veterinarian about the pet’s nutritional needs and an appropriate food.

Animal Tales is a regular column written by Laura Clark, executive director of the Whatcom Humane Society. The society provides care and services to homeless, unwanted, orphaned and abused domestic and native wild animals in need. Have a question to ask? Email questions for this column to For information on the society, go to