How to Choose Healthy Food for Your Pet

Nicole Falcone

A chubby kitten may be something to giggle at in a YouTube video, but in reality, pet obesity is a serious problem in the United States. According to statistics from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than 50 percent of domestic cats and dogs are overweight—a cause for concern because, as with humans, extra pounds can lead to major health problems like diabetes and arthritis. The keys to keeping your four-legged friend in top shape? Daily exercise and proper nutrition.

“Serving your animal the right type and amount of food will help him live a long and healthy life,” says Martha G. Cline, D.V.M., a veterinarian at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in New Jersey who specializes in clinical nutrition for small animals. Start by asking your vet for a serving-size recommendation, then follow our chart to pick a healthy pet food.




The first few words on the label should be ones you recognize, says John Adam, D.V.M., of Yorba Linda, California, and a protein source should be number one. In terms of which protein to select, there’s no shortage of options: Chicken, beef, pork, lamb, turkey, pheasant, duck, salmon, trout, tuna, and bison are all good sources of amino acids. “Choose based on what your animal likes and tolerates,” says Dr. Cline. In addition, look for foods that contain organ meat, like kidney, heart, and liver, along with skeletal meat, since that’s what animals would eat in the wild.


Look for this on the label or website. Dietary recommendations can vary depending on a pet’s individual traits, says Dr. Adam, but these are general guidelines for a healthy adult dog: 20% to 40% protein, 30% carbs, 10% to 20% fat. Cat food should contain 40% to 50% protein, 35% to 40% fat, and 10% to 20% carbs.


Avoid GMOs, says Linda Stern, D.V.M., a holistic/integrative veterinarian in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, since they can cause organ system problems and cancer in animals. (Look for GMO-free or certified organic seals.)


Each type has its positives and negatives, so vets suggest choosing based on what’s most important to you and what your pet digests best. Dr. Stern recommends raw food (frozen or freeze-dried) because it’s closest to what animals would eat in their natural habitat. But since raw food can easily be contami- nated with bacteria and fungi, Dr. Adam advises caution: “It should be very fresh and from a reputable company.” Wet food is his pick as it typically has fewer carbohydrate fllers than dry food and can help prevent urinary tract infections in cats. If you go with wet food, Dr. Stern advises looking for a brand that’s grain-free and doesn’t contain guar gum, carrageenan, or xanthin.


The calories in your pet’s treats should make up only 10 percent of your dog or cat’s daily intake, says Dr. Cline. If the calorie count isn’t listed on the label, look on the product’s website or call the manufacturer.


Sometimes you want to sneak your pet something special from your fridge or cupboard. If you do, steer clear of chocolate, grapes, raisins, garlic, onions, walnuts, and cashews—all of which can be harmful, says Dr. Adam. Instead, try these:

  • Canned pure pumpkin, a healthy source of fiber to prevent constipation and other digestive issues
  • Snap peas, a low-calorie treat many dogs love
  • Plain yogurt, a natural probiotic that can help pets with weak stomachs

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