Making optimal dietary choices for your pet is crucial to his health, happiness and longevity. The key is to look for the best quality you can afford.

It can be challenging to determine which pet food is good for your dog or cat, and which isn’t. The first step is to know the difference between high and low quality foods so you can feel good about the brand you choose. Here’s a breakdown of what to look for – and what to avoid.

Dry pet food

Kibble remains one of the most popular feeding options for pet parents in North America. Dry food is quick, easy and clean – and if you invest in the right kind, it gives your pooch all the nutrients he needs. Unfortunately, most commercial kibble brands are made from poor quality ingredients and contain harmful substances such as artificial flavors, additives and by-product meals. Often, they are high in unhealthy carbohydrates, and depending on how they are processed, lose a great deal of their nutritional value.

As a general rule of thumb, the majority of commercial kibbles at your local grocery store are likely made from inferior ingredients. If you want to do the best you can by your dog or cat, head to a specialty pet store for his food. Look for dry diets made from whole named meats, natural vitamins and minerals, and other healthy ingredients such as oatmeal or sweet potato. There are many to choose from.  One example is Open Farm, which offers high quality dry dog and cat food made with superior ingredients.

“Look for dry diets made from whole named meats, natural vitamins and minerals, and other healthy ingredients such as oatmeal or sweet potato.”

“We make ultra-premium, high protein, low carbohydrate recipes focused on a limited set of ethically-sourced ingredients,” says Isaac Langleben, company co-founder. “Consumers are increasingly looking for products that are natural, and with respect to proteins, are free of antibiotics and growth hormones.” Open Farm is committed to full transparency, and has dedicated a section of their website to listing where every ingredient in every batch of food is sourced. All their ingredients are humanely raised, and none come from China. “We’re always inspired to see the love and connection between our customers and their pets, and feel grateful to be playing a role in their lives by providing a premium healthy diet that also aligns with their values,” says Isaac.

Wet pet food

When it comes to convenience, canned pet foods take a close second to kibble. Again, though, quality is key so be sure to shop around, read ingredient labels, and avoid products that don’t contain named whole meats, or that feature by-products and lists of additives.

As a company that offers ready-to-serve dog food made with 100% human grade ingredients in a human food plant, Caru Pet Food Company is a frontrunner when it comes to high quality. “Many pets can become sensitive to common grains or soy ingredients and experience recurring problems such as itching or digestive upsets,” says Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder. “Our Classic and Daily Dish stews are prepared without wheat, gluten, corn or soy ingredients, right here in the United States. Not only are these recipes GMO-free, but they’re packed in Tetra Pak® cartons that protect freshness and flavor without any preservatives.”

Another perk to Caru’s packaging is that, unlike most pet food cans, it contains no BPA. Also called Bisphenol A, this chemical is an endocrine-disrupting chemical, and can negatively affect an animal’s metabolism and gut microbiomes. When shopping for a canned food for your pet, don’t hesitate to call the company to ask whether or not their cans are lined with BPA. Labels can be misleading, so it’s never a bad idea to go directly to the source.

Frozen raw pet food

A high quality raw food diet improves digestion, increases energy, and promotes healthier skin and coat – among many other benefits. Because raw food represents the “biologically appropriate” diet eaten by our dogs’ and cats’ ancestors, it offers optimal nutrition – and companies such as Sojos and Northwest Naturals have made it both convenient and safe.

“A high quality raw food diet improves digestion, increases energy, and promotes healthier skin and coat.”

Once considered a “messy” choice, raw food is now easy to feed and store. It’s available in various options including frozen tubes, patties, medallions and nuggets. “Northwest Naturals offers complete and balanced raw food nuggets that can be fed right from the bag, just like kibble,” says Patti Salladay, salesperson and marketer. “You just pour and serve, and you never have to touch the food.”

This is an appealing feature for many consumers, since the risk of food-borne illness that comes with handling raw meat is an ongoing concern, and unfortunately deters many pet parents from switching to raw diets. But this threat is greatly minimized if you use safe handling practices and invest in a high quality food brand. “Northwest Naturals uses High Pressure Processing (HPP) on all poultry products,” says Patti. “This process, when used at the correct temperature, pressure and hold time, fractures the cell wall of harmful pathogens and bacteria.” HPP makes poultry products (which pose a higher risk than red meats) safe for consumers and their pets, eliminating the risk of salmonella, E. coli and lysteria without altering the quality of the food.

Freeze-dried/dehydrated raw pet foods

Freeze-dried or dehydrated raw food selections are also increasingly popular. They’re easy to feed, especially if you travel with your pet, because they don’t need to be kept frozen. They’re also very convenient, because all you need to do is add water to create a healthy, palatable meal consisting of raw food ingredients.

Sojos uses a proprietary freeze-drying process that eliminates food-borne pathogens while locking in taste and nutrition. “There’s a growing awareness that heat and other harsh processing can damage delicate nutrients”, says Jen Loesch, the company’s general manager. “Raw food, on the other hand, is served the way nature intended — rich in naturally-occurring nutrients and enzymes.”

LifeFORCE offers a selection of high quality dehydrated pet foods made from raw meats such as chicken, lamb, beef and turkey, along with a selection of fresh vegetables like sweet potato, broccoli, carrots and squash.

It’s easier than it has ever been to feed your cat or dog a healthy, high quality diet – you just have to know what to look for! “There’s an old saying – garbage in, garbage out,” says Patti. “When you feed a lower grade food to your pet, most of it will be eliminated in his waste with very little nutrition being absorbed. The fresher the food, and the higher the quality, the healthier and more nutritional it is.” High quality pet foods will be more expensive than those low-end grocery store brands, but they’ll help pay for themselves in fewer vet bills down the road!

Shopping List

Caru Pet Food, carupetfood.com

LifeFORCE, lifeforcepet.com

Northwest Naturals, nwnwordpress1.nw-naturals.net/wp/

Open Farm, openfarmpet.com

Orijen, orijen.ca

Sojos, sojos.com

Stella & Chewy’s, stellaandchewys.com

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