What Should I Feed My Pet?

Dr. Amanda Slusky

The decision of which pet food to buy is a complex one, but remember, your veterinarian is always there to answer questions about what diet, and how much, is best for your pet. There are many factors that goes into their recommendation:

  1. Age: Age plays a huge role in determining what is the best food for your pet.
  • All puppies and kittens should be fed diets specifically developed for “growth”. Why? These little guys have greater nutrient requirements since they have so much growing to do!
  • Similarly, any dogs that are breeding, pregnant, or nursing, also have greater energy and nutrient requirements than an adult dog not used for reproduction.
  • How can you tell what life stage a food is labeled for? By law, every bag of food sold within the United States has something called an AAFCO statement. AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials, and they determine the nutritional requirements of animals. The AAFCO statement will say if the food meets nutritional levels for growth (puppies and kittens), maintenance (adult dogs), or all life stages (growth, reproduction, and maintenance).AAFCO Pet Food
  • It is also important to differentiate between foods that are “complete and balanced” from foods that are for “intermittent” or “supplemental feeding”. Pet foods that are complete and balanced have labels similar to those above and contain all your pets nutritional needs. Foods that are designed to be fed intermittently do not meet your pets nutritional needs and are meant to compliment a more balanced food. A complete and balanced diet should make up 90% of what your pet eats, with the remaining 10% coming from treats, or snacks for intermittent feeding.
  1. Species/Breed: All species have different nutrient requirements.
  • For example, did you know that cat foods are fortified with a nutrient called Taurine, because deficiencies of this nutrient can cause heart disease in cats? That is just one reason why it is so important to feed a food specifically designed for your pet’s species.
  • Even within species, different breeds of dogs have different requirements. For example, large breed puppies need lower amounts of phosphorus and calcium in their diet, otherwise they can grow too quickly and have orthopedic problems.
  • There are certain companies that make diets specifically formulated for different dog breeds. While not all breeds are represented, this is certainly a choice you can make for your pet.


  1. Lifestyle: The amount of food to feed varies based on the lifestyle of your individual pet.
  • Does your dog lay on the couch all day while you are at work? Does your cat keep you up all night, racing up and down the hallway? The level of activity of your pet may mean printed feeding recommendations on the side of the bag do not apply. Your veterinarian will assess your pet’s body weight to make sure the amount you are feeding is correct for your pet.
  • It is recommended to measure how much you feed your pet with either an 8-ounce measuring cup, or a gram scale, to make sure you are not over-feeding or under-feeding your pet.
  1. Home Environment: Are there children, or immune-compromised family-members in your home?
  • Feeding pets a raw diet has the same inherent risk for food-borne illness that it does in people. Dogs and cats are susceptible to food poisoning from Salmonella, Campylobacter, and other pathogens just like people are.
  •  If there are children who may play in/near your pet’s food bowl, or if there are immune-suppressed people in the home who interact with a pet fed a raw diet, they are more at risk for these type of infections as well.
  1. Your Preferences: Are you someone who enjoys cooking for your pet?

In this case, maybe a commercial diet is not for you. A board-certified veterinary nutritionist can prepare a complete and balanced home-made diet, made specifically for you. See your veterinarian for recommendations if this is something you are interested in.

  1. Illness: The above pet food recommendations hold true for healthy pets.

If your pet has any kind of illness, including suspected food allergies, your veterinarian may recommend a specific therapeutic diet, meaning it requires a prescription. These diets are specially formulated to best promote the health of pets whose nutritional requirements may differ.

Keep these factors in mind, and don’t be shy about bringing up your nutrition questions at your pet’s next wellness appointment! We would love to help answer your questions!


For additional information, check out the AAFCO website: https://talkspetfood.aafco.org/readinglabels#adequacy