A wholesome, natural, high quality diet is one of the best ways to ensure your best friend will enjoy a long and healthy life.
Garbage in, garbage out. It’s as true of our bodies as it is of computers, and it applies as much to your dog or cat as it does to you. Most commercial pet foods contain poor quality ingredients and additives such as by-products, grain fillers and chemical preservatives that can have a profoundly negative impact on your animal’s well being. Over time, these foods may trigger or exacerbate conditions such as allergies, arthritis, kidney disease and even cancer and other immune-related disorders. Feeding your furry friend a wholesome, high-quality diet is therefore crucial to his health and longevity. These days, you have several options to choose from: you can home-prepare the food, buy one of the growing numbers of convenient raw frozen diets on the market, or select a premium packaged product. You’ll have to pay a bit more, but when you consider the unconditional love and companionship your dog or cat gives you, isn’t it worth it?
1. Quality protein
The most important ingredient in any pet food is whole, fresh meat, whether it’s chicken, turkey, lamb, salmon or rabbit. Learn to read pet food labels and only choose products that list whole, single source meats (not by-products, “poultry” or “meat” meal) as their first ingredient. Avoid foods that have grains as their first ingredient – both dogs and cats are carnivores, which means their main protein source should be meat, not corn, soy or glutens. Wherever possible, try to choose organic meats raised without growth hormones, antibiotics and other substances that can cause harm to your animal.
2. Fresh fruits and veggies
You might think dogs and cats don’t need fruit and vegetables, but these foods contain important antioxidants, vitamins and other nutrients that make for a healthy, well-rounded diet. Choose a food that includes fresh vegetables and fruit on its ingredient list, or add these items yourself. Good choices include carrots, broccoli, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, apples, blueberries, cranberries and cantaloupe – use organic produce whenever you can. Raw fruit and veggies are best, but because dogs and cats don’t have the ability to break down the cellulose walls in the outer layers of these foods, it’s best to puree them before serving (or you can serve them steamed). Veggies to avoid include onions, spinach, Swiss chard and nightshade veggies such as eggplant, peppers and tomatoes as they can aggravate arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
3. The right carbs
We’ve been hearing a lot about carbohydrates these days – while they’re essential to health, they also have to be the right kind. “Bad carbs” are simple carbohydrates and include things like processed white bread, white rice and pasta as well as any food that has high sugar content. These carbs are high glycemic, which means they rapidly raise blood sugar and insulin levels and can lead to weight gain. Good or complex carbohydrates are low glycemic and encompass green vegetables, legumes, and whole grains such as oatmeal and brown rice. Adding these foods to a meat diet will give your companion the carbs he needs without putting on the pounds.
4. What to avoid
Along with meat by-products and poor quality grain fillers, there are a number of other food ingredients you need to steer clear of. Be especially wary of diets that include artificial colors and flavors as well as preservatives such as BHA and BHT, which have been linked to allergies and liver problems. Ethoxyquin, another chemical preservative, has been associated with a variety of skin, immune and reproductive disorders. True, we need to keep food fresh, but there are safer, more natural preservatives that do the job just as well. Rosemary and vitamins C and E not only extend a food’s shelf life, but they also provide health benefits with no negative side effects. Do check the food’s expiry date to make sure it’s still in code.
On the treat side, avoid giving your dog grapes and raisins, which can be toxic and lead to acute renal failure. And, of course, keep chocolate away from your animal companions.
5. Mix it up
Imagine eating the same meal every day, month after month. Not only would you soon get bored with it, but you’d also be increasing the likelihood of developing allergies and nutrient deficiencies, since your body wouldn’t be receiving the full range of vitamins and minerals it requires to stay healthy. Only by eating a variety of foods can you get all the nutrients you need. Your dog or cat is the just the same, so it’s important to feed him a diverse diet. Today’s premium frozen or packaged foods offer a wide assortment of protein sources, so there’s plenty to choose from. If your animal has an allergy to beef or other meats, try one of the many alternative proteins now available such as bison, venison, duck, rabbit, or wild salmon.
By keeping these five pointers in mind, you’ll soon start to see a difference in your companion’s energy levels, coat quality and overall well being.