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There are so many choices of pet foods on the market.  I have a 6 month old mixed breed puppy who is about 20 pounds.  I feed her dry (1cup) in the morning and dry (1cup) and ½ canned food in the PM.  Should I be looking for particular ingredients?

Pet owners should first consider the needs of their individual pet including the species (cats have different nutrient requirements compared to dogs), the age of the pet (your puppy has higher requirements for certain nutrients compared to an adult), and your pet’s activity level (pets that do not get a lot of exercise may need a lower calorie food).  Most importantly, select a diet that states it is “complete and balanced” for your pet’s life stage.  This means the food contains a combination of ingredients that provide all essential nutrients in the proper amount and in the proper proportions.  The can or bag of food must state if the diet is complete and balanced for specific life stages according to the guidelines set forth by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).  Although this AAFCO statement is often in small print on the back or side of the bag, it is one of the most important pieces of information on the pet food label.  It is preferable that this nutritional adequacy statement be determined by animal feeding trials.  Feeding the food to dogs or cats following a specific AAFCO protocol helps determine if most animals will eat the food and if the nutrients will be appropriately digested and absorbed. Your veterinarian is an excellent resource for specific tailored nutritional recommendations since he or she sees many pets on various diets and knows the specific needs of your pet. An excellent resource for information or selection of a pet food could be found at  www.wsava.org/nutrition-toolkit.

Feeding the appropriate amount of food is as important as selecting a pet food. Dogs and cats should be fed to a lean body condition. You should be able to feel your pet’s ribs fairly easily and as you pass your hands from the rib cage to the abdomen you should feel a distinct waist. Your veterinarian can help you determine if your pet is at an ideal lean weight and body condition.  The correct amount to feed your pet is the amount needed to maintain a lean body condition.  Pet food labels provide initial feeding guidelines, however since individual metabolic rates and activity levels vary greatly, the actual feeding amount can vary significantly even between two dogs from the same litter. In addition, all foods including pet treats, human foods, dental chews, and chews such as rawhide contain calories and count toward total daily caloric intake. Caloric intake from such treats should not exceed 10% of the total daily caloric intake.

Laura Eirmann, DVM, Diplomate ACVN (Nutrition)

Dr. Eirmann graduated from Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine and completed an internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. She then practiced at Cornell University Companion Animal Hospital where she focused on preventative medicine and routine healthcare. She joined the general medicine staff at Oradell Animal Hospital in 1998 and developed a strong interest in veterinary nutrition. She completed a residency in clinical nutrition under the supervision of veterinary nutritionists at University of Pennsylvania, Tufts University, and Angell Memorial Animal Hospital and became a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. She is responsible for overseeing the nutritional support of hospitalized patients at Oradell, consults with Oradell clinicians regarding the nutritional needs of their patients, and provides out patient consultation appointments for clients seeking dietary recommendatons for their healthy or ill pets. Dr. Eirmann also works for Nestle Purina in addition to her part-time clinical appointments at Oradell Animal Hospital. Dr. Eirmann enjoys cooking and hiking.