The best food to give to your dogs or cats is a minimally processed “species appropriate” diet, preferably raw and homemade.
This generally consists of high quality, hormone and antibiotic-free meat, raw bones (or some other source of calcium such as bone meal or a calcium supplement), organs, vegetables and fruit. You can also add in a small amount of carbohydrates such as rice or potatoes, but as carnivores, they don’t really need it. Dogs and cats are not efficient at digesting, assimilating and utilizing plant-based ingredients as a source of high quality protein.It can be overwhelming when thinking about preparing your dog or cat’s food but there are many resources available to assist you (see “resources” section of our website). It is best to use a recipe, especially in the beginning, to make sure you are getting a correct balance of nutrients required to avoid deficiencies and to thrive. Mixing meat, rice and vegetables is NOT a balanced diet! If preparing food is not a viable option, there are prepared raw and cooked foods that are nutritionally complete; all you do is thaw and feed. There are also pre-mixes that when added to meat (either raw or cooked), provide a balanced and complete meal. Dr. Karen Becker of Healthy Pets sums up the best foods clearly and succinctly in her list of best-to-worst foods:
The List of Best-to-Worst Foods
A balanced, raw, homemade diet is the best food you can feed your dog or cat. It will be nutritionally balanced because you’re following recipes like those found in the cookbook I co-authored, Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats.Raw means the food is unadulterated and still contains all the enzymes and nutrients that are typically destroyed during cooking or other types of processing.Homemade is the best option because you are in complete control of the quality of ingredients in your pet’s diet.I recommend pets get plenty of nutritional variety, and another great thing about serving homemade is you can buy seasonal fruits and veggies on sale, as well as protein sources (meats), and use them in rotation.
The next best thing you can feed your pet is a commercially available raw diet. This is a raw food diet that someone else has done the heavy lifting to prepare.It’s important that the diet is balanced, and you should be aware that there are raw food pet diets entering the market that are not yet proven to be nutritionally complete. These foods often say “For supplementation or intermittent feeding” on the label.You’ll know if the raw food you’ve selected is balanced because it will say it right on the packaging: “This food has been proven to be nutritionally complete or adequate for all life stages.”At the present time, these diets are found only in the freezer section of small/privately owned or upscale pet boutiques – not in the big box pet stores. You can also find a selection online.
Cooked, balanced homemade diet. It’s the same diet found in number 1, above, except that it’s cooked. This means some of the nutrient composition has been diminished through processing.
Human-grade canned food. If the label doesn’t say the ingredients are human grade, they’re not. Pet food made with human-grade ingredients is also a great deal more expensive, so that’s another way to tell what you’re getting.This type of diet is the most expensive you can feed your pet. What I tell my clients is, “If you have more money than time, you can purchase human-grade canned food for your dog or cat. But if you have more time than money, I recommend you make a balanced, homemade diet right in your own kitchen for a fraction of the cost.”
Human-grade dry food. As I discussed earlier, dry food is not as species-appropriate as a moisture-dense diet. Human grade is very important because the food is approved, in theory, for human consumption, which means it doesn’t contain low quality rendered by-products.
Super premium canned food which can be found at big box pet supply stores like Petco and PetSmart.
Super premium dry food.
Veterinary-recommended canned food. Vet recommended canned foods are purchased at your vet’s office or clinic. Typical brands are Science Diet, the Purina veterinary lines, Royal Canin and Waltham.
Veterinary-recommended dry food.
Grocery store brand canned food.
Grocery store brand dry food.
Semi-moist pouched food. The reason this type of pet food is so far down the list is because in order for the food to remain “semi-moist,” an ingredient called propylene glycol is added. This is a scary preservative that is a second cousin to ethylene glycol, which is antifreeze. And while propylene glycol is approved for use in pet foods, it is unhealthy for dogs and cats. I do not recommend feeding any food that contains this additive.
Dead last on the list and the worst thing you can feed your pet is an unbalanced, homemade diet – raw or cooked. I’m seeing an increasing number of misguided pet owners in my practice who think they’re doing the right thing by serving their pet, say, a chicken breast and some veggies and calling it a day.Yes, the food is homemade, but it’s nutritionally unbalanced. Pets being fed this way are showing up at my clinic with endocrine abnormalities, skeletal issues and organ degeneration as a result of deficiencies in calcium, trace minerals and omega fatty acids.